Torah and Social Justice | First Things

Torah and Social Justice | First Things. Leithart concludes that

it would be healthy for evangelicals to devote a good portion of their considerable zeal and energy to exploring creative ways to enact the justice of Torah in the twenty-first century. Welcome and biblical as it is, evangelical rhetoric of ‘justice for the poor’ will collapse into vacuity unless it is linked to political, legal, and economic institutions and practices that actually protect the poor and do justice to everyone. Worse still, evangelicals may end up giving aid and comfort to a bloated, and broke, welfare state.

Published in: on July 29, 2011 at 8:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Meaning of Selah

As requested and promised, here’s more on Selah. Please forgive the highly technical nature of this post. In the future I hope to flesh this out in more popular language and to suggest some implications for music and song in worship.

A term that occurs often—more than seventy times—in the Book of Psalms, and is particularly relevant to the matter of musical instruments in worship, is the Hebrew word Selah (סֶלָה). It must be acknowledged at the outset that there has been uncertainty about the meaning of this term among lexicographers and commentators. Koehler and Baumgartner call it “obscure” and Holladay calls it “unexplained.” A common thread in the suggestions and explanations offered, however, is that Selah is a “musical or liturgical marker,” in the words of James A. Swanson. Some have suggested that it means “pause,” as translated by the New Jerusalem Bible, or “Silence!” according to the eminent Hebrew scholar, William Gesenius. Old Testament commentator Franz Delitzsch believes that “in a psalm where סֶלָה is appended…the stringed instruments,…and the instruments generally, are to join in in such a way as to give intensity to that which is being sung.”

A closer look at the semantic root of this word supports Delitzsch’s assertion about Selah.  Brown, Driver, and Briggs suggest that the word is, in fact, a verb in the imperative mood, meaning “lift up” or “exalt,” from the Hebrew verb salal (סָלַל). Gesenius connects it to the verb salah (סָלָה), “to be quiet, to be silent,” and to the noun seleh (סֶלֶה), “rest, silence,” and designates its form as Milel. In this same entry, however, where he comments that this word has “been so much discussed and tortured by the conjectures and blunders of interpreters,” Gesenius argues that “it seems to have been used to mark a short pause in singing the words of the psalm, so that the singer would be silent, while the instrumental music continued.” In support of this interpretation, Gesenius mentions firstly, that the Septuagint always renders this Hebrew word diapsalma (διάψαλμα), which means “interlude”; secondly, that its usual position in the middle of the psalms where a section is finished implies that it was used to divide the respective psalms into strophes; and thirdly, that in Psalm 9:17 Higgāyōn Selah (הִגָּיוֹן סֶלָה) is used, “which should apparently be rendered ‘Instrumental music—pause,’ i.e. the instrumental music was to continue while the singer paused.” This explanation seems the most plausible, especially considering the fact that almost all the occurrences of this word are in the Psalms, many of which call for the use of musical instruments.

While the two most likely meanings of Selah, “Silence!” on the one hand and “Strike it up!” on the other, initially seem to contradict each other, the meaning of the related Hebrew words along with the locations and uses of this word in the Psalms strongly suggest that Selah designated an instrumental interlude (in the middle of a psalm) or crescendo (at the end of a psalm) during which the voices went momentarily silent and the musical instruments swelled to punctuate and intensify the words being sung.

One more thing. I have a bit of trouble remaining agnostic about the meaning of this word. To ignore or pass over it, as is often done, on the grounds of its apparent obscurity, is unsatisfactory. That’s why I’m not content, as I mentioned in an earlier post, with the exclusion of this term in the main text of NIV 2011, in which it is relegated to footnote status. I’m also not convinced that lexicographers and commentators should have the final word. Is the Holy Spirit not pleased when we wrestle with what he has revealed to us to reach well-considered, reasonable conclusions? These conclusions must always be open to revision and adjustment, of course, but I don’t believe that, unless we can arrive at absolute certainty and majority consensus, we may not draw such conclusions.

Thanks for bearing with me. More on the practical implications some other time.

Published in: on July 29, 2011 at 6:23 am  Comments (7)  
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Remembering John Stott

John Stott is now at home  with the Lord.

Rev. John Stott, Major Evangelical Figure, Dies at 90 –

I remember as a seminarian sneaking out of class with one of my fellow students to hear a lecture by Rev. Stott at McMaster University, the first and only time I saw Convocation Hall, as I believe it is called, filled to capactiy. What struck me was this man’s great humility as he shared his insights on 1 Corinthians 4:9, where Paul writes:  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. It was clear that he meant what he told us. Here was a great man standing before us, who presented himself and the gospel of Jesus so ordinarily.

