Back to the Garden of 2017

There’s a sweet ballad that has visited me often these past few weeks, one packed full with nostalgia and longing like that of creation’s in Romans 8. It’s Crowder’s “Back to the Garden,” in which he talks about our godly genes.

I was born to be royal. I was made to be free.

The place we’re in today, where depression is rising; dissatisfaction, too, among more than just teens. Everyone feels like the earth isn’t enough: that something is missing, and whatever is here on this molten sphere is not sating us. You can understand the hearty plea to “be taken back to the garden of Eden,” much like when we were children and bliss occasioned us at every stage.

No responsibility. No heartache. No existential awareness.

The world doesn’t feel like a garden anymore. It’s bereft of water and spore, when the sunlight turns its rays away and sends unsolicited frost. But it wasn’t intended to be.

Tenderly tend

An indeterminable and irrelevant time ago, God made man and placed him in the Garden of Eden for a purpose: that he would tend it and take care of it.

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15, NKJV)

Interestingly, the word “tend” in Hebrew is not how we usually think of tending a garden. We may think of using a hoe or spade–tooling and tilling the garden, as it were. The word actually used was abad, which means “to serve.” While contextually it means “to cultivate,” the root serve conveys a vital meaning we mustn’t miss.

It was Adam’s task to procure the garden for all of his progeny as a servant. What a concept of servitude: physical labor for others. We’re not talking about serving in church here, folks. This is straight to the dust and dirt.

So we take this concept of going back to the garden–perhaps the thought of us flittering to and fro, weightless and ethereal? And to do what? What in God’s green garden will you do once there? Lie in the lea amongst the animals and ferns, idle? Perhaps there’s physical word to do–may it be agrarian at best?


Going back to the garden isn’t about rest. Fleeing from the world isn’t about finding respite from the chaos, not having to go into work, or being able to do nothing and absolutely nothing to eternity on. That’s a waste of a garden.

There’s life in the garden

There’s this one passage in Scripture that always captures my intention. In fact it rose to the surface more prominently while I was reading The Shack.

It comes in the context of early John, when Jesus is described as “the Word.”

In him was life, and the life was the light of the men.

Life, the fleeting essence within us, is perceived so wrongly in this culture. “You have a lot of activities?” You must have a life. “You did nothing this weekend?” You have no life. A definition that circumvents the source of life for one based on physical activities is rending youths’ images of how they see their own life. They are taught to parse good or lame lives based their stuff and their itinerary.

When it comes to stuff, you’ll never be satisfied; and I don’t say this purely in a spiritual way–only to say that “in Jesus is life, so stop searching.” I mean that anything we do, anything I do, always results in a nostalgia and a surging desire to return to the garden where true life is.

When you’re asking God to “take me back to the garden,” it doesn’t start once you die. You can lie in the lea today.

An Orbital Perspective of the Church

If you’re into physics at all, or if you have learned a bit about our solar system, you may have run into two terms: centrifugal and centripetal. These are antonyms, with centrifugal meaning “moving away from the center” and centripetal “toward the center.”

You may also relate these terms to what you learned in biology about nerves: there’s afferent nerves (moving toward an organ) and efferent nerves (moving away from an organ). Regardless of their direction, they’re still nerves, and they are a vital, life-giving part of the body.

The term “centripetal force” was first used by Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century describing the motion and range toward the center of a circular path. Isaac Newton then used this to describe gravity: with gravity providing this force responsible for astronomical orbits.

But more than orbits and nerves, the church can be described by these terms too. Either it’s centrifugal and is intended to “go out,” or it’s centripetal and is intended to “bring in.”

Old Testament: An Inward Community

From the very beginning when God called us to himself (always), there has been a “God’s people.” But in the narrative of God bringing salvation to us, it began with a special set of people: Israel.

Articulated right after the Shema, God appropriates Israel as his own.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. (Deut. 7:6, NKJV)

Israel was called to be holy and set apart, a special treasure on the earth. This people, destined to be christened as a “church” as we now know it, were to be a mirror of God’s character to the world. (We are later called God’s ambassadors in the New Testament.)

