Words to ponder and reflect on

Isaiah 55:6-9 GW

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A Word of Assurance

For the midweek Lenten services we have followed the theme: “A Word of ______”

Last week, it was “A Word of Forgiveness.” This week our theme is “A Word of Assurance. Here are the four Scriptures that we will use in our meditation.

Psalm 91:14-16 (CSB)

[God says] Because he has his heart set on me,

I will deliver him;
I will protect him because he knows my name.
When he calls out to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor.
I will satisfy him with a long life
and show him my salvation.

Ezekiel 36:22-32 (CSB)

22 “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will honor the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations—the name you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the LORD this is the declaration of the Lord GOD when I demonstrate my holiness through you in their sight.”

24 “‘For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will summon the grain and make it plentiful, and I will not bring famine on you. 30 I will also make the fruit of the trees and the produce of the field plentiful, so that you will no longer experience reproach among the nations on account of famine.

31 “‘You will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and detestable practices. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act— this is the declaration of the Lord GOD— let this be known to you. Be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways, house of Israel!”

Hebrews 10:19-25 (CSB)

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own aassembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

John 11:17-37 (CSB)

17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that awhatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me awill never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”

Psalm 11 Who sees whom?

As I was reading devotionally yesterday I came across Psalm 11 (MEV), which I have included to see the context.

1 In the Lord I seek refuge;
how do you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain,

2 for the wicked bend their bow;
they make ready their arrow on the string,
that they may treacherously shoot
the upright in heart.

3 If the foundations are broken,
what can the righteous do?”

4 The Lord is in His holy temple,
His throne is in heaven;
His eyes see,
His eyes examine mankind.

5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but the wicked and one who loves violence
His soul hates.

6 Upon the wicked He will rain
coals of fire and brimstone and a burning wind;
this will be the portion of their cup.

7 For the righteous Lord
loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.

Hebrew (Psalm 11:7): כִּֽי־צַדִּ֣יק יְ֭הוָה צְדָק֣וֹת אָהֵ֑ב יָ֝שָׁ֗ר יֶחֱז֥וּ פָנֵֽימוֹ׃

I didn’t think much about it until I read it in NAS as well. The challenge was Psalm 11:7 (“His countenance beholds the upright” MEV and “The upright will behold His face” NAS). Who is the subject of the sentence (doing the action) and who is the direct object (receiving the action)? It depends on which translation you use.

God is the subject, “upright ones” are the direct object and hence “His countenance beholds the upright” (MEV joins KJV, NKJV, KJ21, REB)

Or:

People (“upright”) are the subject and God is the direct object and thus: “The upright will behold His face” (NAS joins most modern translations: ESV, NIV, HCSB, NET, etc.)

 

Some textual observations

Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms) offers this as an explanation for why he favors the second translation:

With the wicked disposed of in the previous verse, the psalm ends on this positive note of the upright beholding God—even as God from the heavens beholds all humankind. In the Hebrew, the noun is singular and the verb is plural; presumably one of the two (probably the verb) should be adjusted. The Masoretic text reads “their face,” with no obvious antecedent for the plural, but variant Hebrew versions have “His face.” (p. 34)

Leopold in his commentary (Expoistion of the Psalms) offers a different view of the data and favors the first option.

Since the whole emphasis lies in what God does and is, and that alone constitutes the solid basis of comfort, we have translated the last clause: “His countenance beholds the upright,” implying that same watchful care that was stressed above. The words could have been translated: “The upright shall behold His face.” But panemo, which equals panaw, His countence, being plural, can readily take the verb in the plural, yechesu, which is easier to construe than to regard the singular yahsar as a collective plural and so make it the subject of the verb. (p. 128)

As both authors note, the text is not as clear or simple as we would like. As I reflected further, I noticed that in Psalm 11:4-7, the emphasis on God’s actions, especially as He “examines mankind” (v. 4) and “tests the righteous ones” (v. 5) [God is the subject]. The wicked receive the crush of God’s disfavor (vv. 5b-6), and then the Psalm ends with a return to the “righteous ones.” The subject is God in vv. 4-6. It makes sense now in v. 7 that the same God who examined and tested the righteous now looks upon the righteous (“upright”) [same Hebrew word: צַדִּ֪יק [tzaddiq] used in v. 5 and v. 7.] without any judgment.

So What?

At this point I find that either option can work, but the first option (“His countenance beholds the upright/righteous”) seems more consistent with the flow of the entire Psalm. I think it also reflects the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26), specifically v. 25: The LORD make His face shine on you.”

An another point in favor of the first option is the application. What is more comforting? To look upon God’s face or to have God look upon us? From the prospective of God looking at examination of us (v. 5), it carries more weight that God looks again at us with no judgment attached.

Further study…

English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Update on HCSB

Over the past 5 years I have reviewed, studied, and made recommendations to the HCSB translation team. WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) had formed their own committee and review team for suggestions to the same translation team. And soon HCSB will change… for the better. Earlier this summer B&H Publishing announced the changes.

