Monday, July 08, 2024

Anonymous Asks (310)

“What does it mean to ‘call upon’ the Lord?”

The expression “to call upon” the Lord sounds admittedly archaic today. We don’t talk about calling upon the doctor, the lawyer or the bankruptcy trustee.

With reference specifically to God, the words “call upon” are a translation of the Hebrew qārā' or qārā' šēm, which means to address by name, to single out or identify. The first time the phrase appears in scripture is in Genesis 4, where the statement is made, “At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

What time was that? So glad you asked.

People Began to Call

That verse falls at the end of a chapter that tells about two brothers who performed acts of worship to God. For one the worship was genuine. In the case of the other, he acted on his own initiative according to his own interests, and God rejected his offering, provoking him to vent his anger by killing his brother. After this, Cain became a fugitive and a wanderer and settled east of Eden, “away from the presence of the Lord”. I take that to mean that Cain actively avoided God. He claimed God was driving him away from his presence and from the earth he loved, when in fact he was the one who chose to depart. The rest of the chapter tells how Cain built a city and fathered children, none of whom seem to have any reference to or relationship with God, and how Eve conceived another child named Seth, who grew to adulthood some number of years behind his brother Cain, and fathered a child of his own. It is in the context of the birth of Enosh that people began to call upon the Lord’s name, and it is specifically the covenant name YHWH, by which God later reveals his character, to which they appealed.

It seems that as long as Cain’s descendants were the only people populating the planet, men were not cultivating a relationship with heaven. Why would they? Their father didn’t. But Seth and his descendants did, probably on the instruction of their parents. They called upon the name of the Lord.

An Appeal to Draw Near

After this, the expression appears 26 more times in the Bible, supplementing our understanding of what it means to “call upon” the Lord. The Old Testament writers associate it with appealing to God to draw near or to pay attention. “For what great nation is there,” said Moses, “that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” Other nations called on other gods with other names, but those “gods” never drew near. They did not exist, and could not respond to the cries of their people.

Job associates the phrase with delighting in God, David with giving thanks, praise and salvation in time of need. Asaph and other psalmists connect it with deliverance and the glory that results from seeing God come to one’s aid. In all these cases, the emphasis is that the God of Israel was a relational being, one open to hearing the voices of those who put their trust in him, and to responding favorably. In this respect, the God of Israel was unique among all the names that men called upon.

The phrase also appears three times in the New Testament with the same meaning, where Paul makes “call upon” a synonym for “believe in”: “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” It is used both of salvation and of the worship and corporate association that naturally follow it whenever a profession of faith is real: “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.

A Relational God

A person who believes God exists or that Christ was his Messiah may or may not call upon the name of the Lord. The act of calling is separate from and additional to any kind of merely intellectual assent.

So then, when we call upon the name of the Lord, we are either looking to establish a personal relationship with the one true God for the first time, or else appealing to a family relationship that already exists in worship, praise, thanks or in time of need. The phrase stands in stark contrast to everything and everyone else in which men put their trust. Those things cannot save and are not worthy of praise.

No comments :

Post a Comment