Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Truth - a word study

It looks like this is the best place to put this study.  I hope the link from Facebook is more friendly than what I was getting with my first attempts with Google Drive.

0571 tma  emeth eh’-meth

Firmness, faithfulness, truth.

Contracted from
0539  Nma  aman  aw-man’

To support, to confirm, to be faithful
To be established, to make firm
To stand firm, to trust, to be certain, to believe in.

"Emeth" is the noun form of the verb "Amen." The verb "Amen" holds the idea of being established and firm, and thus trustworthy. It is primarily translated "believe."  First, the use of "Emeth" will be explored. What is said to be "true" or "the truth" in the Old Testament?

The first appearance of the word is found in Genesis 24 where Abraham's servant Eliezer used the word in praise to Yahweh for his mercy and truth. The word "mercy" is "chesed" - Yahweh's covenant faithfulness. He goes on to use the word (translated "right" in KJV) to describe the path he took to find Rebekah. He expresses a hope that Bethuel will be faithful and true (again chesed and emeth!) to his expectations.

Eliezer ("God is my helper") had faith in God, but he was wary of putting that faith in a man. However, he laid the responsibility on Rebekah's family as to whether to follow what he knew was God's will. He had put God to the test, received the requested sign, but would not go further until without the testimony of the lawful family blessings. Both God and his foundational principles are true. They will not contradict one another.

Isaac's grandson Joseph would put his half-brothers to the test, requiring one Benjamin, his full brother, to be brought to him. He was requiring of them "proof" of their story. He knew the truth, but he wanted to know if his brothers could be trusted. They passed the test (Genesis 42:16).  Their father Jacob (Israel) would rely again on the covenant faithfulness (deal faithfully [chesed] and truly [emeth]) of his children. Again, he believed in the foundational truth of family.

When it came time to appoint men to be leaders in the new nation of Israel, Moses asked for "men of truth" who hated covetousness (Ex. 18:21) .  This meant that only men of integrity -- faithful and honest -- were to be chosen for the first representative government established by God (separate and before the priesthood). Decisions made by unfaithful men will lead to disaster. Likewise, decisions made without regard to solid foundational truths will fail.

So what is Truth? Well, Yahweh declares Himself to be that firm foundation upon which His people can depend.

Exodus 34:
6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 
7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

In other words, Yahweh is "compassionate, gracious, patient, great, loyal [chesed, mercy] and dependable [emeth, truth]." Based on this, He promises that he will display His faithfulness to his covenant [His "mercy"] through the forgiveness of depravity, rebellion, and general inability of the multitudes of people that he chooses. However, the consequences of our own sinful actions will be seen for a long time.

So, what does it mean that God is Truth? The list in verse 6 gives 
God's own testimony to His essential character (His "name," v. 5):

(1) Yahweh El - the One Who is Powerful (Able)
In this, Yahweh essentially declares Himself to be the Only God that exists. There are other "gods" (powerful entities), but they are worthless in terms of acting on their own. Yahweh is the only sovereign. Therefore, He is totally dependable and worthy of complete trust.

(2) Merciful, or Compassionate
God cares about his creation, and especially about his chosen people. Though so powerful as to both create and control everything, God loves the cosmos that has fallen away from its original goodness (Genesis 2). This is related by the apostle John in the NT as "God is Love," and "God so loved the world."

(3) Gracious 
Early on God shows his favor to a fallen world in calling Noah to be the first savior (Genesis 6:9). This favor is not based on merit, though the character of those favored is often a factor (in hindsight?).

(4) Longsuffering; that is, slow to anger, or patient
Mankind is, by nature, hard to get along with. That is to say, we are basically rebellious. The main problem is that we don't trust God at His Word. We want to do things our way. And so, we twist things to meet our own way of thinking (iniquity, perversion) while at the same time claiming to do what God wants us to do (sin, trying but not getting it right).  Consequently, we deserve God's wrath -- which will come in His own time. Meanwhile, He gives us time to repent.

