Enlightening the Eyes

“the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:8b, ESV)

The day that I am writing this is in the time of the counting of the Omer and in just a short while, we will have arrived at Shavuot, the day that it is believed that God gave the commandments from Mt Sinai to the people of Israel.

It is wonderful that the part of Psalm 19 that I am looking at today is focused on “the commandment of the Lord”.

What does this word commandment really convey to us? What does it mean that it is pure, and how does it enlighten the eyes?

The Hebrew word for commandment here is “mitzvah” and if we were to look at a handful of verses where the word is used, you should get a fairly good idea of what it conveys….

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” (Deuteronomy 6:1–2, ESV)

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (Deuteronomy 8:5–6, ESV)

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, ESV)

Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:17, ESV)

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;” (Proverbs 2:1–2, ESV)

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” (Proverbs 6:20–23, ESV)

At a top level, the word seems to be pretty strait forward. It is used in the sense of a father’s instruction to his son, or a king to his servants, and when we put it in perspective of the words of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, then we see a structure for a culture where we are ruled by God’s instruction and in that, he desires that we walk in obedience to those instructions. What is very important to see, especially in light of Deut 30:11-14 is that they are not very difficult for us, and it would seem that the Lord provides all the means and ability to accomplish His instruction. If you continue to pour through the many verses that contain this word you will also notice that God desires to bless those who walk in obedience to His commands, and yet as in the Garden of Eden, rebellion against his instruction brings forth discipline. Again, the perfect model of a father-son relationship.[1]

So, what does it mean that God’s instructions are pure? The Hebrew word here is “bar” and at it’s root has the sense of being pure, radiant, bright, and clean. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament speaks of the Arabic variation of the word having the sense of reverent, dutiful, devoted, kind, charitable, virtuous, and good. It also mentions that in Akkadian the verb form has the meaning of “to glitter” and as an adjective, the word means pure, as in a pure metal with no contaminates. Looking through the Psalms and Proverbs the adjective also has the sense of something pure or a quality of moral purity.[1]

The next word to consider is the word “enlightening” which has at its root the Hebrew word “or” which is the same word used for light. This word has variations that are translated as shine, give light, brighten, Glorious, shining brighter and brighter, and simply give light. The word can also mean “to become light”.

Finally, we must think about the word for “eyes”. It is the Hebrew word “ayin” and I really like what the Theological Wordbook provides as an opening to its explanation of this word…

More than the eye itself is implied by this word. Occasionally it represents the whole process of seeing and by extension, of understanding and obedience (Jer 5:21). However, in the ot it is the ear which is generally used in this figurative way. The eye is used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion, and response. The eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of man.[1]

So, a good way to think about this verse is that God’s instruction is so perfect and pure that as we gaze upon its beauty, it will give us understanding, help us walk a life of obedience, it has an impact on our character, attitude, inclination, passions and ultimately, if the eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of a man, then God’s instructions should reveal when our thoughts are not where they need to be and bring us to a place of repentance.

Let us gaze diligently at the beauty of God’s instruction and let it transform our lives into lives that are full of understanding, and a desire to walk in humble obedience to our God.

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1612 עִין. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 662). Chicago: Moody Press.

Rejoicing the Heart

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)

Precepts, Precepts, Precepts, what could this word mean and how in the world does it rejoice the heart?

Precepts is an interesting word. It is the Hebrew word piqqudim and is used only in the Psalms. In 23 of the 24 places it is translated “precepts”, the one other place it is translated “commandments”. Even more interesting is that 22 of the 24 verses come out of Psalm 119, a psalm that exalts the word of God and its impact on our lives.

What can we learn from just a quick look at some of those verses…

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” (Psalm 119:4, ESV)

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:104, ESV)

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15, ESV)

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17–18, ESV)

So what kind of conclusion can we draw about “Precepts” from this quick examination of these verses? Seems “Precepts” are to be kept diligently, they provide understanding, they help us to fix our eyes on the ways of the Lord, and our one translation that is not “Precepts”, translated commandments, is tied to keeping the covenant by obedience. So, it seems that precepts are related to the commands of God. A quick check of the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament seems to confirm this idea…

פִּקּוּדִים (piqqûdîm). Precepts, statutes, commandments (used only in pl.) (RSV “precepts” in all twenty-four occurrences), used only in Ps (all but three of its occurrences are in Ps 119), is a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.[1]

OK, so how are the responsibilities that God places on his people able to drive us to the conclusion of the Psalmist – “rejoicing the heart”?

