A is for All

Since I’m milking this whole alphabet theme for all it’s worth, I thought I’d take it one step further. I’m going to share some of my favorite words (in English) in the Bible.

Here are the rules:
1) Go alphabetically, but leave out k, q, x, and z, to keep in step with the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. Besides, there are no words in the Bible that start with X, except for King Xerxes, and he was not a favorite.
2) Use only small words, four letters or less.
3) Change the rules when necessary.

A is for ALL

The Bible is full of absolute words: all, every, always, never, only, whosoever. None of God’s promises contain words like sometimes, maybe, usually, probably, on the off-chance, once-in-a-while. He is not a now-and-then, half-and-half God. He proved He is “all in” when He sent His Son as a sacrifice to rescue us. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)

Just think how differently the Holy Scriptures would sound if the word “all” was exchanged for less comprehensive words.
And we know that in SOME things God works for the good…  (Rom. 8:28)
I PROBABLY won’t leave you or forsake you…..  (Heb. 13:5)
I will be with you SOMETIMES, MAYBE to the end of the age…..  (Matt. 28:20)
My God will meet A FEW of your needs ONCE-IN-A-WHILE…. (Phil. 4:19)

Instead, we get promises like this: “And God is able to make ALL grace abound to you, so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in EVERY good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

When PB and I stood before our family and friends on our wedding day, we made some absolute promises that are still in effect 40 years later. The only limit put on those vows was “until death do us part”. If I had said, “I’ll love and cherish you for a while…” or “Yes to the ‘for better, for richer, in health’ part, but about that ‘for worse, for poorer, in sickness’ part — well, we’ll see”. Those half-hearted vows would’ve left gaping loopholes for a quick escape when the worst day came or the financial trouble arrived or the serious diagnosis showed up. Words like that sound less like a promise and more like a business deal, made to protect the interests of the parties involved.

Will Parker sang to Ado Annie in the Broadway musical Oklahoma, “With me it’s all er nuthin’! Is it all er nuthin’ with you?” God makes His intentions clear in His Word — He holds nothing back, He makes promises that will be kept, and His love is all-encompassing. He’s an ALL kind of God. And He is calling for our “all er nuthin'” devotion.

When Jesus was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He didn’t have to stop to think about it. He didn’t go over the 613 Old Testament laws in His mind or even refer to the Big 10. He responded,  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Jesus didn’t say “Obey the Lord your God with all your heart…” or “Serve the Lord your God with all your strength…” or “Live your best life with all your soul….” 

Just love, with all you’ve got.

all

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “A” is ALL.

If you need to catch up:
Intro – The Long Song
Monday – Stanza A
Tuesday – Long Song Study, Part A
Wednesday – Aleph

Aleph

I’m going full nerd-mode now.
We’re gonna learn Hebrew.
Don’t be scared.
It’ll be fun.

Did you notice that every eight verses of Psalm 119 has a heading with a funny word and an even funnier squiggly thing? Each of the twenty two stanzas of this psalm are introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order from A to Z, or more accurately, from Aleph to Taw.

Aleph looks like this:aleph

According to Jewish tradition,
each letter was divinely created by God
and contains revelation about the Messiah.
Do you see Jesus in the letter Aleph?
He’s in there.

See that diagonal line in the middle?
It’s a position of humility.
“Taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself.” Phil. 2:7-8

See that arm reaching up to the right?
It shows His deity, His connection to the divine realm.
“Who being in very nature God…” Phil. 2:6

See that arm reaching down to the left?
It shows His humanity, His connection to the earthly realm.
“…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Phil. 2:6

 This is a dramatic picture of Jesus with two outstretched arms,
one to His heavenly Father, one to us.
He is the link between heaven and earth.

Wait. There’s more.

Despite the fact that Aleph, a consonant, is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, it is a silent letter. It takes on the sound of a vowel, depending on the marks attached to it. There is a story in Jewish folklore that says all the letters of the alphabet came before the Lord to give reasons why they should be the first letter of the first word in the Torah, or Bible. All except for Aleph. The Lord asked Aleph why it didn’t come and Aleph explained that it was silent and had nothing to say. So the Lord honored Aleph’s humility and placed it at the beginning of all the letters.

Wait. There’s more.

Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, which is the Greek way of saying, “I am the Aleph and the Taw.” Like the humble letter, Jesus came in humility as a human being and suffered in silence.

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.”
Isaiah 53:7

“Then Pilate asked him,
‘Don’t you hear how many things they are accusing you of?’
But Jesus make no reply, not even to a single charge —
to the amazement of the governor.”
Matt. 27:13-14

So God the Father honored His Son’s humility and gave Him His rightful place.

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name.”
Phil. 2:9

And that’s just the first letter.

aleph (1)

Next: My favorite words.

