Saturday, January 12, 2008

Verbal Meditation of the Bible

From pgs 154-155 of Marvin R. Wilson's "Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith":
The subject of meditation is crucial for understanding the precise organization of the Hebrew Bible's three-fold division into Law, Prophets, and Writings. Joshua is the first book in the Prophets, the second major division of the Hebrew Bible. It opens with God commanding the Israelites to meditate on the Law of Moses (the first major division of the Bible) "day and night" (Josh. 1:8). The book of Psalms is the first book in the Writings, the third major division, and it opens with the same motif -- that of meditating on God's Law "day and night" (Ps. 1:2). Elsewhere, the psalmist says, "I will meditate on all your works" (Ps. 77:12). Viewed contextually, these passages indicate that meditation is the key theme which binds the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible together.

In each of the three texts cited above, the Hebrew word for "meditate" is hagah. The word properly means "emit a sound," "murmur," "mutter," "speak in an undertone." For the Hebrews, meditation was not like a Quaker meeting; it was not silent. Several texts clearly support this contention that meditation was normally verbal, that is, expressed in spoken words. In Psalm 49:3 (RSV) we read, "My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation [hagut] of my heart shall be understanding." The Hebrew parallelism indicates that what is spoken with the mouth is the same as "meditation." Hence, the NIV renders hagut not "meditation" but "utterance." Again, in the well-known Psalm 19:14, the expression "words of my mouth" parallels "meditation [hegyon] of my heart." Furthermore, Joshua 1:8 states, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate [ve-hagita] on it day and night." In this context, "meditate" is defined by the command not to let the Law ever be out of one's mouth. "This negative way of speaking implies a strong positive. . . . The mouth is here the organ of speech."[footnote in original] Furthermore, hagah is used in the Hebrew Bible to indicate such varied sounds as the "growl" of a lion (Isa. 31:4) and the "moaning" of a dove (Isa. 38:14).

Such passages give graphic insight into what meditation involves. Meditation is the outward verbalizing of one's thoughts before God, of the poring over his teachings and works. It means to articulate, in a low tone, thoughts of worship, wonder, and praise. But, in addition, the use of hagah in texts such as Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 implies that the Scriptures were not primarily written to be read silently. Indeed, in the words of Otto Kaiser, the Law itself was to be "read aloud" by day and by night. [footnote in original]
. . .
Each day it is customary for an observant Hasid to make time to be alone for awhile so he can meditate by talking aloud with God. This meditation is a private pouring out of personal prayers, doubts, or problems. To recover a childlike quality of faith (cf. Matt. 18:3-4) the rabbis recommended hitboddadut ["alone-ness" - Kent] at night in an open field.
Some contemporary forms of church worship may appear to be a bit boisterous or too extemporaneous for those of us with more subdued and orderly Western tastes. But we should not forget that Hebrew worship -- including prayer and the study of the holy books -- was no sedate or dreary event. It included dancing with tambourine (Ps. 149:3; 150:4), all kinds of instruments -- including trumpets and cymbals (Ps. 150) -- singing (33:3), hand clapping (47:1), and even shouting (95:1). for the Hebrews, praise was the basic token of being alive; it was the way to observe the command, "You shall meditate on it day and night."

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