Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Benedictions and Doxologies

Throughout biblical history benedictions and doxologies have been a part corporate worship. They are particularly rooted in the Middle Eastern culture to this day. Regretably, except in formal church liturgies (and even those are fading away), benedictions and doxologies are not a major part of Western culture.

Yet I have found precious blessings from meditating on the benedictions and doxologies of the Bible, and I want to share them with you over the next few entries.

First of all we need some definitions. A benediction is a pronouncement of blessing, implying or expressing a prayer that God would grant good things to someone. Probably the most famous benediction is the one God instructed the High Priest Aaron to pronounce on the people of Israel: "The LORD bless thee and keep thee; the LORD make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

A doxology, on the other hand, is an expression of praise, magnifying the greatness of God. An example is Luke 2:14--"Glory to God in the highest . . ." The rest of that verse is a benediction: ". . . and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men."

The Scriptures give us many wonderful benedictions and doxologies, so many, in fact, that there is no need to make up our own. Unfortunately, some biblical passages have been misused as benedictions when they were anything but. An Internet search of "benedictions" or "biblical benedictions," is sure to turn up some lists that give Genesis 31:49--"The LORD watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another." The context of this passage is a bitter dispute between Jacob and his uncle Laban, after Laban accused Jacob of stealing his household idols. Jacob set up a pillar of stones and invited Laban and his relatives to pile up stones for a testimony that one will not cross that monument to harm the other (31:52). It was hardly a benediction: It was a malediction!

A more contemporary example of misuse of Scripture for benediction is the chorus Give Thanks. The line "And now, let the weak say I am strong . . ." appears to come from Joel 3:10 -- ". . . let the weak say, I am strong." Again, the context paints a very different picture than benediction. God is taunting Israel's neighboring enemies--Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia--challenging them to mount up the best defenses they can. The whole verse in the New American Standard Bible reads,"Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, "I am a mighty man." Yet God assures them that they will all be judged and destroyed. In its larger context, the prophecy is of the final judgment of the ungodly nations. (Compare Matthew 25:31-32; Revelation 16:15)

So why is this so important? Aren't we making much of nothing? I don't think so. The Bible has the power to change our lives only to the extent that we understand its message as a whole in its context. The Bible is not a talisman whose words have magical power apart from their message. Nor is it a collection of pithy words of wisdom to give us a boost to get through each day. Using biblical words and phrases out of their context and contrary to their original meaning trivializes the Bible.

In a nation that exceeds all others in its multiplication of Bible translations and editions (and new editions will invariably turn up every Christmas!), we are a nation ignorant of the Bible's message. Relatively few professing Christians have read the Bible in its entirety, even those who have attended church regularly for decades.

The Bible has benedictions for sure. But the greatest benediction is the whole Bible itself, God's grand plan of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ, spanning the ages until the final judgment and the establishment of His Kingdom.