Saturday, July 28, 2012

Words, ‘Devarim’


The opening of the first book in the Bible, Genesis, speaks of God creating the universe by the power of His spoken word. We are familiar with the text: "God said let there be...".
The scriptures also teach that our words are powerful, “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) Just how powerful? The power of life and death are in them. This is also evident in the teachings of James, the brother of our Lord likening the tongue to a spring of either fresh or salt water; a tree bearing fruit (James 3).

Two biblical accounts involving the significance of words stand out for me. The first is the account of God forbidding the generation He rescued out of Egypt from entering the promised land. Nearing the end of his life Moses recounts to the Israelites their sin which prevented that generation from entering the land. "When the Lord heard what you said, He was angry and solemnly swore: Not a man of this evil generation shall enter the good land I swore to give your forefathers."  (Deuteronomy 1:35). Moses reminds them that their long wilderness experience was a result of their wrong words against God’s good promise. It is also interesting that only Joshua and Caleb who brought and spoke a good report of the promised land, words aligned with God's good will, ultimately entered the land. To the Israelites, their past was a reminder of their unbelief, their disagreement with God; but thankfully it also marks a new beginning, in agreement with God’s good plans and the promises which He delivers.

The prophet Isaiah saw his ‘unclean lips’ as reason to prevent him from being in the presence of God. While seeing a vision of the Lord seated on His throne in the Temple, he cried, "Woe to me!" ... "I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’ (Isaiah 6:5). We see God sanctifying his lips and enabling him to speak God’s words to his people.

The psalms of David reflect his meditation on the Torah 'instruction' - the words referring to God's communication are repeatedly reiterated through out his writings. The phrase: 'laws, statutes, commandments and judgements' is a familiar feature of David's Psalms. The psalmist also instructs: “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 34:13) and he prays: “Keep me safe from the secret purposes of wrongdoers: from the band of the workers of evil; who make their tongue sharp like a sword, and whose arrows are pointed, even bitter words.” (Psalm 64:2-3)

In Matthew 12:36, Jesus teaches us that we would be judged for every idle word we speak: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” Similarly the Apostle Paul instructs believers: "Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church"; furthermore: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers…. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4: 29, 31). Similar exhortations to teach, admonish, affirm and encourage one another are echoed throughout the biblical teaching (for example, 1 Thes 5:14, Rom 15:4, Tit 1:9, Col 3:16, 2 Thes 3:15). Our words matter and thus with utmost care we should speak. We are exalted to speak the truth in love, encourage and edify, correct and admonish one another, in doing so blessing one another.

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