I have been in God’s service and ministry for over 50 years. I say that without the least bit of pride, because I know that I am here only by God’s grace. And I am constantly discovering my ministerial failures. I could give you a litany of those failures, but even in that there could be a hint of pride. So I’ll just point out one for this evening: according to my records I have never preached or taught about “meditation” – even though it is a fairly common Biblical subject.
Since I started keeping records of my sermons, the last 40 years, I have preached more than 300 messages directly about Christ, and another 300 on sin, which undoubtedly came back to the Saviour. I have also catalogued 400 messages under the heading of “salvation.” That totals about a thousand separate sermons which were basically “gospel” messages. On the other hand, this is my 744th message which I’ve catalogued under the heading of “Christian Living.” And yet, I’ve never addressed “meditation” as far as my memory or computer records indicate. It may have come up as points within messages about other subjects, but I’ve never made that my primary theme, at least as far as I can remember. Let’s correct that this evening.
Among the things about which Paul counseled Timothy, he said,
“MEDITATE upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” I Timothy 4 is only one of two times this word is found in the New Testament of our King James Bibles. In the first occurrence, Luke 21, the Lord Jesus, like Paul, was counseling His pupils and warning them about what was going to happen to them. Verse 12 – The wicked “shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, NOT to MEDITATE before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.”
Only twice in the Bible is meditation ever discouraged or referred to in a negative way. Here is one. In a very particular case, the Lord told His immediate disciples NOT to dwell, contemplate, meditate or preplan answers to give to their persecutors. He promised that the Holy Spirit would give them the words they would need to glorify Christ’s name.
Luke 21 was a very special case in a very special period of time, and it does not apply to the preacher today. Even though at times in Christian history, churches tried to declare that it does still apply. Some churches used to insist that their preachers should not meditate on specific scriptures, preplanning or preparing their messages. They were to drop their finger on a page of the Bible and start preaching. But if Jesus’ words were applied generally or in that particular way, then it would negate all the other scriptures which encourage meditation.
Paul tells Timothy – using a derivative of the same word Jesus used – “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” This Greek word means, “to take care of,” “to attend carefully,” “to practice” and “to revolve around in your mind.” Why does Paul exhort Timothy in this way? Isn’t it because meditation is difficult and rare? Isn’t it because Timothy didn’t meditate on the things of God as much as he should have? “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them” – surrender yourself to them as you yield yourself to the Holy Spirit.
And for what purpose? “That thy profiting may appear to all.” Meditate on these things in order to progress – to grow in the Lord. The implication is that without meditation and serious consideration of Biblical instruction, Timothy would not have the spiritual growth which the Christian – and particularly the minister of God – needs. This is in complete accord with other scriptures, such as the famous words of God to Joshua – “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way PROSPEROUS, and then thou shalt have GOOD SUCCESS.” By the way, there are SEVERAL famous or well known scriptures which speak of meditation, making my neglect of this subject all the more criminal.
Admittedly, the majority of scriptures on the subject of meditation are found in the Old Testament.
The first Biblical reference doesn’t teach us very much; it is just a declaration of fact. When “Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, go and find a wife for my son Isaac.” Eliezer did as he was told and returned with Rebekah. Genesis 24:63 – “And Isaac went out to MEDITATE in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.”
What was Isaac doing? I hope you can tell me because I don’t know. The Hebrew doesn’t shed any light on what this meditation was. Young’s Concordance defines the word as “to bow down” and “muse.” Strong’s Concordance simply doesn’t explain it at all, just saying “to meditate.” What was Isaac doing? He was meditating, whatever that is. He was apparently alone, having taken himself away from the noise and bustle of the family. It was late in the day, possibly after hours of work. He didn’t have a Bible or any other book with him. So he was not studying. And he wasn’t praying because the Bible has a word for “prayer,” and it isn’t in this verse, BUT he may have been THINKING in a prayerful way. Since we don’t have any more information, let’s move on. We are simply stuck with the statement – “Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide.”
