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Occasional Letters - Chewing the Cud

D Newell, Glasgow

It’s amazing the snippets of odd information one picks up at the dinner table. A while back a visitor informed me, over his Marks and Spencer roast chicken, that we are supposed to chew each mouthful between thirty and forty times before swallowing, because the more we chew, the better we digest. Perhaps that chicken was tougher than it should have been. My mind guiltily reverted to childhood admonitions against bolting my food. Now, what is true in the physical sphere often applies to the spiritual: as in nature, so in grace. This is hardly surprising, since our God, the Creator of the universe around us, has deliberately filled it with practical illustrations of divine principles. If we should not gobble our physical nourishment, we certainly should not speed-read the Scriptures, or bolt our Bibles. To get the best out of the Word, our reading should be steady, thoughtful, judicious and meditative. The instruction to Joshua cannot be surpassed: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous" (Josh 1.8). Like the cow in the field, whose remarkable system of multiple stomachs means that it regularly regurgitates and re-savours its food, the believer is best trained to obey the Word by constantly turning it over in his mind. After all, what we think about and dwell upon is bound to influence both our speech and our conduct. Thus it was that Jeremiah, surrounded by enemies and commissioned to preach an unpalatable message, discovered strength and satisfaction in the Scriptures: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jer 15.16). That was the meal that kept him going.

May I therefore chew over with you one well-known verse, just as a sample of what we can gain if we spend time with the Word? My verse is Psalm 55.22. The speaker is David, the situation one of danger and disappointment. As J N Darby usefully summarises it, "Psalm 55 is a distressing picture of wickedness in Jerusalem. The speaker is outside, but has experienced this wickedness in the treachery of his dearest friends. His resource is in God: Jehovah will save". Historically David was suffering Absalom’s rebellion, and typically his experience looks ahead to the Saviour’s betrayal by Judas, but his exhortation is of timeless practical benefit to every believer: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved". This verse is well worth memorising, as it will release real comfort when we find ourselves, as we so often do, in difficulties. It is said that affliction constitutes one of the most powerful of Bible commentaries, so the more Scripture we have stored in our memory banks the better we shall be able to draw on it and discover its value in times of crisis. So let’s crumble the verse into its component parts. It is made up of a command ("Cast thy burden upon the Lord"), a consequence ("and he shall sustain thee"), and a condition ("he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved"). In keeping with the pattern of Hebrew poetry its parallel phrases form a development of ideas, starting with human responsibility and moving on to God’s gracious provision.

Take that initial command, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord". I often find it helpful to check individual words against an interlinear Bible because this allows me to see how a word is used elsewhere in Scripture. According to my e-Sword, the imperative "Cast" translates a Hebrew term (Strong 7993) meaning, in the Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon, "to throw, cast, throw away, cast off, shed, cast down". It appears, for example, in Genesis 37.24 where his envious brothers cast young Joseph into a pit: "they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it". Again, it is used as a graphic illustration of God’s pardoning mercy towards His people Israel: "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7.19). Just as Joseph was dumped in the pit, just as the full weight of Israel’s sinfulness will one day be hurled into the ocean depths, so our individual burden is to be off-loaded upon our burden-bearing Lord. And this is an individual responsibility. In v.22 David urges himself to practise the resolve recorded in v.16. No one else can do it for us; we each have to learn to transfer anxiety from our sagging shoulders to One who cannot fail. This means prayerfully committing ourselves to the God of all our circumstances. Have you ever noticed that the heavier the burden the more earnest our prayer life? We should never be fearful of insistently repeating our requests, or talking them over regularly with the Lord, for He delights to hear our cries. Indeed, that we flee instinctively to Him when the storm breaks is proof that we are His children. It’s encouraging therefore to trace through the Psalms the collocation of "cry" and "hear" (Ps 3.4; 18.6; 22.24; 31.22). Be sure of this: if no one else listens to you, God does! However, while the verb "cast" turns up over 100 times in the Old Testament, the word for "burden" appears only here, so we have no parallels to help us, but Young’s Literal Translation renders the whole clause in a most interesting way: "Cast on Jehovah that which He hath given thee". This implies that everything we bear has been specifically allocated to us by the sovereign God. And so it has. Of course the conditions vary but the principle remains true in every age: whatever His people have to endure it is ultimately God who places it on them (Ps 66.10-12; 119.75; Lam 1.12; Nah 1.12). What a difference that makes to our view of adversity! With such a God there can be no accidents and no mistakes, for "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom 8.28). And what He gives us to suffer He invites us to cast on Him.

But what of the consequence? "He shall sustain thee." The language is dazzlingly simple but deeply satisfying. "Sustain" (Strong 3557) translates a word which is elsewhere rendered, for example, "nourish" (Gen 45.11; 47.12; 50.21; Ruth 4.15), or "feed" (2 Sam 19.33). As the Lord provided for His people materially during their wilderness journey, so He will supply our needs as we lean upon Him: "Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not" (Neh 9.21). The final clause elaborates upon this divine provision: "he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved". "Moved" (Strong 4131) appears first in Leviticus 25.35, translated "fallen in decay": "and if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him". The impoverished Israelite was to be supported practically by his relatives. As we call upon Him how much more will our God preserve His people from spiritual decay and slippage. In fact, the same word is sometimes rendered "slip" or "slide" (Deut 32.35; Ps 17.5; 94.18). A recent bout of severe winter weather turned the roads near my home into an ice-rink so that one evening the only way I could get across was on my hands and knees. It was not an inspiring sight. Thankfully the only witness was one of the local cats, who promised not to tell. But the experience made me think of God’s gracious care. When David prayed, "Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not" (Ps 17.5), he was thinking not of icy roads but of the much greater difficulty of walking a straight course for God in a wicked world.

Finally, there is an important condition. The promise in the verse is not for everyone, but only for "the righteous". Because the Bible teaches that "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3.10), the word here must mean either righteous in a relative way (one who seeks however failingly to adhere to God’s instructions, as was the case with Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1.5-6), or righteous in the sense of being justified through faith like Abraham, who "believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen 15.6). Of course, the two are vitally connected. Those who are justified by faith will seek to live righteous lives. What we are positionally by grace we should strive to be practically in our daily walk. But the point is clear – those who trust in the Lord for their justification may rely on Him for daily preservation.

It may be only a mouthful, perhaps, but this bite-size verse provides rich spiritual nourishment for young and old alike. At work, at college, in the neighbourhood, in the home, we can live in the good of it. When the emergency comes we have a clear course of action and a guaranteed response. So next time you do your Bible reading, don’t rush through it or swallow your spiritual food in haste, but consciously store your mind with truth so that during the day you can chew the cud of the Word. Nothing is tastier!

To be continued.


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