Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The fear of God

No, not the sort that is the beginning of wisdom. No, I mean God's own fear, the fear he feels.

But God doesn't fear anything...

From at least Deuteronomy 32:19 onwards it is clear that the one speaking is YHWH ('The LORD saw it, and was jealous').

  • 'He said' (v20);
  • 'They made me jealous' (v21)
  • 'For a fire is kindled by my anger' (v22)
  • 'I will heap disasters upon them' (v23)
  • 'The teeth of beasts I will send against them' (v24)
  • 'I thought to scatter them' (v26)

Which brings the reader to Deuteronomy 32:27, where Yahweh says:

'but I feared provocation by the enemy, for their adversaries might misunderstand and say, "Our hand is triumphant; it was not the LORD who did all this"'

God doesn't merely not desire or not like this provocation. This verse tells us that he fears (NRSV) or even dreads it (NIV).

I couldn't find a comment on this verse anywhere in my OT Theologies, but the internet turned up a reference to Nahama Leibowitz who said of Deuteronomy 32:27, that it contains a "very daring anthropomorphism indeed, attributing to God the sentiment of fear." (Studies in Devarim: Deuteronomy, 328). Daring? No kidding!

Of course, the reader knows that God, not Moses, says this, so the picture is hardly of scared old god, with a beard, quaking in a corner. It is language meant to convey how strongly God feels about the defaming of his name, here provocation by the enemy. But Deuteronomy does this by telling us that God fears provocation.


At 4/21/2009 2:35 AM, Anonymous Angie Van De Merwe said...

It sounds like "good ole" projection of the writer. His fear was a lack of reputation and this was projected upon God, as it justifies fear of that kind. And then one can feel righteously indignant if another decides to "defame" "god's reputation", as your reputation is caught up with God's...

At 4/21/2009 2:58 AM, Anonymous Stephen S. said...

Chris: nice post!

Angie: couldn't I just as easily argue that YOUR post is just a projection of a particular state of affairs that you wish to project upon reality? And that your unwillingness to accept the text on face value is based upon some fear you have about a revealing sort of God?

I don't do that sort of thing. Its just not very nice. ;)

At 4/21/2009 3:31 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Robinson said...

so where is the Hebrew word study?

At 4/21/2009 3:44 AM, Anonymous A. D. Hunt said...

This reminds me of much of the work of Terence E. Frethheim who teaches @ Luther Sem. less than a mile from where I live.

At 4/21/2009 4:20 AM, Anonymous Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't have anything to hide, as I am pretty open, I think. Some think I am too open (no boundaries). So, whatever is to be exposed, I will readily admit to...I am shameless, as I have no conscience, you see...:)

At 4/21/2009 6:51 AM, Anonymous Stephen S. said...

Angie: My point still stands...

Anyone can claim that a specific person is just projecting their particular views onto reality for some ulterior motive other than the one expressed as an attempt to foster some psychological stabilization either within themselves (I think this is what you are saying in your comment about the writer of Deuteronomy) or within the community they are attempting to control.

But (and this is a big but(t)) whenever this sort of evaluation of a specific account of reality is presented it automatically falls prey to its owe devices...e.i.how do we know you are not projecting your account of reality onto us in an attempt to control us for your own twisted ends?

At 4/21/2009 4:40 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

jon's right. exegesis based on english is not really all that useful.

At 4/21/2009 9:22 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Angie: the context doesn't fit that kind of psychologizing. Moses is predicting that the Israelites will spurn God and will be punished by God but not wiped out. The not-wiping-out (and saving restoration, after the punishment) is what is being explained by the idea that God "fears" that pagans nations will misunderstand the destruction and attribute it to themselves or to their own gods.

It isn't the punishment that is being explained by God 'fearing for His reputation'. It's the salvation.

(Which could be psychologizing of another kind, perhaps. Compare to Moses' earlier appeal to God, in Exodus, not to wipe out the Israelites and start again: if God wipes them out, Moses explains, the Egyptians will laugh. This is a pretty common prayer theme in the OT, actually.)

Werner translates the Hebrew of the first phrase of vv.26-27, "I said I will section them, and their remembrance will rest from mortals. I will never stay by the anger of the enemy, otherwise their persecutors will recognize and otherwise they will say, 'Our hand uplifts, but YHWH never crafted any of this.'"

The JPS Tanakh: "I might have reduced them to nothing, made their memory cease among men; but (i.e. except) for fear of the taunts of the foe, their enemies who might misjudge and say, 'Our own hand has prevailed; none of this was wrought by the Lord!'"

