Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.

I was reading Psalm 106 this morning which is one of my personal favorites. The reason I enjoy it is that the Psalmist provides some "behind the scenes" information about some of the Bible stories we are so familiar with. The Psalm is sort of a Readers Digest version of the Pentateuch. It is a greatest hits tour of events in Israelite history beginning with the Exodus up through the conquest of Canaan. As the Psalmist "retells" these events there are some added explanations of the events. For instance, we learn in 106:32-33 that the reason the Lord was angry with Moses over striking the water giving rock is because the people made his spirit bitter and provoked him to speak rashly. No such explanation is offered in Numbers 2:2-13 however. Biblical scholars sometimes call this type of retelling"Re-written Bible".

What caught my attention this morning was 106:14-15. These verses are a retelling of Numbers11 in which the the people of Israel complain that all they have to eat is manna and wish that they had meat. Moses then complains to God about the people who in turn promises that they will be given meat. The next day a wind blows in off of the sea and the camp fills up with an outrageous amount of Quail for the Israelites to eat. But as they are eating the meat, the anger of the Lord breaks out against them and they are struck with a plague (Num 11:33). Numbers does not tell us what the plague was, only that those who had so badly craved the meat were left buried at the site where they enjoyed what they craved.

When this event is retold in Psalm 106 the Psalmist adds some interpretive details. The people are described as having an intense craving that caused them to put God to the test (106:14). God's response is to give them what they want along with a "wasting in their being" (106:15). The last phrase is my own translation of the Hebrew. Many English translations render God's curse upon them as a "wasting disease upon them" (NAS, NIV, NRSV). The old KJV translated it as "a leanness in their souls." None of these is an inaccurate translation/interpretation of the phrase. But, with the exception of the KJV, I think it is too influenced by the idea of the plague in Numbers 11:33. The Hebrew term here (nefesh) can mean a variety of things including person and soul and being. In light of the theology of the Psalm I have chosen to translate it as "being."

I think the Psalmist is writing about something more significant than just a physical disease. Perhaps what the Psalmist is talking about is what happens to us when we fail to trust God to the point that they very things we ask and pray for are they very things that we do not need or should not have. It is when our desires so overtake us that our prayers become a testing of the Lord.

In his comments on these verses John Goldingay says that the testing here "suggests seeing how far one can push God or trying to discover what God is really capable of." The result is that the Lord "demonstrates total capacity to do what the Israelites ask, then sends trouble as a reaction to being required to do so." (Psalms [Baker], p. 229).

It is interesting that the desire for meat is never mentioned in Psalm 106. The problem was not the meat but the disregard for God. Often times what we want or desire is not in and of itself wrong. It is when our prayers have become so misguided by our desires that our very being is effected. We would rather test than trust God.

Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it


  1. "Some desires are not desirable." G.K. Chesterton

  2. I think that this is valuable information

  3. I am learning here recently exactly what prayer is. It's incredible that sometimes God gives us things that we don't even ask for. He really cares so much about every little desire of our hearts and as long as it is in line with his will it brings him great joy to give us these things that he has himself given us the desire for.

  4. Wow.. this is an eye opener for me. The Holy Spirit spoke to me be careful for what I ask and pray for.. So I am just seeking the meaning because this has got to be warning to me! Thanks. Grace and Peace to you Professor!