We've all heard the old expression that someone is "singing a different tune" or has "changed his tune." The expression probably arose in the Middle Ages among wandering minstrels. As they traveled from court to court, they thought it prudent to change the words of their songs to please each baron.
Long before the Middle Ages, however, God's people were singing a new song, and that song was of much greater joy and significance. New is the Hebrew chādāš (<H2319>), which often indicates something new in the sense of "never seen or done before." It appears in Ezekiel 18:31, for example: "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit."
Song, then, is šiyr (<H7892>), a type of lyrical song or religious song. It also appears several times in Ezra and Nehemiah to refer to songs of Levitical choirs. In Nehemiah 12:46, for example, Nehemiah recounts that in David's day music directors led "songs of praise."
Significantly, it is at times also used in a negative way. Amos uses it to picture the apathy of the people, as they lay around eating, drinking, strumming their musical instruments, and singing, totally oblivious to God's coming judgment (in Amos 6:5, "music" is šiyr). Here is a warning to the world, and even the church, concerning complacency and an insatiable desire for entertainment and leisure.
It is when we see these two words together, however, that we discover a wondrous truth. The term new song appears seven times in the OT, and in each case we see a new song being composed in response to what God has done. "Fresh mercies," writes commentator Adam Clarke, "call for new songs of praise and gratitude." The first occurrence, in fact, is Psalm 33:3, which is set in the context of the great event of Creation.
What, then, could be more appropriate as we start a new year than to be reminded to sing a new song every day? Does not each day bring new mercies, new blessings, new joys, new triumphs? It also reminds us that we do, indeed, "sing a different tune" than the world.
Scriptures for Study: Read the other OT occurrences of new song, noting how God is being praised for what He has done: Psalm 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10. Note also the two NT occurrences of new song: Revelation 5:9; 14:3. New is the Greek kainos (<G2537>), "something new in quality," having never existed before.
While tôrāh (<H8451>) speaks of God's Word in general, it is also used to refer specifically to the Law God gave to Israel at Sinai—the Mosaic Law, with all its ceremonies, sacrifices, and ordinances. Through Moses, and in the minutest detail, God gave Israel 613 commands that covered every area of life—moral, civil, and ceremonial.
First, there was the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law, the Decalogue, "ten words" (Exod. 20:1-17), followed by the judgments, directing the social and civil life of Israel (21:1-24:11), and concluding with the ordinances (24:12-31:18), dictating the religious life of Israel. What is also significant is that it was necessary that they keep all that Law. To "keep the whole law," in fact, "and yet offend in one point" meant they were guilty of breaking all 613 laws (James 2:10, from Deut. 27:26).
We will return to the latter two aspects of the Law tomorrow, but we note today that this Moral Law was written in the hearts of men everywhere (Rom. 2:15). This demonstrates that men know in their heart (i.e., by their mind and conscience, December 6) not to lie, steal, murder, or violate the other moral commands. Again, such moral law is found in legal codes of nations throughout history.
These moral laws (except for keeping the Sabbath, which was replaced by the Lord's Day, March 20-21) are also found restated several times in the NT: having no other gods (Exod. 20:3; Deut. 5:7; Acts 5:29); making no idols or images (Exod. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10; Acts 17:29-31; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 10:14; Col. 3:5; 1 John 5:21); not profaning God's name (Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11; James 5:12); honoring one's father and mother (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20); not murdering (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Rom. 13:9, 10; James 2:11); not committing adultery (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:19; Rom. 13:9, 10; 1 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 13:4; James 2:11); not stealing (Exod. 20:15; Deut. 5:19; Rom. 13:9, 10; Eph. 4:28); not lying (Exod. 20:16; Deut. 5:20; Eph. 4:25, 31; Col. 3:9; Tit. 3:2); not coveting (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 5:21; Rom. 7:7; 13:9; Eph. 5:3-5; Heb. 13:5 James 4:1-3).
Let us rejoice in and obey God's Law.
