SOUL-SEARCHING QUESTIONS

alternate textWe know that questions are playing a very significant role in Scriptures. Just to get an idea of the extent of questions throughout the books of Scriptures: There are 155 question marks in the book of Genesis, 169 in the book of Matthew, 186 in the book of Isaiah and 317 in the book of Job (based on the translation of The Scriptures)! The Torah reading portion of this week (Ex 6-9) begins with a very interesting question mark mystery. It is a well-known fact that the original text of the Tanak (Old Testament) did not contain any question marks, at all. Question marks had to be added later on by the scribes and translators, after looking at the context of each verse, paragraph and chapter. The first verse of this week’s Parashah is a good example of a verse that may legitimately be translated BOTH as a statement AND a question. As a statement, it may be translated, “I appeared unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak and unto Yaakov, as El Shaddai, but by my name, Yahweh I was not known to them.” But, as a question, it may be translated, “I appeared unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak and unto Yaakov, as El Shaddai, but by my name, Yahweh, was I not known to them? (Ex 6:3)” So, we find Bible translations in which Ex 6:3 is given as a statement and others in which it is given as a question. In my own mind it should be a question (not a statement), because Scriptures clearly tell us that the Almighty was INDEED known (and called upon) by his Name “Yahweh”, during the times of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Which makes this a rhetorical question, with an obvious answer: “Of course, I was known to them by my Name, Yahweh!” There are more than 160 occurrences of the name “Yahweh” since the first mentioning of the name “Avram” or “Avraham” up till the question in Ex 6:3 and numerous times when each of these 3 patriarchs specifically used the Name when addressing or speaking about the Almighty.

A few years ago I came up with a teaching called, “Answers that are no answers at all”. At that time I referred to certain lifestyles and philosophies and social trends and even music bands like “Die Antwoord” (“The Answer”), who all claim to have the answers to some of the most difficult questions in life, but when one really tests these so called “answers”, they are no answers at all! Not even by a good Irish mile! Interestingly enough, one may find “answers that are no answers at all” – even in Scriptures. I am referring, of course, NOT to the answers that Yahweh is giving in response to the questions of people, but to the feeble answers, recorded in Scriptures, that people are often coming up with. Sometimes the so-called “answer” is just a mechanism to put the blame for one’s own weakness and transgression on someone else, like when Yahweh asked Chavvah (Eve) in the garden, “What have you done?” and she came up with the classic answer, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Sometimes “answers” are simply lies, or false claims of ignorance, like Cain’s answer when Yahweh asked him about his brother’s whereabouts and he blurted out the answer, “I do not know, Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Of the two examples given in the previous paragraph, we may say, “At least Chavvah and Cain made an attempt to give an answer.” There are times, however, when a question, especially a question coming from the Almighty, is of such a nature – so acute, so profound, so piercing – that it is almost impossible to answer. In such a case, the best response would be to keep our feeble and fleshly-minded answers to ourselves and do some proper soul-searching, instead. And then follow-up with action. Sometimes words are simply not enough. And when it comes to Yahweh’s soul-searching and penetrating questions, our answers may prove to be an embarrassment for ourselves. Let us look at some of these soul-searching questions (without answers!) in the book of Isaiah (Yeshayahu) and let us try to respond with action, rather than feeble words.

One of the questions in the book of Yeshayahu that bring to the fore a strong case for introspection, is Isa 10:3 “(In the day of trouble) to whom would you run for help? And where would you leave your wealth?” What a question! It even has two parts! To whom would we run for help? And where would we leave the things that we have assembled around us? The very things that we thought would help to keep trouble away from us. Inevitably, there will be times, all of a sudden, when all-engulfing trouble is upon us, and there is no one among our friends, and nothing among our things, that can save us. Yes, our wealth, our things, can so easily become a burden. Because they help to keep you going when trouble is still at a distance. There is no need to dig deep into your innermost being to find out about true values and valuable truths. You find yourself on a joyride and the things that have become your treasure are keeping your mind and your diary occupied, almost all of the time. But when the time of impact comes, when that wave of trouble hits you face-on, you find yourself in a spin, starting desperately to search for something worthwhile and solid from within, but there is nothing to be found. The same Isa 10 is revealing that your biggest mistake was that you adopted an attitude towards Yahweh that was the same as the attitude of an axe telling the chopper how the axing should be done (Isa 10:15). And it is suggesting that you get to a point in your life, as soon as possible, where you humble yourself before Yahweh and recognize Him as the only Set-apart One, the Light of Yisrael and the Master of Hosts! (Isa 10:16-17).

