Personal Assumptions

Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the injustice of those who betray me surrounds me,  Psalm 49:5  NASB

Why – This question in Hebrew begins with the combination of a preposition and an interrogative: la-mah.  It seems insignificant to us, but it has important implications in Hebrew.  Literally, “until what” brings into view the cultural differences between our Western assumptions about identity and the Hebrew view of identity.

This frequently-occurring interrogative pronoun is most significant when associated with the word “name.” “What is your name?” is not a question which inquires after a person’s family or personal name; it endeavors to find what character or quality lies within or behind the person. To ask for simple identification, one would say in Hebrew, “Who () are you?”

Thus, the “man” who wrestled with Jacob asked him in Gen 32:27 [H 28] “What is your name?” When he responds, “Jacob” (supplanter), the “man” (called an angel in Hos 12:4 [H 5]) says that it is now “Israel” (Prince of God).[1]

In my book, Crossing: the Struggle for Identity, I point out how important this question really is.  No son of Korah would have missed the point.  And that tells me that this question, “Why should I fear?” is not about “days” or “injustice.”  It’s about who I really am.  It’s about my identity.

I am a child of God.  I am an adopted son.  I am a member of Abraham’s nation.  I am beloved by the Father.  I am a follower of His chosen Messiah.  I am part of the family.  I am a citizen of Kingdom.  I am a resident alien tasked with repairing a broken world.  I am under His care.  I belong.  This is not a matter of moral courage.  It’s not about being brave, daring or dauntless.  This is about the character I have inherited because of my relationship with the God I serve. This is me becoming human according to those words God gave to Moses (Exodus 34:6-7).

Why should I fear anything at all?

It’s amazing that this psalm is attributed to the sons of Korah.  Of all people, they know the meaning of “those who betray me.”  They have an intimate connection with an act of faithlessness.  And yet, here is their song, not excusing the decision of an ancestor but acknowledging that there is no reason to question God’s sovereign care.  Do the circumstances of our lives really tell the true story?  Are we so insightful that we understand completely how God arranges our lives?  Or should we rather recognize His handiwork, even when it’s nearly invisible?

Ask the sons of Korah.

Topical Index: why, la-mah, identity, fear, Psalm 49:5

[1] Kaiser, W. C. (1999). 1149 מָה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., pp. 490–491). Chicago: Moody Press.

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