The Hebrew word “give” (natan) is used in a wide variety of senses in Scripture. It is used in contexts where it means “teach”: Wisdom is given to the wise man (Proverbs 9:9). Words are “given” as well as “spoken.” Privileges are “given.” Miracles are “given” (Exodus 7:9). Musical sounds are “given” by instruments (Psalm 81:2). Things set in place are “given” (Genesis 1:17). Things are “given before the face” of others (1 Kings 9:6). Being set in a position of authority is to be “given” a position (Genesis 41:41). Devotion to anything is “to give the heart” (Ecclesiastes 1:13, 17). To make a thing like something else is to “give a thing as” something. Not only persons but inanimate objects “give.” Not only objects but authority and permissions and abilities are “given.”
In various places, the AV translates natan as “cause” (Exodus 21:19; Leviticus 24:19-20; Numbers 5:18; Deuteronomy 28:7, 25; 1 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 19:7; Proverb 10:10). In Song of Songs 1:12, the subject of the second clause is “my nard” and the verb is “gives.” The nard is not passive. The nard is personalized as a benefactor that bestows something, that bestows a pleasing aroma.
The Bible presents us with a world teeming with benefactors. Everywhere we turn there are things offering gifts. The lamp says, “Here, I give light. Take it.” The flowers say, “I’ve got a fragrance to give to you.” The piano says, “I’ve got 88 keys to give you pleasing sounds.” The forest gives smells and sights and muffled sounds, the birds give their songs, the earth gives grain and wine and trees. Human civilization is full of things that give. All there are ultimately gifts from God, but the picture is not of God giving through empty pipelines that simply carry the gift to us. Rather, the Lord’s gift is the gift of gifting. The Giver makes us givers. There are secondary givers, given the ability to give and the gifts they gift from the supreme Giver.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 5:22 am
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