The structure of Israel was always the same: God had a special body of people, and they were to remain holy; all others on the fringe were invited, but Israel was not necessarily tasked to go out and bring them in.

There’s a common refrain in the Old Testament that captures this:

They shall know that I am the Lord.

This verse is, yes, quite tinted with authority. Knowing the Lord in ancient context at some point involved surrendering, admitting there is no other god, demoting their local ‘god’, etc. (Kings and rulers were often apotheosized, or made gods, back then.) It was said to show communities surrounding Israel that there is no other.

Unfortunately, the Jews didn’t heed their call, and they were disgusted at Gentiles–those who were not of their kin.

A community of oneness

I spoke about the way we can interpret the Shema in another post, how we ought not think of ‘God as one’ as merely numerical, but as holistic, complete, and unified. This same God was treating his children of Israel the same. Israel was to be one: unified together.

Israel was to be a community of peoples–that he would dwell among them and be their God.

This is a centripetal structure of the church, and this is also when Israel failed to be the church. Instead of receiving the Promised Land and reaping the benefits of being the cherished people of God, the tables were turned. The Messiah was coming and had to come, and he had an entirely fuller vision for the people of God.

All would be invited into Israel; all of Israel would be saved, and the ungodliness of Jacob would be turned away.

New Testament: A Radical Shift

The coming of the Messiah, Jesus, catalyzed the shift from centripetal to centrifugal. Israel, no longer able to meet the criteria, needed its requirements met. Israel needed someone to be godly for them–to be God, truly–to represent the church.

Jesus instituted the church by culling all communities into the body of Christ.

-insert Gospel story-

Stephen, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives a mighty speech in Acts 7–so mighty that it leads to his abrupt martyrdom. In that speech, he chronicles the work of God in Moses, and recounts Israel’s history.

He speaks of the prophecy that God gave to Moses, that a prophet would be raised. He then, in commentary, says that Moses was “with the church” in the wilderness.

This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai… (Acts 7:38)

The word congregation in Greek is ekklesia, “an assembly,” or literally “[called] out from and to.” This word is what we billions on earth use to describe the global body of Christians today and since the resurrection.

What’s incredible about Stephen’s comment here is that he is calling Israel “the church,” back when they were in the wilderness. All of Israel is subsumed into the church in his eyes. While in the scope of Dispensationalism one might bat an eye or two at this wild claim, it’s telling us something important.

Regardless of the dispensation, there has always been the church… but it’s been different.

Jesus and the Church

There’s a very poignant part toward the end of Matthew, book-ended by talk of the kingdom of heaven and the end times, where Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being hypocrites, calling them white-washed tombs.

But at the end, Jesus speaks to Jerusalem (in effect, Israel) as he does to the whole church, the bride of Christ.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (23: 37)

Israel was intended to be the church, the assembly of peoples that brought all into the fold of God: it was to be centripetal. But sin wrested our winsomeness from us and we needed rescue and righteousness.

When Jesus comes into the picture incarnate in the New Testament, the focus is clearly centrifugal: the Gospel is to be preached, to any and to all. The veil between the Jews and Gentles was torn, that all might be saved.

The Church and its Hands

In recap, the narrative of God’s salvation through Jesus took a body of people (Israel) who were supposed to be holy and set apart. But they failed. With the advent of the Messiah, the failure was filled by perfect righteousness and sinlessness. The task, now, was the dissemination of the Gospel, the good news for salvation of the world.

We as a church, while the shift has changed chiefly from centripetal (inward) to centrifugal (outward), have a heavy task of both.

God calls us to be his ambassadors and bring others into the church by the persuasion of our lives. But he also calls us to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.

It’s a paradox, but a beautiful one founded in love: that we might both bring in and send out as a church–being all things to all people, that we might by all means save some.


