translating the melody…

Acts 16:25

About Midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the prisoners were listening to them (ESV)


     In Nehemiah 9:1-8 an interesting story plays out.  Nehemiah and the people have already rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem in record time.  The structural renewal of the city has been completed, but the spiritual renewal is taking place. A major part of this renewal is Ezra’s delivery of the Scriptures to the people.  In chapter 9 we read something curious about this reading.  Ezra read from the books of the Law, but he wasn’t the only one speaking that day, there were thirteen men who talked to the people as Ezra was reading.  Why? What could they have been saying? Isn’t it rude to talk during the Bible reading at the beginning of service? It ranks up there with a low-cut Easter dress in church circles, you just don’t do it.

     Due to the captivity that Israel had found themselves in, there had been some cultural shifts in the way they did life. One of those shifts was a path of least resistance attitude toward the working language of the day.  The Persians ruled most of the known world, and as such the language of Persia became the language of the people. That language was Aramaic. The Law of Moses would have been in Hebrew, Israel’s native dialect.  The problems began when the Jews stopped teaching their children Hebrew and adopted Aramaic as their native tongue (Nehemiah actually gets frustrated about this and deals with it later in the book).

     Essentially what those thirteen Levites did that day was translate, or explain and make plain, God’s Word for the people.  They didn’t understand what was being read, they couldn’t grasp the reality of the power of the words, they couldn’t find joy and freedom in what God had said because they needed an interpreter, someone to help them understand the beauty of the reality that was so close to them.

Fast forward a few hundred years.

     Paul and Silas had manged to “minister” their way into a prison cell, likely with their legs in torture devices, and their backs oozing blood from a public beating that they took earlier that day. And in this prison, Paul and Silas were very aware of something that none of the other prisoners were aware of: the God of creation was present. So, they started singing.  And in a very similar way, Paul and Silas entered into the role of those Levites so long ago as they began to translate the reality of God into language the prisoners could understand.  And suddenly, because of their translation, that evening was unlike any that had passed in that little jailhouse in Philippi.

     So the question is this: How many prisoners are straining their ears to catch a whisper in the midnight hour of a redemption song? How many who are chained and shackled in the darkness of this world are laying hopeless in the night, desperate to hear the melody of grace echoing off of the prison walls? How many of us who know that song are in places we don’t want to be, don’t deserve to be, and don’t understand why we’re there? Maybe, just maybe, we’re there because there are ears inside those places of suffering that have only heard the rats running, and the chains clanging, and the moans of other prisoners. Ears that are listening in the night for a song that will shake the earth; a song that will destroy shackles and unhinge doors that have been locked for years.

     Maybe we are the translators of the God’s message of liberty and hope and grace and love and mercy and power. do we know the language? Can we translate what God has spoken to us into words and stories and actions that the world understands?

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