“Meditate?” you ask.
For thus the LORD said to me, As a lion or a young lion roars over his prey… Isa 31:4.
Like a swallow or a crane I chirp; I mourn like a dove…Isa 38:14.
“Roars” and “mourn” are the same Hebrew word translated “meditate” in the KJV, including this one: But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Ps 1:2.
I grew up in a time when “transcendental meditation” was popular. Most of those who participated sat in the lotus position and hummed the syllable in the above title. I have no idea what was in their minds at the time, but it seems a far cry from the passages above. Yet, from what I have seen, we don’t really understand what meditation is any better than they did.
A Bible class teacher once told us he had decided to meditate more. He did this by memorizing a passage every week and then reciting it at various times during the day. As he continued talking, it seemed he expected that repetition to magically change his attitudes and his heart. As an educator, I understand that repetition is the key to learning, but simple repetition itself is as useless to your heart as repeating Hail Marys. The New Testament calls such things “vain repetition.” Maybe it’s time to see what the Bible says about meditating instead of what the world does.
I looked up every occurrence of the Hebrew word found in the three passages above. I found 24. In the King James Version, the word is translated “meditate” 6 times, which is the most frequent translation. But here is a really interesting case. While in Psalm 1:2, the word speaks of the action of a righteous man, in Psalm 2:1, the action is of the wicked and is translated “plot” in the ESV (“imagine” in the KJV). The word clearly involves some mental activity. In Psalm 38:12 the wicked are imagining “treachery all day long.” In fact, in the ESV that is translated “meditating” treachery.
Seven times the word is translated “speak” or “talk” or “utter” so it does involve sound, but not that mindless hum or rote repetition so many think. If you check out the passages, the wicked “speak” (meditate) deceit or perverseness or falsehood. The righteous “speak” (meditate) wisdom and truth, and “talk of” (meditate) God’s praise and righteousness. Try doing any of those things without some serious thought.
So where does the “sound” involved in this word come from? Sheer effort and emotion. The young lion roaring over his prey in the Isaiah 31 passage has reached a moment of intense effort in his hunt for food. Although the dove is not really mourning, the passage is a metaphor for God mourning over his lost people, trying to save them. Imagine reaching out to grab someone who is about to take a serious fall, or step in front of an oncoming vehicle. Would you do it quietly?
No, meditating on God’s word is not a time of quiet, mindless repetition. It is a time of intense mental effort. “Ponder how to answer” the ESV translates it in Prov 15:28. Run it over and over in your mind for the various possibilities, for the possible results of actions or the ideas to which those thought processes might lead. Meditate today on meditation, for clues in the texts themselves or, as we have done, in how the word is used in other places. Memorizing is wonderful. Reading the word of God is a necessity for one of his children, but if all you do is speak the words either aloud or in your mind, you have done no better than a pagan on his yoga mat.
Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest unto all. 1Tim 4:15