Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Psalm 32:6 - The Prayer of the Godly Man

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

The wording of this verse seems confusing at first. “Therefore” refers us back to what David has already said: bring your sins to God and He will forgive you. It's a call for sinners to confess their sins. So, what's the connection between this and the idea that a “godly” person should pray while the Lord “may be found”? And what does it mean that there is a time when He may be found? Is there a time when He cannot be found? I was under the impression that He finds us, so what is this saying, anyway? The confusion partly stems from a misunderstanding of the word "godly," and our sense of this verse hinges on the meaning of that word.

In Hebrew, "godly" is the word HASID (ever heard of a Hasidic Jew?). This word is related to the Hebrew word HESED, which some scholars consider to be the most important word in the Old Testament. HESED is usually translated as mercy, lovingkindness, kindness, merciful kindness, steadfast love or loyalty. It is a rich Hebrew word that calls for prayerful study. Don't assume a mere lexicon or Hebrew dictionary can teach you the depths of its meaning, but seek this word out in the text of the Bible and find its usage according to the Holy Spirit. Having said that, let's look at a few helpful observations from the scholars and have a brief Hebrew lesson about this word, HESED:

“. . . [It is] one of the most important words in the Old Testament . . . the basic idea is that of an act of kindness, love or mercy shown to someone. The quality of the kindness shown is usually that reserved for close friends and family members, but [it] can be shown to anyone. . . . [It] is central to God's character. It is closely tied to His covenant with His chosen people; in fact the covenant may be thought of as the relationship from which [HESED] flows.” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Old Testament, Lexical Aids article for Strong's number 2617)

“The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. . . . In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “Strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. . . . The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship. But HESED is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. HESED implied personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. . . . It is one of [God's] most central characteristics. . . . The entire history of Yahweh's covenant relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of HESED.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Old Testament section edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., article on Loving-Kindness)

“The nearest New Testament equivalent to the Heb. HESED is CHARIS (grace q.v.), as Luther realized. . . . God's loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel's persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Heb. word which is translated loving-kindness. . . . The story of God's people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else.” (A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, article on Loving-Kindness)

The word HASID is usually translated with words like “godly” or “saint,” but it actually means “one who trusts in God's HESED mercy."

“The adjective HASID, derived from HESED, is often used to describe the faithful Israelite. God's HESED provides the pattern, model, and strength by which the life of the Hasid is to be directed.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)

The truly godly people are those who live by God's mercy. So the verse might read, "Therefore, let everyone who trusts in Your mercy pray to You . . ." Ah, that makes more sense, doesn't it?

When should these mercy-dependent people pray? David's answer is, "In a time when He may be found." The phrase could also be translated "in a time of finding out." David's sin was "found out" rather embarrassingly when Nathan said "You are the man" and revealed that David's hidden sin was not hidden at all. The time when God may be found IS the time of finding out. In fact, God will only allow Himself to be found by sinners. Jesus said "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." When you find out you are a much worse sinner than you ever thought possible, when you find out your flesh is still warring against God, when you find out your heart is indeed sinful and unbelieving - then you must pray! This is also the time of finding out about God, that He is more merciful, kind, patient and generous than you ever imagined. That He is indeed nothing like you. If you find yourself without finding Him, you will collapse under the weight of your sin.

What is the result of this discovery, this "finding out"? The HASID who finds his own weakness and prays to the Great Giver of Mercy is protected from harm. The toxic sea of self-knowledge does not overwhelm him. The great flood of condemnation doesn't even touch him. He is set on higher ground and kept by the power of grace.

In Psalm 117, we find these words "His HESED prevails over us." Prevailing - isn't that the very same thing the waters of Noah's flood did to the earth? Prevailed over it? Now that's some kind of mercy! Instead of sin flooding over us, grace prevails.

It's no wonder David cannot contain his jubilation through the next verses. I'll bet he danced before he ever finished writing this love poem to his Lord. And so shall we . . .

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