What do you think? Is the church today called to be centripetal, centrifugal, or both?

Be Still and Know the Lord of Hosts

One of the most iconic pieces of consolation in the Old Testament is Psalm 46.

Be still, and know that I am God. (v. 10a, NKJV)

This verse usually enters a mind, heart, or conversation in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. If you are frightened, vexed, anxious, sad, etc., you are called to be still.

Don’t move–for he is the Lord above all.

Upon murmuring this verse in the quiet of your heart, the expectation is that all worries will be assuaged, for we believe God, in his prescience, said and had written this verse for us today, for us while we’re in that event which is corralling us into a sordid pen of worry.

This is not a heretical line of reasoning. I wouldn’t plainly call it a “high view of Scripture,” for that can mean different things. It is rather a more literal or narrowed understanding of Scripture. We should still believe and rightly so that all of Scripture is God-breathed and intended to communicate to all people at all times and places throughout all history, today, and to eternity.

However, God’s word is not in a vacuum… except that sometimes it is.

In and Out of Context

Sometimes we think that any piece of Scripture can be extracted and used–played with like dough–safe to be put back to its original place with no harm done. This is kind of what we do with the phrase, “Only God can judge me.”

I mean, that’s phrase is true in a particular sense.

The judgment often talked about in Scripture is not the type of judgment we’re well acquainted with. We think of shallow criticism we throw at someone before we abscond from the scene in fear of being attacked back.

That’s superficial. In God’s kingdom, judgment means something far more serious: the due recompense for our sins; in other words, we get what we deserve. Thankfully, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we get mercy instead of the just payment for our sins.

But Jesus actually says,

Judge not, that you be not judged For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

He’s telling us not to judge, because

  1. We swiftly become hypocrites; and
  2. We as sinners are in no place to judge,

when in reality, we deserve it and know it–we just don’t want other people to acknowledge it in us.

The “judging” we sinners do is often so far removed from the meaning of judgment God talks about that it’s no wonder he tells us, essentially, “Don’t even try. That’s my thing.”

This example quickly illustrates that not only are we familiar with taking Scripture out of context and marring it, but we’re also quite good at it, and it has become accepted behavior in the Christian sphere.

Psalm 46: The Layout

Don’t even try. That’s my thing,” is exactly what is happening in Psalm 46, rather than a casual invitation to an oasis of peace amidst a desert of worry.

Through a series of declarations in the psalm [of the sons of Korah], the author establishes that God is…

  • strength and refuge in trouble (vv. 1-2),

which leads him not to fear regardless of the circumstance (v. 3);

  • inhabiting the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle (v. 4),

which demonstrates that God dwells in the midst of their city, so they are safe  from their enemies (v.5);

  • a conqueror over enemies when the nations around them rage (v. 6);
  • with them, as both a refuge and Lord of Hosts (or “armies,” in a military sense) (v. 7).


At this point in the psalm, the tone shifts from adoration, comfort, and surety to an invocation by all those in Israel to note, declare, and be emboldened by the ascriptions made to God.

“Come, behold the works of the Lord” (v. 8)


  • has made desolation on the earth,
  • ceases wars,
  • breaks bows and cleaves spears in two,
  • and burns the chariot in fire.

In this context, God interrupts:

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (v. 10)

There is a reason why the psalmist, specifically in this psalm, uses the refrain “Lord of Hosts” twice. He actually couches our main verse in two of these.

The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (v. 7)

(When you see two similar phrases in one verse like this in the Old Testament, it’s called synthetic parallelism: the expression of one idea with two phrases or sentences. A perfect example of this is Zechariah 9:9 when the Messiah is pictured as riding “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Obviously Zechariah means the Messiah is riding one animal, but Matthew funnily messes it up in verse 7 by misunderstanding synthetic parallelism common to Hebrew writing, which evokes this awkward scene where Jesus is positioned riding on two animals at once.)

The psalmist is communicating that God is a God of armies, able to conqueror any army that comes up against Israel. (Notice above the words about “wars,” “bows,” “spears,” “chariots,” etc.)

