A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar taught by Ray Vander Laan near here. I took my new netbook with me and furiously typed notes. Now it’s time to report a few of the lessons to the readers.
(RVL’s speaking schedule is available at his “Follow the Rabbi” website. Find one near you and go.)
The first lesson is on the Hebrew word hagah. We find it in many passages, such as —
(Josh 1:8) Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
(Psa 1:1-2) Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
(Psa 77:11-12) I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Hagah is the word translated “meditate” in these passages. We think the inspired writers are tell us to sit quietly and pensively reflect. But the English “meditate” greatly misses the flavor of the word. You see, hagah is also found in —
(Isa 31:4) This is what the LORD says to me: “As a lion growls, a great lion over his prey — and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against him, he is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor — so the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.
“Growls” also translates hagah. The Israelites lived in a land where lions once roamed and threatened their flocks. They made it a point to study lions, and used different words for the sounds a lion makes. Hagah is the sound a lion makes just before beginning to eat its prey. It’s onomatopoeia — this is the sound a lion makes as it begins to eat.
To “meditate” on God’s word in the sense of these verses is to feast on God’s word as a lion feast on a fresh kill. We hagah God’s word by digging in with gusto and passion. It’s food to us. We feast on the text.
(Job 23:12) I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
(Jer 15:16) When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.
(Psa 19:9-10) The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
(Psa 119:103) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
It’s often taught that meditation is a spiritual discipline. This gives us a deeper, richer sense of what that discipline really should be. We need to crave God’s word as a starving man craves a meal. Lions only kill and eat every few days. When they finally do eat, they are hungry!
Now, I need to add a second thought from an intriguing website called Seven Thunders Ministry. The site notes that hagah describes an utterance, not an internal thought:
[T]he point of hagah is that it is out loud, not silent internal pondering. …
It is important to understand that because every home did not contain the scriptures, a torah scroll being extremely expensive, that the people would learn the scriptures through verbal repetition during the gatherings at the temple. Then the repetition of scripture became the hagah, meditation.
We think of meditation as a silent, private, introspective process. But the Israelites would hagah the word of God by reading it aloud in the synagogues, memorizing it, and discussing it — and they did so with passion. Even today, conservative Jews kiss the scrolls before they are read.
Think of it this way. Sunday school class shouldn’t be a lecturer with pensive listeners passively accepting the lesson. It should like a pack of lions feasting together on a fresh kill — sharing and ravenously consuming the feast before them. Hagah God’s word. And more importantly, hagah together. Lions hunt and eat in packs, called prides.