The Hebrew word here for rejoicing is “samah” and the Dictionary of Bible Languages has this for the definition…

8523 שָׂמַח (śā·mǎḥ): v.; ≡ Str 8055; TWOT 2268—1. LN 25.116–25.134 (qal) rejoice, be glad, delight in, be elated, i.e., have a feeling or attitude of joy and happiness, with a possible focus of making an outward expression of that joy (Dt 27:7), note: for Isa 9:16[EB 17] cj+, see 9022; (piel) bring joy, gladden, make merry, bring happiness (2Ch 20:27); (hif) make rejoice (Ps 89:43[EB 42]+); 2. LN 88.283–88.288 (piel) be merry, i.e., drink alcohol as a mood elevator, but apparently prior to the full stage of staggering drunkenness (Ecc 10:19+)[2]

Wow, this is really joyful, so much so that another form of the word is the feeling from drinking alcohol to elevate the mood. But that still leaves me the question, how does the responsibilities that God places on His people provide this joy to my heart.

So, in ancient Semitic cultures there were a lot of different Gods, I mean a whole plethora of God’s that people could potentially worship. These gods were not very friendly and generally one did not know how to please these gods or even understand what these gods even wanted. It was a guessing game and hopefully you might figure out just what one of these god’s might desire.

For the faithful Israelite who trusted in the one true God, this was simply not the case. They understood exactly what God desired of them, and what the impact would be for living a life that walked in obedience to them. Not only that, they were tied to a covenant. A covenant that showed a deep relationship between God and His people. To me, that is definitely enough to rejoice the heart.

But, you may be thinking…I don’t have other gods around that distract me from what God really wants – “my heart”.  Well, in our culture today we do have a lot of different gods (idols) we worship.  Idols like sports, drink, games, jobs….you get the picture. Anything that we exalt higher in our priorities than the one true God that deserves ALL of our priority.

I love the word picture that we get from the word Heart. The root Hebrew word for heart is “lev” and the word picture that is derived from these letters combine to give us a definition of “that which controls the inside”. Everything about us, our emotions, thoughts, and will, combined, control all that we are and do.  So God’s precepts brought great joy to the inner man, all that controls us, that overflowed at times into an outward expression….WORSHIP.

So, does the precepts of the Lord have that impact on your life? Or, does the idea of God putting responsibility on His people make us uncomfortable in a culture that says I am free to do anything I want? A culture in the end that seems more focused on how to bring myself joy, rather than finding that joy in a relationship with a God who loves us and want the best for His people.

 

[1] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 732). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Testimony

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7–10, ESV)

Recently I have been listening to an audio book by Dr. John Walton called “The Lost World of Genesis One”, where the basic premise of the book so far is that in the ancient world their cosmology was functionally based rather than materially based. As I was thinking over this and how it also fits in with the idea that Hebrew tends to lean towards being a language of actions and function, how does that play out in the verses that I have been studying?

In the previous blog we looked at how the instructions of the Lord can turn our inner being back towards God, and that the more we turn towards God, the more it can benefit our lives. What does it really mean to turn back to God? Our actions of meditating on those instructions, hiding them in our inner being, and most importantly putting those instructions into practice so that we begin to walk a life of obedience, transforms our inner being and turns us back towards God and the desire He has for us to be His image bearers. In other words, we return towards the function that God originally created us for.

Today, I examine the “testimony of the Lord”. What does this word mean, or maybe I should ask what is the function that this verse leads us towards?

Testimony is another interesting word. It is the Hebrew word “Edut” and is used about 50 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Theological Wordbook says this about the word…

This word is always used in reference to the testimony of God. It is most frequently connected with the tabernacle (Ex 38:21; Num 1:50, 53), resulting in the expression “tabernacle of the testimony,” and with the ark (Ex 25:22; 26:33, 34; 30:6, 26), resulting in the phrase “ark of the testimony.” In fact in several instances this word stands alone to indicate the ark (Ex 16:34; 27:21; 30:36; Lev 16:13). Moses was instructed to put the testimony in (“before,” Ex 16:34; 27:21) the ark (Ex 25:21) and he did so (Ex 40:20; cf. Heb 9:4). Here the meaning is made quite clear. It designates the two tables of stone upon which the Ten Words (commandments) were written (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29). These two tables represented God’s covenant with Israel (Ex 34:27, 28) and as such are called the “tables of the covenant” (Deut 9:9; 11:15). [1]

Testimony points us towards God’s covenant, a written agreement between two parties in which they agree to the actions that should be taken to maintain a good relationship between those parties. As pointed out above, the actions that we are to do consist of the 10 words that God spoke at Mt. Sinai. It says that this covenant, the Testimony, that it is sure. The root Hebrew word here is “aman”, which conveys a very important meaning, a basic idea of firmness or certainty, the foundation of our doctrine of faith. The Theological Wordbook of the OT (TWOT) has this as part of the definition of this word…

The various derivatives reflect the same concept of certainty and dependability. The derivative ʾāmēn “verily” is carried over into the New Testament in the word amēn which is our English word “amen.” Jesus used the word frequently (Mt 5:18, 26, etc.) to stress the certainty of a matter. The Hebrew and Greek forms come at the end of prayers and hymns of praise (Ps 41:13 [H 14]); 106:48; II Tim 4:18; Rev 22:20, etc.). This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.[2]

God’s Testimony, His covenant, expresses certainty and assurance for our lives as we enter into relationship with our Lord.