Psalm 46: The Hebrew

The operative word in our verse is the verb harpu, which is an imperative of the root rapha (not to be confused with rapha, to heal, which has a different “a” vowel).

While we translate harpu as “be still,” it rarely means that per its word usage. Some of its more frequent meanings are lazy, fail, sink, relax, and slack.

A few verse examples may be to “sink down in a hay of flame,” letting hands go from work in fear, or ceasing from anger.

While the meaning of harpu can still connote relaxing or being still in the psalm’s context of war, it makes little sense when Israel has no power in the first place–not just as humans, but also as an inferior nation militarily. God, when ascribed the “Lord of Hosts” refrain twice, is saying, essentially, “your efforts are futile.” No bows, spears, guns, or any human contraption can usurp my role on the throne.

No amount of warmongering by any side can beat the God of Jacob. God will win; the people against Israel will lose. The earth will tremble, melt, and fold, and he alone will be exalted.

Notably, Rapha (the root of harpu) does not have a negative connotation, as if “being still” or relaxing is a bad thing. I don’t want to make it sound like the peaceful words of God telling us to “be still” when life is tough is a bad thing.

But when the context of this phrase is war and is conveying the unassailable sovereignty of God, the vast polysemy of words come into play: harpu here means something far bolder than “have tranquility, my child.” There’s power in it, as a mighty king would say to his vassal nations.

Okay, so now what?

Does it mean that God won’t calm the storms in our life? Na.

This contextual take on Psalm 46, rather than removing the personalness of God by reinforcing his sovereignty, actually helps us realize that we are more fragile, more incapable of calming those storms in our life than ever before.

We can’t beat the war on our own. We can’t even beat the petty battles with sin.

God, in his sovereignty, didn’t just choose to rule. All rulers do that.

He actually chose to gave us his Son as a sacrifice for us. Rulers don’t do that. Rulers don’t love like that.

When God says he will be exalted above all nations, above all the earth, he is speaking to us too. When we let him be exalted above our will, we become able to deny ourselves, to deny sin, and to turn to the one in whose hands are lives are.

If there is an army heading straight for us in life, we can be still, but we can also know there’s a mighty God behind us who is fighting our battles… as we await the true hero, Jesus, to return and judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Is God’s Name Properly Jehovah?

There is only so much theological bandwidth within me to delay confronting the elephant in the room: There is no English version of the “true name of God”; and if there were, it would not be Jehovah.

Perhaps you sense the strong allusion here to a certain cadre of doctrine crusaders that solicit us at our doors and encamp our public walkways. Yes, I’m talking the Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they use the word Jehovah as a bull roarer of orthodoxy.

This is something that, while I contest at a doctrinal level, I do love about them. They have a passion for proper theology, and it drives their lives, their praxis. While I suggest against being stubborn on one issue over and through, we as Christians do the same thing sometimes. We may pigeonhole our audience by laying down abstruse theologies about the Trinity or supralapsarianism. (I’ll ease it on the new vocabulary now.)

Of all of my conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses, this is actually not the topic that comes up (or that I myself bring up) the most. Do you know why?

It’s futile.

They don’t really know why, or at least can’t articulate or corroborate the evidence for their stance about God’s true, real, bona fide, and exclusively proper name being Jehovah. Let me explain.

YHWH. These are the four letters of God’s name in the Bible. We call this the tetragrammaton: “tetra-” means four, and “gramma-” is “that which is drawn; a picture; a drawing.”  In Hebrew, it looks like this:

Yahweh Tetragrammaton Herbrew (taken from

Starting from right to left, you have YHWH: yod (Y), hey (H), vav/waw (W), hey (H). If you ever hear someone say “yod hey vav hey,” perhaps you’ll get it now!

Okay, so how do you pronounce this? Aha, so here’s what happened.

