Tag Archives: Psalms

Humanity is Vanity

It never ceases to amaze me how much of our family dysfunction has its roots with the first family in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were the first human parents ever, and some of the choices made by that first family have left a lasting imprint on all of our lives since they made them. I’d like to illustrate in today’s post one of the aspects of “human nature” that seems to trace its roots to the first two sons of Adam and Eve by going to a Psalm written by King David

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Ps. 39:5, KJV)

The meaning of the word selah is a bit of a mystery. Some think it’s just inserted over 70 times in the Psalms to give musical instructions, or to indicate a pause in the music. Others think it has a deeper meaning related to the root word that it comes from, and that it means to pause to evaluate something and figure its real worth.

So if we pause to more fully evaluate this phrase, “Every man, at his best state is altogether vanity,” what can we draw from it’s deeper meaning?

“Adam” is “Abel”

The word “man” is translated from the Hebrew word adam (Strong’s #120), and is a generic term for humanity that is very closely related to the proper name of the first man “Adam” (Strong’s #121). So every member of mankind or humanity (ladies are included) at his or her “best state” — when we are at the very peak of our physical, political, social, and intellectual power and ability on this earth — is wholly and completely vanity!

The Hebrew word for “vanity” is what really peaked my interest in this verse, because the Hebrew word is hebel (Strong’s #1892). It is pronounced “abel,” and if you look up the proper name Abel (Strong’s #1893) found in Gen 4:2 in Strong’s Dictionary, it simply says, “the same as H1892: hebel, Abel, the son of Adam.

Thus, we have our title for today — Adam/Humanity is Abel/Vanity.

A “Lesser” Son

In Genesis 4:1, it tells us “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.'” I’ve heard several ministers over the years speak about what Eve meant by this, but Matt Henry sums it up this way …

“Many suppose that Eve had a conceit that this son was the promised seed (of Gen. 3:15), and that therefore she thus triumphed in him, as her words may be read, I have gotten a man, the Lord, God-man. If so, she was wretchedly mistaken, as Samuel, when he said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me, 1Sam. 16:6. When children are born, who can foresee what they will prove? He that was thought to be a man, the Lord, or at least a man from the Lord, and for his service as priest of the family, became an enemy to the Lord

In the next verse in Genesis, Eve “bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Matthew Henry has this to say about Abel’s name.

“Abel signifies vanity. When she thought she had obtained the promised seed in Cain, she was so taken up with that possession that another son was as vanity to her.”

So, the first family was as dysfunctional as any since, with a highly favored son … and another who bore the name “vanity.” That never turns out well. We all know the story of Cain and Abel, and can perhaps identify with some of the human emotion, and the rivalry between them as they presented their offerings to God, who looked with favor upon the offering of the “lesser” son.

Excellent Offerings

So all of the sons and daughters of Adam — humanity — carry about this stigma of Abel — vanity — in our physical nature, and we often see evidence of it in scripture in the lives of Biblical characters. Solomon wrote a whole book on the vanity of life, and came to the conclusion that there could be only one resolution to the human problem.

 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Even though his family didn’t seem to think much of him, Abel knew this truth which Solomon speaks of. Abel had caught a vision of life that the rest of his family to that point was unable to see.

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. (Heb. 11:4)

I don’t get the impression here that Abel thought Cain was the promised seed. His focus was on God and his example, which pleased God, does still speak, especially to us today who have knowledge of the true promised Seed (Gal. 3:16), and to all who wish to offer to God a “more excellent sacrifice.” It comes down to a simple choice for all of us. Will I live the way of Cain, or will I live the way of Abel?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:)

No matter how vain life might seem at times, we can all follow the example of Abel, and offer a better sacrifice as we follow the true Seed toward the Kingdom of God. If we follow God, our lives need not be wholly lived in vain no matter how little other people may value us. We have a high value in God’s eyes, and He notices the good that we are doing for Him.

