Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14
Depart – Many Hebrew concepts involve physical motion of the body. For example, the Hebrew idea of grace or benevolence involves turning the face in my direction. “Make His face to shine upon me” is a Hebrew idiom for gracious relationship. In this verse, the Hebrew verb sur has the same physiological imagery. Although we translate sur as “depart,” that verb really means “to turn away from, to go away, to quit, to keep away, to take away or to be removed.” Did you notice that each of these meanings can be expressed in bodily terms. To depart from evil is to do something that has physical results. This is not mental suppression of evil thoughts. This is not prayerful pleading for spiritual escape. This is getting up and walking away.
When I drive to the airport, I head for the “Departures” gates. Why? Because I am leaving the city. I have to go through a whole series of physical actions: get out of the car, walk to the gate, get on the airplane and fly away. David never went to an airport, but he certainly understood the sequence of steps needed to depart from evil. Most of the time, just walking away is enough to avoid disaster.
Did you also notice that David does not advise us to stand and fight? Only our subtle arrogance allows us to think that we can handle the situation. David knows we can’t. He knows from experience. With a little reflection, we must admit David is right. Most of our spectacular moral failures occur when we hang around. Leaving is often the best (and only) solution. The spiritual hero is the man who knows when to walk away, not the man who thinks he must stand his ground. Yeshua fought the battle in order that we might depart from evil. We don’t need to fight it again.
Of course, there is a complementary activity. Departing is going away. But going away from something means that I am going toward something else, and in Hebrew thought, to go away from evil is the same as going toward good. There isn’t any neutral ground here. The only way I can depart from evil is to start doing good. The most effective tactic for overcoming the temptation toward evil is to start doing good. Of course, doing good is an outwardly focused activity.
Remember the last time you discovered you were right in the middle of something sinful? Did you stay and try to fight your way through it? Did you think, “God expects me to be stronger here. I must overcome this”? Or did you see the red light warning signs and turn away? Did you realize that the way out was the path of doing good for someone else? Did you instantly move toward grace for another? I hope so. But if you didn’t, maybe this is a good time to reflect on the outcome. Then the next time you see the signs for departure, you’ll turn the right direction.
Topical Index: turn away, depart, sur, Psalm 34:14