So Much Sorrow

Why is there so much sorrow in the world? This question has found its way to the center of the argument against a belief in the existence of a God of love and mercy.  If God loved His creation, could He condone so much suffering?  But God not only condones it, He participates in it according to some christian teaching. Professor Bart Erhman, who is a textual critic of bible scholarship fame, speaks for many why the Christian faith no longer fascinates them:

I left the faith for what I took to be (and still take to be) an unrelated reason: the problem of suffering in the world.”⁠1

Whether suffering was the last straw or the sole reason for the professor’s deconversion, I do not know.  But he raises an interesting point of which much has already been written.  If God were real and a God of love, why any suffering!?  This is a favorite bullet point for non-believers in debating the existence of God.  And it tipped the scales for more educated and smart people than just the professor for whom science now outweighs faith in importance.  They would rather rely upon their own wit in a dilemma than to talk to a God they no longer believe is there for them.  They would rather depend on themselves for the solutions to their problems than to trust in a God of Love to guide them.

This is where worldviews enter the discussion.  Christians have made room in their worldview for suffering claiming it was the result of sin and it can serve God as a discipline to bring us all closer to Him.  The professor’s worldview is more scientific depending on our own discovery and inventiveness to improve life.  Some are evolutionaries who belief in a sort of survival of the fittest that will eventually bring mankind into a utopia free from poverty and all forms of suffering.  Either way, science or evolution, suffering has no adequate explanation other than as a weakness that needs eradicating.

But is it possible that no one of these views by itself is adequate to explain suffering?  Is it possible that one view overlaps another?

For a christian believer who is in constant communication with God, The Lord’s love is very much a part of the explanation of all things—especially, their suffering—as something that brings them nearer God?  But it is equally true for the person with no prayer life that they are on their own in this life; so, the other worldviews make more sense to them!?

Is it possible also for those who do not pray and have no contact with God that they are left to navigate the rapids as best they can and if they flounder in the waves, best they know how to swim because, for them, there is no God to rescue.  Call it fate, but there is a sense in which for the non-believer—No!  For the person who has no communication line open with God; for the person who does not have a prayer life—suffering is an earthly experience with no higher purpose.  Life, for the person not used to going to God for help, is a coin toss and now and again they lose.  Understandably for these persons, suffering serves no lofty goal.  Evolution wants to filter it out.

For  the non-believer, the Apostle Paul talking about a creation that is groaning sounds like so much nonsense.  But it makes infinite sense to a believer who sees our sinfulness as a cause for much suffering in nature.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.⁠2

The distinction, therefore, between those who have an acceptance of suffering in this life while they await a suffering free life to come and those who accuse our Creator of mismanaging His resources by allowing suffering to exist, is one of prayer. Talking to God makes that big a difference in our view of life.  Praying—not only a good theological explanation—helps us gain a more tolerable perspective on suffering.  Talking things over with God can help us to be more accepting of the less desirable experiences of life.

When the Apostle Paul was pursued by his opposition (this is the greek word for persecute, namely, to hunt down), he told one church, “I am exceeding joyful⁠3  When James, Jesus’ brother, felt the hunter’s arrow whiz by he happily accepted it as something he must endure, a small price for following His Savior.  He explained:

Consider it pure  joy⁠4
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love  him.⁠5

Some of the church’s most inspiring hymns were born out of much sorrow.
And what should we say about illness and sickness? The Apostle John said it best:

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health.⁠6

The value of suffering is only realized by those who have first discovered the value of prayer.

1 Bart Ehrman. Jesus Interrupted (New York:Harper Collins Pulishers, 2009), 277.
2 Romans 8:22.
3 2 Corinthians 7:4.
4 James 1:2.
5 James 1:12.
6 3 John 1:2.
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I Don’t Need A Plumber – Creator

We sometimes forget in our desperation that God has designs upon our lives not always congruous with our own.  He wants to continue the process of molding us, working the clay of our personhood, into someone He can communicate His love and grace to more fully.  Is it possible that our despondency over foiled plans actually get a thumbs up from God?  We want things: blessings and all things easy.  This may become a problem when it comes to prayer.