March 2017 CSB launch

That is the scheduled time for the latest updates. Here are a few notes about this update (combining B&H and WELS items):

Name is changed to: Christian Standard Bible

Major revision of text, plus two confessional Lutheran scholars were added to the translation oversight committee

Adopted many of the recommendations submitted by WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod)

Removed Yahweh from the Old Testament, using LORD (as almost all other English translations have done)

All of these are significant improvements for CSB. I can’t wait to receive the new translation. Once it is in hand I will offer more comments about the updates.

Thank you to B&H Publishers for this effort.

Thank you to WELS for offering valuable input on the translation.

Psalm 7:6 translation

In daily readings through the Bible, I also include the Psalm related to the day in multiples of 30 (7, 37, 67, etc.); so reading one Psalm a day I can cover the entire Psalmody in five months (days with 31 days I read Psalm 119). Yesterday (03/07) I read Psalm 7, and came across an unusual expression. Try reading aloud and see how it sounds, then ask others to listen (only).

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. (Ps. 7:6 ESV)

Surprisingly HCSB and NAB have the same:

awake for me; You have ordained a judgment. (HCSB)

Wake to judge as you have decreed. (NAB)

It is the last line that caught my attention, because it is awkward at best. It doesn’t even make sense in context, and seems incomplete at best (filling too many gaps required). English style does not lend itself to such a translation. So I checked some other translations of that last line:

And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment. (NAS)

Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded! (NKJV)

awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. (NRSV)

Wake up for my sake and execute the judgment you have decreed for them! (NET)

Awake, my God; decree justice. (NIV 2011)

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  (NLT)

Wake up, my God. You have already pronounced judgment. (GW)

Awake, my God, you demand judgement. (NJB)

My God who ordered justice to be done, awake. (REB)

Notice that several still use “awake” or “wake up” but add the intended recipient, i.e. God, which makes it a little easier to understand. I checked other uses of the Hebrew word (עור) and found most of them provide better translations in both ESV and HCSB.

This is not a major issue, but for readability and oral comprehension, I think a rewrite for ESV and HCSB is needed.

Genesis 22 and Surprise

For my devotional reading today I read Genesis 21-24. I have read through the Bible many times over the past several decades. But this time Gen. 22 stood out because of the recent reading of Rare Bird, my own reflections of our older son. And now one more significanmt memory, specifically linked to this text.

Genesis 22:1-14 (NAS)

1  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

Bible Study Surprise

More than 20 years ago I was teaching a Bible Study, specifically a survey of the Old Testament ( 11 week course I had written for congregational use). We had 20+ people in the weeknight class, and the requirement was to read the texts and answer questions each day of the week before coming to class. Those questions and answers formed the basis for teaching and discussion. They were just getting into the study, and the discussion was drawing people out to share their answers.

Then we came to the study of Gen. 22. No one really said much as I provided an overview of the entire Abraham story. Then I made the comment, that although our son had not died, but he was in prison, I could not imagine what Abraham experienced when God told him to offer “his son, his only son, his son whom he loved.” How horrible that would be.

And there was silence!

Slowly several people began to weep (8 of out 20+). And then each began to speak—eight of these people had experienced the death of a child. I was stunned, because I knew of only one couple who had a son who died in a car accident.

Immediately I determined that we would not proceed with the outline study. There was something far more important to attend to. As they began to talk, at their own pace, others began ministering and caring for them, crying with them, hugging them. For some that was the first public Christian support that they had received since the weeks following the deaths (some had just joined the congregation).

But God was working in all of us that night. I had never experienced anything like that. This was before our son went missing, but in a way now looking back, it was as if God was even preparing me for the future years.

The Bigger Surprise

As the discussion continued we began focusing on God’s plan, even before the time of Abraham. Namely, God would sacrifice His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loved. Yes, God would arrange for His Son to die.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10)

The agony of Jesus’ death has often been the focus of that Good Friday death almost 2000 years ago. But on that day God the Father was suffering the loss of His Son, by His own choice, not by accident, not by living a full life. When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” His father was putting all His wrath against sin for all time to be poured out on His own Son.

And God did that for sinners, people who did not deserve any kind of favor. Paul wrote about this way:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NAS)

Abraham spoke to his son, when Isaac asked about the lamb for sacrifice. Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Gen. 22:8)

And God provided the lamb, for Abraham, but even greater He provided the sacrifice of His own Son as a substitute for every person, for every sinner, for you, and for me.

God did that so that we might be His sons and daughters for eternity. He provided everything for us.

We ended that night with that kind of assurance from God’s Word. The Bible participants were comforted, loved, and encouraged by everyone. But especially they were comforted, loved, and encouraged by God Himself. God Himself understands exactly how we all feel in our losses.

Yes, they lost their children to death, but they were not lost to God. Jesus, God’s Son, died as planned from eternity. But Jesus also rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil. That means when we believe in Jesus, we receive that same promise and that same eternity. For us the promise of Revelation 21 is ours, right now:

God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NAS)

Many others since that time have experienced similar losses of children. Loss, even though agonizing and heart breaking, seems like an eternity, but it is not. But gain was for all time. May we always go back to the promises of God, for “The LORD will provide” far beyond our expectations.