Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Morning Reflections on Prov. 29:1

Proverbs 29:1 אִ֣ישׁ תּ֭וֹכָחוֹת מַקְשֶׁה־עֹ֑רֶף פֶּ֥תַע יִ֜שָּׁבֵ֗ר וְאֵ֣ין מַרְפֵּֽא׃

NASB Proverbs 29:1 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.

Yahweh, there is a limit to your patience with refusals to respond to correction (cf. Exo 33:3). I praise you that it is “much reproof” (אִיש תּוֹכָחוֹת) (cf. 2 Kgs. 17:14). You are slow to anger and plenteous in kindness, yet your justice sets a limit on your longsuffering.

Thank you that you warn me of the sober consequences to motivate me to turn at reproof. Those who stiffen their necks are arrogant and disobedient (Neh 9:16), refuse to listen to You and are rebellious (Neh. 9:17; Deut. 31:27). Your dealings with Israel, whom you exiled and dispersed because of their stiffnecked rebellion against you, teach me what “broken beyond remedy” looks like (2 Kgs 17:18; Jer. 19:15).

Thank you for giving me by your Spirit a heart of flesh for my heart of stone (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). Thank you for your reproof that sets me in the right way when I stray (2 Tim. 3:16;) and which you design to make me a sharer in your holiness (Heb 12:5-10)!

Hard hearts (2 Chron. 36:13), bronze foreheads (Isa. 48:4), and stubborn shoulders (Neh. 9:29) are the accompanying characteristics of a stiff neck. Yielding ourselves (תְּנוּ־יָד לַיהוָה) to You, Yahweh (2 Chron. 30:8), listening and inclining the ear (Jer. 17:23) are the opposites of being stiffnecked.

Deut. 10:16 prescribes circumcising the foreskin of the heart in conjunction with or perhaps as a condition for no longer stiffening one's neck. Yahweh, you have provided in Christ a heart-circumcision that is made without hands (Col. 2:11). Thank you for circumcising my heart that it may be sensitive to You.

If there yet lingers stiffness of neck in me, show me it that I may yield it to You. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prov. 25:13 and Psalm 19:7 -- The Torah of Yahweh is perfect, refreshing the soul

Back in 2010, the language of Proverbs 25:13 caught my attention during my devotions:

Proverbs 25:13 כְּצִנַּת־שֶׁ֙לֶג׀ בְּי֬וֹם קָצִ֗יר צִ֣יר נֶ֭אֱמָן לְשֹׁלְחָ֑יו וְנֶ֖פֶשׁ אֲדֹנָ֣יו יָשִֽׁיב׃ פ

NAU  Proverbs 25:13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters.

What struck me about this verse is the hiphil form of shub ("refreshes") with (nephesh soul). This is the same form that shows up in Psalm 19:7[H=19:8] “The torah of Yahweh is perfect, meshibat the soul.”  

A quick search on the hiphil form of shub with nephesh shows that if this construction occurs with the preposition "from" (min) it means "to restore from, rescue from" (Job 33:30; Psa 35:17). 

Without the preposition "from" this construction  has the sense of ‘restore, refresh,” and may involve emotional, bodily, or spiritual refreshment.  

Emotional refreshment is most clearly seen in Lam. 1:14 “Because far from me is a comforter, One who restores my soul.” The parallelism with ‘comforter,’ and the context of emotional anguish make clear that emotional restoration is in view. 

Physical refreshment is the focus in Lam. 1:19 where people seek meat/food to restore their souls. 

I’m inclined to read Prov. 25:13 as mental/ psychological refreshment. The confidence and sense of well-being that results from being able to trust a messenger can be “whole person” refreshment though it stems initially from the mind. Since nephesh may denote the “whole person,” it may also stand by metonymy for any part of the totality. Thus the spiritual dimension of the person may be in view as well.

Back to Psalm 19:7 -- the KJV reads "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." I had always understood this in reference to spiritual conversion or salvation. The NASB reads, "The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul." That didn't give me a much different idea. But reading Psa. 19:7 in Hebrew in the light of Prov. 25:13 was quite different: "The torah of Yahweh is perfect, refreshing the soul" -- just like the cold of snow in the time of harvest.

Does Yahweh's torah really refresh the soul? I began to wonder. At first, I was skeptical because after teaching Bible or theology courses all day, I was not inclined to seek mental refreshment in the evenings by reading Scripture again. In fact, just the thought of it made me tired.

However, I decided to do some experimenting. So, when I found myself tired in the evening, I would occasionally get out the Bible, read a psalm, or listen to Scripture online. I was surprised to find that my spirit seemed to be quickly calmed and refreshed -- much more than when I read some other book or watched something for entertainment.

That was four years ago. My experimentation was sporadic, but with increasing conviction that God's word really did have a soul-refreshing capacity. During those years, I read George MacDonald's Sir Gibbie, and was struck by the way in which he portrayed the farmer's wife who, high up the mountain, could usually be found with her large Bible in her lap, delighting in reading God's word.

I have made this a matter of prayer -- asking God to increase my delight in His word (Jer. 15:16). I'm finding that nothing both refreshes and satisfies my soul quite like the torah of Yahweh. Of course, when David wrote Psa. 19, he had the first five books of Moses in mind. How's that for a different perspective? Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ... soul-refreshing!  

I'm still growing in this, but I believe God has been doing a work in my heart that fits it to find its true refreshment in what He designed to be its refresher -- His word.