Answer the Phone

Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You.  Psalm 88:1 (English)  NASB

Cried out – “The phone’s ringing.  Answer it!”  Do you find it difficult not to answer a call?  Are you annoyed with people who just let the phone ring but don’t pick up?  For decades now we’ve been conditioned to respond to the ring.  It’s as though the sound forces us to reply.  That’s the feeling behind this Hebrew word, ṣāʿaq.  In Paleo-Hebrew, tsade-ayin-qof: pull (hook), desire – eye (see), understand – what is behind, what is final, last, future.  Hooked by the desire to see what’s next.  “I have to know!  Answer the call!  Please!”

צָעַק (ṣāʿaq).  “BDB suggests the original meaning in Arabic was “sound as thunder.” This root means to call out for help under great distress or to utter an exclamation in great excitement.”[1]  “A strong outcry frequently indicates that righteousness is absent or judgment is being executed.”[2]

There are other words in Hebrew for crying out.  You’re probably more familiar with קָרָא (qārāʾ), especially since it’s used in Genesis 1 (“And God called . . .”).

The root qrʾ denotes primarily the enunciation of a specific vocable or message. In the case of the latter usage it is customarily addressed to a specific recipient and is intended to elicit a specific response (hence, it may be translated “proclaim, invite”). Infrequently, qārāʾ denotes just an outcry (e.g. Ps 147:9; Isa 34:14). Our root with the same semantic distribution occurs in Old Aramaic (KAI, II, p. 41), Canaanite (H. Donner and W. Rollig, KAI, Il, p. 22), and Ugaritic (UT 19: no. 2267). The most frequently recurring synonyms are /zaʿaq, šāwaʿ (to cry out urgently for help, Jer 20:8). The root occurs 689 times.[3]

But ṣāʿaq isn’t naming.  It’s wailing!  “Why, oh why, Lord, don’t you pick up the phone?  I’ve called you over and over.  I put your number on speed dial.  But I never get a response.  My messages go unanswered.  I shout into the phone but nothing happens.  Have You forgotten all about me?  Have you blocked my number?  I know You’re there, somewhere, hidden from my sight.  Surely You hear me!  So, why don’t You answer?”  If we’re going to understand and feel the impact of this psalm, we’ll have to start with the experience of an unanswered call.  Remember that when we read the rest.

Topical Index:  ṣāʿaq, cry, call, Psalm 88:1

[1] Hartley, J. E. (1999). 1947 צָעַק. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 772). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Ibid.

UT C.H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, 1965

[3] Coppes, L. J. (1999). 2063 קָרָא. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 810). Chicago: Moody Press.

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