Long Song Study, part A

It’s Bible Study Day!
Since we can’t gather together in person right now,
let’s meet up here!

study

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, longer than some entire books of the Bible. Perhaps its length is meant to tip us off to a little secret: learning to walk with God in faith and obedience is not learned in a day. It takes a lifetime. So take God up on His gift of grace, and give yourself some, too.

This study will be more like a slow marathon than a speedy sprint. For those of us non-runners, it will be more like a stroll than a power walk. We’re going to stop and smell some rose-scented words as we saunter through the first eight verses.

Ready? Open up your Bible to Psalm 119. Let’s go!

Verse 1
How does this magnificent psalm begin? With a blessing! It sounds a lot like the first words Jesus spoke in His first public sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” The main idea is that there is great blessing in walking in the ways of the Lord.  All of the 175 verses that follow support that one key thought.
Notice it’s a walk, not a run, but also not a sit. We walk, which means there is steady progress, a quiet advance, a persistent continuance. No fast forward, no hurried quick-fix, no checklist with instant results. Also, no lazy bones, no couch potato procrastinating, no waiting for maturity to magically appear.

Verse 2
Another blessing! This time it’s for keeping and seeking. “We must first get a thing before we can keep it. And in order to keep it well, we must get a firm grip on it.” (Spurgeon) So, we are to grab ahold of the scriptures and not let go. Keep His Word. But seek Him with all your heart. The Hebrew understanding of “heart” includes the emotions, the will, and the intellect. All of it.

Verse 3
It’s not enough to refrain from doing wrong things. We are to pursue the right things! By seeking, we find out what His ways are, so that we can walk like Him.

Verse 4
At this point, the focus shifts from talking about God, to talking directly to God. And he never stops. The rest of the psalm is a prayer with praise and testimony sprinkled in.
Now we learn how the Word is to be kept: with diligence. The Hebrew word used here means “vehemently”, which is defined as zealously, ardently, strongly emotional, and intensely passionate. Is that how you feel about God’s Word?

Verse 5
No wonder, then, that he immediately begins to confess his lack of zeal. He wishes he was farther along when it came to knowing and obeying God’s laws. That’s actually a good place to start, though. When we recognize all our best intentions and lofty goals often fall short, we are in a good position to ask God to provide a consistent desire for and love for the Word.

Verse 6
He doesn’t want to stand before God someday and have nothing to show for his life and be exposed as a fraud, as one who professed the name of God but did not fully live for Him. That would be embarrassing. How can we avoid that situation? Fix our eyes on God’s Word and let it do its work in us. Shame rises up when we compare ourselves to each other. Walking with God is not a competition so don’t worry about lagging behind or being out in front. Just keep walking with your eyes on Jesus.

Verse 7
Prayer leads to praise. We may have a long way to go, but we can give Him praise as we continue growing and learning. The more we learn about the Lord, the more we will want to praise Him.

Verse 8
A resolution is made: I will do this! He commits to keeping all the commandments. Whew! That’s impressive, but we all know willpower only takes us so far. Aware that he probably won’t measure up to such perfection, he appeals to God’s mercy. “Don’t give up on me!” And, of course, He never gives up on us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

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What do we know for sure from this passage?

  • There is a way that leads to a life of blessing.
  • We can choose to walk in that way, or not.
  • There are things we can do to stay on track: seek Him, keep His commands, fix our eyes on Him.
  • Walking with God is a lifelong process with some successes and some failures.
  • He walks with us and never gives up on us.

Please share your thoughts, insights, comments and questions! This is intended to be a conversation, not a monologue!

Stanza A

follow

Since most of us don’t read Hebrew,
and since I admire David’s use of his alphabet,
and since I am quarantined and have oodles of time,
I thought it would be fun to re-write David’s magnum opus.

Not to improve upon it, mind you. I find re-wording scripture is a challenging exercise because it forces me to process each word and try to match the meaning while using different expressions. You might want to read the original first (scroll down) — I guarantee it’s better.

Here are the rules:
1) Start every line of the eight verse sections with the same letter.
2) Stay true to the meaning.
3) Since David wrote with a poetic meter, keep each line to eight syllables.
4) Break the rules when necessary.

Here goes.

Psalm 119:1-8       

A blessing comes to the spotless;
   to those who walk in His footsteps.

Another for guarding the truth
   and a hearty pursuit of God.

All wrongdoing should be cut off
   in order to stay on His path.

Author of precepts and commands,
   You expect my obedience.

Alas, I am not consistent
   in keeping Your law in my grip.

Away with the shame of my sin;
   instead, my eyes rest on Your word.

Arise and make way for some praise,
   while I learn to follow Your rules.

Above all, I will stick with You.
   Please, please, please, don’t give up on me!

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*Next: a verse-by-verse study of Psalm 119:1-8.

The Long Song

The ancient Hebrew people loved their alphabet.