(5) Great in Goodness and Truth.
Here again, as with the first mention of Truth, God's covenant faithfulness (chesed, goodness) is linked with truth. Elieazer knew this truth in Abraham's day. We can assume that Abraham did as well, for he had faithfully followed God without question. Though answerable to no man, the Creator can swear by Himself as to the certainty of his Word. We can know without a doubt that He will work all things together to bring about what is good (Rom. 8:28).

In short, we can depend on God to be faithful to His promises because His very nature is that of the unmovable, and unchangeable  foundation upon which all of creation exists.
When it comes to mankind, though, truth is not so easy. It takes at least two - with three being better - independent witnesses to establish something to be true. Our basic nature is to rebel, so our word may not be trusted if we perceive that we might reveal our own sin. This standard is first declared to be needed in cases of reported idolatry -- trusting other "gods" which cannot save nor even help one to be good. (Deut. 17:1-6)

The other use of "emeth" in the Law is in the case of proof of unfaithfulness in the case of sexual purity. With no witnesses, a man might suspect his new wife of having lying about her purity. In essence  this was a questioning of the woman's faithfulness to her family as a virgin daughter. As in Genesis 24, the family structure is foundational. To be unfaithful to that structure is to fly in the face of God's faithfulness to His promises. In this case (Deut. 22), if the woman is proved a liar, then her unfaithfulness is worthy of death. God takes the truth seriously.
And so, in the Law we see that the Truth is foundational to the nature of God Himself. In addition, the institutions of the family and human government are based on their being God's means to a peaceful life with God and with each other. Truth is seen in that which is unshakable, or in that which should be so. God's Word -- especially His promises and commandments -- are absolutely unshakable. The institutions that He has set up -- family and human government -- are only as sound as the people that abide in them. But, by their very nature these are "true."

In God's Law -- the Ten Commandments -- we find the Truth succinctly laid out: 

(1) Yahweh is the only God, and as such the only savior of mankind. In this, we see that we can trust only Him.
(2) All other 'gods' are worthless, being imaginations of our minds and thus not worth our trust.
(3) When establishing our own trustworthiness, we must always speak what is true about God. We cannot take His name (character) as something that is worthless! 
(4) Since God is the Creator, we must trust Him to provide for us even when we are doing nothing to provide for ourselves. He set aside a day in seven that we can sit back and trust Him completely!
(5) The "bridge" between our relationship to God and to mankind is our parents (and by extension other human authority). The fifth commandment establishes that our acceptance of this foundation is essential to our well being.
(6) Consequently, all human life is sacred. Murder, the taking of innocent human life, shows that we do not trust God's authority over life. God gives life, and it is only He who can take it (by means that He deems right).
(7) Family fidelity begins with sexual purity. Sexual relationships outside of commitment to family (producing children) breaks a trust in God's foundational institution.
(8) Theft displays a distrust in God to provide and breaks the trust required for peaceful existence before God and man.
(9) Lying (false testimony) is the antithesis of the truth. It is disrespectful of God and all other authorities.
(10) Covetousness is a basic dissatisfaction with what God has provided. In desiring what others have, we display a lack of trust in God. This is why leaders are to be "men of truth" who hate covetousness are to be chosen (or appointed) as leaders in human government. Their faith should not be in themselves but in God and his institutions - family and Law.

So, the "Undeniable Truths" to bear in mind:
(1) God exists, upholds all things, and cares about what happens.
(2) God established the family as the foundational institution to fulfill his covenant with mankind (to save us from ourselves)
(3) God raises up human government to keep us safe and uphold his laws.

Corollaries to these truths:
(1) God has spoken.
(2) Mankind is by nature rebellious, and does not trust God.
(3) Trusting in ourselves leads to bad things.
(4) Trusting in God's Word (both Written and Incarnate) leads to good things.

Therefore, trust God!

In the next post, I will trace "Truth" in the chosen leaders of God's people from Joshua through the kings and prophets set in place among them. 

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