The Good of Affliction

Tet/Teth. — v.65-72

The Phoenician origin of the Hebrew letter “tet” or “teth” is an “x” inside a circle. Some sources say it meant “wheel”.  Most sources, however, say it represented a basket or container of wicker or clay. It means “surround”, “clay/mud”, “basket”, “store”.  Such common equipment (of either material) was extremely important for commerce and everyday life in ancient Phoenicia.

The Phoenician word for clay uses this letter.  In later adaptations of the letter, the symbol takes a coil, or rope design which may have come about due to the coiled rope beginnings of some pottery.  The wheel would also make sense here, since using a spinning wheel for shaping pottery was an innovation about this time period.  Any of these can explain that the original concept of this letter came about through the making of vessels for everyday life and trade.

But the earliest Hebrew use of the letter (that we know of today) is found in the letter tov which means “good“.  The most common scholarship simply assigns this meaning to the Hebrew letter as the most practical meaning possible to us. Basketry and clay were good, serviceable, necessary, profitable necessities.  Not phenomenal–Phoenician clay was not exquisite quality–but good.

Now, what does this matter?  Well, it helps us to understand some things.  First, Tet deals with the concept of affliction.  The psalmist thanks God for the “discipline of affliction”. Who on earth does that?

I look back at the clay and the wheel to see why.  Many times, God has characterized himself as the Potter, and we are the clay. Clay is punched to relieve the air gaps, it is often folded back down and re-made when it resists smooth shaping.  We say the clay (or wicker in basketry) is “worked”.

No pot made for good use is completed without undergoing first the hard discipline of affliction. The scraping, pruning, molding, re-shaping, and finally, the excision from the wheel when the product is completed. In basketry, the reed would be soaked and often beaten to become pliable, then woven together into a strict pattern and dried in shape. I see a life process there.

By its etymology, “affliction” means to be knocked about, harrassed, and weakened. The modern connotation is to be humbled by severe hardship. Pride puffs me up, but affliction knocks out my air gaps and brings me to myself in all truth. I am not left brittle, I am made stronger.  I am harrased but I am not destroyed.  Apostle Paul helped us with this:

7Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us. 8We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always consigned to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal bodies. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. — 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

The psalmist in TET looks ahead in his severe situation.  He knows his God.  He knows that all that the LORD does is good and beneficial and according to an ultimate perfect plan. Does God bring affliction?  The Bible says He does.  But he does so with a purpose; and He knows the outcome will be our refinement.

Where do we first see the word “good” in scripture?  We see it in the Creation of our world, which was made for US!  All things shaped and molded by our Creator was deemed “good” (Gen 1).  It and us were pleasing to God.  The enemy enticed, we took the bait, and we fell from our ‘good’ position.  From this time, our hope of reconciliation has come through affliction (Gen. 3).

The promise of a coming Messiah, however, was given in Genesis 3 as well.  But there is talk of a bruised heel. Our Messiah was afflicted for my sake:

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.Isaiah 53:5 NKJV

My humbling comes so that I will accept the Messiah’s gift of salvation and be restored. Daily, I am being shaped to accept His Lordship.

What does Lordship mean?  We are creatures of a Sovereign God to whom we owe everything.  We, the clay, do not say to the potter what should happen in our life, or what should be our purpose.

This was brought home to me when I discovered I was pregnant with our fifth child. After many sleepless nights fretting over a future that seemed the death of my dreams, the Spirit reminded me of Mary.

Mary found herself in a culturally horrific position when the angel Gabriel told her she was pregnant with the Holy Son of God. This unmarried, pious young girl, however, glorified God in worship and acceptance:

Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”  (Luke 1:38 KJV).

Look at the different wording available to us:

I am the Lord’s servant!  Let it happen [to me] as you have said“(CEV).

Or again,

Behold, [I am] the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (NASB).

Mary got it.  Her life was not her own to decide its destiny.  Her life belonged to God. She agreed with God’s ultimate plan for her life, whatever the cost.

This is not resignation, this is acceptance.  There is a difference.  In resignation, our spirits give up; we have no part in what takes place.

In acceptance, we work WITH the situation; we agree with our Master, like a young ox works with the lead ox when yoked together.  Samuel Rutherford illustrates this:

Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul?  I know He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.” — Letter LXXXVI.–To Robert Gordon, of Knockbrex; from The Letters of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford.

Yoked together with Christ! He purposes fruit in me and in my world. He is preparing me for usefulness—for good and not for evil.

When I got that lesson years ago through Mary’s song, my panic subsided. I could rightly say with Mary that  God’s purpose in me is what matters. “Whatever the cost to me, God will bring good out of this–and it will be the most fulfilling my life can be because I am created to obey my Creator.”

Not only did the nightly panic attacks subside, I rejoiced!  I felt good about it!  All of a sudden, it became clear to my mind and body that to be in the center of God’s will is exactly where all my dreams have their truest meaning!  It is where peace, tranquility of soul, and fulfillment actually exist, because it is God that made me, not myself!  (Psalm 100:3).

It was not long after I came to that realization that my husband and I took the children on a lovely, evening walk on the beach.  My husband and I walked hand-in-hand on white sand amidst delicate waving sea oats. The kids were playing on up ahead racing down to the water’s edge. The sun cast that lovely twilight gold upon all of that scene as we talked cheerfully of the coming “larger family”.  The evening and all my future was quietly joyful and promising.  I will never forget it because the next evening, I lost my fifth baby.

I remember that my heart and soul were stayed even for this. If God had sanctified my life with the promise of this child, He also sanctified my life with its passing.  All is in the Providence and care of my Creator.  He knew the reason why that child came into life, and He knew the reason why it could not be.  I never did carry another child, but I have carried the lesson of His sovereignty with me ever since.

Back in the Fold.  In all incidences where I have been afflicted, I can agree that “before I was afflicted I went astray.”  This is what Genesis 3 teaches us. Also, “For all like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)

I see myself in that verse.   “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!” the old hymn says.[1]

In keeping with the sheep analogy, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4). The shepherd is prepared for my wandering.  The rod is a heavy stick used as a weapon against our predators, those who “forge lies against me”; but it is also used for “afflicting” the hard of heart.  When the Shepherd calls, and I resist, the rod may be used to humble me into safety.

The crook-neck staff, however, is a “gathering” protective instrument used to draw me near. If I stray but have a heart to obey, I can be gently gathered in by his staff.

Still better is to heed his voice and not stray at all, but I do stray. This is not always a matter of my own behavior—hardship is not always punishment for things we ourselves have done—but it always concerns my sin-filled, wayward heart. How i respond to my circumstances tries and reveals the condition of my sheep heart.

The point is that either way, to be disciplined by our Lord is to be protected, loved, and cared for. To be brought and kept safely back in the fold with Christ as my Shepherd. That is true comfort.

All of Tet is a praise for the Word of God.  This is how the psalmist knew the end of the matter. This is how he knew his end was secure.

God’s purpose and promise, as revealed in His Word, keeps me steady in hope until the matter has fully developed and the TRUE end of all affliction is made known.

Father, my heavenly Father who loves me so self-sacrificially, so deeply that I cannot comprehend it, THANK YOU for your never-ending love. Thank you for the wisdom of my creation. Thank you that my sin has never shocked you or set you off balance.  You, in love, made way for my creaturely frailty and weakness.  You know I am weak, because you made me.  And yet, you have given me Yourself to be my strength! You have given me Yourself to be my Salvation!  And you have given me Yourself to be my Sustenance until we meet face to face.  I am certainly afflicted, and I see the afflictions of those around me and that hurts too, Lord. But I know you are our Shepherd and we are safe in your care. Your Word is true and endures forever. You truly are GOOD, and all your ways are GOOD for me. Help me to encourage others with Your Word of Truth, help me to speak of your GOODness from the rooftops! Help me assist others as we walk together through the GOOD process of affliction.  May it be according to Your Word, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

© copyright January 28, 2019 by readpsalm119.com.

[1](“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”; see resources below).

________________________________________

NOTES:

Pronunciation:  Tet is pronounced /t/ but may have originally been pronounced /th/ as the Greek adapted of this letter as theta, /th/.

Helpful Resources on the Phoenician alef-bet:

1. “The Hebrew Alphabet – The Letter Tet (ט)”, Hebrew Today: News You Can Use at http://www.hebrewtoday.com/content/hebrew-alphabet-letter-tet-ט

2.  Benner, Jeff A. “The Ancient Hebrew Alphabet”, “Mem” page, of Ancient Hebrew Research Center: Plowing through history from the Aleph to the Tav” at http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet_letters_mem.html

3.  Rawlinson, George. The History of Phoenicia, First published 1889 by Longmans, Green, and Co., Canterbury.  Available online as the Project Gutenberg EBook of History of Phoenicia[EBook #2331].  Available in all formats.

FURTHER RESOURCES

David Crowder Band – Come Thou Fount – YouTube”  [music video, lyrics posted;            4:32 min.] Uploaded by Ziyu Lu on Nov 22, 2007.  Thanks, Ziyu Lu!

He that struggles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill.  Our antagonist is our helper.” — Sir Edmund Burke.  Although he intended this to mean our human antagonists, it is our Lord who turns the tables on our afflictions for our strengthening.

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