Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I just heard a sermon on beauty. The verse quote was Psalm 27:4, which goes like this:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. ESV

The trouble is GNB has ‘goodness’, NET ‘spendour’, NLT ‘perfections’ and CEV ‘[see] how wonderful [he is]’. So the best question to ask is, ‘What is the root Hebrew word?’ It is no`am which means ‘kindness’ or ‘pleasantness’.
The only place where it might possibly mean ‘beautiful’ is in Song of Songs 7:6, where it is translated as ‘pleasant’, but is used in parallel with ‘beautiful’:

How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! ESV

This could make them close synonyms, so we should then think of the word as meaning ‘gorgeous’ or something like that, especially in the context of the passage where it can be found:

How beautiful your sandalled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.  2 Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.  3 Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.  4 Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking towards Damascus.  5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.  6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!  7 Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.  8 I said, "I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples,  9 and your mouth like the best wine…

But in most cases the word does just mean ‘pleasant’ or ‘delightful’. We should therefore be careful about preaching long sermons on the beauty of the Lord. The word translated ‘beautiful’ in Song of Songs 7:6 is yafeh. This is found twice in the Psalms, once to describe the king (45:2), and once about mount Zion (48:2), which is the temple hill in Jerusalem. The king was originally an earthly king, but the Psalm is definitely Messianic, so we would be perfectly justified in understanding ‘Jesus Christ’ where we see ‘king’, but not God. This means that there basically isn’t a verse where the word ‘beautiful’ is used to describe God (true though it may be that God is beautiful).

So, it is probably not a good idea to read no`am as meaning ‘beautiful’ in Psalm 27:4, tempting though it may be. Sorry, preacher, it might be time to learn some Hebrew!

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