I have already given you the Bible’s second reference to “meditation” – it is in the first chapter of Joshua. Joshua was in many ways like Timothy – first, he was relatively young – at least in the ministry. He was the protégé of a very powerful leader, and he was expected to take up his mentor’s mantle. But he was apparently not feeling very confident. A lack of self-confidence is not necessarily a bad thing, if a person’s response is the correct one. Joshua 1:1 – “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses,” Verse 6 – “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt MEDITATE therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
I will come back to this in a few minutes, but let’s move on to consider the same Hebrew word in another very well known verse from Psalm 1 – “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he MEDITATE day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever the doeth shall prosper.” Let me ask you – How important to “bringing forth his fruit in his season,” is this man’s meditation on God’s word? How essential to the health of his “leaves,” and how necessary to his prosperity, was his delight and meditation on the law of the Lord? Does “meditation” DESCRIBE the God-blessed man, or is meditation one of the reasons for God pouring out His blessings upon the man?
Here are some other scriptures using this same Hebrew word. “Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my MEDITATION.” “Let the words of my mouth, and the MEDITATION of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” “My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the MEDITATION of my heart shall be of understanding.” “When I remember thee upon my bed, and MEDITATE on thee in the night watches.” “I will MEDITATE also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” “My MEDITATION of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.” “I remember the days of old; I MEDITATE on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.”
It’s interesting that Psalm 119 uses a different Hebrew word than do all the other Psalms. Psalm 119 is the only Psalm which uses the word which describes Isaac’s meditation – whatever that was. The Psalmist says, “I will MEDITATE in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.” “Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did MEDITATE in thy statutes.” “My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will MEDITATE in thy statutes.” “Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will MEDITATE in thy precepts.” “O how love I thy law! it is my MEDITATION all the day.” “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my MEDITATION.” And “Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might MEDITATE in thy word.”
Notice in these scriptures that meditation upon God, God’s Word and God’s blessings is one of the keys to separation from the crowd. Could we say that this is one of the characteristics of God’s saints? Certainly, God-blessed saints meditate on spiritual things. And the right kind of meditation gives people greater understanding than perhaps the Bible teacher himself. I think the Psalmist would say that in order to successfully negotiate the problems of life, meditate upon the Word of God.
In my meditations on meditation, it occurred to me that in the Bible when a subject for meditation is mentioned, it is almost always God and His word. Only once is there any other subject of meditation mentioned in the Bible, and it comes in a very negative context. In describing Israel’s upcoming judgment Isaiah said in chapter 33 – “Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? Thine heart shall MEDITATE terror.” In this verse the process of meditation is the same, but the subject is different – rather than meditation upon the Lord, it is meditation on God’s judgment. And in that regard, I fear that a great many Christians these days are spending more time contemplating God’s judgment – or the reasons for God’s judgment – than they are upon God and His Word. This kind of meditation is not only about terror, but it inculcates terror.
Switching gears, just for a minute, picture some rabid sports fan you might know. This man can rehearse all the recent scores, especially for the particular team he supports. He can quote statistics comparing his team with others; he can talk about the players and their stats. Just like the athletes, he may spend hours every week preparing himself for the next game. Much to his wife’s chagrin, he thinks about the upcoming game far too much. But despite all the time and consideration, would he use the word “meditation” to describe what he does? He might use several words, but “meditation” is probably not one of them.
Generally speaking, “to meditate” is a Biblical term, and it is most often spent on Biblical material. That is not only true of Psalm 119, but nearly all of the Psalm references. “I will meditate in thy PRECEPTS, and have respect unto thy ways.” “Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy STATUTES.” “Let the proud be ashamed; for they dealt perversely with me without a cause: but I will meditate in thy PRECEPTS.” “O how love I thy LAW! it is my meditation all the day.” “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy TESTIMONIES are my meditation.” “Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy WORD.” And then we go back to Joshua and forward to Timothy. “This book of the LAW shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.”
So, what is it to meditate?
Should we confine our definition to whatever it was it for the Old Testament saint? I purposely didn’t define the word which describes the meditation of Joshua and the blessed man of Psalm 1. In most of the references in Psalms other than the 119th and in Genesis, the Hebrew word is “hagah.” And quite surprisingly, that word properly means to “emit a sound,” “murmur,” “mutter” and “to speak in an undertone.” You heard me correctly, the Hebrew word for “meditate” involves the human voice in a certain way.
