Saturday, September 20, 2008

'ON' Our Hearts

"You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead." (Deut 11:18, NAS)
A Hasidic tale describes a Rabbi who told people that if they studied the Torah it would put Scripture on their hearts. When someone asked him why he always used the word “on” instead of “in” he said, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your hearts, and when your hearts break the holy words will fall inside.” [Anne Lamott's Plan B - Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p73]
I encountered this story twice this week; from Anne Lamott's "Plan B - Further Thoughts on Faith" and Parker Palmer's "A Hidden Wholeness." I prefer Lamott's version. Many English translations of Deut 11:18 miss the subtle difference in the preposition. The meaning is correct, but the preposition misses the timing aspect. In this sense, I think the literal translation works well. The Hebrew preposition (עַל) 'al' can be translated as 'upon, over, above.' However, some modern translations miss this.
  • "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds ... (NIV)
  • "Fix these words of mine into your mind and being..." (NET)
  • "You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul. . . " (NRSV)
  • "Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul..." (NKJV)
The NASB hits it right on. The translators of NASB that adopt a word-for-word literal translation hit the mark for this passage.
"You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul.." (NASB)
Every English translation is in themselves a form of interpretation. That is one reason why serious Bible students ought to take interest in going a little deeper into the original languages. With the availability of electronic tools, every layperson should be able to get some idea. Of course, having a trained person in the original languages to guide him will help tremendously. When this option is unavailable, the next best step is to do it yourself humbly and earnestly like the Bereans. Another option is to use several English Bible translations. There is much wisdom in the Jewish outlook. Man's heart is essentially rebellious, especially against the things of God. God encountered repeatedly the walled resistance from his people. Frequently we read about the hearts of Israel that gets hardened.
  • "Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When he treated them harshly, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?" (1 Sam 6:6)
  • "Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble." (Prov 28:14)
  • "But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate." (Ezek 3:7)
  • "Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?" (Mark 8:17)
Scriptures declare the hardness of heart that rebels against the will of God. Hardened hearts will refuse to respond positively to the best reasoning. We do pray that the hardest of hearts will eventually break. When that happens, may there be the presence of the word of God, on, upon and over that shattered heart to fall in and renew the soul.

I think about those of us who teach Sunday School each Sunday. The kids does not seem to listen attentively enough. They parrot the 'right' answers without showing evidence that they have truly understood it. There were even jokes about Jesus being the answer to everything. Another story tells of a teacher trying to liven up a monotonous Bible class of young kids. The teacher asks:
"What is small and brown and comes with a bushy tail?" After a while, a young boy meekly raises up his hand: "Teacher. I know the answer is Jesus, but it sounds more like a squirrel to me."

Yes. Jesus is the answer to the world. However, we need to recognize that we are not to literally plaster Jesus's name all over the world's problems and assume that the name itself will do the magic. Jesus is the answer. More importantly, he is love and if we claim to love him, we will obey his entire word, even though we may not understand it at the present moment. Be continually immersed in the Word. For the time will come, when the heart breaks, the Word will enter and change lives.
"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (Hebrews 4:7b)


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