Saturday, December 16, 2006

Name and Word

vaD SoH ghaj exalted lIj pong je lIj mu' Dung Hoch.
For you have exalted your Name and your Word above all. Psalm 138:2c KLV,WEB

When you zero in on narrow fragments of scripture, virtual slivers of text, there is always a chance you'll be looking at a phrase that is so terse, the meaning may be hard to find. That's the case in this enigmatic statement from Psalm 138 - what does it mean, to declare God has exalted his name and word above all?

Breaking it down to the literal Hebrew isn't necessarily a quick solution: ki hagadaloth al kol shemcha omertkah, literally for you-magnified on all-of name-of-you saying-of-you. To get further we need to turn the community of believers.

Community - in the sense of, "how do other translators understand these words?" When we come up against a passage that doesn't seem clear, we do well to remember that we aren't the first to consider these words. For centuries, believers have wrestled with the text and sought to bring out the meaning. Here are some of the efforts in English:

  • KJV: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
  • RSV: for thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word.
  • BBE: for you have made your word greater than all your name
  • DOUAY: for thou hast magnified thy holy name above all
  • NASB: For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
  • MESSAGE: Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.
  • CEV: You were true to your word/ and made yourself more famous/ than ever before.
  • (which adds the note: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.)
  • NIV: for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.

These all move towards a meaning that highlights the power of God's name, and how closely it is tied to his word. And there, for HuchwIj (my money), is the meat of this passage - God's word is backed by something - his name. Just like when you sign a contract, or a credit slip - you are putting yourself YOUR NAME behind your promise.

Revelation God speaks - is integral to the Biblical faith. There is joy, challenge, confession and forgiveness, and salvation from sin - the whole message of the Bible - and we know, we understand it because of this word, this comprehensible message that has been communicated to us. It has power in our lives because it is backed by God's name.

The term here "word" is not the more literal term - dabar - most frequently used Hebrew for "word." Rather it is a noun derived from the verb - omer - to say. This is a dynamic expression, not just "word" but sayings (jatlhtaHghachmey in Klingon) Of course, the automated process that generates the KLV just maps all occurences of "word" to the single Klingon word, mu'.

As I reviewed this short passage from Psalm 138, one translation, the NLT, really captured it, for me:

for your promises are backed / by all the honor of your name.

Now Klingons, who are very conscious of names, and honor would be able to understand THAT!

This time of year, one of my favorite devotional practices is to reflect on the prophecies that Christians see fulfilled in the life of Jesus. In the Greek scriptures we find Jesus himself, as well as his apostles, making clear that the whole arc of Jesus's life was promised beforehand in the days of the prophets. When I first caught on, it was breathtaking - "You mean, it was all there, centuries before the first Christmas? Why didn't anyone tell me?"

Then I came across the book "Science Speaks," by Peter Stoner. This book put it in mathematical terms. Examining Messianic prophecies, Stoner layed down odds for each one being fulfilled in one man; multiplied together he demonstrated that the odds that ANYONE could fulfill these promises were incredible; the fact that they WERE fulfilled in Jesus pointed to something about this Man. (Note: Stoner's book is no longer in print. However it IS available online at his grandson's website: Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" is another excellent source of similar material).

Now that isn't a proof that can *force* anyone to believe: after all, any one day in MY life has a series of random events. Taken together, the sequence of one day in my life can be JUST as mathematically unlikely as Christ's fulfilling the Biblical promises.

But, what it suggests is that "something is up". History, and in particular, the history of Jesus's life and ministry appears, against all odds, to have been written in advance. It does not prove God "did it," but it offers a hint, a suggestion that there is an intelligence behind history, that this story is in fact HIS story. If you're interested in this, you can download a simple Windows program I wrote ( to consider, and explore the prophecies fulfilled in Jesus's life.

Believers can see, in the birth and ministry of Jesus, just what it means when God absolutely backs his promises! What would you do, to have a friend like that, whose every word you could trust?

for your promises are backed / by all the honor of your name.

Give thanks! God is letting you know - you've got a friend like that - now.

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