Friday, December 29, 2006

Pure Language

“For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.” (Zeph.3:9)

Now that the year is coming to a close, I am once again reading in the Minor Prophets at the end of the Old Testament. (They are called that, not because they are “minor” in the importance, but only in length, compared to books like Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.) It is easy when reading some of these enigmatic chapters to mutter under our breaths, “Come on, New Testament!” There are many times when I look up from the page and say to myself, “What in the world does that mean?” And it is only somewhat comforting to find that others, even some commentators, feel the same way. Still, there are other times when I read something I never noticed before that speaks to both my mind and heart. For example, this verse in Zephaniah.

Those two words—“pure language”—stand out to me as though in bold print. This is the only place you will find them together in the Word of God. It is commonly considered that the theme of most of these final books of the Old Testament is the restoration of the nation Israel in the last days. But there is much in them to give us insight into the mind of God. For instance, the verse tells us three practical things that are true for any time or situation. First, there is a pure language; second, it is the means of communication with God; and three, its primary purpose is universal praise and service to God, not just a means of communication and cooperation between the peoples of the earth. When everyone speaks the same language, there is a unity of sorts, but it isn’t always of God. We know this because of what we read in Genesis eleven about the Tower of Babel. (“And the whole earth was of one language…” v.1) Whatever that language was, we can be sure from God’s actions, it was not “pure,” in the way Zephaniah speaks.

Some of us would be tempted to designate English as a worthy candidate for this pure language, especially since it is quickly becoming a universal one. And if you are like me, it would be the impeccable English of the AV 1611 Bible. People have asked my husband what language he thinks we will speak in Heaven, and he usually replies that Hebrew might be a good possibility, since we have an occasion in the New Testament when God spoke audibly from Heaven in the Hebrew language (Acts 26:14). And He spoke these words to Saul of Tarsus, later to become Paul the Apostle, a man we know to have been multi-lingual.

Now that I’ve told you a little of what engaged my mind, let me tell you how God spoke to my heart. You see, the word “pure” not only means free from anything that would taint or adulterate, it also means to be innocent or morally clean. Matthew Henry, commenting on the text, said, “Converting grace refines the language.” And there are many who can personally attest to this. We read in Proverbs 15:26 that “the words of the pure are pleasant words.” Contrast this with Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” On the one hand, there is “pure language”; at the other end of the spectrum is “corrupt communication.” God does not require that you have a vast vocabulary, but He does insist that you exhibit a pure one, especially since Jesus pointed out that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt.12:34).

The best way to develop a good vocabulary is to read good literature; the best way to acquire pure language is to read pure words. And I know of only one Book where you are guaranteed of finding them, for it is the only one that rightfully claims of itself:

“Every word of God is pure..”

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