I’ve continued learning much from Stott, especially through his commentaries and other books. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like me sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:14-17). May there be many more servants of Christ like John Stott, whose life bears testimony to the truth of the only gospel. Indeed, who is equal to such a task?

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Your sex life is whose business?

A story which Lauren Winter shares in Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Brazos, 2005) illustrates the right answer well:

Carrie was two years out of college, living in Minneapolis in a funky, rambling Victorian with six other Christian women. Her boyfriend, Thad, lived down the block. Carrie and Thad were not having sex, but they were doing everything but having sex, including spending the night with each other regularly. And of course none of Carrie’s roommates knew for sure that they weren’t having sex–all they knew was that Carrie and Thad spent a lot of nighttime hours together in his apartment. But not one of Carrie’s roomies ever asked her a single question about what was going on behind closed doors. No one ever posed a loving inquiry, or a gentle rebuke, or even an oblique offer of an ear. Probably Carrie and Thad’s friends were simply made uncomfortable by the prospect of raising the tough issues of sex and chastity. They probably did not want to intrude, or seem nosy.

Winter then mentions two things that make this scenario all wrong, the Bible and baptism:

But the Bible tells us to intrude–or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what’s going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters. Of course, premarital sexual behaviour is just one of many instances of this larger point.

This comes from a gal who became a Christian as an adult, but already as a teenager had treated casual sex as the norm and discovered how empty and wrong it was.

Pastors of clay


How are your pastor and his loved ones doing? A couple pastors weigh in.

Why do pastors get depressed? | Practical Shepherding.

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Incentives are Good

Parents sometimes give incentives to their children to do something. If you work hard pulling weeds this morning, you may go to the pool this afternoon. If you do a good job cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, you may have your friend over tomorrow. Drive your brother to work this week, and the car is yours on the weekend.

Now I’ve heard people say that Christian parents shouldn’t do that. Such people argue that this a form of bribery. And after all, children should listen to their parents, even if there isn’t a reward, which is true of course. Yet, God himself promises rewards to his children, as he does in the fifth commandment and many other places in the Bible. Do this and you will live, Jesus said (Luke 10:28), echoing what his Father said many times in the old covenant.

That’s not bribery. That’s simply promising to show favour to someone you love for doing what you ask them to do, because it’s good for them.

The Realness of God’s Kingdom

In the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper, God gives us a foretaste of the kingdom that he’s promised us. The kingdom of heaven that he’s promised to us is as real as the bread and wine that we taste at the Lord’s supper! The bread and wine at the Lord’s table are sort of like products that have been imported from the kingdom of God, so that we can get a feel for how real, how good, God’s kingdom is!

Remember what Moses had those 12 men do, whom he sent to explore the land of Canaan (Number 13). He said to them:  Bring back some of the fruit of the land. And that’s exactly what they did. When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. And when these 12 men came back, they had proof of the goodness of that land. They reported to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, we’re told, and showed them the fruit of the land. They said:  We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is the fruit. The Israelites could literally pluck the fruit of the land that God had promised them, and taste it for themselves!

Now that’s exactly what God lets us do at the Lord’s supper: he lets us pluck the fruit of God’s kingdom, and taste for ourselves what we may enjoy to the full in the future! In fact, remember what Jesus said when he instituted the Lord’s supper: I tell you, I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom (Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18). What he meant was this: as surely as you have drunk this wine with me here and now, so surely will you drink with me in my Father’s kingdom!

Movies and Beer


Can they be good for you? Here’s what Geoffrey Botkin thinks:

Alcohol, Movies, and Other “Toxins” | Western Conservatory.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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It is good!

A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day.

It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
“The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock,
and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Psalm 92:1-3,15

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 7:33 am  Leave a Comment  

A Prayer of Confession

O God of grace, you have imputed my sin to my Substitute and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness.

But in my Christian walk, I am still in rags.

My best prayers are stained with sin.

My penitential tears are so much impurity.

My confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin.

My receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance.

I need my tears to be washed.

I have no robe to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness.

I am always clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly.

I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, Father, forgive me, and you are always bringing out the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin,

the exceeding righteousness of salvation,

the exceeding glory of Christ,

the exceeding beauty of holiness,

the exceeding wonder of grace.


Adapted from Valley of Vision, “Continual Repentance” as found in Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship (Baker Academic, 2009).