Vav

Wow! We’re on the sixth letter already — WAW!

Vav (also written as Waw) is the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Vav has the same sound as “v” as in “vine”. Every line in Psalm 119:41-48 starts with this letter. Vav looks like this:

vav

The meaning of the word “vav” is “hook”.
Can you see it?

The word “vav” is found only in Exodus, in reference to the tabernacle, where the curtains were to be hung from “silver hooks“. (Ex. 27:10, 11, 17) The tabernacle was the place where God lived while the Israelites traveled in the wilderness. Rabbis teach that in the same way, God now resides in the Torah. So scribes developed a system that made the sacred documents a reflection of the tabernacle by calling each page a “curtain” and at the top of each page is the letter “vav”, hooking the words to the parchment. (Side note: Every time a scribe copied the name of God onto a new scroll, he had to say a blessing and dip his pen in fresh ink.)

Just as a hook was used to connect the curtains in the tabernacle, the “vav” was seen as a connecting letter. When placed at the beginning of a word, the letter is read as “and”, such as “heaven and earth”. So within a sentence, “and” is the hook that connects two words. In the Hebrew text, every line of Psalm 119:41-48 starts with “vav”, or “and”, making it one long run-on sentence!

Because “vav” is the sixth letter in the Aleph-Bet, it is associated with the sixth day of creation, the day man was created. But because of sin (Jews believe the Fall happened on a Friday), the “vav”, or connection, between God and people was broken.

“So God in His goodness sent Jesus as the second Adam to reverse the curse in order to restore the connection between heaven and earth. Jesus died on the sixth day, a Friday, to make atonement for the sin of the first man and woman so the blessings we lost in Eden could be restored.” (Rabbi Jason Sibol)

Rabbi Sibol also points out that Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine mentions six stone jars. (John 2:6) That’s a detail that is easy to miss and we might think it’s unimportant. But there are no wasted words in the Bible. Six stone pots were filled to the brim to show that “Jesus came to restore the Lord’s original blessing for creation” — one for each day.

There’s one more thing you need to know about this letter.
The letter “vav” is not only seen as a hook, but also as a nail.
Can you see it?

The Messiah
was nailed to a cross to
reconnect
us
with
God.

“For there is one mediator
between God and human beings,
the man Jesus Christ.”

(1 Tim. 2:5) 

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Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “F”.

Long Song Study, part F

bible-study

It’s Bible Study Day! Let me encourage you to spend some time reading over Psalm 119:41-48 before perusing these humble comments. Sometimes when I study, I write down as many questions as I can about the passage. I might not be able to answer them all, but it gets me thinking!

Verse 41
Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise;
The word “steadfast” is a doozy. There is no word in the English language that can capture the depth and richness of its Hebrew meaning. But I’m going to try. The word “hesed” is translated as “steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, loyal love; a long-suffering love that extends to the undeserving and even intervenes on their behalf”. Whew! That’s a mouthful — and a brainful. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s hard to define God’s love. After all, it is longer, wider, deeper and higher than anything we can think or imagine.
Another way to define “hesed” is “Covenant love”. So in this verse, David was not asking for steadfast love and salvation; he was claiming it, according to the promise, or the covenant agreement made with God.

Verse 42
then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.
King David had a group of negative critics. (We met them in verses 21-23.) It wasn’t a good idea to taunt the great Warrior-King, but some people just don’t know when to stop. Anyone in any kind of leadership position knows that there is always pressure because it’s impossible to please everybody. “It is precisely when we are squeezed by pressure that ministry grows. When there is no pressure, when our Christian service comes at no cost, it doesn’t grow.” (Christopher Ash)
We don’t know what answer David was going to dish back, but certainly it would be tempered by the “hesed” love that came to him from the Lord.

Verse 43
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.
David trusted in God’s words, but he didn’t completely trust his own. During a heated exchange, it’s easy to use exaggerations, accusations and speculations. What a good prayer: “Dear God, keep the truth in my mouth.” His hope wasn’t in a crushing comeback to silence his mockers. Instead, he was willing to wait patiently for God’s verdict.

