Category: Old Testament
Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (1)
My project for the new year has been to make an attempt at a theology dealing with mental health. While the church has gotten better at recognizing mental disorders and being a healthy part of their treatment, what has stuck me is how there really is not a whole lot of theological statement or reflections about it. My hope is to perhaps, in some small way, fill that void, in the hopes that those much more wise will improve upon what I will be writing here, and in numerous more postings, over the next bit. When beginning this, I thought that the idea of a theological exploration of mental health and wholeness would be a fairly simple thing, but as I read, and delved deeper, I realized that not only was it not very simple, there were no new answers (not a surprise to me), but there were a lot of very old ones taking us back to the time of creation itself. This is not a medical offering, though I will, on occasion, use medical findings and treatments as examples, so it should in no way be read as a replacement for professional care. I hope that, if you are willing, you will continue to read this, and following posts, and share them with those you know who might think upon such things sharing with me their thoughts and opinions that I may ponder them. So, without any further disclaimers, let us begin this journey from the place where all good journeys start: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven’s and the Earth”.
Fundamental to my exploration has been the creation narrative. To follow along here, you are not required to believe in a particular method of creation, be it young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, or what have you, but to simply hold on to and believe the eternal truth, that God is creator. In this simple truth, Saint Irenaeus (you will hear from him a lot in these pieces, so some background on him may help) begins his defense of the Christian faith against the Gnostic beliefs of his day, as well as establishing a beautiful trinitarian theology that has some fairly serious ramifications to us as the pinnacle of creation. Irenaeus describes the very act of creation as being trinitarian in origin. “In this way, then, it is demonstrated One God, Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit”. Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.” (Irenaeus “The Apostolic Preaching”) In this small paragraph, beautifully worded (I am a little jealous of its simple beauty if I am being honest), the establishment of the trinity as present, and responsible, for creation, in three parts, equal in power, each performing an essential duty. Irenaeus separates these duties into the source of all creation, The Father, that which brings creation into existence, The Son (The Word), and the ordering of creation into a cogent whole possessing meaning, The Spirit. Irenaeus would also describe The Son and The Spirit as the hands of God to illustrate a point, and also to speak to us today. We use the same language and idea when we describe ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ. As an interesting note, this idea is rendered in 2 Enoch from the Pseudepigrapha and the language has similar meaning and structure to Genesis 1:27 as well as to Wisdom of Solomon 6:7. As the work of 2 Enoch is used by Irenaeus in other areas, it has been a speculation of mine that it influenced him here as well, but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day.
Humans however, after this referred to as “man” as a generic term and not a term to denote gender, have a special place in creation. Man is created possessing the Imago Dei. We all talk a lot about the Image of God, but few of us, it seems to me, have any sort of understanding of what that is and what that means. Part of that is simply that we have lost, or tossed aside, the wisdom of the ancients. A brief exploration at thoughts regarding this becomes necessary. Ancient Jewish scholars such as Saadia Gaon and Philo would argue that being made in the image of God had no physical aspect, instead meaning simply that it meant the God had bestowed special honor upon man as the pinnacle of creation. To them, the image of God was not a tangible idea other than man was different, and above, all of creation. It was more of an idea to be accepted instead of a mystery to be explored and understood. A Platonic understanding made the body a transitory vessel of no real importance, the Gnostic understanding was that matter was evil, but that Spirit was good, thus the image of God was spirit and only spirit was good, others would claim the Image of God was the whole person, leading to a type of anthropomorphism of God binding Him to one form of matter alone. Enter Irenaeus, and a very new understanding of the Image of God.
Irenaeus, understanding and knowing the flaws of the various interpretation of the Imago Dei, would speak of the Imago Dei as the image and likeness of God in the same way as Genesis did. Irenaeus speaks of the image and likeness of God in this way: “Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.” (Against Heresies) Saint Paul would support this assertion, though before Irenaeus, when he, in the epistles to the Corinthians and Colossians, would write that Christ is indeed the image of God. (Second Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). We are, in effect, the image of the image. For Irenaeus, this was the physical image. Our bodies and human form as designed after the eternally begotten and eternally incarnate Son of God. This understanding allows us to avoid the trap of binding God to our form, thus avoiding the anthropomorphic tendency. Adam, being the first crated human, becomes not the archetype of humanity as many of us think him, but rather the first created image of The Image.
The likeness of God then becomes our spiritual self. At the time of creation, this was simply the way it was intended, but today we recognize this as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the faithful, but more on that later. Now the temptation is to divide the body and spirit (image and likeness of God) into two separate things that are independent of each other, but that is not what Irenaeus does at all as this was central to the heresy of the Gnostic faith. To Irenaeus, Adam, as the first image bearer, has these two parts, body and spirit (image and likeness), of the same whole both contained in harmony. In God’s plan of creation, the two are never intended to be separated. This is key to the nature of man, as God intended, and we must, at all costs, resist the temptation of artificially trying to separate the two as it relates to God’s intent in creation. The image and likeness of God are reflected in God’s two hands, as Irenaeus described them (The Son, and The Spirit), and tied intimately to our creation as God intended at creation.
There is a third aspect of our creation that should be mentioned, the ability to reason. This too separates us from the rest of creation. We can form complex thoughts and ideas. We can rationalize and use logic to come to greater understanding of the world around us. I think that you get the point. This third aspect of our creation completes the trinity of human creation, not to be confused with The Trinity. Just as the Creator God is only properly understood and explained through The Trinity, for mankind to be properly understood, as the created being at the time of creation, the trinity of this creation must also be understood. The very idea and structure of the Trinity is found through out all of creation. For Irenaeus this is even reflected in the natural world as there is indeed the realm of the physical, that which we can touch, the realm of the spiritual (God, the Holy Spirit, the adversary, etc.), and finally the very nature of God in the form of the natural law that governs the function of the universe. For us, as humans, the three parts of our created selves, the physical, the spiritual, the rational, must be in harmony for us to be as God intended us from the beginning.
This wraps up the first part of moving toward a proper theology of mental health and wholeness. I realize that it may seem basic as it is a reflection upon creation, before the fall, but to understand the very nature of humanity from that time as God intended, and thus to be able to understand what proper mental health and wholeness is, and how we can work toward it, we must start with the blueprint (Christ) and proceed from the first creation (Adam). We find then that, for us to be able to exist as God intended, and indeed as we will exist upon the return of Christ to usher in the Kingdom in full, there must be a harmony of image and likeness of God as well as our ability to reason. From a theological stand point then, we must conclude that a theology of mental health and wholeness involves bringing, to the best of our ability, those three parts of our essential nature back into harmony with one another, and with God. Next we will explore the fall from grace, the effect that this has upon us, original sin and what it is and isn’t, and how all of that comes together as it relates to mental health and wholeness.
Augustine, Addiction, and Asses
resist the proud,— yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I want to focus on the thought in bold face type. Our hearts are indeed restless until the rest in God. What then will man do to find rest for his heart? Will we throw ourselves into a job giving all of ourselves to it for the praise that comes with worldly success? Perhaps we will throw ourselves into sex, finding multiple partners, or some form of serial monogamy? Perhaps it is pornography, finding rest in the release of fantasy? Maybe it is an obsessive quest for knowledge? Perhaps it is gambling seeking the rush of winning on speculation? Maybe it is the local church, doing so much trying to find God that you manage to miss His rest? It can be nearly anything really, and I believe that all of us have at various points in time tried to replace the rest that God will provide our hearts with any number of things. As the community of the faithful, we should understand this better than anyone else. We should also understand that it is not always a matter of sin or moral failing, but rather a side affect of the condition that we are born into that only God can provide true rest from.
This corruption of our nature is the very thing that causes some to seek the rest that addiction promises, but does not deliver on. Yes, there are genetic predispositions and the like, but I am not speaking of biology here, nor do I deny it, but rather an speaking of the condition of our very nature that is in deep need of restoration. (Biology and the mental disease that addiction matters deeply in treating it. I am cognizant of this and do not deny it, it is simply not in the scope of this piece. You can read more about the physical aspects of addiction and my struggle with it here.) This condition pushes to us to all manner of things, other than God, to seek rest for our hearts. Like Balaam, we are all on an ass that is veering us off the road to protect us in the form of God’s prevenient grace working in our lives. For an addict, that grace can very easily look like this.
Satan the Christian?
When you come to the Communion Table, make sure you’ve left Egypt
In God’s covenant with Israel in the Torah, he provided the people with liberation, societal structure, laws and a calendar, all for the ordering of their new lives of freedom. In this calendar, God designated three major feasts: Passover, Weeks and Booths. While all three have instructions for celebration, Passover (פֶּסַח) receives the largest and most detailed treatment. Passover’s importance appears immediately God’s arrangement of their new calendar around it, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,” and the language designating its repeated observance, “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.” Unlike the other two feasts, God included a prohibition against anyone outside of the covenant community celebrating it, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. . . A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.” These items provide sacramental status to Passover. “These sacramental signs served as covenantal markers to define the people of God, remind them of their relationship to him and each other, and focus them on their duty to live as a peculiar people among the nations.”
Appreciating Passover as sacrament helps us understand the instructions for its celebration. As a means of grace given by God for the communication of his love, Passover connects the people to God via the tangible. As a sacrament, the instructions for its observance would be known theologically as Words of Institution. These Words explain the meaning of the rite, the way God acts in it for the people, and instructions for repeated observance. For Passover, Exodus 12:12-17 contains these words. Furthermore, because Jesus forever united Passover to his passion, death and resurrection in the Eucharist, a proper understanding of the later Eucharistic Words of Institution begins not in the Gospels, but in Exodus 12. As Pitre writes, “If we are going to be able to see Jesus’ actions through ancient Jewish eyes, we first need to study the meaning of the Passover itself, both in Jewish Scripture and in Jewish tradition.”
Exodus 12:12-17 is the center of the longer discussion of Passover. What Exodus 12 describes is Israel’s memorialization of their redemption by God, with specific attention God’s actions in the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn. Also, it provides the foundational commands for its continued ritualistic memorial. The received text of Exodus 12 provides the context for understanding the feast.
Thus, with this background in mind, we move toward the specific group of verses for study. I’ve provided them with my new translations.
For on that night, I will pass through (from one side to the other) the land of Egypt, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, and on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.
This verse contains the one of Passover’s key themes for study: judgment. Here, the writer links the killing of the firstborn to God executing judgment, specifically judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pictured here, as the climax in this battle to redeem Israel from Egypt, is the idea that God asserts his supremacy. While the ultimate outcome is Israel’s freedom, the objective seems the vindication of God himself. In this assertion, God states his divine name, as if his own character is the reason for this enterprise. God now reveals himself to the world through his action of deliverance. Through the plagues, God brings judgment on Egypt’s pantheon of gods, and specifically on Pharaoh, who is god on earth, punishing him for his brutality of God’s people.