When I read Father Donovan’s distinction between “a continuing creation” vs. “a closed or finished creation” I got so excited, I had to make a comment or two of my own.  It is not enough to pray to God because He once proved His awesomeness on creation week, but because He continues to prove it.   The Bible, again, is not the record of what God did but the revelation of what God does. Father Donovan is spot on::

We Christians profess to believe in a continuing creation. …The idea of a closed and finished creation, an idea based on the impossibility of God having any interest in the creation He set in inexorable motion … is a pagan idea…⁠1

Let me say it this way:  If you need a plumber, call a plumber; but if you need a creator, talk to God!

So what exactly does a Creator God do for a living? According to the word “create” used in the Bible, He can take a clump of clay or a dark barren landscape, or a life without meaning, and see something beautiful and meaningful that He can form it into.  And then He does just that!

Just the term, create, in the Hebrew dictionary is insightful: Creating includes: breaking, cutting, separating, carving, smoothing, polishing, fashioning, forming, producing,⁠2 among others.  Ouch!

If we want to clean up our act and live free from self-imposed guilt, call on the Creator, as David did in the Bible:

Create in me a pure heart, O God⁠3

If what we want to do is follow in Jesus’ footsteps—not literally, but in terms of our lifestyle, our moral perspective, our love of God, etc.—we need to talk to the Creator:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. …predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….⁠4

After being diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer I underwent a bone scan to see if it entered my skeletal system, but—confession time—I didn’t ask God to heal me.  I left that to my christian friends whose prayers for me are always greatly appreciated.  When the scan came back negative, I thanked the Lord for this, but I knew that whichever way it went, I would still be grateful. He’s not my plumber; so I don’t always expect Him to fix my pipes.

He can fix pipes or He sometimes finds me a plumber.  I am grateful for a team of medical professionals and I credit their expertise and the love they have for their craft and their patients for all the help they give.

Yes, sometimes the Creator heals!  But He is my Creator first and His primary concern is working on my soul.

It is not that we expect too much of God when we pray for healing or any one of a number of other needs we are desperate to have met.  Actually, when we fail to understand His creative power in our lives, we expect too little!

You did awesome things that we did not expect,  You came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. – Isaiah 64:3-4.

no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him – I Corinthians 2:9.

1 Father Vincent J. Donovon, Christianity Rediscovered: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1978) p 100.
2 see William Gesenius, A Hebrew And English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Boston, MA: Houghton, Miffin and Company, 1882.
3 Psalms 51:10.
4 Romans 8:28-29.
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Learning to Pray – Thanksgiving

I urge, then, first of all, …  thanksgiving be made for all people – I Timothy 2:1

The word “Thanksgiving” needs no explanation.  When I pray, I must minimize the complaints. I, also, never want to accuse God of not caring.  If I do, I am immediately penitent because I recognize in that moment how the heart has changed and somehow the consolation and assurance prayer offers is missing.  An ungrateful heart or attitude is grossly inappropriate and unfair when we are meeting with the Lord.

Fourteen times in his letters the Apostle Paul underscores the importance of having a grateful heart, a hopeful perspective on our circumstances that is spontaneously recalling past blessings, a mindset that leaves bitterness outside the prayer chamber.⁠1 Thanksgiving is “the grateful acknowledgment of past mercies, as distinguished from the earnest seeking of future [ones].”⁠2

Not only, but prayer without thankfulness is disarmed against an assault by the worries of the day.  Paul reminds us to  “in every situation, by prayer” give God our list of concerns, “with thanksgiving⁠3  if we want to be at peace while we petition Him.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.⁠4

Paul compared the value of Faith, Hope and Love in writing the church body at Corinth, calling Love the greatest.⁠5 We like to imagine that he was referencing the eternal quality of love whereas Faith and Hope serve us in this life alone.  The same can be said of prayer.  “There remains these six qualities of prayer: vowing, requesting, supplicating, petitioning, interceding, and giving of thanks. But the greatest of these is giving of thanks.

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever

Some skeptics mock the believers’ imagination that heaven will be one eternal praise and worship service.  This sounds boring since in this life even christians are into more self-centered interests, personal moments, focused concerns and, yes, ..well, the occasional sin.  Life is more diverse than a single interest provides.  Our attention is frequently redirected—or interrupted, if you prefer—to many and various, more sparkling glitter.

