Emaciated Souls

Bible text: Psalm 106

Sometimes as I read the Bible, a phrase jumps out and grabs my attention, something like a crab’s claw grabbing a finger, and will not let go. That happened recently for me when I was reciting Psalm 106 from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

The psalm celebrates God’s liberation of Israel from Egyptian bondage to Pharoah. Despite Israel’s constant unfaithfulness and grumbling, God proves faithful to his people. Nonetheless by their unfaithfulness, Israel brings unneeded judgment upon itself.

In this recitation of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness, we come in verses 13 and 14 to a reference to the many times Israel grumbled to God about their hunger and thirst. God responds by giving them bread from heaven, the manna, and quail for meat, as well as water from the rock. Then comes verse 15:
God gave them what they asked,
but sent leanness into their soul.

What a powerful thought! It applies the law of unintended consequences to the realm of the spirit. God gives Israel the food and the drink they crave. Their material cravings are satisfied. Yet God also send leanness into the souls. Their prayers have been answered, but they also experience the unintended consequence of a leanness in their souls.

In this context, I don’t take the word “leanness” as complimentary. Rather it suggests to me a form of emaciation. The unintended consequence of having their prayers answered is emaciated souls.

Now other English translations translate the Hebrew word razon as a wasting disease. But I love these words, “leanness of soul.” They trigger the imagination as good poetry does.

The psalm suggests that leanness of soul can be a divine judgment. We can be rich, indeed fat, in material satisfactions, and still experience a sense of spiritual emaciation. It’s not what most people expect when they pursue their fortunes. Yet in pursuing wealth, power, fame, or whatever else constitutes success, we can neglect the spiritual part of our lives, with the unintended result that we end up feeling emaciated in spirit.

Is that not an apt way of describing many Americans today?

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