I decided recently that it was time to pick back up with the series I was doing on alliterative names for God. I don’t why I didn’t think of this before when I got stuck on the letter N, but last Sunday in church I thought of “Nearest Neighbor.”
Then this morning I started reading Psalm 75, and I was struck by the line “we give thanks, for your name is near.” What does it mean for a name to be near? A name doesn’t have a location. I found one blog that commented on the line by saying that we should always be ready to talk about God, bring His name near to the attention of other people. That may be true, but somehow I doubt that’s what the writer of Psalm 75 had in mind.
I’ve heard that in the Bible, speaking of someone’s name was pretty much the equivalent of speaking of the person himself. So that would mean that “we give thanks, for You are near.” And in fact I found another website that says, “When the Old Testament Prophets talk about the Name of God, they talk about the Presence of God.”
Even more interesting was a site that explains that the word translated “near”
is also the Hebrew word commonly used for “neighbor” and is meant to communicate a close physical proximity in where we intentionally take residence. Its root means “to cause to approach” or “to be approachable”. So it’s not just talking about a neighbor… it’s talking about a good neighbor… an approachable neighbor.
So does that make it redundant to say God is a near Neighbor? I guess I could say that He is a very neighborly Neighbor. Certainly a very approachable Neighbor.
And since no matter where I am, He is always near, that makes Him my nearest Neighbor. Unlike the people who live in houses near mine, I don’t have to ring a doorbell and wonder if He’s home, or when He’ll come home when He doesn’t answer. There are many times I wish I could hear Him answer as clearly as if I were talking to one of my neighbors, but I have to assume He is speaking and I just am spiritually hard of hearing.
Of course, if I’m going to make that assumption, I should have a better reason for it than that it is what I have been taught in church, or that I would like to believe it. The reason given by the psalmist is God’s wondrous deeds. The translation I am reading (English Standard Version) connects giving thanks to God’s name being near, and puts the telling of God’s wondrous deeds in a separate sentence. But the New King James Version says “For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.”
Now, I don’t know which translation is more accurate. (I find it interesting to compare several translations, including those in other languages. For the “name is near” line, the Louis Second translation says “Ton nom est dans nos bouches,” which would be “Your name is in our mouths.”) But it would certainly be consistent with other Scripture to say that it is by God’s wondrous works that we know He is near.
What specific works the psalmist had in mind isn’t clear. One of my husband’s commentaries says that what appears in our Bibles as Psalm 75 is most likely a fragment of a longer composition. So it may be that originally the judgment on the wicked that is mentioned briefly in this psalm was spelled out in more detail. Some commentary I found on the web indicates that Psalm 75 and Psalm 76 go together, and that Psalm 76 is thought to be about how God delivered Hezekiah and all Jerusalem from the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
I’ve never experienced anything miraculous like that or close to it. Works that I can point to in my own experience have more to do with ordinary everyday blessings – family and friends, house, job, food, health. And the changes in my own life, overcoming bad habits and attitudes, being able to forgive, and not being trapped by fears and resentments the way my mother was.