Going to Heaven on a Preposition

Going to Heaven on a Preposition

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3 ESV

“Stay safe has become the watchword for our times as we seek to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the pervasive corona virus. Our media, celebrities, and political leaders have been united in the call that we “stay safe” by practicing social distancing, avoiding contact with people who display flu-like symptoms, and being vigilant to wash our hands and clean the surfaces in our homes. I am in total agreement with the call to personal responsibility, but I would like to add to it another layer of protection—prayer and praise.    

         One of the great truths that the Lord’s servants discovered was that God would be a shield to those who took refuge in him. The revelation was first made to Abraham to give him assurance before battle—“Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield” (Gen 15:1 NIV). It became one of David’s signature metaphors for God, especially during those treacherous years, when he was but a hair’s breadth away from death at the hand of Saul. “To you, Lord, I call…if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit” (Ps 28:1). When God answered David’s call, his grateful heart poured forth in enthusiastic praise —”The Lord is my strength and my shield…my heart leaps for joy and with my song I praise him (Ps 28:7). 

         The faithful consistency of God’s protection, demonstrated time and time again, led David to an even deeper understanding of God’s care, which he articulates Psalm 7:10. The first line consists of just two nouns and one preposition, which makes it difficult to translate. The Hebrew reads, magenni ‘al  Elohim  (“my shield / upon / God”). The second line is more straightforward, moshia yishrey lev (“who saves/the upright/of heart”). Translators have difficulty knowing what to do with the preposition ‘al (“upon”) in the first line and either amend the text or translate the ‘al as “with”—“My shield is with God.” But Bruce Waltke unravels the mystery by giving the preposition its full weight and translates the verse as,

God takes it upon himself to be my shield, the one who saves the upright of heart. (Ps 7:10)

         He explains, “The preposition ‘al ‘upon’ requires an appropriate verb of motion, such as ‘take.’ The preposition marks a burden or duty that the subject feels with pathos as ‘upon‘ him. The circumlocution God takes it upon himself to be (lit. “is upon God”) aims to unravel a terse use of the preposition ‘al (“upon”), which has no one word equivalent in English—’with,’ found in many English versions misses the thought.  ‘al here signifies that God feels the burden or duty to be David’s shield.”1

         I was reading these lines one summer when Emily and I were on vacation in a home overlooking the ocean about an hour north San Francisco. And needless to say, I was stunned by the impact a mere preposition could have upon me. 

God takes it upon himself to be my shield(Ps 7:10a) 

         God not only comes to our aid when we call, he also feels the burden and takes the initiative to protect us before we call and even when we are unaware. No wonder David’s heart burst forth with ecstatic praise and joyous song. I wrote Bruce that I went to heaven on a mere preposition! He wrote back, “I did too.”

         So my friends, Stay safe, pray constantly and give joyous praise to God who feels the burden to be our shield! Amen.        

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erica Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament, A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 81.