But the skeptic has lost sight of the reality under the surface of this churning sea of desires, down where deeper waters run quietly and eternally.  If anything is temporary, it is harboring hateful thoughts and being self-absorped because the energy curve to maintain these is enormous.  People hide hateful feelings, greed, and a loveless pride.  We tend here to hypocritically carry false smiles about to keep them hidden, but this is emotionally strenuous and an impossibly heavy weight to carry for any length of time.  Living the lie about one’s true feelings costs more—far, far more—than learning to be thankful.

There are a few aspects of our humanity that seem to have an endless source of energy.  There are interests we can identify in our love of nature, of greenery and the colors of Spring, of fresh air and blue sky—to name a few—that never change, never wane, never fail to draw us to the beaches, to the mountains and to the fields of flowers growing wild that in some fashion remain always and ever hypnotic and addictive.  If these are unchanged in this life, what evidence might there be that these are still temporary sources of our happiness?

None.  Quite the opposite. What God has made will never cease to awe us and it is a grateful heart that knows this.  My imagination excites me to picture a praise service in the hereafter that is not just giving God a well deserved standing ovation but a praise service that is filled with the testimonies of the saints and of Jesus’ explanations that finally grout the loose bricks of past blessings with God’s work on our behalf—once unseen, but now, at last, made known and complete.⁠7

1 The Bible is serious about the benefit and importance of gratefulness even regarding our thoughts on those who do not call us friend.
I Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
2 Richard C. Trench.  Synonyms of the New   Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) p 192
3 Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition [δέησις], with thanksgiving, present your requests [αἴτημα] to God.
4 Colossians 3:15.
5 I Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
6 Revelation 7:12
7 I Corinthians 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
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Learning to Pray: Vows

The word Vow is a biblical word for prayer that at first glance seems of little import; after all, it is used only once in the New Testament meaning “prayer” and even there scholarship offers little reason why it should replace the more general term for the same thing.

A vow is more than words promised but words spoken seriously and with a heart to please the one to whom the vow is given…  to God.  “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows,”⁠1 Solomon warned. As another translation⁠2 reads, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.

I am reminded of Esther before her king. Though the word “vow” is not here, it is somehow understood in her words, “If it please the king”.  She is careful not to speak out of turn, to preface her request with “if you love me” or to seek only what pleases her and not him.  Her heart was in the right place. Esther appears as one who was committed to the king’s service as his wife.

When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”⁠3

Talking to the Lord means we are in the presence of our Sovereign.  We have approached the Throne. We are inside the holy of holies and in the presence of His Holiness.  Commitments we make to Him are never to be made lightly.

What we say, and even how we say it, should honor Him.  Our thoughts in biblical parlance become acts of obeisance, a bowing low, humbly committing ourselves to His will and wisdom along with our requests.

In one Psalm,⁠4 perhaps written by Solomon, the Psalmist offers one of the few insights into this word for prayer.

LORD, remember David and all his self-denial. He swore an oath to the LORD, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:

The Greek translation reads, “Lord, remember David and all his meekness how he sware [swore] to the Lord and vowed to the God of Jacob.” The word “meekness” is in other translations “affliction” but it is a “self-imposed trouble” which David endured because he promised God a Temple:. “in order to procure a worthy abode for the sanctuary of Jahve [Jehovah]”⁠5  Although “meekness” may not be the favored translation,⁠6 an affliction endured with the desire to serve and please God is just that.

James, Jesus’ brother, spoke of a vow (in our sole New Testament reference) as a “prayer offered in faith.”⁠7  Most scholars gloss over this as just another word for prayer but, perhaps, it is better to understand our faith as a commitment to be faithful to God, thus seeing prayer time as a time of rededicating our lives to His service, avowing our desire to please Him in all things.  We bring to Him our needs and it would be presumptuous and an affront to His mercy to assume we should ask anything of Him without the accompanying desire to please Him in the asking.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.⁠8

1 Proverbs 20:25.
2 NLT New Living Translation.
3 Esther 5:2-4.
4 Psalms 132:1-2.
5 Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Errdmann Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI. 1980) vol V. p 310.
6 The Greek term has no exact Hebrew equivalent but the PUAL form used here represents self-imposed troubles.  The LXX translators have cause to use the word “meekness” here.
7 James 5:15.
8 Psalms 37:4.

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Does God Talk to Us


Is it reasonable to believe that the ministry the Savior had during His sojourn here toward Israel, He might still have now toward you and me?

