Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The structure of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

Chapters 1-4 of the Lamentations are alphabetic acrostics. When read through in English one might think they are uncontrolled screeds the prophet prays in complaint about the destruction of Jerusalem; however, in fact they are exquisite works of complex Hebrew poetry.

Chapters 1, 2, and 4 each consist of 22 long verses; each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph to Tau. (As a reminder, there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, not 26 like the English).

Chapter 3 consists of 66 short verses where verses 1-3 all start with the first letter of the alphabet, verse 4-6 with the second, etc., until one gets to verses 64-66 which all begin with the final letter.

Chapter 5, the final one, consists of 22 verses, but it is not an acrostic. The restraints of poetry are cast off and the prophet yells out his complaints about the mistreatment the people of God are suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, ending with these questions and exclamations:

Why do you always forget us?
      Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
      renew our days as of old 
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
     and are angry with us beyond measure.

The centre of the book is chs. 3:22-23, the verses upon which the well known hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, is based:
         22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, 
               for his compassions never fail.
        23 They are new every morning;
               great is your faithfulness. 

I am no expert in Hebrew, let alone Hebrew poetry, but I can conclude that it is beautiful.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Alphabetic Acrostic on Psalm 119

Psalm 119, as is well known, is an acrostic poem. It is an extended meditation on the torah, the "law" or "teaching" of the word of God. It uses eight synonyms for torah: law, commandment, statute, precept, testimony, word, promise, and teaching. It consists of twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each. In the first stanza each sentence begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in the second stanza each sentence begins with the second letter, and so on through the whole alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet is made up of twenty-two letters, and hence the twenty-two stanzas and 176 verses;.

In the version below I used the English alphabet, which includes twenty-six letters. Since I wanted the poem to have twenty-two stanzas, like the original and Hebrew version, I was, thankfully, able to avoid having to use the four letters Q, X, Y, and Z. As an aid I have included the verses that each stanza represents.

I used the well known Genevan 119 for the musical setting because of its close association with the Psalm. Whereas I used the metre of Genevan 119 I did not use the rhyming scheme, largely because an acrostic poem puts the emphasis on the first letter of the line rather than on the rhyming of the final syllable of the line.

Using the parameters of acrostic and tune the result is likely more of a hymn based on Psalm 119 than a strictly literal versification of it. The reader will need to judge whether my stanzas do justice to the stanzas found in the Bible.

One of the inspirations for this poem was the Knox Bible, as translated by Mgr. Ronald Knox, 1888-1957. 

Psalm 119
All they are blest who walk obediently

A— verses 1-8

1. All they are blest who walk obediently
According to God's cov'nant testimonies.
Against what's wrong they stand whole-heartedly
Advancing only praise to God in heaven.
And so I know that I won't be ashamed.
Alleluia, do not forsake your servant.


2. But how can youth remain pure all their days?
By careful reading of your perfect precepts.
Beyond all measure is your holy law.
Buried and stored, your word is like a treasure.
Blessed are you, oh teach me your decrees.
Basking in joy I'll not forget your judgments.


3. Come and deal richly with your servant, LORD.
Close not my eyes that I may see your statutes.
Comfort this pilgrim as I walk the earth.
Consumed am I with longing for your guidance.
Chasten the proud who wander far astray.
Counsel all those who keep your testimonies.


4. Dust is the substance to which my soul clings.
Devoted am I to your ordinances.
Direct me to your wondrous works and ways.
Deliver me from all that's false and treach'rous.
Delightful is the pure and faithful path.
Do open wide my heart for your commandments.


5. Expound to me your statutes, which I'll keep.
Enlighten me that I may know your precepts.
Each of your laws are my delight and joy.
Establish now your promise to your servant.
Enable me to turn to you my eyes
E'en as I long for all your perfect rulings.


6. Fulfill to me the promise that you made
For then will I have answers for my taunters.
Forsake me never but give me your word.
Forever will I walk before my Saviour.
Fearlessly will I speak before the kings
Flinging wide open hands in love and worship.


7. Good is your word in which you've made me hope.
Great is the comfort that your promise gives me.
Gone are the traitors who derided me.
Gleefully will I sing about your statutes.
Gloom of the night cannot erase my joy.
Growing in me is love for all your precepts.


8. How do I promise to obey your words!
Heartfelt is my entreaty for your favour.
Having considered all your promises
Hasten will I to keep all your commandments.
Hearken, O LORD, when I arise at night
Happy to join in prayer with those who fear you.


9. In faithfulness you dealt so well with me.
Instruct me in your knowledge all-surpassing.
I went astray before you punished me.
It was to teach me, that I was afflicted.
Is not your law worth more to me than gold?
Indeed, I value it beyond all measure.


10. Just as your hands have made and fashioned me
Join to my knowledge love for righteous living.
Joy is for those who walk in godly ways.
Judge all the insolent who wronged your servant.
Journey with me for I do love your word.
Jealously keep me close to you forever.


11. Keenly my soul longs always for your grace.
Knowing your goodness, I trust you forever.
Keep close to me, heal all my bitter pain.
Kitchen-smoke burns my eyes until they're weeping.
Knaves plot and scheme for my demise, my death.
Kind as you are, save me from wicked plotting.