Verse 44
I will keep your law continually, forever and ever,
David never threw up his hands and said, “I quit.” It seems like he never even took a day off from partnering with God. Clearly, he had some big failures, but his intention was to regularly, constantly and daily keep up his end of the deal all the way to the finish line.

Verse 45
and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.
A few years ago, PB and I drove Beartooth Highway, 68 miles of curvy mountain road that winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming. If guardrails hadn’t been on the side of those deep drop-offs, I would have crawled into the back seat and pulled a blanket over myself. I also would have missed the incredible vistas. It was a narrow road, but the guardrails made it seem safer.
We tend to think that rules constrain us and take all the fun out of life. In truth, they keep us from straying into dangerous areas and they minimize damage by keeping us in the safety zone. There is so much freedom within the secure limits of God’s good rules.

Verse 46
I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame,
As King of Israel, David must have had the occasion to show hospitality to rulers from other nations. He had status, power and wealth and realized his position could open up doors of opportunity to make much of his God. Freshly assured of God’s steadfast love and promise of salvation, David was emboldened to speak up and draw attention to Israel’s true King.

Verse 47
for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.
Again, the love David had for God’s commandments might sound strange to our western ears. The Hebrew people were so well-known for their fervency and fondness for study of the Torah that they were called “people of the book”. The word “law” in our English Bibles would have been understood by the Hebrews as “guidance” or “teaching”. “What sounds like an onerous burden to us, sounds to them as if they are uncovering the very thoughts of God.” (Lois Tverberg)  Perhaps if we read the word “law” in the coming passages with the Hebrew connotation, we might come to love the law, too. As Spurgeon said, “We delight in what we love.”

Verse 48
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love and I will meditate on your precepts.
In another Psalm, David wrote, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:3-4) Lifting up our hands is simply a biblical way to bless the Lord. There’s nothing radical or extreme about it. Just as children lift up their arms to loving parents to be hugged, lifting our hands is stretching ourselves toward Him. It is an act of love.
Lastly, in this section meditation is once again connected to delight. (See verses 15-16 and 23-24) The more we think about God’s words, the more delightful they become.

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • We have no reason to ever doubt God’s steadfast love for us. Ever.
  • When we seek God’s truth, we find not only truth, but also delight.
  • When God’s steadfast love comes to us, things happen: we keep His law, we walk in freedom, we speak of Him, we delight in Him and we lift up our hands to Him.
  • We can pray confidently for God to fulfill His promises to us.
  • “Let thy mercies come…” v. 41 in the King James Version — “mercies” are plural because we need so much and so many kinds.

For more about the Hebrew word “hesed” see:
https://ourrabbijesus.com/articles/hesed_love_long_term/

Next: Vav

Stanza F

Welcome to week 6 of the Aleph-Bet series!

One thing that stands out to me while studying Psalm 119 is the deep love David seemed to have for the law, rules and commandments. I don’t know too many people who are head-over-heels about laws, rules and commandments. An insight from Lois Tverberg helped me understand this passion for the word from a Hebrew perspective.

    Christians may be surprised that the word “mitzvah”, meaning commandment, is positive rather than negative in Jewish culture. We think of commandments as burdensome regulations, but the usual Jewish usage of mitzvah is that it is an opportunity to do something good that God told you to do. The word is always used in a positive way, suggesting that doing what God has asked is a joy and a spiritual opportunity, not a burden.
The idea of “hiddur mitzvah” (beautifying the command) says that if God tells us to do something, we shouldn’t just do the minimum, but to perform it in the best way possible, sparing no expense or trouble. http://www.ourrabbijesus.com/articles/beautifying-gods-commands

Let’s beautify the commands of God this week by seeing them as opportunities to obey Him with excellence.

Psalm 119:41-48

Favor me with Your constant love
    and sure salvation, as promised.

Finally, my mockers will hear me,
    for Your word will not let me down.

Forfeit God’s good truth? Not these lips!
    I’ve pinned all my hopes on Your word.

Forever I will walk with You,
    always and forever. Amen.

Freely I will go through my days
    because I have found Your roadmap.