Green's literal: "I said, I will dash them to pieces; I will make their memory cease from among men; were it not the provocation of an enemy I feared, that their foes should judge amiss (etc.)".

Green's super-literal: "I said, I will dash them to pieces; I will cease-make from among men their memory. If not the provocation of an enemy did I fear lest should misconstrue their adversaries (etc.)"

NIV: "I said I would scatter them and erase their memory from mankind; but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy, lest the adversary misunderstand (etc.)"

NIV super-literal: "I-said I-would-scatter-them I-would-erase from-mankind memory-of-them but taunt-of being-enemy I-dreaded lest they-misunderstand adversary-of-them (etc.)"

The compound noun-verb in question seems to be ANWD (although the final consonant might be a {kaf} in its final form of {drk} instead, in which case the word would be ANWK. Assuming I'm reading the N correctly, which might be a soft B instead. Maybe.) The vowel pointing is rather more exotic than I can make heads or tails of, and so my limits are reached. {wry g}

Green's Strong ref # is either out of date or wildly inaccurate, so no help there. My parsing through the Aleph portions of Strong suggests that the word has something to do with screaming or groaning or sighing in distress. I wasn't able to figure out where Werner is getting his translation though.

Meanwhile, on a completely unrelated note, because I needed to get something more useful out of my perusing through Strong's, and because I know Chris will appreciate it: Abiyshag, "father of blundering". One of King David's concubines. One wonders what the story was behind that name...

(Yes, yes, thank you for your wonderful daughter sent to my harem for surety, King Whosiwasis, I'm sure she'll be fine when I try her out tonight... now, what is your name dearGODINHEAVEN!!!)


(PS: actually, several women who really were women have "ab"-father as part of their name, including the mother of King Hezikiah, and another of David's concubines. Still, it's funny imagining how exactly this name got attached. At the very least the woman must have been clumsy as all getout.)

(PPS: not that I think political harems per se are funny. But the notion that a guy got sent and David didn't notice until after the deal was settled makes for an amusing anti-harem thought... {g})

At 4/21/2009 9:27 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

using strongs to exegete is like using toilet paper to wash your car.

At 4/21/2009 9:38 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Angie, what do you think I am projecting?

Hi Jonathan (and thus Jim too!!), I did check the Hebrew word in HALOT and it simply confirmed, for me, the interpretation offered in the NIV, which uses 'dread', a translation I take to be much the same as the NRSV, which uses 'fear'. Unfortunately, because I am not too sure how to quickly copy over Hebrew fonts into blog posts, I decided not to bother mentioning that part of my research, especially as it didn't detract from the point I was making with the English.

Thanks for the anecdotes, Jason!

At 4/21/2009 9:45 PM, Anonymous tortoise said...

Jason - nice thought regarding the concubines (and it's not every day you get to write that in a blog comment...), but surely when a name begins abi it conveys not just 'father' but 'my father' - hence the name makes sense whether its bearer is male or female. N'est-ce pas?

At 4/21/2009 9:56 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

Ah, yes, quite true, Tort. Alas, also far more dull. {rueful g!}

Although still kind of interesting: so, Abiyshag's dad was a deceiver or a blunderer? Hmmm...!

Chris: so, out of curiosity and to assauge my bleeding eyes, what word (or root) does HALOT read there?


At 4/22/2009 10:38 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jason, HALOT refers to Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm's The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.

At 4/22/2009 2:04 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

No, no, sorry I wasn't clear. I was asking what Hebrew word HALOT lexicon read for that verse. When I went through Strong's Lexicon, I couldn't nail it down for sure, and a couple of letters are close enough in form to other letters that they might have been traditionally misread. (I'm also trying to figure out why Werner would translate it so differently. I'm guessing there's an emendation issue, but... {shrug})


At 4/22/2009 9:42 PM, Anonymous philgroom said...

God fears Chris Tilling, no doubt about it...

At 4/23/2009 8:17 PM, Anonymous Nick said...

As mentioned at work t'other day, I wonder if there is a degree of 'dread/fear' present in Gethsemane... something worth pondering!


At 4/24/2009 3:10 PM, Anonymous MrsOlivia said...

philgroom....I fear Chris Tilling!

At 5/04/2009 3:56 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

A better question is...

What is the relevance of ancient peoples attributing their gains and losses, their victories and failures in battle, their famines and times of plenty, to "divine" intervention in all such cases?

Who can believe that today? But it was a TYPICAL ANCIENT NOTION as seen in the works of MANY ancient writings, not just HEBREW ones.

See the video "The Hittites" and the scene concerning the king's lamentations at the plague that had struck his people, and his attempt to explain it as the people's sin against their divinities. Sheesh.

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