Make Your Choice

Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry!  Psalm 88:2  NASB

Incline – “The 215 occurrences of this verb, excluding derivatives, are translated some thirty-five different ways in the KJV alone. The ASV and RSV add other renderings to this wide range of English expressions.”[1]  That’s not very comforting, is it?  If this word can be translated more than thirty ways, then what, pray tell, does it really mean?  nāṭâ becomes the linguistic well of meanings.

Let’s start with Paleo-Hebrew possibilities.  Nun-Tet-Hey ( נָטָה ) paints the picture of Life-Activity, Surrounding-Twists, Reveal-Show-Behold.  Perhaps something like spiritual revelation found in all the twists and turns of living.  Of course, Paleo-Hebrew is open to many interpretations (we might say the same thing about the written Hebrew language without vowels), so the best we can hope for here is a feeling, certainly not doctrine!  But I think we find something useful.  When the psalmist cries “Incline Your ear,” he’s feeling the rough edges of living and he wants God to show up.  All those inexplicable spiritual absences come crashing over him.  Where is God?  Why doesn’t He answer?  More than anything, this stage in life needs divine contact.  If you’ve never felt wrapped around trials and temptations, count your blessings.  But for most of us, we intimately identify with the vise grip of life’s twists and turns.

Now let’s look at some of the ways this word is translated.

The root meaning of “extend,” “stretch out,” is especially common in the Qal stem. . . anthropomorphically, it is ultimately God’s hand which “stretches out” in judgment against man . . . nāṭâ is often used for both “spreading out” (i.e. “pitching”) one’s own tent (Gen 12:8; 26:25; 35:21; Jud 4:11; II Sam 16:22) and the tabernacle of the religious community (Ex 33:7; II Sam 6:17; I Chr 16:1). “To spread” a tent, figuratively, is to be established as a people . . . A large number of other references employing nāṭâ carry the nuance of “turn,” “incline,” or “decline.” It is used in the literal sense of “turning aside” or “away,” or “diverting” from the path (Num 20:17; 21:22; 22:23, 26, 33; II Sam 6:10) or “turning toward” something (Gen 38:1, 16). . . But most usages are figurative. One’s heart may “turn away” (i.e., shift its loyalty, apostatize; cf. I Kgs 11:2–4, 9) or “be swayed” (II Sam 19:14 [H 15]). On the other hand, one’s heart may be “inclined” to God and his commands.[2]

If we pay attention to the umbrella of meanings, we notice that “inclining” connects “establishing” and “turning toward.”  Aren’t all of these implied in the psalmist’s cry?  He wants more than God’s attention.  He wants God’s reliability as his foundation.  He wants to be established once more in the divine purpose.  All the twists and turns of living have undermined his awareness of God’s presence, and it is God’s presence that truly establishes life.  He feels like waves tossed by the wind, a flag fluttering in the breeze, an unhinged door.  What he needs is the sense of God’s outstretched hand holding him up.  So do we.

How does he initiate this need for security?  “Let my prayer come before You,” he cries.  You will notice two things in this appeal.  The first is that God hears.  It might not seem so at this moment, but unless there is an underlying assumption that God is able to hear, all this is in vain.  The second is that if God pays attention to what He hears, something will change.  Again, it might not be my circumstances that change, but what will change is much more fundamental.  What changes is the awareness that God cares—and that is enough.

Topical Index:  nāṭâ, incline, establish, turn, care, Psalm 88:2

[1] Wilson, M. R. (1999). 1352 נָטָה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 573). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Ibid.

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