Faithfully I’ll speak up for You;
    I won’t be embarrassed at all.

Finding Your words are delightful,
    I love them more and more each day.

Farther I stretch, hands open wide,
    to grasp the heart of Your precepts. 

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Next: Long Song Study, part F

The Hungry Song

Out of the recesses of the basement storage room, deep down in a box labeled “Old Music”, I found a little treasure. “The Hungry Song” was a light-hearted attempt at songwriting way back in 1999. The lyrics are silly and I share them only to give you a smile as you head into another quarantine weekend. I’ll be back on Monday for another week of Aleph-Bet.

The Hungry Song

Verse 1
I get hungry for some Fritos or a Little Debbie’s treat.
I start craving mashed potatoes with a juicy piece of meat.
But there’s a place in my heart food will never satisfy;
I need to open up the Word and give some soul food a try.

Chorus
Oh, make me hunger for You, Lord.
Give me an appetite for Your Word.
I will come to Your table where such goodness abounds.
And I can eat and eat and eat and never ever gain a pound.

Verse 2
I like donuts filled with custard, I like hotdogs with baked beans.
I like Oreos and Cheetos, I like caramel on ice cream.
But there’s a place in my heart food will never satisfy;
I need to open up the Word and give some soul food a try.

Chorus
Oh, make me hunger for You, Lord.
Give me an appetite for Your Word.
I will come to Your table where such goodness abounds.
And I can eat and eat and eat and never ever gain a pound.

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“I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” ~ Jesus
John 4:32

E is for Eat

I’m sorry.
There are lots of other good “E” words in the Bible.
But this quarantine life seems to revolve around food.
I don’t know how many batches of sweet rolls I’ve made.
There are several jars of sourdough in my refrigerator.
I’ve tried recipes that have been collecting in boxes for years.
PB and I are watching cooking shows, while we eat our meals.
There’s truth in the phrase “comfort food.”

Late night retro Diner Eat neon sign

The Bible has a surprising amount to say about eating,
from Genesis to Isaiah to Luke to Revelation.

One of the first things the Creator told Adam was, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…” (Gen. 2:16) Of course, there was more to that statement, but “free to eat” might have been all Adam heard. Granted, there weren’t any Snicker bars or Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies hanging from the trees, but God’s words “free to eat” must have been music to Adam’s ears. It might be my new favorite Bible verse. Although food played a role in the downfall of humankind, it wasn’t food’s fault.

Isaiah picked up the theme. “Come, you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Listen to me and eat what is good…” (Isaiah 55:1-2) What an invitation! Water, wine, milk, food — it’s all free! Did you notice the steps to this spiritual feast?
1) Come. 2) Listen to God. 3) Eat what is good.
In other words:
1) Show up. 2) Pay attention. 3) Don’t settle for hot dogs when He’s offering prime rib.

Food played big in the gospels. Jesus was always eating with people and even put on a sit-down dinner for 5,000. When Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He asked, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41) Don’t you love that?! Jesus had to prove He wasn’t some kind of ethereal ghost. He calmed his disciples’ troubled, doubt-filled minds by eating a piece of broiled fish before their very eyes. As they watched Him swallow and carefully observed his stomach, the truth was verified. His real body had come back to life! A filet of cod wouldn’t be my first choice post-resurrection, but eating real food convinced His friends that He was a real Savior.

Hands down, my favorite scripture about eating is in Revelation 3:20. “Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat (dine, sup) with him, and he with me.”

Jesus Christ wants to eat with me.

Supper (deipnon in Greek) was the main meal of the day. This was the meal at which a man sat and talked for long, for now there was time, for work was ended… it is not a mere courtesy visit, paid in the passing, which Jesus Christ offers to us. He desires to come in and to sit long with us, and to wait as long as we wish him to wait.” (Barclay)

This verse perfectly sums up the first five letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet.

  • Aleph — the God-Man, one arm reaching to heaven, one arm reaching to earth — Jesus stands as the bridge between God and man.
  • Bet — the house that He stands outside of is my heart and He seeks entry.
  • Gimel — the figure in motion, coming to give the good gift of His redemptive presence.
  • Dalet — the door He courteously, yet persistently, knocks on, waiting for me to respond.
  • HeBehold! The Master comes in! He eats with me and I eat with Him! Heart to heart fellowship with the King of Kings! He lingers long at the table and joy fills the house!