And the blood on the houses where you are will be a sign for you. For I will see the blood, and I will pass by (spare) you, and there will not be any plague to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This verse details the purpose and meaning of the blood which God instructed the Hebrews to put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The blood will be a sign. This word, usually translated “sign,” carries multiple meanings: “mark,” “token” or “signal” in the secular sense, and “miracle,” “omen” or “reminder” in the religious. In this verse, all the meanings may mingle, especially because it is paired with the application of blood and sacrifice. Nahum Sarna uses sacramental language as he comments, “the blood was simply to function as an outward, visible sign . . . an identity symbol; the entrance to the house with such a symbol is now a portal of freedom.” The blood (and the sacrificial lamb) served as the mechanism by which God would spare or pass by the house. Because of the blood on the door, the plague of death will not come to the house.
Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to The Lord for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute.
With verse 14, the context shifts from the first Passover to instructions for the nation to observe a yearly festival devoted to the remembrance of God’s actions on their behalf that day. Passover is a feast of remembrance. Sarna writes, “The Hebrew stem of z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as is active not passive, so that it eventuates into action.” Here, God’s instructions for future observance have a particular participatory feel. The celebrant becomes not only a part of the later festival, but somehow also invested in the action the festival memorializes. The traditional text of the Haggadah of Passover describes it well, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.” Thus, each person through history has a connection to every generation before and after, i.e., “for your generations.”
Seven days, you will eat only matzoth (unleavened bread). On the first day, you will remove leaven from your houses; indeed, you shall exclude from Israel anyone eating khametz (leavening) from the first day until the seventh day.
Here begins the detailed information about the use of unleavened bread in the observance of the festivals. While the bread appears in the detailed observance of the first Passover (vs. 8), the commands for the perpetual observance contain specific prohibitions against eating anything leavened for the length of the holiday. Coupled with verse 17, “observe and keep the matzoth” these strict rules about leaven add an authoritative atmosphere to celebration. What is it about using unleavened bread that requires such regulation? Khametz carries a meaning of fermentation and leavening. Sarna explains the significance:
Because the prohibition on leaven has wider application than that of the Passover, it is likely that the process of fermentation was associated with decomposition and putrefaction, and so it became emblematic of corruption. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to associate such a symbol with a sacrificial ritual whose function was to effect conciliation between man and God and to raise man to a higher level of spirituality. In other words, leavening implies sin. To remove leavening from the house during the feast could be understood as a command to holiness, a practical reminder of the later commands in the Levitical Laws.
The first day shall be a holy assembly, and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly. You will do no work on those days. Indeed, you will only make that (food) which everyone will eat (for that day).
What does it mean to be an Israelite? Those who mark themselves according to the covenant claim that status. In the previous argument that Passover carried sacramental status, we noted that a sacrament defines and separates a group that observes it. This verse connects these words in Exodus 12 with specific language in Leviticus 23:4-7. There, the writer focuses on the distinction of Israel from the rest of the world: holiness. This word appears eleven times in chapter 23 and 69 times in the entire book, the most in any book of the Hebrew Scriptures: sanctification matters. To make this sanctification a reality, God commands no work be done except that which is necessary to eat. Only Sabbath and Yom Kippur have more stringent laws about work. For a culture enslaved for over 400 years, the idea of days of rest is very foreign. God forges something dramatically new in the life of a people newly liberated.
Thus, you will observe and keep the matzoth; for indeed, in that very day, I brought your multitudes forth from the land of Egypt, and you will guard the very day permanently, forever.
This final verse forms a neat closure to the discussion, providing the full rationale for the observance of the festivals. The key word in this verse, the verb, translated here as “observe and keep,” has a very active meaning. Strong’s defines it “to hedge about (as with thorns)” Similar uses appear all over the Torah regarding keeping of all the ordinances, and regulations of the Mosaic Law. God is insistent that Israel keep this festival to remember it.
So what? Why does this matter to Christians and their observance of the Lord’s Supper. We’re not Jews after all. Not so fast. There are three themes for study: perpetual remembrance, sacrifice and judgment.
“Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it . . . for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute . . . you will guard the very day permanently, forever.” Verses 14 & 17 indicate that the Israelites should keep Passover in perpetuity to remember the miraculous redemption from Egypt. God wants to guarantee that Israel forever understands the remarkable way he redeemed them. Jesus and the disciples participated in this event at the Last Supper. Jesus took the full measure of meaning found in the Exodus, connected it to his passion, and spoke these words, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Here appears, the fusion of Passover language with the words of institution for the Eucharist. Christ commands the disciples to forever connect the memorial of the redemption of Exodus with the memorial of the redemption of Calvary. To “observe and keep the matzoth,” now reaches fullest expression in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Paul’s language in Corinthians completes the full range of meaning when he comments, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
God’s interest in connecting the perpetual memorial of the Exodus with the perpetual memorial of the Passion necessitates celebrating the Eucharist properly fusing both. It seems that Christians, gentile or Jew, should also celebrate Passover, in a fashion that memorializes the Exodus in the context of its fulfillment in Christ. In fact, the earliest Christians understood the feast this way. “The celebration of began life as the Christian version of the Passover, observed on the same day as its Jewish antecedent and focused upon Christ as the paschal lamb who had been sacrificed for the sins of the world . . . set within the context of the whole of the Christ-event, from his birth to his expected second coming.”
Passover is about sacrifice. The lamb, sacrificed, eaten with blood smeared becomes the vehicle through which the Israelites receive redemption. Through the ritual, God wants his people to tangibly unite themselves to his actions on their behalf. This gives wider meaning to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 5, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival,” as well as his words in chapter 10, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Passover is a festival about redemption through sacrifice and blood. The Eucharist’s enactment should focus on Christ’s atonement through blood in light of God’s miraculous rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.
Passover is also celebration, a joyous festival! While solemnity certainly has its place (Ex. 12:16), God has redeemed with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Celebration of the Eucharist should not be overloaded with heavy penitential attitudes, but instead be a joyous occasion because God has overthrown and judged the evil of the world in Christ. God’s character means that he cares about oppression, evil and false gods: “on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.” Passover displays in vivid clarity that God will be supreme. Christ displays this as vividly as the Exodus, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” This is the classic Christus Victor view of Jesus’ atonement.