The Spirit of the … LORD is on me, because the LORD has … sent me to bind up the brokenhearted….⁠1 The … LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.⁠2

To assume God is not here for us in our need, that God does not respond to prayer, that He is not capable of communicating His love or sharing wisdom with us, is to make our Christian faith merely a ritual, the Bible a largely uninteresting literary work, and the healing touch we crave from Him a false promise.  Christians would have no more comfort or wisdom to offer than what is available by secular studies.  And as welcome as that would be—and is—we would be living a lie.  The Bible would cease to carry the authority we profess it must have.

He sent out his word and healed them…3

Isaiah 61:1.
Isaiah 50:4.
Psalms 107:20.
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David’s happiness, his sense of connection with his own history, his contentment in his current situation, and his confidence regarding future challenges was indissolubly linked to His love for the Torah, the teaching of God’s Word.⁠1  Elsewhere he referred to these same teachings as a flashlight lighting his footpath not only telling him where to walk or how to live but keeping his focus from wandering.

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates⁠2 on his law day and night.
— Psalms 1:1-2

David discovered this principle when he discovered the value of meditating on God’s Word.  David enjoyed musing over, according to the Torah, what God had done:

I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.⁠3

Meditation—to be candid—is a form of “talking to “talking to oneself.”⁠4  In the context of prayer, it is a kind-of reminiscing or pondering about something read in the Bible.  Charles Spurgeon explained,

“To read it by day and think about it by night.  In the day of his prosperity he sings Psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book.”⁠5

Meditation can be a form of prayer if we invite God to eavesdrop on our musings or if we find ourselves on occasion looking up and inviting God to take notice.  When the Assyrian army besieged the city of Jerusalem, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, received a discouraging letter demanding his unconditional surrender. So, he brought the matter to God’s attention:

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD,

“LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, … you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. …. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib [the Assyrian king] has sent to ridicule the living God. … Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God.”⁠6

Hezekiah seemed more concerned for God’s reputation than his own life.

How dare a lowly foreign tyrant think himself above the Almighty, the King over all other kingdoms!” the king mused!

The king’s words did not fall on deaf ears because it became disastrously evident the following morning in the enemy encampment that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A plague broke out and 85,000 soldiers were sick and dying.  They had to withdraw.⁠7

Most assuredly, people do talk to themselves!  The statistics are doubtlessly incomplete because most people, if they are not searching for acceptable expletives after bumping their head on a overhead cabinet, tend to keep most of such conversations …well, to themselves.

Having been a pastor, I recommend all believers learn to preach and deliver homilies to themselves!  Ever since the early days when I knew I wanted to teach God’s Word, I would practice on myself in the privacy of my own bedroom or on quiet walks to anywhere.  Now I have a lot to say to me while soaking in a hot bath.

In case this sounds crazy, consider the benefit of thinking through things that matter to you whether you verbalize your thoughts out loud or just in your head.  When you are worrying, let your thoughts wander toward the possibility that this might be something worth “spreading before the Lord.” And it is never a crazy idea to ask God if He hears your thoughts and if He has a way out you haven’t thought of.  It is never a crazy idea to encourage yourself by recalling promises and stories in the Bible that are precedent setting.  Such accounts are not just the record of what God did for others; they are the creative history of what God does for His children—for you and me. Meditation on God’s Word has great value in the context of a prayer life that  looks to God for help.⁠8

1 Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
2 soliloquizes, muses as in Psalms 63: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”
3 Psalms 77:12
4 The Hebrew word יֶהְגֶּ֗ה represents a low sound, a growl or chant or to murmur as one does when they are musing over something.
5 Spurgeon C.H. The Treasury of David: An Expository and Devotional Commentary on the Psalms. (Scripture Truth Book Company: Fincastle, VA. 1984), Vol I. p 2.
6 Isaiah 37:14-20
7 Isaiah 37:36 Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!
8 Psalms 121:1-2  I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD
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The Essence of True Prayer

One of the most interesting sections in the Bible story is God visiting Abraham while the forefather of the Israeli and Arab peoples was standing in the doorway of his tent. The account reads like a homespun yarn that challenges our understanding of how God should act and think.⁠1 How is it that the Omniscient One should question:

I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know⁠2

The personal details here provide profound insight into God’s way of conversing with us despite our human limitations.  I compare this to a professor emeritus kneeling beside a pre-schooler to carry on a meaningful conversation with the child on his or her level (and this word “child” will come up again shortly)—only the disparity between God and Abraham is far greater, to put it simply.