This old earth is just a glimpse of what’s coming.
The New Earth will be a place of feasting, my friends!
We will eat on into eternity!
“On this mountain
the Lord Almighty

will prepare a feast
of rich food for all peoples,

a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats
and the finest of wines.”

Isaiah 25:6

feast

We will feast in the house of Zion.
We will sing with our hearts restored.
He has done great things, we will say together.
We will feast and weep no more.
“We Will Feast in the House of Zion”, Sandra McCracken

Next: The Hungry Song

He

He (also written as Hey, Heh, or Hei)  is the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. “He” sounds like “hay” and the letter has the same “h” sound as in “heaven”. Every line in Psalm 119:33-40 starts with this letter. He looks like this:

Hey

This one is a gem.

You know how it is on a cold day when you exhale and see your breath?
The letter “He” is considered the Divine Breath, the exhale of the Spirit.
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”
Psalm 33:6
God breathed out stars!

A few days later, God sculpted a mud-man and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2:7) It’s His breath (His “He”) in our lungs and it’s His Spirit (His “He”) in our souls that makes us living beings.

The letter “He” looks a lot like Dalet, but with something added. Jewish Rabbis taught that the arm from Aleph came over to be a part of Dalet, forming a new letter. Since Aleph represents God and Dalet represents broken humanity, what we end up with is a picture of God coming to live in the human heart, by means of the Spirit. “He” is an image of Dalet opening the door of the heart so the Spirit of God can indwell the believer.

There’s more!

Another definition of “He” is “Behold!” It sounds like an overwhelmed sigh, as if suddenly coming upon a panoramic view of a majestic sight. The God-Man (Aleph — Jesus) came to earth to be master of the house (Bet) and to give the good gift of redemption (Gimel) to the poor and weak (Dalet). Behold! (He) John the Baptist chose his words carefully: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” What an overwhelming, majestic sight! (Did you notice Psalm 119:40? “Behold!”)

Wait! There’s more!

God used the letter “He” to change people. Remember what happened to Abram? God renamed him Abraham — God breathed His life-giving Spirit into Abe and changed his name to show it. Sarai became Sarah, because adding the letter “He” at the end of a noun “feminized” it, allowing it to be “fruitful”. God’s announcement to Abraham that Sarai was being changed to Sarah was like a proclamation that she was no longer barren. In fact, it was believed that women needed the “H” sound in their names if they were going to be able to bear children, which gave Hagar had a distinct advantage over Sarai. (Rachel didn’t have the letter “He” in her name, but Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah did.)

There’s still more!

According to Jewish tradition, the name of God is so holy it should never be written. Hebrew documents today still refer to God as “G-d”. The name of God as revealed in Genesis 1:1 is considered to be so sacred that it is never to be spoken aloud. This hallowed word is made up of four Hebrew letters: Yod, He, Vav, He.

Stay with me now. This is going to be good.

When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had a sign made that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” In Aramaic, (a form of Hebrew) that phrase consisted of four words. The first word started with the letter Yod, the second word started with He, the third word started with Vav and the fourth word started with He. Can you picture that? Pilate had a sign nailed to the cross that declared Jesus was the one true G-d. Yod, He, Vav, He.

No wonder the chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews.'” In other words, “You cannot write the sacred, unutterable name of G-d and attach it to this man for the world to see.” But God’s will was for the world to see and to know that Jesus was and is the King of Kings. And He used an unbelieving Roman governor to carry out His will. The purposes of God cannot be thwarted.

Hallelujah! (That starts with “He”, too!)

Hei

Next: My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “E”.

If you need to review:
Aleph
Bet
Gimel
Dalet

Long Song Study, part E

Psalm 119 (6)

It’s worth repeating:
God is not going to open our eyes
to understand a word
we have no intention of obeying.
(Christopher Ash)
So shall we get this straight right off the top?
Let’s set our hearts and minds
to work out the truths that God is working into us.
Are you with me?

