(March 07, 2022) Dr Robert McQuillanhas been blessed by Dr Jim McClure’s answer to something that was troubling him recently in the midst of recovering from some illnesses. So here’s the background and Dr Jim’s theological response…
Dear Dr Jim
In the middle of recovering I’ve been deeply troubled! And all over a verse that I sensed the Lord gave me two nights ago… Psalm 37:7a, ‘Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.’ Great verse, I thought, that sounds just right… I have to continue to be patient in patiently trusting Him for my full recovery.
But, then, strangely, I was greatly disturbed last night Why? I felt to read this verse in various other Bible versions that I have and noted that with the exception of one, they also use ‘patiently.’ I was then led to look up what the Hebrew really meant.
Frankly, when I found that my e-Sword version explains patiently as chûl chı̂yl – twisting and whirling, writhing in pain – it really threw me! I couldn’t get back asleep right away! And not being up to reading any of my theological books to check further at this time, I ask that you, as the renowned source of theological explanation that you are, please email me your thoughts, thanks. Blessings. Yours, Robert.
I have read and reflected on the verse that you quoted that both comforted you and troubled you, particularly when you read some things about the meanings of the Hebrew word translated as ‘patiently.’ I hope the following helps to give you some further understanding and peace.
First, while it is good to see something of the root of Hebrew words, unless they are understood within the context, we may arrive at a complete misunderstanding of what the text is actually saying.
Biblical Hebrew has a very small vocabulary, less than 7000 words (currently English has over 171,000) so individual Hebrew words are used to express a range of ideas which are related even if somewhat distantly. A case in point is the Hebrew word for glory (kabod) the root of which relates to heaviness and therefore (as I point out in my book on Hebrew words) is closely related to the Hebrew word for the ‘liver’ (for example, Exodus 29:13) which is the heaviest organ in the body.
So ‘weight’ was then also closely associated with the Hebrew word. But apart from ‘liver’ and ‘weight’ the word developed to relate to wealth (that is, being heavy with riches) and ultimately to the characteristics of having great respect and honour. The word continued to develop to describe the magnificence and splendour of Almighty God.
I mention the above because we can confuse ourselves by throwing all the definitions of a Hebrew word at a passage from the Bible.
The Hebrew word wehithcholel (as used in Psalm 37:7)iswhat is described grammatically as the ‘hithpolel imperative’ of the Hebrew word chûl, the root of which does include the idea of twisting and writhing in pain – but by extension it means much more than that. In English the context of the word may be translated as ‘patiently’. So, how do we get from ‘writhing in pain’ to ‘waiting patiently’?
Clue number 1: Synonymous parallelism
This is a feature of Hebrew poetry that uses the words of two or more lines of text that are related in a way that amplifies or adds to or explains a meaning in different ways. A couple of examples of this are as follows:
In Psalm 37:7 we clearly see this parallelism in which the first part of the sentence is affirmed and amplified by the second part – ‘Be still (or ‘rest’) before the Lord and wait patiently for him.’
The two statements confirm one another rather than contradict. Therefore the phrase ‘being still’ is related to ‘waiting patiently,’
Clue number 2: Context
David wrote this as an elderly man (verse 25) whose life had experienced many successes and failures and in this psalm he was giving some advice to encourage others who had put their trust in God. This is the thrust of the psalm. David clearly was not trying to incite a spirit of fear of God in believers!
Rather, he was encouraging total surrender to God and even within that ‘waiting’ for God to work out His purposes for us, things may not always be easy. Some situations are wholly beyond anything we can do to speed up God’s plan – He does not always give a swift answer. Even if the waiting period has degrees of turbulence, our response is not to react but to continue trusting.
I hope this is of some help to you.
Got a question for either Dr Robert or Pr Maureen McQuillan? Email to OnlinerConnect@gmail.com See Dr Jim’s timely article this month for a link to obtaining his excellent books – Judging Others
Psalm 37, particularly verse 25 to which Jim makes reference, is a real favourite of mine. Dr Jim gives a helpful insight into your question, Robert. I was reminded of the words of Psalm 40 from the Scottish psalter which begins, ‘I waited for the Lord my God and patiently did bear, at length to me He did incline my voice and cry to hear.’ Thanks for asking the question, Robert, and thanks for the response, Jim.