WORD STUDY – GOD’S SUN – רחמ
Psalms 40:11: “Withhold not thy tender mercies from me, O Lord, let they lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.”
“I’ll catch the sun and never give it back again,
I’ll catch the sun and keep it for my own,
But in a world, where no one understands,
I’ll take my outstretched hand and offer it to anyone
Who comes along and tells me he’s in need of love,
In need of hope or maybe just a friend,
Perhaps in time, I’ll even share my sun
With that new anyone to whom I gave my hand.
I often use the above poem in my Hebrew classes to explain Hebrew poetry. Rod McKuen used the motif of the sun. My question to my class after reciting his poem is: “What does the sun represent?” Most often I get the response as is typical for most Christians who do not read a passage closely and just jump to a conclusion. They would immediately say the sun represents love. But if you read the poem carefully you will find it is not love for Rod McKuen says he would offer love to anyone who needs it. Yet, he will not share his sun. The sun must be something deeper and more intense than mere love or at least our 21st Century understanding of love. Fact is, Rod McKuen could find no English word for this deep passion that he will not share, so he had to speak in metaphoric terms. That is why a poet like Rod McKuen used a motif like the sun to express a love or passion that is something beyond what we normally think of as love. Apparently, sometime in his life, he once shared such a passion as he calls the sun and it was betrayed, so now he is very cautious before he shares that passion or sun with anyone. We have a Hebrew word, however that is a perfect fit for Rod McKuen’s sun and that is rachem which is found in a Piel (intensive) form in Psalms 40:11. The translators had a problem with this word also. The KJV says tender mercies, the NIV simply says mercies although I feel they are ignoring the Piel (intensive) stem on this word by doing so. The NASB as many others say compassion. Still, these words fall far short of the meaning of racham. I can only define it pointing to Rod McKuen’s poem and say racham is Rod McKuen’s sun.
The translators for the KJV saw this word and realizing it was in a Piel form knew they were in trouble, they had to find a word in the English and the best they could do was to coin a new phrase tender mercies. I suppose in English that is the best we can do.
Actually, racham is a mystical word. It is a word that can only be understood when you experience it. The same can be said for the English words used for chasad which is often rendered as loving kindness. That is close but no cigar. Fact is, lovingkindness is the best we can do in English, but it falls far too short of its meaning. Let’s face it, modern Western man just doesn’t have the romantic nature of the Semitic people. Jehoshaphat in II Chronicles 20 led his army against the three kings. They were totally outnumbered and outclassed. Leading his army was a choir and he had them sing a praise to God uttering the words His lovingkindness endures forever. The Bible says that the moment they spoke those words, an angel came and disrupted the three kings turning them against each other. Jehoshaphat had a complete victory without suffering one casualty. I would say that chasad carries a much more powerful punch than our rendering of lovingkindness, but we are just too scientific, too mathematical, too unemotional to really create a word to express chasad.
But back to rachem. David is calling out to God for His rachem (tender mercies) because he has sinned. Love can easily be wounded, and the deeper the love the greater the wound as we find in Rod McKuen’s case. However, the depth of rachem is such that it is beyond being offended. This is the love that will overlook great offenses. It is like a mother’s love. In fact rachem is often rendered as the womb or a child in a mother’s womb. The love a mother feels for a child in her womb is the purest it will ever be. It is a love which has yet to be challenged, scorned and even rejected. It is a love that has not yet been wounded. When David is asking for rachem or tender mercies he is asking to be taken back to that time when the love between him and God was purest, at time before he wounded God’s heart with adultery, murder and other sins. He wanted God to love him as if he never did anything to challenge that love or wound it. This is where this verse packs a real wallop. Because it is telling us that God can still love us with that pure and perfect love like a mother has for a child in her womb that has not had the opportunity to be rebellious and break her heart.
After committing some sort of sin, David appealed to this love. In our natural understanding there has to be a limit to one’s love. Yet, with God there is no limit. No matter how gross the sin, God is ready to forgive and receive us back into His personal fellowship.
Well, we are back to Rod McKuen. So do you have an English word to describe Rod McKuen’s sun? I doubt you will find one but that doesn’t mean we cannot experience that tingly, snuggly feeling when we hear the mention of God’s tender mercies. It is the best English expression I can think of for rachem and I can guarantee if you are seeking the heart of God and you just lay back and meditate on the words; tender mercies, well let’s just say I don’t have to define what I mean when I say it is a mystical word. Ah yes, no matter how great our sin God is more than will to share His sun (Son) with us.