Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tears in Wineskins

One of the great things about studying the Bible is finding out new things through the study of the customs and culture of the society of the ancient Hebrews. One little tidbit that I found was in Psalms 56:8. It reads, "You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?" In almost every English translation, the middle part of this verse uses the word 'bottle' as a place that God puts our tears.

That's a little blind to us. Why would someone put tears in a bottle? When we dig deeper we find that the Hebrew word translated 'bottle' is actually the Hebrew word for a wineskin. Well, then, why put tears in a wineskin?

To know why this image is used we have to understand one of the ways that wineskins were used. Of course, wineskins were used to hold wine, but scholars tell us that wineskins were also used to hold precious liquids. Wineskins were the best way to preserve various liquids just as pottery jars were used to store just about everything else. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in pottery jars.)

If God put our tears in wineskins, it must mean that they are very precious to Him. The psalmist asks God to store his tears as precious things. And He does. Sometimes we think that God is far away when we are suffering, but we must know that He is storing our tears and writing them in his book. They are preserved forever.

So when you read Psalm 56, remember what this meant when it was written. I think the translators used the word 'bottle' because we would be confused by the notion of storing tears in wineskins. But I prefer a very literal translation with explanatory footnotes at the bottom of the page. Then it speaks to us more clearly than trying to translate ancient customs in modern parlance. "Tears in a bottle" just does not do it for me.

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