Scriptures for Study: Read the many verses listed in today's study and apply them to your own living.
Before leaving this pivotal theme, we should note how preaching relates to worship (March 1-3). It is extremely significant that the people's response to Ezra's reading and exposition of Scripture (Neh. 8:8; cf. 6:7) was worship (9:3). This is the climax; everything points to this and has prepared for it. There is nothing of equal importance to the exposition of God's Word. Take the time now to read Jonah 3:2 again, as well as Psalms 80:18 and 105:1, where call is qārāʾ, signifying proclamation.
While lost in most churches today, preaching was central to the early church (note the primacy of "doctrine" in Acts 2:42) and its immediate descendants. Writing in the middle of the second century, apologist Justin Martyr described a typical worship service of his day: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen."
Mark it down—the reading and explanation of the Word of God was the absolute center of the worship service. (Note that this statement also refutes the accusation made by modern "Sabbath keepers" that Sunday did not become the day of worship until the fourth century.)
Sadly, this is not the case today. Central today is music, drama, comedy, discussion, anecdotes, or anything else we can think of except preaching. But nothing praises God as does the proclaiming of His Word as absolute Truth.
We should be challenged by these comments by the late pastor and great expositor James Boice: "There is nothing more important for Christian growth and the health of the church than sound Bible teaching. Yet sadly, serious Bible teaching is being widely neglected in our day, even in so-called evangelical churches. Instead of Bible teaching, people are being fed a diet of superficial pop psychology, self-help therapy, feel-good stimulants, and entertainment, and the ignorance of the Bible in churches is appalling."
Scriptures for Study: Note the centrality of preaching in the following texts: Isaiah 1:2-31; Matthew 5-7 (Jesus' sermon is the greatest model of exposition); Acts 2:14-36; 7:2-60; 15:14-21; 17:16-31.
The Hebrew ʿāḇar (<H5674>) is a particularly interesting word. In Psalm 119:37, for example, we read, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity." Vanity here is a different word than we have previously noted (June 28). This word (šāwʾ, <H7723>) speaks of deceit, lie, or falsehood. It also carries several other meanings: emptiness, evil, ruin, uselessness, worthlessness, and lack of result.
David, therefore, prays that God would turn away his eyes from looking at such things. One authority describes ʿāḇar, which appears about 550 times, especially well: "The verb refers primarily to spatial movement, to 'moving over, through, or away from.' This basic meaning can be used of 'going over or through' a particular location to get to the other side, as when Jacob 'crossed over' the Euphrates to escape Laban (Gen. 31:21)." Other usages of this word include passing through, by, or over something, as when "God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged" after the Flood (Gen. 8:1).
All this paints a vivid, poetic picture. David prays that his eyes would simply pass through, pass over, move away from all the evils of falsehood and emptiness. That is, indeed, an essential element of a consistent Christian life. We must be always watching out for the evils of this world and look past them and move away from them.
David uses the same word again in Psalm 119:39: "Turn away my reproach." This has been taken two ways by expositors. Some think it speaks of the reproach that will come against the writer from others as he stands for God. Others believe that it refers to the reproach and shame brought on by God because of the writer's sin. The latter was my own first impression as I examined the verse and does seem to better fit the idea of the rest of verse, "For thy judgments are good," as well as verse 37. Puritan Charles Bridges puts it well: "It was the reproach of bringing dishonour upon the name of his God, that David feared ... The fear of this reproach is a practical principle of tender watchfulness and circumspection, and of habitual dependence upon Almighty God."
Whichever idea is correct, however, the point is the same: Whether because of the attacks of other people or our own sin, we must constantly be watching and examining our lives, always ready to turn away from evil.
Scriptures for Study: What is the counsel of Proverbs 4:14, 15 ("pass"), 22:3 ("pass on"), and 24:30 ("went")?