A Thanksgiving Post

I read an article last week by a lady who was just tickled pink that Wal-Mart was beginning the Christmas shopping season 2 full months in advance of the holiday. You just don’t see that kind of sentiment expressed about Thanksgiving today. It’s just “Turkey Day” to some people, like a speed-bump on the way to December’s big party.

But giving thanks to God is a hugely important concept, and not just on a certain Thursday in November. Thankfully, we have a Bible full of examples of how the true servants of God gave thanks and offered praise to the great God beings who make up the God family today.

O, Give Thanks

Probably the greatest of thanks-givers is King David, who really raised thanksgiving to an art form in practice in his kingdom, and in his writings for those of us who would follow. In particularly, there is one often used phrase that caught my eye this week in psalms.

That phrase reads like this, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.” It is fist found in 1 Chronicles 16:34 in a special psalm David wrote for the entry of the ark into the holy city, Jerusalem. Lets start at the beginning of the chapter to set the stage.

So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. Then he distributed to everyone of Israel, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins.

And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God.

On that day David first delivered this psalm into the hand of Asaph and his brethren, to thank the Lord: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! (1 Chron. 16:1-10)

So David spared no expense, and really put a great deal of effort into praising God and giving thanks to Him

Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. …

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; let the field rejoice, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (1 Chron. 16: 23-24,31-34)

The word “thanks” is from the Hebrew word yada (H3034). The root word means to throw … especially to revere or worship with extended hands. So figuratively, we are to be throwing our praise and thanks up to God. David focuses this on two particular attributes of God’s character: that He is “good” and His “mercy” is forever.

“Mercy” (H2617) is chesed in Hebrew. It means loving kindness, gentleness, steadfastness, love, faithfulness, goodness, justice, righteousness. The word “endures” is in italics (though you can’t see it in this quote), meaning the translators inserted it to clarify the meaning, but I don’t know that word “forever” in the Hebrew needs much clarification. Olam (H5769) means ever-lasting, limitless, and eternal. God’s mercy is forever! It knows no limitations.

Thanksgiving Style

This phrase, coined by David, is used 12 times in the Old Testament, and David’s style of thanksgiving seems to have been somewhat legendary among the prophets of God. Take Ezra for example, at the time of the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem.

 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:10-11)

When we look at Nehemiah 12:22-24, at the time of the dedication of the wall, we see that there were genealogical records kept so they never lost track of the courses of the priests and Levites established by David. There were whole family groups appointed specifically for the purpose of praising and thanking god, and they alternated so that the praise would be continual before God, “According to the command of David, the man of God”.

So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate.  … The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, above the Old Gate, above the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped by the Gate of the Prison. So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me (Neh. 12:31, 38-40)

Here again we see another great occasion with a great deal of effort and thought put into thanksgiving and praising God. It must have been a grand thing to participate in, and to behold.

Our Praise

The God beings we worship today are the same ones Who were the subject of all of David, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others great words and deeds in giving appropriate and proper praise and thanks to God in their day. He saw all of their efforts, and obviously looked upon them with favor.

We aren’t living in ancient Israel today. The priests and Levites are long gone, and we just don’t have the numbers to muster large thanksgiving choirs. The culture of our day – by and large – doesn’t seem to have much, if any inclination at all to thank God for all of His goodness and His limitless mercy, but He is still good and His mercy is still without end.

You and I are individuals called out of this world to know that good and merciful God, and each of us can have within us the mind and heart of a David, an Ezra, or a Nehemiah that can make us shine out to God as a light in a dark place.

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:15-20)

These verses in Ephesians tell us how we are to express our gratitude to God in our day and age. It doesn’t seem grand and showy by comparison with what we read about in the Old Testament, with large choirs and groups of Levites offering continuous praise. It is more personal, between ourselves, the brethren, and God, in our hearts.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

We see here a very desire able result of giving praise and thanksgiving to God. It supplies us with something to be even more thankful for – to have the peace of God (which we don’t even fully understand) on guard over our hearts and minds. To put it in David’s words again, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever”