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Friday, January 24, 2014

God’s Eyelids

God is spirit. I think we can confidently affirm that a spirit does not have eyelids.

So what’s this the psalmist says about “his eyelids” then? Seems a strange expression:
“The LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” (Psalm 11:4,5)
But the Hebrew word here is best translated “eyelids”, not “eyes” as some of the less literal translations have it. You can understand why the NIV, New Living, Holman and others would go with that; after all, you don’t “see” with your eyelids, so how could his eyelids “test the children of men”? The translators may have assumed they were looking at some unfamiliar archaic Hebrew idiom and just gone for the broader, obvious contextual sense, which is that God closely scrutinizes both the righteous and the wicked. So they go with “he examines everyone”, or that he’s “watching everyone closely”.

And if that’s all you get out of it, well, it’s certainly true, and consistent with other passages of scripture. The translation does no terrible violence to the intent of the author.

Still, there are “eyelids” in our verse, not just “eyes”, both in Hebrew and in many English translations: what a prostitute bats at you to entice you; what you close when you sleep. The word occurs in Job as a metaphor for the dawn, which seems a very natural usage. Lifted eyelids in the OT also suggests pride or arrogance at times. And the lowering of one’s eyelids a little could indicate interest. We do it when we peer intently at something. While we don’t see an example of the word being used that way in scripture, it does not seem an unreasonable suggestion and it certainly fits the context.

So how do God’s eyelids test the children of men?

Even if we don’t dismiss the batting of lashes or a haughty expression as being grossly inappropriate images when associated with God, we can certainly rule them out as unlikely in context. Intense scrutiny is certainly a strong possibility. But let me just suggest another way in which God’s eyelids test the children of men:

Humans close our eyelids when we sleep.

In Grade 6 I loved plastic model kits. I built cars, planes, Planet of the Apes figures, Spider-Man … you name it; I wanted to build it. I’d stand in the hobby store craving each new offering and knowing my allowance just wasn’t going to cut it.

But my father slept with his wallet on the dresser beside his bed.

It started with fives, just to supplement the allowance. I’d crawl across my parents’ bedroom floor early in the morning, reach up to the dresser, grab the wallet and take a single bill. Initially it was just going to be the one time, of course. Later it was ten, then twenty. All the time I was fumbling with the wallet, I’d stare up at the bed to make sure Dad’s eyes remained shut and his snoring continued.

My father’s eyelids tested me and I’m ashamed to say I failed that test fairly miserably.

There are also times when God appears to slumber; to be inattentive. Some would allege that God, if he exists, has closed his eyelids to the condition of mankind entirely for very long periods, if indeed he opens them at all.

These times bring out what is in a person — whether he or she is among the righteous or the wicked. They test us. And the allegation that God is inattentive to man is not limited to pagans and cynics: another psalmist cried out “Arouse yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever.” He wonders if his God has gone to sleep, if God’s eyelids are closed to his suffering.

His eyelids test the children of men.

God’s eyelids test the disbeliever, the scoffer, the uniformitarian, the pseudo-science junkie and evolutionary theorist. Peter talks about the sort of person who says, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Since we haven’t seen it, they insist, it can’t possibly be true.

Peter says a couple of things about this. One is that such people “deliberately overlook” the facts. They are not genuine in their concern but are looking for an excuse to disbelieve. Another is that there is a reason for it:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The apparent inattention of God to the ills of the world is actually a gracious accommodation to our need for salvation. He restrains his hand from judgement as long as possible in the interest of granting opportunity to all.

He who keeps Israel will “neither slumber nor sleep”. His eyelids are not actually closed at all.

1 comment :

  1. Oh, I love this. I'd never thought of the verse that way, but your exposition makes perfect sense.

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