Long ago, when the Israelites were in thralldom to the Egyptians, and God saw “the misery of [his] people in Egypt,” he appeared to Moses in a bush. God told Moses to go to the Pharaoh and rescue the Israelites, but Moses was like, “Well, what if they ask your name?” God said, “I got you, mate.”

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you. (Ex. 3:14, NKJV)

Before this, God was always referred to by two words: God (elohim) and Yahweh (YHWH). Here, though, God gives Moses a new “version” of YHWH, which is “eh-yeh.”

As you see above in the quotes, we translate “eh-yeh” as I AM (for in the verse, God says, “eh-yeh asher eh-yeh,” or “I am that/who I am; I will be who I will be”). He is conveying to Moses before he visits his fellow Israelites that God exists and is–as opposed to him being an ethereal being of creative power and authority or an exalted moral conscience.

No. God is and will be. He will there and present. He is here and present.

The names in Scripture God ascribes to himself or are ascribed to him are not, over and through, about communicating propriety; in other words, he isn’t trying to get the Israelites to pronounce it correctly, or use the right vowels or consonants.

He is revealing his character in his name.

  • YHWH yireh – The Lord will provide (ex. Gen. 22:14)
  • YHWH nissi – The Lord is my banner/standard (ex Ex. 17:15)
  • YHWH rapha – The Lord who heals* (ex. Ex. 15:26)

*It actually says “YHWH raphekha,” or “The Lord who heals you,” in speaking to Israel.

  • YWHW shama – The Lord is there (ex. Ez. 48:35)
  • YHWH roi – The Lord is my shepherd (ex. Ps. 23:1)
  • YHWH tsidkenu – The Lord our righteousness (ex. Jer. 23:6)
  • YHWH shalom – The Lord is peace (ex. Judg. 6:24)
  • YHWH tsebaot – The Lord of hosts* (ex. Ps. 46:7)

*Sometimes translated as “Lord Almighty,” but it’s better to preserve the military connotation of tsebaot; as God is usually ascribed “Almighty” when used in El shaddai (God Almighty, ex. Gen. 17:1).

So then, why the emphasis on Jehovah not being the proper name? “I hear ‘Jehovah rapha’ and ‘Jehovah yireh’ in church all time.”

I only make this point to be firm against the JW claim that Jehovah alone is the only proper name

Here’s how we get from YHWH to Jehovah.

First, take the tetragrammaton. Note that there are no vowels, as vowels were only added by the Masoretes circa 600-1000 AD. (Vowels are little dots above, below, or between the letters, and are in addition to the discrete consonants. They are considered diacritics: vowels are diacritics, called niqqud, as are accent marks, called cantillation.)

Yahweh Tetragrammaton Herbrew (taken from

Now, we don’t know exactly how to pronounce this word. The early Jews, in remaining reverent of God’s holy name, did not record it, or refused to speak it. They would instead say “Adonai.”

Our pronunciation of “Yahweh” is kind of an educated guess. That’s why many people opt for “Jehovah.” To get Jehovah, we take the word Adonai, or “Lord” (literally “My Lord”).

Adonai, My Lord in Hebrew

We grab those vowels/markets above and below each of the letters, and we transfer them to the tetragrammaton (pardon the different font).

Yahweh Jehovah Hebrew with vowels, taken from

Boom. Now we have yeh-ho-wa, or via Latinization, Jehovah.

As we see, it’s difficult to pin down exactly God’s name: for he has many, and the origins of which, especially of Shaddai, are very, very recondite. What I hope you have seen here, though, is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have an exclusive claim to accuracy when they say God’s name is Jehovah. And that’s not tenable.

To be safe, we should probably say “rather, we aren’t too sure.” Using Jehovah is romanizing, late, and convenient patch-work–but it’s not heresy. It is using the research and data we have to construct God’s name for use, and we can be thankful he has revealed all to us.

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them. (Ex. 6:3)


So the next time you hear a knock on your door and are confronted by Jehovah’s Witnesses… just love them. Don’t argue the name. Just love.