OK, it’s time now for the surprising part. Of the 90 or so places in the Bible that speak of someone as being “blessed” (Greek makarios), there are two that stop us in our tracks.
- How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty (Job 5.17).
- Happy are those whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law (Ps 94.12).
Wait, what? Blessed to be reproved by God? to be disciplined by him?
As always, we need to start by figuring out what these verses actually say, to ensure that we’re not getting a misimpression.
We notice immediately that the first of these verses is from Job, and if we check the context, we find that these are the words of Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job’s friends (Jb 4.1). As I’ve noted elsewhere, we need to take these speeches with a grain of salt, because by the end of the book we find God rebuking all of Job’s friends for missing the truth (Jb 42.7-9). Indeed, even Job himself, though God calls him “right” (Jb 42.7), comes in for rebuke for missing the larger point of his experience (Jb 38.1ff).
The key word in the second passage is discipline, which in English calls to mind being taken out to the woodshed. The Hebrew word, yasar, can indeed mean to chasten or to punish, but it can also mean to admonish or warn, and even less threatening, to teach. (Teaching is, after all, the etymological root for discipline; we still use the word disciple to mean “student.”)
Now, we all know that a word doesn’t mean all of its meanings every time we use it; when I say “the sun set last night,” nobody thinks, “He’s saying that the sun is a collection of objects, like a chess set.” We decide which meaning of the word to apply by looking at the context; a “sunset” is very different from a “chess set,” which in turn is very different from “set concrete.”
So what’s the context here? This is Hebrew poetry, one key feature of which is parallelism; here, “those whom you discipline” is in parallel with “[those] whom you teach out of your law.” So I’m inclined to read this as saying simply that those whom the Lord teaches are blessed, by the simple virtue of divine instruction and care. This verse, then, should be included in Part 2 of this series, as an example of the many ways God’s people are described. And, for what it’s worth, I’m inclined to see the Job passage as truthful, based on the Psalms passage and other biblical context.
But it’s worth noting here that the Bible does speak of trials and even suffering in a positive sense. Paul compares such struggles to athletic training, noting that regular exertion builds stamina, and stamina brings the experience of success, which in turn builds confidence, which then extends our success (Ro 5.3-5). Paul even says that we “boast” in our suffering (Ro 5.3).
The author of Hebrews presents a different positive perspective on trials, noting that parental discipline is evidence that we have a Father who loves us (He 12.3-13).
When I was a boy, and inclined toward energetic distraction, my father would occasionally place his hand on the back of my head and turn it in the direction he wanted me to go.
I hated that.
I would shake my head out of his hand and seek to go my own way. But when it mattered, Dad would persist. He may have saved my life a time or two with that really irritating practice.
Our loving Heavenly Father disciplines us as well. He doesn’t “punish” us—the well-deserved punishment for our monstrous sins was inflicted not on us, the deserving, but on his blameless Son, by the Son’s own request. For the believer, hard times of testing are not punishment for anything, because all the punishment has been borne and exhausted.
But he disciplines, teaches us. He directs us through hard things to teach us the right way and to build our strength and fit us for greater victories. And he does it non-destructively, carefully, tenderly, lovingly.
It is indeed blessed to be disciplined, taught, by such a Father.