Therefore, to celebrate the Eucharist in light of the Passover, imbues it with a sense that Christ has conquered all the evil and false gods (Jn. 12:31). Furthermore, the Eucharist must envision eschatological hope, so that when the Passover yearns for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Eucharist answers with, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” In this way Exodus 12:17, “on this day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt,” becomes the fulfillment, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Exodus 12:12-17 provides not only a vision of God’s work to redeem Israel, but a foundation for how Christians should see the ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ. For Christians to “unite themselves to God’s redemptive history, and consequently to the nation of Israel,” they should understand the roots of the sacrament given to them, and how to celebrate it in a way that honors the fullness of redemption in the Jewish Messiah given as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. The words of institution of the Passover provide the basis necessary to celebrate the richness of the Eucharist. To understand the character of God in the redemption of Christ, one should begin with the character of God in the redemption of the Exodus.
2 Kgs. 23:21-27/2 Chr. 35, Passover was restored under Josiah, where the chronicler wrote, “None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (ESV). In 2 Chr. 30 Hezekiah celebrated Passover as a two week festival to emphasize its importance in Israel.
For a detailed treatment of how Old Covenant ceremony constitutes Old Covenant sacrament, see Matthew Sichel, “Sacraments Reimagined: Fulfillment, Continuity and the New Israel,” Evangelical Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1-17.
Paul F. Bradshaw, “Easter in Christian Tradition,” in Two Liturgical Traditions, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw, vol. 5, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 1.
Holy Roar is not a great book part 5
For BH nerds, this is probably the most interesting chapter in Tomlin and Whitehead’s Holy Roar. That’s not to say it’s a good chapter. But, if you chase down all the BH claims made and read more in the grammatical and lexicographic literature on /barak/ in BH, then you’ll find there’s whole lot here that most folks don’t talk about much in church. What does it mean to bless the Lord?
Christian music moment: I grew up in the Houston area and was introduced to Robbie Seay’s music as a child. I’ve seen him live many times and I even enjoy his worship music even though I don’t like the fact that worship music is a genre separated by lyrics and that when we praise the Lord and bless his name somebody who is not the Lord gets the physical blessing of a royalty or portion of a licensing fee. Anyway, Robbie Seay has a translation of Psalm 134 that is probably my favorite modern version. Every time I think about the phrase “bless the Lord” this song gets into my head and its exciting because Robbie is a great artist. So, when Robbie tells me to bless the Lord and that piano is pounding and it makes me want to move, what is he telling me to do?
As with all the other BH words in Holy Roar, the authors have also misprinted ברך /barak/ and have instead printed something that isn’t able to be properly transcribed because the mistake is so egregious and nonsensical in BH. It is clear through the mistake that what is terribly printed might, if you’re drunk, be pronounced /karab/ because, like the others, it’s printed backwards. However, unlike the others, the authors have now started a BH word with a final form, the final /kaf/ ך. Some BH consonants are written differently if they occur at the end of a word rather than at anywhere else. The כ /kaf/ is one of these. Instead of being curved on the right side, the final /kaf/ ך is a vertical straight line down on the right side. BH students learn the difference between regular consonants and their final forms in the first lesson on the BH alphabet. This kind of mistake shows that the authors not only are not competent in BH, but they have likely never taken a single BH class. It is disturbing then for Whitehead to claim (p34) that he “read” anything in the “Hebrew of the Old Testament”. It literally only takes one class to not make this mistake that is made with the printing of ברך.
On to the fun stuff.
As is generally Whitehead’s method of study, he collapses all the usages of the root /barak/ on top of each other as if they are all equally used in the way they are distributed. Untrue. Actually, as with many other cases that we have seen, the different semantic usages of the root are exclusive to certain verb stems. Or more simply, he again wants to force meanings from one stem on to another. Whitehead copies-and-pastes Strong’s Concordance and claims that /barak/ means “To kneel. To bless God (as an act of adoration). To praise. To salute. To thank.” He then uses this information to claim that /barak/ means to kneel before God and so that should also be our posture in worship. This claim assumes that the root word /brk/ was first used as a verb for “kneel” and then over time, because of the association with kneeling and devotion, came to also be used to mean “worship/praise/bless”. However, recent scholars disagree.
More recent lexica with better methods have separated these different usages of /barak/ into two different words in their lexica: /barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2. /Barak/ 1 only occurs in the Qal and Hifil stems as an active verb and means “to kneel” (in the Qal stem) or “to cause something else (a camel) to kneel” (in the Hifil stem). So, the more thorough lexicographers do not accept the etymology that the authors use to make their claims about how we should posture ourselves before God.
However, the authors of Holy Roar are not the first to make this claim about /barak/. Others have also speculated that /barak/ was first used as a verb for “kneel” and then later came to be used as a verb for “worship/praise/bless”. It has long been a folk etymology passed around that has not stood up to the scrutiny of modern scholars. Nevertheless, it’s worth a look into. The NIDOTTE theological lexicon of BH states that the “traditional association of ‘kneel’ and ‘bless’ derives from the assumption that the person who was to be blessed knelt to receive the benediction” (Vol. 1, p740). In the ancient near east (=ANE), a social higher could bless a social lower, but the idea of someone lower on the social scale blessing someone above their class did not happen. All blessing language from religions surrounding ancient Israel have gods blessing humans and humans blessing each other, but certainly not a human blessing a god. That literally never happens in the ANE except in the Hebrew Bible.