As noted yesterday, the tree in Scripture (ʿēṣ, <H6086>) stands as a symbol of life and nature. There is a particularly fascinating metaphorical use of tree in Proverbs; in four places we encounter the term tree of life. Picturing the tree of the same name in Genesis 2:9, each of these verses provides a wonderful metaphor of what should be true in the believer's life.
First, we read, "[Wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her" (Prov. 3:18). This verse comes at the end of a passage concerning the spiritual wealth that comes from wisdom (vv. 13-18). It is pleasing (v. 13), it is precious (vv. 14, 15), it is prevailing (v. 16), and it is pleasant (vv. 17, 18). There truly is life in wisdom.
Second, we discover that "the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise" (11:30). Here wisdom (March 22) and righteous living have two results: a blessed life (February 27), pictured by fruit, and a bountiful life, indicated by "winneth souls." While this verse has been used many times as a picture of evangelism, that does not seem to be the precise meaning. The Hebrew behind "winneth" is lāqach (<H3947>), a broad term that appears about 960 times and whose "exact meaning must be discerned from its context." With the context being about wisdom (March 22), then, and with the primary meaning of lāqach being "to take or grasp," the idea is that he who is wise takes others to wisdom, that is, imparts it to them. While this certainly can include evangelism, it goes deeper in imparting to people the fuller truths of Scripture knowledge.
Third, we should note that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life" (13:12). There is nothing wrong with wanting things as long as they are good and wholesome and within God's will, so when such things are "deferred" (drawn out or delayed) in fulfillment there is disappointment. But when they finally come, they are a joy and a blessing.
Fourth and finally, we are challenged that "a wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit" (15:4). "Wholesome" is marpēʾ (<H4832>), which speaks of "health or healing." Oh, how vital it is that our tongues be a source of healing, not hurting.
Scriptures for Study: Read the following verses, noting what they say about the tongue: Proverbs 12:18; 16:24; James 3:1-8.
Occurring fifty-six times and with equivalents in Akkadian and other Semitic languages, the verb zāraʿ (<H2232>) means "to sow, scatter seed, or make pregnant." Its first occurrence graphically depicts its literal use, where we find both verb and noun side by side: "God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding [verb zāraʿ] seed [noun zeraʿ, <H2233>, occurring about 230 times], and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed [zeraʿ] is in itself, upon the earth" (Gen. 1:11).
These were, of course, important words in the agrarian economy of the ancient Near East, and we find many references to the sowing of crops (e.g., 26:12; Exod. 23:10; Lev. 25:3; Isa. 37:30; Jer. 12:13). We see it also in reference to human conception, as in Numbers 5:28, where a woman "shall conceive [zāraʿ] seed [zeraʿ]," as well as in the concept of the seed of human posterity (Gen. 4:25; 9:9; 21:13; Deut. 1:8; Ps. 89:4).
It is the metaphorical use of these words, however, that are particularly striking. God is said to have sowed Israel in the land (Hosea 2:23) and even in her present dispersion (Zech. 10:9). Because the basic concept of sowing seed speaks of reproduction and growth, moral good and evil are also pictured in this way, such as the positives of justice (Prov. 11:18) and righteousness (Hosea 10:12), and the negatives of iniquity (Prov. 22:8), wickedness (Job 4:8), and idolatry (Isa. 17:10, "set").
It is that latter thought that leads to our application—the law of sowing and reaping. The Septuagint and NT equivalents of these words are sperma ("sperm," <G4690>) and speirō (<G4687>). We find them together, for example, in the parable of the wheat and tares, where the "kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed [speirō] good seed [sperma] in his field" (Matt. 13:24).
It is then Galatians 6:7, 8 (speirō) that declares that foundational law (rooted in the OT—Job 4:8; Prov. 11:18; Hosea 10:12-13): "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Sadly, society—driven by humanistic and behaviorist psychology—denies this law. Man thinks he can live the way he wants with no consequences, but he deceives himself and mocks God. We will go a little deeper tomorrow.
Scriptures for Study: What is the contrast and promise in Proverbs 11:18? What is the warning of Hosea 8:7?