Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Night and Day

The pemHov DichDaq ghobe' harm SoH Sum jaj, ghobe' the maS Sum ram. The sun will not harm you by day, Nor the moon by night. Psalms 121:6

(click for podcast)

Space travelers may look across the cosmos and consider that dangers lurk everywhere - but in most cases I doubt they would look at the celestial bodies themselves as preparing to strike out.

This verse may strike us with its poetic promise of protection FROM the Sun and Moon as an odd turn of phrase - what kind of protection do we need from the sun AND the moon? Certainly the sun has power - from sunstrokes to cancer, we have no trouble thinking of what we need to be protected from there. But the moon?

Considering this verse, a number of commentators point out that there are long held beliefs tieing the moon (luna) to madness - to luna-cy. In fact the Greek word, used in Matthew for epileptic is seleniazomai means MOON-struck.

Another points out that - considering ancient (and modern) followers of astrology, this may refer to insulation from the supposed influences of the heavenly bodies. And certainly, these ideas may be part of the meaning.

But I'd rather point to the first time we encounter the moon and the sun in the Scriptures. We read
For God made two great lights, the sun and the moon, to shine down upon the earth. The greater one, the sun, presides during the day; the lesser one, the moon, presides through the night. (Gen 1:16NLT)
The Klingon words here are pemHov and maS - "daytime star" and moon - and here on earth, those two, well, from the beginning of time, are at the heart of our clocks and calendars - all the measures of time.

In this life, we find our lives ruled by time. We sleep, we go to school or work, we come home, we eat, we play - all in time. And OVER time our powers, our moods - everything that makes up our SELF - all those things ebb and flow through TIME. As we age, time sees us grow stronger, and weaker.

By these two we mark the days, mark the seasons, and we live through the pilgrimage of life - but the believer can have confidence that - despite the outer toll time takes

The pemHov DichDaq ghobe' harm SoH Sum jaj, ghobe' the maS Sum ram. The sun will not harm you by day, Nor the moon by night. Psalms 121:6

There's a love song that says "night and day, you are the one." With those words, Cole Porter say "ALWAYS." Here in this Psalm, in this verse we get the same message. All day, all night - through all time - God extends his protective care over us.

I know that isn't always an easy promise to grasp. The believer may not always feel that protection is present. Through trials and struggles, we may wonder - how can we claim this protection?

For me the key is this - we're not destined to remain IN time forever. The reason the moon, and the sun - those greater rulers of time - cannot in the long run touch us, is WE DON'T BELONG TO THEIR REALMS. As St. Paul writes

being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1.6)

Our confidence, our hope is that despite the setbacks we might experience today or tomorrow - GOD ISN'T FINISHED. Our goal, our delight will be seen when we finally step outside of time and he completes in us, the good work he has begun. Till then take hope,

The pemHov DichDaq ghobe' harm SoH Sum jaj, ghobe' the maS Sum ram. The sun will not harm you by day, Nor the moon by night. Psalms 121:6

Sunday, August 19, 2007

wa'DIch jIbej - I'll Take the First Watch

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psalms 121:4
(click for podcast)

Picture this: a group of travelers are making their way through a challenging landscape. Their ship has crashed on this planet, and together they are working their way to a destination that has their only hope of rescue. The heroes set up camp - tents are pitched, meals are sorted out and together they face a long night by a campfire. One of them, a Klingon, eventually speaks up, saying, wa'DIch jIbej - "I'll take the first watch!"

How would you respond? Are you sure this frightening watchman is someone you WANT to stand guard? He's no doubt up to the task - but is he trustworthy? Or would you agree, but secretly keep one eye open, watching him as he stands guard?

It's a familiar scene in adventure stories - for centuries writers have given us this scenario again and again. And often the story has a certain tension over whether the watcher is truly trustworthy or up to the task. Any Klingon can tell you, this is an important point - who will take the watch while the others sleep. Your life hangs on finding someone who really is dependable - who will neither betray you, or fail you by falling asleep.

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

This psalm tells us good news - we've got someone on watch who doesn't need to be relieved, and who is ultimately the most dependable guard we could hope for; believers can count on this promise, that "he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep."

"Keeps" here in Klingon is rendered "poltaH" to-keep (pol) with the continuous suffix (-taH). This translates the Hebrew word shamar which I've noted before is used more than 400 times in the Bible, and conveys the idea of a hedge, a fence to protect one. We need to realize this does not make us invulnerable - we will be kept safe, but it doesn't mean we will have a completely placid existence. I love the example in Hebrews 11 - a chapter that recounts great heroes of the faith:

By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death ...

This sounds like what we want to hear - God, our keeper, protects us like a forcefield! But the chapter continues:

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. 36Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. 37Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. 38They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (NLT)

yIlegh, ghaH 'Iv poltaH Israel DichDaq ghobe' slumber ghobe' Qong.

Behold, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

We will be kept, we will be preserved, by God as we work our way through this life. But, to be kept means to be preserved to an end - not just frozen in place. Think back to our original scenario - the travelers making their way through a hostile environment. If they were simply KEPT, stored away and safe, they'd never reach their destination. They need to continue on the move - even if it involves danger.

Do you live as if this were true? Do you go to sleep easily, trusting the one who has promised to "take the watch?" This Psalm brings good news IF you trust the watchman and not everyone does. As we grow into this trust, we not only learn to rely on God - we help others see that, indeed, he who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep!

