Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Is This Promise from God a Failure?

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (New International Version, NIV), Proverbs 16:3

John was a sincere Christian who believed the word of God, every word. What a joy to discover Proverbs 16:3! This “blank check” would revolutionize his ministry for the Lord with the guarantee of success—not a Warrantee, “we’ll fix it when it breaks,” but a Guarantee, “it can’t fail because God cannot lie!” Encouraged by this promise and with big plans for changing the world, John committed to the Lord his burden for establishing a retreat center for embattled pastors. He worked out all of the plans and waited for God to fulfill His promise. He is still waiting. Has God lied? Is this promise simply biblical “pie in the sky?” Where is the success? Or, must he reinterpret success by saying that God is just “putting it off” until a more favorable time—a reinterpretation that in reality is a way of saying “It doesn’t work!” without impugning God directly.

John’s problem, although he is unaware of it, centers on his belief in the Word of God, in this case the NIV translation. What he needs to ask, instead of the above questions, is whether the NIV has presented the reader with the only interpretive option. If he asks the right people that question, people capable of evaluating translations based on the original languages, the answer will be “No, there is no divine promise in this proverb as suggested by the NIV translation.”

The problem with the NIV in this verse appears to be two-fold. (1) The verse has two clauses, an independent imperative clause, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do,” and a probable dependent clause of result. The NIV presents two independent clauses. (2) The connotation of the English word “success” has only a questionable counterpart in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word כּוּן (in the Niphal stem) means “to be directed rightly” when used in moral contexts such as this one. Also, the translation of “plans” in the NIV is a derivative concept developed from the basic sense of “thoughts” (מַחֲשָׁבָה). The primary senses of these words make perfect sense.

The original Hebrew text focuses primary attention on independent imperative clause. The result clause plays a secondary role and does not represent a promise-like idea as suggested by the NIV translation. An acceptable translation of this proverb reads, Commit your works to Yahweh so that your thought processes may be directed rightly.

The point of the proverb is for the believer to demonstrate dependence upon God by inviting Him into the intended activity allowing Him to direct one’s thought processes. In other words, it is an invitation for a divine/human work operating within one’s mind. Once done, the believer must trust in those thoughts leaving the success outcome up to the sovereign God. James 1:5-7 (New American Standard Bible) represents a New Testament counterpart to this Old Testament proverb:

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.