What does the Psalmist say is the effect of that assurance in our lives? “Making wise (hakam) the simple (peti)”. The Hebrew word “hakam” means generally to be wise, or better, to act wisely. The idea is that our manner of thinking, our skills, moral sensitivity, and our experiences are shaped and driven by our relationship with our Lord and the lives He desires us to live.

This ties in perfectly with the idea of “the simple”. Again, the definition from the TWOT…

The basic verb idea is “be open, spacious, wide,” and might relate to the immature or simple one who is open to all kinds of enticement, not having developed a discriminating judgment as to what is right or wrong.[3]

In other words, we are simply open to what God has to say about how we live in relationship to Him, we are not the judge of what is right or wrong, we simply trust that he has our best interests in mind and we faithfully follow in obedience.

Just like in the Garden, we are left with a simple choice, one of wisdom, and one of folly. This same choice that God had put before His people both in the Hebrew Bible…

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, ESV)

Then also in the writings of the Apostles….

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.(John 3:31–36, ESV)

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1576 עוּד. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 649). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Scott, J. B. (1999). 116 אָמַן. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 52). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 742). Chicago: Moody Press.

WALTON, J. H. (2009). The lost world of Genesis One: ancient cosmology and the origins debate. Downers Grove, Ill, IVP Academic.

Good Works

One of my favorite verses in scripture is found in Ephesians 2:8-9

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Most people stop after they quote this part of the passage, but the part of the verse I love even more is what follows in verse 10…

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

This verse bursts forth from that amazing passage about the grace that has saved us through faith. It has a grand purpose, a purpose that is housed here and now in the present. Yes, we do look forward to being in the presence of the one who has redeemed us, but for now, he has a purpose for us.

The Greek word for workmanship in this passage is poiema, which generally means something created or made. It is also the title of the album by Michael Card. I love the song on this album called the Poem of your life, I would not be surprised if he was not thinking of this passage when he penned these words…

Life is a song we must sing with our days 
A poem with meaning more than words can say
A painting with colors no rainbow can tell
A lyric that rhymes either heaven or hell
We are living letters that doubt desecrates
We’re the notes of the song of the chorus of faith
God shapes every second of our little lives
And minds every minute as the universe waits by

CHORUS:
The pain and the longing
The joy and the moments of light
Are the rhythm and rhyme
The free verse of the poem of life

So look in the mirror and pray for the grace
To tear off the mask, see the art of your face
Open your ear lids to hear the sweet song
Of each moment that passes and pray to prolong
Your time in the ball of the dance of your days
Your canvas of colors of moments ablaze
With all that is holy
With the joy and the strife
With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life
With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life

Michael Card:Poiema (1994) The Poem of Your Life

What a beautiful thought, that we are saved by grace and our lives become a beautiful poem in the hands of our creator. A creator who created us in his Messiah, Yeshua for good works.

What are those good works? Well, it says that they were prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. What came before? I believe that the principle is outlined for us in Deut 30:11-18

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-18, ESV)

This whole passage is talking about what is written in the book of the Torah, essentially the first 5 books of the Bible given to Moses on Mt. Sinai and passed down to us today through the people of God. The principle that is set forth is that if we walk according to God’s ways then we will live, and multiply and be blessed, but, if we do not then our hearts turn away.

So, just as God redeemed Israel out of Egypt from the bondage of slavery, and act of His grace, then he gives Israel instruction on how to live as a result of that Grace. So to God has set us free from the bondage of our sinfulness that we can look to His example in our Messiah Yeshua who showed us how to live by example the good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Maybe they understood this in the 1500’s when the Scot’s confession was penned which included this confession in chapter 14…

We affirm good works to be those alone which are done in faith and at the command of God who, in His law, has set forth the things that please Him.”

Faith gets us there, through a beautiful act of the father, but we are not to sit still in that faith. No, that faith should drive us to do the things that please our Father. Things which God has already planned, His will for our lives, all of which are already housed in the principles he has set forth in His word. Yeshua even sets forth this principle when he teaches His disciples the Lord’s prayer…

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10, ESV)

What is God’s desire in all of this? Maybe, it’s to bring us back to the original plan before we sinned in the Garden, maybe it was part of the plan all along, for in that wonderful section of Deuteronomy God also said this…

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:6-10, ESV)

So, how then now shall we live?