12. Lord, fixed in heaven is your faithful word.
Long as earth lasts it will abide forever.
Lest I should fall you've shown to me your truth.
Life-giving are your precepts and commandments.
Lend me your aid for I belong to you.
Limitless is your law and all your teaching.


13. My greatest love is for your perfect law.
More wisdom have I than all of my teachers.
Methodica'lly I keep your flawless word.
Made wise by you I shun all that is evil.
Mindful of how your words are very sweet
Morning till evening I will be your student.


14. No lamp gives light like your illum'ning word.
Never will I take back the oaths I promised
Nor will I speak against your chast'ning hand.
Now I will give my freewill gifts to praise you.
Notorious men may lay their snares for me
Nevertheless I'll serve my LORD forever.


15. Out with the double-minded! Let them flee!
O Hiding Place, please keep us safe forever.
Outside of God there is no place to go.
Of all the “gods” the LORD alone is righteous.
Our God speaks words that we will always do.
Ought we not tremble fearing God our Master!


16. Protect, O LORD, the justice of my cause.
Pledge to me, God, some good to show you love me.
Pining away my eyes look up to you.
Pity your servant for he loves your treasure
Prized far above the finest gold on earth.
Praised be your precepts loved by all the righteous.


17. Remarkable are all your holy laws
Revealed by you to give us understanding.
Return to me and all who love your name.
Rule over me that I may walk uprightly.
Redeem me from the ways of evil men.
Rivers of tears I shed for man's so sinful.


18. Steadfast and true are all God's rules and ways.
Strict righteousness is what the Lord finds pleasing.
Small and despised seem I, but blest am I:
Servant of God who does his Master's bidding.
Suff'ring always, that is my lot in life
So I depend upon your word eternal.


19. That I may keep your statutes, answer me!
To you I cry, save me your humble servant.
Toward the dawn I look with anxious heart.
Throughout the night I dwell upon your promise.
Teach me to trust in you my only Help.
Then I will stand against the persecutor.


20. Under affliction am I, rescue me.
Uphold my cause and give me life unending
Unknown to those who hate your perfect way.
Unnumbered are your gifts to those who serve you.
Unhappy are the faithless reprobates.
Unchanging is your word of truth forever.


21. Vexatious persecutors fill the earth.
Victorious am I for the LORD sustains me.
Villains I hate because they hate your law.
Value, I pray, my sevenfold thank-offr'ing.
Votive fine gifts I sacrifice to you.
Vast is your love and grace for all your people.


22. Where shall I look for wisdom in this life?
Will you not save me as you one time promised?
What sort of praise shall burst forth from my lips?
Would you but move your hand to save your servant!
Whene'er I stray like sheep that run away
Welcome me back for I love your commandments.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Glorious Victory

A homiletical and devotional commentary on Revelation, the product of 36 sermons, is now available in print form in the international Amazon platform of your choice, and instantly (and much less expensively) in Kindle format. Please see here:
for print and here 

The Glorious Victory: An Exposition of Revelation by [van Popta, George]

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The pillar and foundation of the truth

In 1 Timothy 3:15 the Apostle Paul speaks to what the church must preach and to how people ought to conduct themselves in the church. He uses several names to describe the church: he calls it a household, and the pillar and foundation of the truth.

These are architectural terms. A house needs a foundation and pillars. In the time of Paul if one were going to build a house, he would first dig in the ground to lay the foundation. On the foundation he would erect pillars, and these pillars would hold up the roof. The pillar and foundation had the same function: to hold up that built upon it. Today we would still need first to lay a foundation, either of concrete blocks or of poured concrete. And upon that we then erect studs to hold up the upper stories and the roof. (I write this as one who has never been involved in any aspect of the building trades, so I hope I'm reasonably accurate.)

Image result for foundation stones
The broader context of 1 Timothy 3 is instructive and we need to look both ways, backwards and forwards. Looking backwards to the verses 1-13, we read that Paul mentions the qualifications for office-bearers in the church. Paul wrote this so that Timothy would know how the Christians of Ephesus were to "...conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Elsewhere, scripture says that Christ is the foundation upon which we, the church, are built (1 Peter 2), but here the church is the foundation and the pillar. 

Related image
Looking forwards to the following verse we see that Paul mentions a very brief Christian confession: He (Christ) was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. The church must proclaim this revealed truth about Christ.

It is important to note that the church is holding up the truth. The church does not define what the truth is; it holds up the truth defined by someone else. It is God who defines the truth, and the church is called to hold it up in the world. 

Just as we do not make up the truth of what the Christian confession might be, so we do not make up the truth about what the household rules should be. Both are part of God's revealed truth. 

Scripture tells us who are meant to serve as office bearers. Christ calls us all--old and young, male and female--to places of service in the church. Don't worry! You have been called to a place of service. Christ calls brothers to serve as pastors, elders, and deacons. Sisters he calls to tasks which men (at least, I speak for myself) could not do and for which they are wholly unqualified.

May God be with the church! We may not be condemnatory or judgmental, but we are required to observe, consider, and, at times, make judgments, also about whom Christ calls to serve as office bearers in the church.