Friday, August 10, 2007


ghaH DichDaq ghobe' allow lIj qam Daq taH vIHta'. He will not allow your foot to be moved. Psalms 121:3a

(click for podcast version)

What does it mean to be "unmoved?" I ask because, over and over, the book of Psalms present an interesting phrase along these terms - something that seems to promise immobility to the "saints," to believers:

  • Psalms 15:5 He who doesn't lend out his money for usury, Nor take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be shaken.
  • Psalms 16:8 I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
  • Psalms 21:7 For the king trusts in Yahweh. Through the loving kindness of the Most High, he shall not be moved.
  • Psalms 46:5 God is in her midst. She shall not be moved. God will help her at dawn.
  • Psalms 125:1 Those who trust in Yahweh are as Mount Zion, Which can't be moved, but remains forever.
  • Psalms 66:9 Who preserves our life among the living, And doesn't allow our feet to be moved.
  • Psalms 112:6 For he will never be shaken. The righteous will be remembered forever.
  • Psalms 121:3 He will not allow your foot to be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber.
  • Psalms 55:22 Cast your burden on Yahweh, and he will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be moved.

The Hebrew word here, in all these is mowt - a primitive root meaning to waver, and translated in the KJV as terms like fallmoved, shake, slide, and slip among others - it's a word we've run into in other Psalms, and here again I've used the Klingon work vIH, move, to be in motion.

Now any space traveler - Klingon, Vulcan, Ferengi or Human - anyone who knows the smallest thing about space travel would know "remaining unmoved" is an impossibility. The biggest boulder on Earth, rooted in the ground MOVES. Aside from the movement of the solar system and our whole galaxy, this whole planet itself moves in orbit around the sun 30 kilometers (or 18.5 miles) EVERY second!

The problem is that the English word "move," and the Klingon "vIH" are too general. The heart of the Hebrew word is not just motion; MOWT has the idea of slip, or waver - it isn't really that believers will be frozen in place, but that their course in life will be steady. Their path, their destination is sure.

This last week I got to help out some neighbors running a kids summer science club. My special guest appearance was to show off (and fly) rockets with the kids - it was terrific fun for me - the kids seemed to enjoy it too, especially when I let them launch the air rockets (http://www.sciencetoymaker.org/airRocket/index.html). OF the three air rockets, I found I'd made one with badly attached fins - and it was clear in flight after flight that, while the other two flew straight and true, the third (with the bad fins) had a weird corkscrew path every time. Each time that one flew it slipped, and wavered in a sloppy trajectory - but the ones with the good fins were anchored in a course that was like a ruler.

Those fins could keep the rocket on (or off course). They gave them their direction - and God can do that in the believer's life. The English preacher Spurgeon says this about this verse:
in the slippery ways of a tried and afflicted life, the boon of upholding is of priceless value, for a single false step might cause us a fall fraught with awful danger. To stand erect and pursue the even tenor of our way is a blessing which only God can give, which is worthy of the divine hand, and worthy also of perennial gratitude. Our feet shall move in progress, but they shall not be moved to their overthrow

How do you set your course? If you wish to remain vIHHa', unmoved - just ask, and He'll be happy to set you on the right course!

ghaH DichDaq ghobe' allow lIj qam Daq taH vIHta'. He will not allow your foot to be moved. Psalms 121:3a

Sunday, August 05, 2007

'Iv nuq ghap

'Iv nuq ghap
(click for podcast version)
jIH DichDaq lift Dung wIj mInDu' Daq the hills.
nuqDaq ta'taH wIj QaH ghoS vo'?
wIj QaH choltaH vo' joH'a',

'Iv chenmoHta' chal je tera'.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

Psalms 121:1-2
How do you answer the question of this psalm,

nuqDaq ta'taH wIj QaH ghoS vo'? Where does my help come from?

HELP! One short word - it can be a noun, a verb, and - in times of desparate need, it can be a plea. Webster describes it this way:

To aid; to assist; to lend strength or means towards effecting a purpose; as, to help a man in his work; to help another in raising a building; to help one to pay his debts; to help the memory or the understanding.
To assist; to succor; to lend means of deliverance; as, to help one in distress; to help one out of prison.
The Klingon word (both as a verb and a noun) for "help" is "QaH," as in "nom QaH yIqem," "get help quickly."

Here in Psalm 121 the Hebrew word, 'azar is what I've translated by the Klingon word, QaH. A form of that Hebrew word is known to many in the proper name "Ebenezer," EBEN - EZER 'stone of help', the name given to the memorial stone set up by Samuel to commemorate the divine assistance to Israel in their great battle against the Philistines.

As it is posed here, I think the question comes down to "'Iv nuq ghap?" "WHO or WHAT?" That is, what is our source of help: someTHING or someONE? Does my help come "from the hills" - from nature, from things... or does it some from someone greater than things. Someone who, with care and attention, is there to support me in my time of need.

This last week I returned from a business trip, and as my plane landed I saw some odd questions pop up on my cell phone - "are you alright?" I was puzzled - why wouldn't I be? - until, I called home and learned that a short time ago, just as my flight began, a major bridge in my community has completly collapsed into the Mississippi River. It was a startling tragedy that immediately mobilized many near and far ... to help.

In fact, in story after story, the focus has been on people - especially how they were galvanized to give assistance to the survivors. The story isn't about the things that helped, the ambulances or the rescue boats. The story is on WHO helped.

And that's the story here in Psalm 121. Whatever good we find in creation - and there IS wonderful bounty to be found - we don't look to nature, to mountains or rivers to help us, rather we turn to the one greater than all the cosmos - the one who made it, who put it into motion:

wIj QaH choltaH vo' joH'a',
'Iv chenmoHta' chal je tera'.

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.