Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pray with Integrity!

Poetic texts are often self-interpreting and about 50% of the Old Testament was written in poetry! The problem, however, is that readers of the English Old Testament are not always attuned to the poetic elements imbedded in the Hebrew text, elements which the editors may not translate or elements that cannot be translated. Micah 3:4 is one example. The New American Standard Bible and other common versions adequately represent the words of the original Hebrew with one possible exception. The New American Standard Bible reads :

“Then they will cry out to the LORD,
But He will not answer them.
Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time,
Because they have practiced evil deeds.”

The verse has four lines which are developed in a chiastic (X) pattern around the subject of the verbs—(A) They, (B) God, (B') God, (A') They. According to Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 374, Chiasmos is “used in the most solemn and important portions of the Scriptures.” In this verse, the corresponding lines interpret one another. In other words, “will not answer” in line 2 is explained by “will hide His face” in line 3. Lines 1 and 4 also interconnect logically.

Understood chiastically, then, it is better to adjust the translation of the verb in line 4 to connect with the thought of line 1 and read, “because they have practiced and keep on practicing evil deeds.” (An example of the Hebrew “perfect tense with ‘have’ denoting action completed in the past but continuing in its effects into the present,” Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, An Outline, p. 29; Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 311). The Lord answers the prayers of sinners when there is genuine repentance, but not when there is no repentance. One is driven to the conclusion that their praying for divine deliverance from distress occurs while they persist in their evil ways. This is the reason ("because," line 4) for God’s turning away from them in lines 2 and 3.

The poetic element in this verse expands both the meaning and the application. As the verse reads in the English text, one cannot help but wonder why God turns away from His people when they ask for His help. He will not turn a “deaf ear” if there is genuine repentance but He will turn away if there is religiosity without integrity. This Old Testament message is echoed in the New Testament, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures,” James 4:2b-3.

God’s people must . . . Pray with Integrity!