Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hebrew Mnemonic #1: The Moose

As you no doubt figured out, the title of this blog is a mnemonic device. When Ken and I were in seminary, we spent countless hours together studying Hebrew vocabulary, and coming up with mnemonics to help us remember it. I have many fond memories of those days! And "The moose are in need of reproof" has always been one of my favorite mnemonics.

The Hebrew word musar means 'reproof, correction, discipline,' so its no stretch to see where the mnemonic comes from. And Ken, artist that he is, had quite a clever accompanying sketch of an adolescent moose trying to hide the fact that he had just sent a baseball through a window. Boy, that moose was in need of reproof!

The word musar only appears 50 times in the OT, 30 of which are in Proverbs. Which means, lexically speaking, its a pretty scarce word. But theologically speaking it is a high octane word, packing some real theological punch. Consider the following.

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline (musar) or be weary of his reproof (different word), for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Here Solomon tells us that the LORD exercises discipline with those whom he loves. And when the Lord disciplines us, we know it is a sign that he is treating us like sons. In this sense, we are all "in need of reproof" and the process of being reproved is a part of the Holy Spirit working in our lives for our sanctification and growth in holiness. Many of us are familiar with these encouraging words as they are cited in Hebrews as well.

But there is also another side to musar. Note this familiar passage:
Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement (musar) that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Whereas in Proverbs, musar commonly refers to the ongoing discipline in the believers life, here in Isaiah it refers to the once for all act of Jesus bearing the chastisement of the Lord in our place. These two uses of musar, as ongoing discipline, and as once for all punishment, are theologically quite distinct, but able to be covered by the same Hebrew word.

More and more I am convinced that a prerequisite for spiritual maturity is the ability to clearly distinguish these two senses. Let me explain.

Last week I was eating breakfast with a friend from church. He asked me this: "Do you believe that God punishes us for the bad things we do?" To which I answered, "No, I believe that God punished Jesus for the bad things we do." And that's true. Every bad thing I've done, or will do, has been dealt with through the death of Jesus. And for this reason my relationship with God is secure. This is the Isaiah 53 sense.

But there is also a Proverbs 3 sense. Everyone who has been adopted by God as his son or daughter receives the grace of his fatherly discipline. It is only because we have been accepted by God, that we have the opportunity to learn and grow in our relationship with him.

Once we learn to accept the Lord's fatherly discipline as an act of His love, we are able to humble ourselves, and grow in grace. If, however, we think that God is judging us for the sin in our lives, it will only work itself out in fear and a subtle theology of works. Keeping these two sense of musar in line is a necessary step in deftly and aptly applying the gospel to our own lives.


Aubrey said...

Since I live with you and all, and get to hear you preach every week, I shouldn't be surprised by such a good post. That was excellent.

Ken Shomo said...

I don't live with Jeff or get to hear him preach, and I agree. Thanks, Jeff.

The Howell family said...

I think I'll enjoy this encouraging blog :)
Jeff, definately keep Prov. 3:11 in your head for when your kid turns two ;)