This means that if /barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2 are indeed the same word (meaning, if “kneel” and “bless” are indeed the same word), then the correct posture of kneeling is for the one who is getting blessed, not the one doing the blessing. This means that not only do we bless the Lord, and it is a foreign and strange idea for a human to bless a god, but we also would be saying that the position of kneeling is for the Lord to take so we can bless him. After all, if the one being blessed takes a knee to receive the blessing, then it would be God who kneels when we bless him. This is another reason lexicographers reject the idea that “kneel” and “bless” are in fact the same word because we kneel before God, he does not kneel before us, they argue.
The authors use a few references from Psalms to support their claims.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
And his courts with praise!
Give him thanks!
Praise (Bless /barak/) his name! NET Bible (with my parenthetical note for clarification)
This instance is a Piel imperative of /barak/. It is a command to bless the name of God, Yahweh. The authors suggest that as this means the command to bless God it simultaneously is also a command to kneel before him. One wonders how this might actually be done in the context of Psalm 100. How can a worshipper kneel while also entering his gates and courts? Did ancient Hebrew people really understand this use of “bless” as “kneel” when moving from one place to another?
Psa 72:11, 15
11 All kings will bow down to him;
all nations will serve him…
15 May he live! May they offer him gold from Sheba!
May they continually pray for him!
May they pronounce blessings on him all day long! NET Bible
The authors use Psa 72:11 and 15 as another support for /barak/ as both “bless” and “kneel”. However, the verb /barak/ only occurs at the end of v15. The verb translated as “bow down” in v11 is a completely different verb (that is worth discussion in its own right, cause its weird, but suffice to say that it is not /barak/) and so some might mistake that translation “bow down” as a reason to understand /barak/ as both “bless” and “kneel”.
As NIDOTTE says, the one who kneels is receiving the blessing. This is why the kings of the earth bow before the Davidic King in Psalm 72. They bow in a position to receive a blessing from the King in Judah (in v11 with a “bow/worship” verb that is not /barak/ (the verb is a form of /hishtachavah/ if you must know)) because he does so many great things, as vss 12-14 describe. In v15, the King’s subjects will now bring him tribute and pray for him and bless him. This is a human-to-human blessing and there is nothing in v15 that specifies posture. This is also evidence in fact that /barak/ in v15 does not mean “kneel” since the Davidic King is the one receiving the blessing. If his subjects bless him and to be blessed means to be kneeling because kneeling is the position of receiving blessing, then that would mean that the Davidic King is the one on his knees receiving the blessing. This would be contrary to what is stated in v11. It is not the Davidic King who bows, but the other kings who are his subjects. They bow /hishtachavah/ and then they bless (/barak/) the king. This suggests, as more recent scholars have concluded that /barak/ should rightly be considered two words (/barak/ 1 and /barak/ 2) and the etymology of “kneel” related to “blessing” should be rejected for BH. That etymology might have been the case in other languages, but it is not the case in the Hebrew Bible.
The authors state (p74), “Scholars of the ancient Hebrew provide additional insights into the word /barak/. They believe that in the original context, the term did not simply mean bowing down. Instead, it carried the connotation of bending low while keeping one’s eyes fixed on the king.” They do not state which scholars say this. There is no other reference for this chapter except for Strong’s, and this statement does not come from Strong’s. So, how can Whitehead credibly claim that scholars state this? Actually, as shown above, scholars do not agree that /barak/ means both “bless” and “kneel”. It is good that Whitehead is not falsely attributing this to someone who has not said it (as he did in the previous chapter). However, this claim is simply not true. Scholars do not that this is what /barak/ means. It is more likely that Whitehead created this himself and wants there to be scholarly support of this statement, but there is not.
Whitehead then moves to use his new definition of /barak/ as “be transfixed” as the proper way to read /barak/ in Psa 103:1-2, 20-22. These are indeed commands to “bless” or “praise” God, but there is nothing explicit about posture, despite what Whitehead claims based on dubious etymology.
Actually, in many places, /barak/ explicitly does not mean “kneel”. In fact, in many occasions, standing is the correct position to take when one blesses (/barak/s) the Lord. In Psa 134:1 (the Robbie Seay psalm), it says “Bless the Lord all you servants of the Lord”. A parallel word for “servants” is “the standers” (substantive participle of /’amad/) or “the ones who stand”. In this context of Psa 134, “the standers” are the ones who minister in the Temple through the night. They are to bless the Lord while they are doing their ministering work which is called “standing”. This is not so much a posture as it is an office. The “standers” had various tasks within the Temple to perform. The idea that they would be on their knees while blessing the Lord as they do their tasks is incorrect and silly.
Also, in Neh 9:5, Levite priests commanded an assembly of Israelites to “stand” and “bless the Lord”. The correct posture in this context was not kneeling, but on one’s feet. The use of “bless” /barak/ here cannot mean also to kneel. This example shows that the idea of “kneeling” is not connected to the verb /barak/ when it is used in the Piel stem as a verb of blessing. The etymology espoused in Holy Roar simply does not stand up to the biblical evidence of how /barak/ is used.
Like others, this chapter is based on bad etymology that not only is no longer accepted by scholars, but the etymology used was not even applied to theology in the right way. I’m having fun doing the Hebrew in this series of reviews. But I’m very ready to be done with this book.
BTW, if you, or Chris Tomlin or Darren Whitehead, want to learn biblical Hebrew, it can be easy and relatively cheap. There’s lots of help available to us today and the only problem we run into is our own prioritizations. I do not think that all Christians must learn to read BH, just those who want to write books about it or have their exegesis taken seriously.
