WORD STUDY – THE PITS – ~הבורימ
Psalm 143:7: “Hear me speedily, O’Lord: my spirit failed: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.”
I picked up a Look Magazine from 1957 the other day. I read about a group of teenage hacks. Believe it or not they had hackers back in 1957. Of course 60 years ago a teenage hack did not mean a young computer wiz breaking into the FBI computer files. It just meant a lazy youngster. When studying Hebrew, especially word studies, we must consider the fact that like English and every other language in the world, words change over the years. A word in Hebrew may have meant one thing during Moses’s time and by the time of Hosea, it could mean something very different.
Phrases can be literally translated into another language but tend to take on new meanings in the process. Kentucky Fried Chicken sadly learned this when they tried to convert their “Finger licken good” slogan into Chinese. It came out: “Eat your fingers off.” They really blew it in Iran where it came out: “So good you will eat your fingers.” Technologically minded South Korea were horrified when they saw the Pentium IV Chip advertised in Korean. In their language it came out as “Chip of death.”
The reverse works just as well when foreign companies try to advertise in the United States. The Swedish Electrolux company introduced their new vacuum cleaner into the United States. Unfortunately the idiomatically challenged Swedes could not understand the strange reception their powerful new vacuum cleaner received from U.S. buyers. In English their slogan read; “Nothing sucks like Electrolux.
What is really strange is that companies spend thousands, yea, millions of dollars on advertising and never pick up on the obvious language problems. When General Motors came out with the Chevy Nova, it was a hit all over the world except in Latin America. The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to determine why Latin America shunned the Chevy Nova. One day an executive was observing the test driving of a Chevy truck and the driver jumped out of the truck shouting: “No va, No va” The executive asked the manager: “Doesn’t that driver know that truck is not a Nova.” The manager simply said: “The driver is speaking in Spanish. He is not saying ’Nova; but ’no va’ which means ’doesn’t go.’”
If dollar minded, ivy league educated business executives make such simple mistakes with language barriers, is it not possible Bible translators and teachers can also make similar mistakes?
Without hesitation we interpret Psalms 143:7 as David saying that if God does not show his face he will “be like one who goes down into the pit” as saying that God does not show his face he will die and go into a grave.
Pit here is the word bor and not sheol. Sheol is the word for grave. But bor literally means a pit, or a cistern. So if David does not see God he is going to fall into a well?
In this verse we have two very important idiomatic expressions that are rarely seen by the Christian community as an idiom. Sure we can translate a phrase such as “hide not thy face” and “going down into a pit,” but we have little idea what that means. It makes as much sense to us as: “So good you will eat your fingers” does to the Iranians.
In searching through Jewish literature I ran across this phrase face of God many times and in every case it meant not actually seeing God but feeling the presences of God. God really doesn’t have a literal face. I also ran across the word bor, which we interpret as a pit or cistern, and I found that the sages use the word to describe a heart that is in spiritual poverty.
David’s spirit (ruach) has failed. The word fail is kalah which is a complete destruction. He is speaking metaphoric here that his spirit is completely destroyed. The word spirit, (ruach) is that eternal part of you, it is the part that unites with God’s Spirit. It is that part that never dies. But I found something else in Jewish literature. The word ruach is also used to express a sweet smell, that which God delights in. David is saying that that part of him that God delights in is destroyed. He can no longer bring God pleasure, nor can he feel the pleasure of God. To David this is more devastating that losing his kingdom or earthly possessions. It is the worst thing that could happen to him.
Note there is a distinction being made here between feeling the pleasure of God and the presence of God. David’s first concern is that his ability to bring God pleasure is destroyed. Then he begins to worry about the fact that he does not feel God’s presence. David has a relationship with God, a love relationship. Doesn’t a love relationship mean that you are thinking only of the welfare of the other person?
So David is faced with not being able to bring pleasure to God and not feeling His presence and if God doesn’t do something, he will go into spiritual poverty. Wait a minute, isn’t it David who is supposed to do something? This whole chapter is expressing a period of spiritual desolation on David’s part, he is going through a deep crisis and now he feels like God has abandoned him. Apparently, David has done everything he needs to do and now he needs for God to hear him.
Actually the word used for hear is answer or ‘anah in Hebrew. It does mean to answer, but in its Semitic root it means to respond with spiritual discernment and faith and the presence of God. Note that this is in the imperative form. He is commanding God to give him spiritual discernment and faith. Somehow the use of that imperative in this way seems wrong. So let’s look at this word another way. You see this word ‘anah is also used to express the idea of exercising oneself upon another or to ravish a woman. I mean that in a 15th century, Shakespearian way. To gaze with adoration upon the beauty of a woman. In other words, David is so distraught that he cries out to God as a wife would cry out to her husband to look at her, admire her beauty. She wants her husband to take pleasure in her. She spends hours at the gym, the hairdresser, and the make up mirror hoping her husband would enjoy her, ravish her. This brings pleasure to her. The husband in turn feels his wife’s pleasure and finds pleasure in her finding pleasure in him – sort of circular, you know. So too is David crying out to God, “Look at me, ravish me, please find pleasure in me, don’t turn away from me lest I fall into spiritual desolation.
Do you ever feel spiritually empty? You feel almost spiritually desolate? Maybe you need to spend a little time in that spiritual gym where God can work off that spiritual fat, and a little time in God’s makeup room where He can remove those ugly sinful scars and do a little cosmetic surgery so he can transform you into that beautiful bride that He longs to cherish, ravish and find pleasure. Maybe it is time you stop trying to find pleasure for yourself and seek to bring pleasure to God.