Blog Archives

Examination or Approval?

“for you to examine that which is superior in order that you might be sincere and blameless for the Day of Christ,”

(Philippians 1:10)

Many of our English translations render the first part of the phrase, “that you may approve,” or something very similar. This is one of those remnants of the old King James English. In the 17th century, the word “approve” meant “to prove, to demonstrate, to show worthy” whereas today the idea of approval carries with it the connotations of permission. I might “approve” of that movie or of how you spend your money…or I might not approve.

The word that Paul uses here is dokima/zw (dokimazo), which carries with it the idea of examining something to determine its quality. The NIV chooses the word “discern” to insert here, which is arguably a better term. I chose the word “examine” to capture the idea that dokima/zw (dokimazo) implies a critical examination of such ideas…as we spoke above in verse 7 of the word frone/w (phroneo). Paul is not calling the Philippian church to give permission to those things that are superior and excellent, but he is calling them to examine that which they encounter so that they can critically discern that which is good and excellent…those things that will keep them sincere (we might say, “transparent” here) and blameless for the Day of Christ.

What is the Day of Christ? This is a reference back to the Old Testament notion of the “Day of the Lord” (see Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1; Obadiah 15; Malachi 4:5 and elsewhere). There was a notion in the ancient Mid-East that there would one day rise a king who was so mighty that he would defeat all of his enemies in a single day. That which the Old Testament prophets looked forward to was completed by Jesus on the Cross. Yet, the New Testament authors carried the idea into the Church age as a time when we anticipate the return of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Indeed, on that great day, all of the enemies of God will be gathered together and destroyed underneath his crushing foot (Revelation 20:7-10). Will you be ready for that day?

Until that day takes place, Paul sets before us once again the significance of examining things around us carefully…not with our passions but with a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) where you examine (and pursue) that which is good and pure and excellent and right so that we will have nothing to hide from or be ashamed from on that great and awesome day. How far short of that goal we tend to fall, though. Will you, this day, this minute even, turn to God and repent of your wayward heart and draw closer to Him? Discern what is good and excellent and flee from that which you would keep hidden in the dark recesses of a wicked heart.

An Offering of Praise

“You have raised up my horn like a tower;

I poured out as with fragrant oil.”

(Psalm 92:11 [verse 10 in English])

 

This verse is a little awkward to translate and as such, there are various renderings in our various English Bibles. To understand this verse, though, you need to break it down a bit and understand some of the key terms. The first word is that of the horn, or in Hebrew, N®rRq (qeren). This can refer to a simple ram’s horn or a vessel in which oil is contained, but when used metaphorically, it typically refers to strength or that which holds the oil that spiritually strengthens the believer.

Connecting the horn to the oil is fairly obvious given the second line of the verse, but we still have the word MEa√r (re’em), which I am rendering as “tower” though many of our translate as “wild ox.” The term itself is highly debated amongst scholarship, but many see the language of the horn in the verse as the guiding interpretive feature. And, on a level, such a rendering makes sense if we see the horn as a sign of power and the strong wild ram or ox on the mountain as a symbol of strength. Yet, such a translation does not seem to take into account the language of the oil later in the verse.

The term can also be rendered as the word “Tower,” a high place that also serves as a refuge for the believer to worship. Given the language of the raising up earlier in this verse, such a translation seems to make more sense, seeing also a tower as a sign of strength against one’s foes.

The next term in dispute is that of the pouring out. Many of our English translations render this phrase as “You have poured…” or “I have had oil poured…”. The problem with both of these renderings is that the verb in question, llb; (balal — to pour out) is in the first person  singular in the Qal stem. That means that “I” must be the subject and the verb is active, not passive…thus dismissing both major translational option. Rightly translated, it is “I poured…”. Some would argue that in poetry one is given some degree of grammatical freedom, but granting free reign here just adds complexity to the meaning rather than presenting the simple meaning of what the text says.

So, what is this fragrant oil that is being poured out? Most of the translations (by rendering the verb as a passive or as a second person) presume that the psalmist is being anointed with the oil in question, yet that is not what the text states. Instead, the psalmist is pouring out his oil that has been lifted up to this tower — on this high place. Rightly understood, it seems better to understand this pouring out to be a kind of drink offering that is being made by the psalmist in honor of his God who has lifted him up and has protected him from his enemies. Again, remember the context of this psalm is worship, if we get too far from God being the subject of our affection and focus more on God’s affection toward us, we lose that spirit or tone of worship before our creator and sustainer.

Thus, may we too be quick to raise up an offering of praise to our God, both in public and in private worship. May he be glorified and honored in all that we do. Our strength comes from him, let us return that strength to him in offerings of praise.