Another question that cuts through layers of superficial strength and toughness, is Isa 27:4 “Who would set thornbushes and weeds against Me in battle?” Setting thornbushes and weeds against Yahweh in battle, as a metaphor, is referring to an attitude of disrespect towards Yahweh, not treasuring the way in which He cares for his vineyard, “watering it every moment, guarding it every day” (Isa 27:3). It is a metaphor speaking of watered down loyalty, because previously we were eager to give our best, bearing fruit and pleasing Him. But now we have allowed the thornbushes and the weeds to take over the vineyard. We should not forget that although we are quick to change, Yahweh remains absolutely committed and will never change. And for this very reason, his suggestion is: Take hold of my strength and make peace with Me! (verse 4). Don’t try to fight Me. Do not come up against me. Do not make an enemy out of Me. I would like to be on your side and I want you to be on my side. Nothing is worse in life than missing out on the compassion of the One who made you and the favour of the One who meticulously formed you with his own hands! (Isa 27:11).

We have time for one final group of questions from the book of Yeshayahu. In Isa 40:12-13 Yahweh puts a series of seven short, related questions in the midst of his people: “Who fitted the waters in the hollow of his hand? Who measured the heavens with a span? Who contained the dust of the earth in an oversized dust-bin? Who weighed the mountains on a scale? Who balanced and distributed the hills evenly across the face of the earth? Who allocated the Spirit of Yahweh? Who is the one that thinks that he can be a counsellor and a teacher of Yahweh?” We suggested earlier that when we are confronted with some of the most soul-searching questions in life, it is better to respond with action, rather than feeble words. This time of the year, one hears a lot about so-called “new years’ resolutions”. The word “resolution” indicates that one is going to try to find (within oneself) a SOLUTION AGAIN (re-), having done the same thing, one year ago. It is almost like an acknowledgement of failure. I tried it last year. It didn’t work. So I will try it again this year. And so the tradition is held up.

I would like to suggest another approach, setting aside altogether the fact that basically the entire world has lost track of the TRUE BEGINNING of a new year (which, according to the Scriptural pattern, will most probably be on Sunday 3 April, this year). Irrespective of where we are in terms of times and years and seasons, why don’t we start looking for true solutions OUTSIDE of ourselves? Why don’t we get rid of our obsession of taking control of the events around us by CLENCHING our own fists and rather take another good look at the One who is holding the waters in the HOLLOW of his hand? And instead of keeping on MEASURING size and fame and popularity and levels of adrenalin, why don’t we start by simply doing the things mandated by the One who measured the heavens with a span? There is no need for us to despise the DUST of the earth, to think little of ourselves or to loathe working with our hands, grinding out a life for ourselves and our families. Just think of the One who created man from DUST, and is still keeping count of every speck of dust in the most remote places of the earth! And instead of seeing only the MOUNTAINS in front of us, the difficulties, the stress and our own shortcomings, let us start focusing on the One who weighed the mountains on a scale and can move them out of the way, effortlessly, if necessary. We are so inclined to seeing the HILLS only, that we completely forget that Yahweh created a valley for every hill – in perfect balance – and what is more (says Psalm 50), the cattle on a thousand hills belong to Him! Let us make a resolution to stop running after the SPIRIT and the attitudes and the fashionable habits and the man-elevating ideas of this world, and pursue the Spirit of Yahweh and the things that Yahweh desires to establish in our lives, through his Spirit. Wisdom belongs to Yahweh, counsel belongs to Yahweh, knowledge belongs to Yahweh, the future belongs to Yahweh and it is not only unwise, but self-destructive to arrogantly stand up against Him and think for one moment that He cannot TEACH or COUNSEL us. As we enter the year of 2022, let us focus on THE GOOD (Hebrew: “hatov”, with a numerical value of 22!) that we have become accustomed to, always coming our way, timely and abundantly, out of the hand of our heavenly Father. If we allow Him and trust Him, He will continue to do so in the uncertain times that lie ahead of us!