With that in mind, what is it to meditate? It is not just to sit and think about a verse of scripture or to think about one of the Lord’s great attributes. It is speak of it to yourself – not discuss it with others, but talk to yourself about the Word of God. It is to emphasize its parts not only in your mind, but in your mumbling. Perhaps it includes memorization and the verbal rehearsal of what has already been memorized. The meditating person may quote a verse, muttering it over and over again, emphasizing first one word and then another, probing and prodding, all the while asking for the Lord’s direction. Psalm 19:4 says, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”
One Hebrew expert put it this way… “Such passages give graphic insight into what meditation involves. Meditation is the outward verbalizing of one’s thoughts before God, of the pouring over his teachings and works. It means to articulate, in a low tone, thoughts of worship, wonder, and praise.”
But if we take the word to speak of muttering, doesn’t that fall apart when we come to Joshua 1:8? “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt MEDITATE therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” I have seen it explained this way: Joshua was not forbidden to repeat or to speak of God’s Word. That would have been utterly ridiculous. The more people in any society openly speak and repeat God’s word the better. No, what Joshua was told to do was never to stop chewing on it. Never spit the command of God, or the promise of God, or the blessing of God, out of your mouth. As Gill says in his commentary on Joshua, “He was often to read it, frequently repeat it, and speak of it, to refresh his own memory with it, and the memory of those about him.” The meaning of “hagah” is to mutter God’s Word morning, noon, and night.
Under that light, are WE meditative people?
I admit that I am not, although I am trying to correct that defect in my spiritual life. It’s all right for you join me and admit to it with me – we are not meditative people. And what is the explanation for our neglect of this Biblical principle? Isn’t a major part of the problem the business of our lives and all of the distractions of this world?
For example, how much more time would we have if we didn’t have telephones? I’m not suggesting that we throw away our phones, but wouldn’t that be a blessing some times? What if we didn’t have computers, WIFI, and internet connections? Video games and other electronics? What would our evenings be like if we didn’t have televisions or Netflix?
David, Joshua and the rest of their nation lived different lives than we do. Things were changing by the time of Paul and Timothy, and that may have been behind the Apostle’s exhortation to Timothy. But the world of the Old Testament was such that those people had many more opportunities which they could spend in uninterrupted meditation. The rhythm of their lives was not ordered by alarm clocks and time clocks – but rather by the sun. Living outside as shepherds, farmers and fishermen, they were closer to God’s creation than to man’s creations, giving those who were more spiritual, fuel for their meditations. When the sun set, their evenings were free from work and from television. Living without electricity their evenings were spent in semi-darkness, which was far more conducive to meditation. How many had personal libraries? How many could even read? David certainly, but what about Joshua? Other than interference from family and friends, those people had more time to contemplate the things of God – to “meditate.”
And they had a weekly Sabbath of rest which was far more practical and restful than ours. They had periodic times of fasting and festivals throughout the year, when they were encouraged to meditate on various, specific blessings of God. They had the opportunity to meditate. For us – we have to take that time, stealing it from other hours in the day. How much of this Lord’s Day have you given to meditating on God’s Word or the message of this morning?
And the fact is, we need that time of contemplation – that meditation time. It is still one of the keys to our spiritual health and growth. Just as we can’t live well, or stay healthy by feasting on four meals a week, stuffed down our throats only on Sunday and Wednesday. We need to feed on quality nutrition every day – several times every day – constantly. And we need to chew that food well. We need the same thing spiritually. We need to learn to see God in every event – good and bad, in every beautiful object, in every thought. And we need to contemplate – to think about – what we see of the Lord. We need to be “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” to such a degree that when we wake up in the morning a hymn comes bursting into our subconscious. I read the testimony of a Christian from a couple generations ago, who said that his hymnal was almost as helpful to his spiritual lives as his Bible. Because those Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs easily invaded this thoughts throughout the day, increasing his opportunities for meditation. We need to know God’s Word more fully; we need to chew it up into its fundamental parts. We need to be like spiritual cows, chewing on spiritual cud throughout the day.
And why? “For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” Don’t you yearn for prosperity and success? Most people do. And we know that spending our paychecks on gambling, booze, tobacco and entertainment will never give us prosperity – of any kind. And neither will we prosper without investing wisely in God’s Word and blessings.
I will close by reminding you that Psalm 1 gives us a part of the Biblical formula for spiritual success. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”