Holy Roar is not a great book part 3
The third chapter of Holy Roar is dedicated to the BH verb /zamar/. However, the authors have actually printed /ramaz/ in BH, which is not a word in BH (However it is, with metathesis for /razam/, a word in Mandean which means “to wink with the eyes”).
This chapter is not as bad as the other chapters in terms of method. Whereas with /yadah/ and /hillel/ the authors incorrectly collapsed all meanings in different stems on to the root word, they have not done so here. /Zamar/ in the Piel stem in BH indeed means “to sing praise” and is most often used in the Psalter. However, it is also used in the Qal and Nifal stems meaning “to prune” or “be pruned”, respectively. There is also a usage in BH that derives from Arabic that in verb form refers to (a gazelle) jumping and in the noun form to the animal (gazelle) itself. It is commendable that the authors did not collapse unrelated meanings on top of the root and then teach something silly like /zamar/ means to sing praise to God while jumping like a gazelle. I’m glad they knew to not do that. But then I wonder, why did they not know to do that with /yadah/ and /hillel/?
Whitehead states that /zamar/ is used 41 times in the Hebrew Bible, including both in the Psalms and in narrative. This is incorrect. A simple search on any reliable Bible software (like Accordance, BibleWorks, or Logos) shows that /zamar/ occurs 54 times over 50 verses in the Hebrew Bible. The authors show in their Notes that they use Logos Bible Software. However, the only resource they cite is Strong’s Concordance. We are only left to conclude that instead of investigating the usage of /zamar/ for himself, Whitehead simply copied and pasted what he found in Strong’s. This is not a reliable method and it is misleading of him to claim that he “read” things in “Hebrew” (p34), when his claims clearly don’t line up with Hebrew (not even in the way they printed Hebrew words).
Chapter 3 gives a handful of examples of the verb /zamar/ being used to symbolize music-making. The authors rightly note that music can be a powerful tool for many purposes: to set a mood (2 Kgs 3:15-16; note: /zamar/ is not in this verse, just the idea of music as important), to relieve stress (Psa 57:7), and to bring people together in worship (Psa 7:17). The only mistake made here is the reversion back to incorrect data on /yadah/ as it is used in Psa 7:17. Psa 7 says nothing about posture or what one should do with their hands. Lifting the hands and /zamar/ are not related in the text as the authors suggest here.
I was surprised that the authors did not take this chance to talk about the most frequnelty used word in BH that is built from the root /zmr/. That word is /mizmor/. Can you see the “z”, “m”, and “r” in /mizmor/? That is the root /zmr/ (with vowels, pronounced /zamar/). /Mizmor/ is the technical term in the Bible for a psalm. When we read in the superscriptions “A psalm of David” (as in Psa 3 for example), that word for “psalm” is /mizmor/ in BH.
This is vitally important for understanding the role of Psalms throughout history. In fact, the primary way that people have learned their theology has been through singing. People often treat the Psalms as simply the worship songs for ancient Israel. As if the important stuff where elsewhere and Psalms is just the songbook. The evidence from history says something different. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are approximately double the amount of copies of Psalms than the next most copied book of the Bible (Genesis). There are 20-21 copies of Genesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls while there are 36 of Psalms (according to Tov’s book p96-97. Note, some online resources cite 41 scrolls for Psalms) . The evidence shows that people used Psalms more often. Most of the time when ancient people engaged with the Bible, it was with a /mizmor/.
This should not be taken by us as a lesson on how we should posture ourselves physically when we sing together. Rather, it should be taken as a lesson by us on how artful and powerful the songs we sing should be. We should have high standards for our songs. When we sing together, we must recognize that we are teaching people what we believe. This is will be the primary way that many people learn. Since it is so important, we should take our songs seriously and encourage our artists to be bold in their music. Song writers can be the world’s most impactful teachers. So make worthy psalms.
Holy Roar is not a great book
A friend of mine sent me a copy of Holy Roar by Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead. He asked me to write a review of it. My friend is a worship leader and his church has been using Holy Roar as a guide for their worship. My friend did not feel comfortable with the way the book was being used to make claims about Scripture. Those claims were being used to encourage a more participatory worship event. Participatory, in this case, was measured by the number of uplifted hands during the worship music. I’d be willing to bet that Chris Tomlin agrees that this would qualify as a superficial use of a book he co-authored. I’ve never met Chris Tomlin, but that’s what my imagination suspects.
I’m gonna review each of the chapters of Holy Roar, focusing only on the claims made about the Hebrew word that each chapter covers. My specific concern is how Scripture is handled in supporting the views espoused in the book. So, get out a Bible or open up Biblegateway in another window to follow along. We will be doing lots of sword drills.
But before we get to the first word, I’m gonna state 3 things I like about this book.
- I like that this book gets people interested in the Hebrew Bible. Bible readers often use multiple Bible translations in their Bible study, hoping to catch some nuance into biblical languages. This book serves people who want to know more about biblical languages. I’m glad those people are out there and I hope those people feel encouraged to take their time and learn biblical Hebrew (=BH) for themselves. There are many free resources on the internet to get folks going.
- I like the discussion sections of this book. Rather than laying out a certain view, the discussion sections give a handful of Bible verses and questions that a group can study together. These kinds of open-ended prompts often make for great conversations at a Bible study with friends.
- I love this. This is worth the price of the book alone. On page 118 in the conclusion, the authors have a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. meant for discussion within a group:
“Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God. Whenever the church, consciously or unconsciously, caters to one class, it loses the spiritual force of the ‘whosoever will, let him come’ doctrine, and is in danger of becoming little more than a social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.”
This is a very important thought that we will revisit at the end of this post. On to the Hebrew…kind of.
First, it must be confessed, that the Hebrew is all wrong in this book. I mean orthographically. 100%. Wrong. All of it. This is embarrassing for Bowyer and Bow, the book’s publisher. It is common for pastors to be unfamiliar with BH and simply copy and paste from their favorite Bible software (Logos in this case, as indicated in the Notes section of the book). But, I find it unforgiveable in the publishing world to print a book meant to introduce English speakers to BH concepts and yet print 100% of the Hebrew words completely backwards! There is not one Hebrew word in this book that is typeset or printed correctly. One can only assume that Bowyer and Bow did not arrange for a proof-reader who is competent in BH. This is unprofessional and sloppy. I’m sure there are students who would have loved the chance to proof-read a Chris Tomlin book for free. Now imagine all the young or hip Christian readers who will take this book to their local tattoo artist and get incorrect Hebrew inked backwards onto their bodies. While the MLK quote is enough to justify the price of the book, this mistake is enough to justify a full refund.
I was suspicious about the publisher Bowyer and Bow. I’ve never heard of them. Their address listed in the book (109 Westpark Dr. Suite 400, Brentwood, TN 37027) is an approximately 10 mile drive from Darren Whitehead’s church, according to Google Maps. When I enter that address into Google, Google tells me that this is actually the location of an accounting firm called Curtis and Company. If you click their link for “published articles”, you will find a number of documents about entertainment law and finance. I suspect that the authors’ accountants made a dummy publishing company and used their own address to register it. Readers should know then that Bowyer and Bow is not a respectable publisher of Christian education materials who uses industry-standard practices of proofreading. Its simply a name on a tax document that does not attempt to do real publishing. I can appreciate authors who want to self-publish, but this kind of self-publishing seems like its trying to hide the fact that it is indeed self-publishing. That lack of transparency is unsettling coming from authors who make (incorrect) claims about what the Bible says. (I talked to friend about this. Neither of us are lawyers. But he tells me this is a strategy for evading taxes. That might not be the case here. Perhaps the authors wanted to self-publish but not have the book look like its self-published. But, if the authors did not want the success of the book to bump up their taxes, then creating a publishing company in name could be one way to reduce that risk. It is also possible that the intention was to bury losses in this “publisher” if the book sales did not do well.)
Ok, now on to the Hebrew for real.
The first Hebrew word that Holy Roar prints backwards is יָדָה /yadah/. Hebrew moves right-to-left (not left-to-right like English). So the /y/ sound comes first in this word and so is placed all the way to the right, symbolized by the consonant י /yod/. In Holy Roar, the yod is placed at the end (on the left) as if the authors were trying to read Hebrew as one would read English, left-to-right. So, while the authors want to talk about /yadah/ in this chapter, the Hebrew word that is printed is /haday/, which is not actually a word in BH.
The authors use a number of Bible verses to show what /yadah/ means. Unfortunately, not all the examples they cite are actually the same word. Here, each verse that is cited in the chapter is discussed.
“Take up your battle positions all around Babylon,
all you soldiers who are armed with bows.
Shoot all your arrows at her! Do not hold any back!
For she has sinned against the LORD.” Jer 50:14
This is not a good verse to use as an example for /yadah/ because it has textual variants. Some manuscripts have /yarah/ here and /yarah/ means “throw, cast, shoot” in the Qal verb stem. Many commentators accept /yarah/ as the correct reading.
“They shut me up in a pit
and threw stones at me.” Lam 3:53
This verse is also not a good example of /yadah/ as “praise” because this verb is in the Piel verb stem. Also, the directionality of this verb is not upward, as the authors suggest this position symbolizes. Rather, in these cases with the Piel verb stem, /yadah/ means to “cast/throw down”. The example from Lam 3:53 is a good example of this downward motion.
“All he has made will give thanks to the LORD.
Your loyal followers will praise you.” Psa 145:10
The book claims that this verse is an example of this verb used when “the Hebrew people were so overcome by the glory of the Lord that their hands shot upward in response” (22). However, there is nothing in this verse (or this psalm) that specifies upward hand motions. The only hand mentioned in this psalm is God’s hand in v16. Leslie Allen writes in the NIDOTTE theological dictionary (made by Zondervan as an educational compliment to the NIV as the NI in NIDOTTE symbolizes), “The verb primarily refers to an acknowledgement…Usually the acknowledgement is one of praising God; less often it is one of sin. The praise may be of a general type, but it tends to be specific, the giving of thanks for resolution of a recent crisis. This occurs mainly in the Psalms, but the prayers of thanksgiving in 1 Chr 29:13 and Dan 2:23 are comparable” (NIDOTTE Vol 2, 398). In this way, Bible readers might ask themselves what specific kind of praise is being offered in each usage of /yadah/ across Psalms.
For BH nerds, note that this verb exclusively occurs in the derived stems of Hifil and Hitpael. This is a reason why more thorough lexicographers (HALOT, DCH, Gesenius 18) have separated /yadah/ into different words: /yadah/ 1 and /yadah/ 2. The first usage of /yadah/ sits on sparse BH data. The Qal example from Jer 50:14 is likely actually the verb /yarah/ and the other examples (Lam 3:35; Zech 2:4) are in the Piel verb stem and symbolize downward motion. However, /yadah/ 2 is the verb of praise and confession reserved only for the Hifil and Hitpael stems. This suggests that Hebrew Bible readers may rightly interpret these as two distinct words that do not share in any pattern in the verb stems. One word is only in Piel. The other word, with the same root spelling, is only in Hifil and Hitpael. They are not the same word.
However, one would have a hard time learning this if one relied exclusively on Strong’s Concordance for BH information. Strong’s Concordance is a great tool that has started many people’s interest into biblical languages. It now serves as a database in digital platforms that matches translation words in a Bible translation with the original Hebrew or Greek word. The right way for non-biblical languages readers to use this information is to then take that Hebrew or Greek word that Strong’s matched with the translation word or phrase and then look up that Hebrew or Greek word in a reliable Hebrew or Greek lexicon, like HALOT or BDAG. The database that Strong’s Concordance has built up is very useful. However, the linguistic information recorded in Strong’s Concordance is simply not reliable for exegesis. We must have higher standards and use better tools. If you are a pastor and you rely on Strong’s for biblical languages information, you are doing exegesis poorly and unreliably. It is telling that 100% of the information cited in the notes of Holy Roar is from Strong’s Concordance. Pastors must be expected to use better methods. (Rant: There was a time when seminaries took Scripture very seriously and insisted on high standards of competency in biblical languages. Those days have passed for the most part. In many seminaries, one can obtain an MDiv with zero experience in biblical languages (often “gifting” is used as an excuse). So perhaps we should blame ourselves within our own denominations and churches for insisting upon and funding the dumbing down of exegetical education.)
“Let the nations thank you, O God!
Let all the nations thank you!” Psa 67:3
This is a great example of how praise means giving thanks. In the context of this psalm, all people groups will show their thanks to God for being just and saving people. Note how many translations render this usage of /yadah/ as “give thanks”. There is also nothing in this psalm regarding hands or one’s posture during worship. Rather, the focus is on being expressing thankfulness/praise.
“In God I boast all day long,
and we will continually give thanks to your name. (Selah)” Psa 44:8
Again, in this verse, the context is God’s power (deliverance from enemies in the previous verse) and so /yadah/ is the response of praise/thanksgiving, not a position for one’s hands.
But this is not to say that hands aren’t important in giving thanks. Just in the psalms, “hand” (/yad/ in BH) occurs 94 times over 89 verses. Most of these usages of hands refer to God’s hands (symbolizing his power). Many other times, “hand” in Psalms refers to the hand (or power) of an enemy. However, only 5 times (by my count, please double-check me), does /yad/ refer to the worshiper’s or psalmist’s hands. These cases are Psa 28:2; 77:2; 143:6; 18:34; 144:1; 134:2. Psa 28:2; 77:2; and 143:6 refer to hands asking for help. These cases are desperate situations where outstretched hands are a sign of weakness and need for a savior. Psa 18:34 and 144:1 refer to the psalmist’s hands being trained by God for battle. While these two categories of one’s own hands in Psalms are indeed related to one’s relationship with God in each of those contexts, this is not “hands of praise”. There is only one explicit “hands of praise” reference in Psalms: 134:2. In this verse, the psalmist commands (with an imperative verb) worshippers to raise their hands toward God’s Temple and bless the Lord while doing so. This is not a context of desperation. This is not training for battle. This is the only example of “hands of praise” in the book of Psalms. It is surprising that the authors did not use it as an example. It should be noted that Psa 134 is one of the Ascent psalms. These were psalms that were used for Temple celebrations. Given that formal setting for ancient Israelite holidays, it would be legalistic (and anachronistic) to use this verse as a command for modern worshippers to raise their hands during a worship service. If “hands” occurs in Psalms over 90 times, but only 5 of those refer to the hands of a worshipper (and those 5 are of 3 different kinds), then “hands of praise” cannot be reliably suggested as an important theological category in Psalms. Rather, the “hands” we should praise are God’s own hands and we can do that with or without raising our own.
We would do well to learn the words of Dr. King, as the authors suggest, and practice worship with a focus on community. That means making sure everyone is included in the service. It does not mean that everyone participates in a prescribed way. If we are to really learn the “whosoever will, come” doctrine that Dr. King describes than we must be more concerned with establishing relationships with everyone whom we worship with than we are concerned with the congregation’s physical posture during worship. We should be more concerned with people being there rather than how they use their hands when they are there. Most of the time, as in Psalms, our hands in worship are to be extended laterally, toward another in making a relationship. That makes worshipping God truly a community experience.
Next chapter later this week.
the magnanimity of Micah 6.(6-)8
The LORD has told you mortals what is good,
and what it is that the LORD requires of you:
only to act justly, to love loyalty,
to walk humbly with your God.
But, there is so much more. The dialogue is strained. God and Israel are at odds, separated by sin but united by covenant. We can see, however, the inherent passion in the words — and the emptiness of the relationship.
Israel is willing to give up its first born to pay for its transgressions. Surely, we can see in this a symbolic presentation for Christ. It harkens back to the Abraham/Isaac story as much as we are assured it pushes us to Jesus. What can we do in such a time of distress — when our God is silent to our pleas — to bring God to our aid? What can we do to earn God’s forgiveness?
There is more to this passage. The “Man” here is almost universalistic in its application. This is not merely to Israel, but to all of Adam’s race. Christians would contend that this looks forward to the new covenant. It is this context – covenant — that the requirements of the humans are to be understood. It is not merely “justice” as if some post-modern pseudo-Wesleyan wrote this book. Nor is it mere “kindness.” Rather,
“Justice” and “kindness” are broad terms for what is expected of those to whom one is joined by a social bond such as a covenant; even “love” fits in the covenant vocabulary.
Love, Justice, Kindness — these things are those things God requires of us for Himself. In being just and kind towards God, we will inevitably be that to our neighbor.
In the Christian message, the universality of God’s demands and love are explored. It is not merely to Israel God speaks, but to all people. There is nothing we can do in of ourselves to be saved, or rather, to be restored to the covenant. We cannot offer a sacrifice worthy enough of that.
But God can.
And in doing so, our sole duty is to fulfill the covenant — staying in communion with God (which that “walk humbly” but entails).
There is so much to this passage — and it is often marred by the blithely reliance upon verse eight.