God’s reason for telling Abraham was

Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.⁠3

This sounds like God is favoring Abraham when the Bible specifically tells us that God does not have favorites.⁠4  We read too little here and took this verse out of context. (A common problem⁠5). The King James version correctly translates the next verse:

For I know him,⁠6 that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD.

There is a lesson here that those who promote and live God’s Word, the Bible, who exemplify a holy life, will find a dynamic in prayer others cannot know.  They will have opportunity to know the God Who walks beside in a far more personal way.

After a discussion about stars and descendants—a story with which most believers are familiar, Abraham’s progeny would be innumerable—God turns to him and asks,

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?⁠7

The Early church fathers in Egypt translated this into Greek adding the words:  “My child.”

Shall I hid from Abraham, my child, ….⁠8 [This version of the Bible continues} “the things [plural] I intend to do?”

Our insight into God’s actions here might be fogged over by a cultural conscience that makes it difficult for us to understand God’s form of justice in this story (He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah⁠9). Consenting to the baffling idea that a loving God could even think to do such a thing, what should not escape our attention in this story line is God’s desire to discuss this matter with Abraham. On the use of the plural—“things” in the Greek Old Testament —God was by implication in the practice of sharing His heart and thoughts with His “children.” This was not some isolated incident.⁠10  Not uncommon in the Bible is God revealing ahead of its time some action He must take which is emotionally as catastrophic for Him as it is literally for those He judges worthy.  We call it prophecy or God foretelling some event.

The phrase often used in the Bible in this regard is “the burden of …” because that is exactly what it is to God—a heart rending thought.⁠11 The point here is that God shares these personal traumas with those of His children willing to walk with Him and talk about it.  We are too often focused on God’s words and not His heart⁠12 behind these words, the prophecy⁠13 and not the burden⁠14, the theological significance of His judgment and not, as we should, the disposition, the spirit, behind it.  Abraham understood.

In the course of their discussion Abraham asked God, rhetorically,

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Can we not interpret this to be saying, “I know Lord that you must do what you must do!  I know that notwithstanding you are always just and right.  I support your decision (but may I ask…What if…”) And we know Abraham bartered with God for the souls of his nephew and his family.

One scholar correctly called this “the essence of true prayer.”⁠15

1 This account includes a banquet which the heavenly visitors seem to enjoy before going on their way.  Genesis 18:8 “He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.”
2 Genesis 18:21
3 Genesis 18:18
4 Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
5 The NIV and NLT in verse 19 translates “For I have chosen him,” and “I have singled him out” suggesting the New Testament doctrine of election.  As sound as that doctrine is, this is not the context for it!
6 Some scholars translate the Hebrew word “to know” to mean “to acknowledge” and thus to choose.
7 Genesis 18:17.
8 ὁ δὲ κύριος εἶπεν μὴ κρύψω ἐγὼ ἀπὸ Αβρααμ τοῦ παιδός μου ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ
9 The modern names are Bab edh-Dhra, thought to be Sodom, and Numeira, thought to be Gomorrah. –
10 The Hebrew uses the word אֲשֶׁ֖ר meaning “that which” ….  The word translated “about to do” is a simple present action: “doing” which might have given the Greek translation its emphasis. “The things which God is doing…”
11 Isaiah 13:1, for example: The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw. NKJV. See also Psalms 38:4 “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.”
12 The word burden can represent also an uplifting emotion, though, in Scripture, this seems rare.  See Ezekiel 24:25 “their heart’s desire,” i.e. The burden of the soul.
13 Isaiah 30:27, the NIV reads  ”his lips are full of wrath” which follows the LXX τὸ λόγιον τῶν χειλέων αὐτοῦ τὸ λόγιον ὀργῆς πλῆρες But the Hebrew reads מַשָּׂאָ֑ה שְׂפָתָיו֙ מָ֣לְאוּ זַ֔עַם which reads literally “The burden of His lips are full of anger”
14 Isaiah 13:1 in the NIV instead of “burden” reads: A “prophecy” against Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.  The word is “burden” in the Hebrew. There is here a paronomasia on the two senses burden and oracle.  see Jeremiah 23:33 NIV “message”; Ezekiel 12:10. See also Gesenius Hebrew/Chaldean Lexicon on מַשָּׂ֖א.
15 Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Errdmann Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI. 1980) vol I. p 231.
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Saith the Lord