They viewed the 22 letters as gifts from Yahweh
and they believed that each of the characters
held special meaning about the coming Messiah.
Nobody used that alphabet better than King David.

hebrew

Although David was a mighty warrior and military leader, the man had a way with words. He had the heart of a poet and could write lyrics like nobody’s business. He was a true wordsmith who enjoyed playing with different styles and forms.

David became quite an expert at acrostic poems (he wrote at least seven of them), but you’d never know it by reading your English Bible. That’s because David wrote in Hebrew, with an alphabet that looks strange to our western eyes and sounds like someone clearing their throat to our western ears.

The queen of all acrostic poems is Psalm 119, which has 22 stanzas, each stanza having eight lines. In the first stanza, all eight lines start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the second stanza, every line starts with the second letter, and so on.

It’s a triumph of creativity and craftsmanship.
It’s too bad we miss out on how cool it is. 

After finishing fifteen days worth of posts in the six verses of Psalm 23, I asked God, “So, what’s next?” I’m not sure if it’s a good sign or a bad sign that I feel drawn to the longest chapter in the Bible. But here we go. As long as we’re staying home, we might as well learn something.

Besides, Psalm 119 just might save your life.

George Wishart, a bishop in the 1600’s, was sentenced to death by hanging. As was the custom of the time, the condemned man was allowed to choose one psalm to be read aloud before dying. He chose Psalm 119, with its 176 verses, and before it was over, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.

God’s Word still wants to save our lives.

psalm 119

Praying the Alphabet

Have you ever had a hard time falling asleep at night?
Let me re-phrase that.
In the past two weeks, have you had a hard time getting to sleep at night?

moon

Considering how important sleep is to staying healthy and giving our immunity a boost, this is one positive thing we can learn to do better. Even during a pandemic. Here’s a little idea for you: Pray the alphabet.

Thank God for something that starts with A. “Thank you, Lord, for animals.”
Thank God for something that starts with B. “Thank you, Lord, for beauty.”
You get the idea.

When I do this, two things happen:
1) I fall asleep with gratitude in my heart instead of worries and cares.
2) I never make it to Z.

Sometimes I thank God for people.
Thank you, Lord, for Anna-Abel, Blake, Charlie, Dan, Eli-Ella-Evie-Emma-Ember…
It’s ok to use a letter more than once.

Sometimes I thank God for things that give me joy.
Thank you, Lord, for Art, Books, Crossword puzzles…

Sometimes I thank God for flowers.
Thank you, Lord, for Asters and Bee Balm and Carnations…

Sometimes I thank God for food.
Thank you, Lord, for Apple pie and Banana cream pie and Coconut cream pie…
On second thought, that’s not such a good idea.

Sometimes I thank God for His gifts to me.
Thank you, Lord, for your Abundance, the Bible, Compassion…

Sometimes I thank God for Himself.
I praise you, God, because you are Almighty, Brilliant, Creative…

The possibilities are endless.
But on those nights when even this seems too hard
and words don’t come,
take heart from some old Jewish folklore:

If you recite the alphabet five times very slowly,
God, to whom all prayers are known,
will put the letters together to form
the prayers you can’t put to words.

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
 I have set the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body will also rest secure.”
Psalm 16:7-9

 

Next: a whole bunch of posts on “A-Z”!

For the Flock, Day 15

Today we will wrap up this series on the 23rd Psalm.
I hope it has been a blessing to you!
There’s a little treat for you at the end of today’s post.

Psalm-23

Final thoughts:

David talked to himself a lot in the Psalms.
(Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God. Ps. 42:11)

David talked about God a lot in the Psalms.
(As for God, his way is perfect. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Ps. 18:30)

David talked to his people a lot in the Psalms.
(Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous. Sing to him a new song. Ps. 33:1,3)

But mostly, David talked to God in the Psalms.
(To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Show me your ways. Ps. 25:1,4)

All of these methods are good, even all at once. David often wove in and out of talking to himself and God, talking about God, and preaching to the people, all in one psalm.

The beloved 23rd Psalm is one example. David started by talking about God, and then couldn’t help but talk directly to God. That’s a good lesson for us, too. We should never leave the study of God without going to the throne of God. The walk of faith is about formation, not information.

So, let’s pray.

Dear God, how could I ask for anything more when I’ve got such a great Shepherd? You take me places where I can rest and be fed, where I can quench my thirst in peace and safety. You take all the frenzied parts of me and put me back together. During these scary, dark days, when death seems near, I know You are walking right beside me so those sinister shadows can’t hurt me — it’s not so scary after all. Your guidance and yes, even Your discipline make me feel secure and comfortable. You put on a spread for me, right in front of my adversaries. You pour the oil of blessing on my head — it fills me to the brim and spills over. Without a doubt in my mind I know I will see your love and goodness at every turn. I plan to move into Your house, God, and stay forever and ever.

Let’s close this series of posts by listening to the 23rd Psalm
as David would have read it.