Concerning Edom. Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?” Jeremiah 49:7 ESV
Vanished – In Sanhedrin 38b the rabbis describe sin with the word sarah. The implication is insightful. Sarah is a word that describes putrification, corruption and decay. The use here in Jeremiah shows us that this word suggests evaporation and loss of real substance. The same stem (Samech-Resh-Chet) also means “go free, overflow, excess,” as it occurs in Exodus 26:12-13 and Ezekiel 23:15. The pictograph adds another dimension: “Support, twist slowly, turn + person + fence, separate.” The picture might be something like “twisting the fence surrounding a person.” Let’s combine these ideas in an effort to understand more completely the biblical idea of sin.
First we notice that sin isn’t viewed as violation of some moral code. Sin is not primarily about breaking a law. It is about diminishing the God-intended stature of a person. The rabbis consistently speak of sin as a reduction of the relationship with God. In many places, they paint a picture of no longer being able to stand before Him. Sin changes the quality of the offender. It rots us. The final result of sin is to fade away to nothing, to disappear, to dematerialize. Might we add, “to become something no longer human”?
Secondly, we should notice that the description of sin as sarah is connected to the meaning of sarah as “go free.” Sin frees me from God’s instructions. It allows me to exceed His limitations. In the process, I deteriorate even as I falsely believe that I am exercising my freedom. Perhaps this insight explains why the rabbis say that the only man who is truly free is the man who lives under Torah. We were not made (intended) for excess. We were not designed to pursue whatever we wish. We were designed to bring the yetzer ha’ra under the dominion of the yetzer ha’tov, to learn to be domesticated to His will. But since we stand at the crossroads of choice, the way is open for sarah, for “freely going” where we will. Sin is excess. It is choosing what lies beyond divine intention.
Finally, the pictograph suggests that sin twists what was intended to protect. The fence around being human provides protection of my real humanity. As long as I am acting according to God’s design, I can stand before Him. But sin takes an element of God’s good creation and twists its purpose. It alters the intention, not the substance. It just moves the fence a few feet – just beyond the tree standing there. And suddenly the entire landscape changes. What I see is no longer the protection of the fence but rather the restriction of my freedom. Sin deludes me because it alters the meaning of the act.
What do we learn from these connections? Have we learned something about the risk sin presents to who we are as human beings? Have we learned something of the subtlety of sin? Have we discovered twists in our own lives?
Topical Index: sin, sarah, Sanhedrin 38b, Jeremiah 49:7, excess, free