On נְאֻ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת “Saith the Lord”

I am not ready to resign myself to the idea that the Hebrew term נְאֻ֖ם for a prophetic utterance used primarily in the prophetic books but found sparingly elsewhere is just a synonym for “speaking” and that it is equal to the term אָמַ֖ר, “says.” In Haggai 2:9 in the New International Version [NIV] I believe there is a distinction lost in translation in the use of these words, נְאֻ֖ם, “declares” and אָמַ֖ר “says” the Lord. Give me a few minutes of your time to explain.

‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

For me, there is a difference that is more than a literary style—a difference that speaks to the very reason our Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was written in this language. God did not just “say” I will grant peace. To use the NIV’s word, God declared it so! But this reveals an emphasis not available in our language. If I had written a translation of this text and our Old Testament, I would be drawn to the idea of not translating the word [NIV “declared”] but maybe transliterating it only to introduce its true emphasis: Ni-ÚM.

[Ni-ÚM is a later word in our Bible not found in the first five books.]

The word originates from “to whisper,” an idea that has gotten lost in use—except for the NLT (New Living Translation) of Psalms 36:1- “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts.” The problem with this translation from the NLT is not in the word “whisper” but the phrase “within their hearts.” The Hebrew reads “within my heart.” So, the NIV tries this: I have a message from God in my heart… It might still be a whisper (according to the NIV) from God  but note: it resonates deep within the heart of David. We need not limit this word: Ni-ÚM could be a literal voice and does not need to be whispered but the word seems to suggest that this is a private message and a personal moment, a heart to heart thing.

Used by the prophets, it is a public echo from the prophet’s mouth or writings of something the Lord spoke to them in the heart and in secret. In the only verse in Proverbs where our word is used [Proverbs 30:1] it is translated “inspired utterances” in the NIV.
Ni-ÚM would be the perfect word-idea for a few scriptures that expound on this divine method of conversing with His servants.

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan [Hebrew: secret council; familiar converse, intimacy (with God)] to his servants the prophets. Amos 3:7

He says, “Be still [be quiet], and know that I am God Psalms 46:10

After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. I Kings 19:12

This personal conversation is implied in the the Lord’s response to Josiah who wept to find the “Book of the Law” in the temple and who came humbly before God, penitent and vowing to read and follow it. Notice our word translated “declared” in the NIV.

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares [Ni-ÚM] the LORD. 2 Kings 22:18-19

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares [Ni-ÚM] the LORD. 2 Chronicles 34:27

This is a very personal moment and message for the king of Judah from the King of Kings.

The only place in which the NIV breaks form but not meaning is Psalms 110:1 where in this prophetic reference is recorded a very personal conversation, one on one, heart to heart, between the Father and the Son:

The LORD says [Ni-ÚM] to my lord…

So, is there a difference in Haggai’s prophecy between “says” and “declared” in 2:9? I believe there is.  God said publicly, to all who had ears to hear that ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…’ But He declared [Ni-ÚM] peace.  Is not the word “peace” a word spoken to the human heart of the listeners? When I tell my family I love them, even if in a public forum, it is a private word to their hearts and is said in a soft tone, not yelled. But the concept of a glorious house is something shouted from the roof tops—is it not!?

The Old Testament language is built on this personal level of conversation between two persons in relationship and that is why it works to express the deepest feelings and the ongoing dialog that reveals those feelings between God and His servant, or God and His people. He is a personal Lord!

Has He Ni-ÚM’d a word to your heart, lately?

Especially when my circumstance challenges faith and hope, I need Him to Ni-ÚM to me. And through Prayer, conversing with Him, and reading His Word He most assuredly does!