Now, let’s get to work on Psalm 119:33-40!

Verse 33
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.
The Lord is a teacher. He alone can instruct us. We live in a time with a plethora of good Bible teachers. Gifted communicators, scholars and commentators are only a click away. It’s easy to get dependent on them to take us by the hand and feed us. But even the best of them are like T.A.s (Teacher Assistants). We can certainly learn from good preaching and teaching, but let’s not bypass the Head Master and forfeit learning from the very Source. Ask God to teach you first, then get help from the T.A.s.

David decided how he was going to finish – not with a fizzle, but with a sizzle. He was going to stick with God until the very end, no matter what. It’s a good idea to settle that early on. The more we learn about our God, the easier it will be to finish strong.

Verse 34
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
This was step two in David’s program of discipleship. He needed a good Teacher, but he also needed the power to learn. Although David loved God’s word, he knew he needed God’s help to comprehend it. He asked God to move the law from his head to his heart.

Verse 35
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
Step three was to put legs to David’s new understanding of God’s gracious teaching. A path is meant to be walked — this is the daily use of the things we learn, step by step. “Remark the order: first understanding, and then going; for a clear understanding is a great assistance towards practical action. Thou hast made me to know; now make me to go!” (Spurgeon) This process of being taught, gaining understanding and then working it into daily life is truly a delightful way to live.

Verse 36
Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain!
David knew that “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jere. 17:9) Even new-found Bible knowledge and insight can lead to puffed up pride and self-absorption. It’s so important for us to lean in close to the Lord and watch out for ego-driven attention-seeking. Left unchecked, the human heart naturally inclines toward selfish ambition, so David was wise to say, “Bend me in Your direction instead.”

Verse 37
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your way.
Oh man. There’s no shortage of “worthless things” in our world. The word “worthless” encompasses these meanings: desolate, wasteful, destructive, false, vain, useless, empty and without profit. They aren’t necessarily bad things, just unworthy of our time. This verse begs the question: What am I looking at? According to my screen time report, I pick up my Iphone way too many times per hour. PB and I have watched a lot of TV in the past weeks of quarantine. Nothing wrong with that, but I can’t exactly say it’s been profitable.

Another question: What is NOT a worthless thing? The Bible tells us: Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8) How about beauty, art, nature, people, God’s Word?

Last question: Isn’t it interesting that David didn’t pray, “Turn my mind from thinking about worthless things” or “Turn my desires from wanting worthless things”? Have you noticed how much David talks about the eyes? Go back and read verses 6, 15, 18, 37.

If the eyes do not see, perhaps the heart may not desire: at any rate, one door of temptation is closed when we do not even look at the painted bauble. Sin first entered man’s mind by the eye, and it is still a favorite gate for the incoming of Satan’s allurements; hence the need of a double watch upon that portal. (Spurgeon)

Verse 38
Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.
It’s okay to ask for reassurance and validation. David knew the promises of God, yet he needed a little boost of confidence. Perhaps he reviewed what he just wrote and was convicted by his lack of understanding, his bent toward selfishness, and his wandering eye. The promises were indeed for him, and being assured of that, David was moved to reverence for a God of such mercy and grace.

Verse 39
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Choosing God’s way doesn’t usually get a round of applause from the world. In fact, it’s more likely to bring scorn and contempt (see v. 22). David did not relish the criticism and negative press, but it didn’t make him question God’s goodness.

Verse 40
Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
David longed for God and he knew that immersing himself in the words of God would give him the intimacy with God for which he hungered. It’s one thing to long for the promises, but it takes maturity to long for the precepts. David echoed the words of Moses, “They are not idle words for you — they are your life.” (Deut. 32:47)

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Things I know for sure from this passage:

  • Focusing on worthless things will suck the life out of me.
  • I need to be careful about what enters the portal of my eyes.
  • God is pleased by a heart that is turned toward doing after the mind has turned toward knowing.
  • There’s a difference between knowing about something and understanding it.
  • I can ask the Holy Spirit to empower my good intentions.

Next: He