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The Smallest Thing

It was somewhere in 1999 …ish.  I sat at my computer attempting to work but finding it impossible because of a severe headache.  I was informed later by an orthopedic doctor that I may have had a pinched nerve (a cervicogenic headache[?].  I don’t speak doc-eze!) that was probably the result of the way I slept or watched TV.  Later I would have physical therapy to correct this but for now my right temple was throbbing to the drumbeat of my body at war.  How I must have mistreated it!  It mattered not that I did this to myself by not practicing correct posture. The persistent pain and my discomfort exceeded my tolerance for it and I began to call out for Jesus to be merciful.  I was not swearing; I was praying.  My fists were clinched in sympathy. My jaws quivered while the muscles of my face locked them in a tightening grip of agony, I begged Jesus to do something.  And then suddenly, without any notice, I sneezed one violent, head whipping sneeze. My head was thrown forward.  Tethered to my neck it snapped back.  The pain was immediately cut down to a bearable level.  That was for me an answer to a prayer! This is such a small “miracle” it probably doesn’t qualify for my attention, but the timing with my plea for God’s help should not go unnoticed.

Learning to trust God in the small things, prepares us to trust Him in the big.  It is best to find Him faithful in the smallest thing; so, that we will look for Him when the bigger challenges to our faith come along. That “big” thing, perhaps, for me was yet to come when I would be diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer.

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On Dreams

Does God speak to us in dreams?

There is a the Bible story of Abraham and his young son, Isaac, ascending a mountain where Abraham—we are told— was  instructed by God to offer the lad to God.  We do not doubt the details of this account as raw and unconscionable as it may sound to us.  Song writer Billy Fields interprets this event in a more acceptable way:

It’s not your Isaac that God wants/He wants you.⁠1

There is the subtlest hint in the wording of Genesis 22:3 that this instruction was given Abraham in a dream.⁠2  (“Early the next morning Abraham got up and …”) The Bible offers many examples of God relating His will or desire through a dream.⁠3

A dream from God might be nothing more than an encouraging interlude⁠4 in an otherwise overstressed situation.⁠5  A dream can be an oasis in the desert, a time when the day’s burdens can be dismissed ‘with prejudice’ so the following morning we may start fresh with a song in the heart, a quick step in our gait and an awareness that, in more than one way, it is a new day.

Sometimes a dream is just a dream, but on that rare occasion when God chooses, it may become a vehicle of communication that goes beyond the daytime resources of our encouragement.  God in a dream can take us a level higher emotionally into the world of metaphor that is just as real to us (in REM sleep) but not hindered by the cultural and psychological restrictions that conscience imposes on our actions.⁠6   In this world the impossible is expected, entertained, and lived out—where men fly from impending dangers, where romance is magical, where heroism is the  achievement of cowards.  And, yes! Here God finds us uninfluenced by the advice and counsel of friends,  Here God can reach us, if He chooses, floating free, not held down emotionally by the gravitational chains of preconceived notions,  by the social restrictions our waking reality demands. (Trust your dreams to serve you even if—as is most common—you forget what you dreamed;⁠7 you only know that you had a great night’s sleep.)


1 Writer-Billy Fields composed the song “When I Lay My Isaac Down” (Publisher-Fields for Harvest)  See also
2 The language is in a narration style that suggests this.  The grammatical construct is a ‘vav conversive’ or a conversational style connected by the word “and” suggesting an unbroken story line. וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם אַבְרָהָ֜ם בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַֽיַּחֲבֹשׁ֙ אֶת־חֲמֹר֔וֹ
3 One count offers 65 uses of the word “dream” in 55 different verses.  An example is Joseph’s dream.  Biblical scholarship cannot deny this was God given. Genesis 37:5 Joseph had a dream, and …he told it to his brothers…  verse 7: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
4 Genesis 20:6 Then God said to him [Abimelech who would have wed Abraham’s wife thinking it was his sister.] in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.
5 In Genesis 31:11 Jacob is encouraged in a dream to return home where he thinks his life is in danger.  “The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’” and verse 13: “go back to your native land.”
6 Sometimes we recall them as feeling more intensely real than waking reality. It is as if, while dreaming, we are ‘locked’ in our dream, removed from the outside world, engaged in something important. And that is exactly the case…. ibid. (Kindle Locations 671-673).
7 Dr. Griffin, who is not concerned with divine revelations, tells us: …it is actually important that we forget our dreams. When we are awake, the hippocampus, the conscious memory store, holds our memories of recent events and quickly deconstructs those memories and sends them to various parts of the cortex – the parts concerned with vision, hearing, touch, etc. – for storage. It does that to facilitate efficient pattern matching. But … if the dream is allowed to be stored as a real memory, it will corrupt the memory store and greatly diminish our ability reliably to predict the outcome of similar experiences in the future. ibid. (Kindle Locations 976-980).
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