Words are written from right to left in Hebrew, so the first letter in this word is on the right. It looks, in the script I’m using now, like a lowercase ‘n’. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is symbolic of one or more things and is in itself a complete concept or set of meanings. This letter is the letter mem. Mem carries the ideas of peace, protection, and living water. Notice that there is an opening at the bottom of mem and it represents a picture of living flowing water (which is not like stagnant or still water in a cistern). Jesus refers to himself as 'living water' and tells the Samaritan woman that he can provide superior water to the water in her well, saying, 'Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14.
The second letter is vav. Vav is a picture also. It is a man (person) viewed from the side with head protruding and arms straight at his side. Vav is also sometimes considered a picture of a hook. In both instances there is the idea that this is one on whom things can be hung. Man is the one on whom the Word of God is hung. For example, Paul said, we are clothed with Christ. This is the idea behind vav.
The third letter is samech. Samech is the first letter in a series of letters which are connected with blessings, promises, and warnings. Samech symbolizes ‘support to the fallen’. It is that upon which one can lean. The person of God should lean upon the promises and the warnings of God in order to receive His blessings, otherwise he finds himself crippled, lame, or stumbling through life but unable to recover.
Finally, the fourth letter is resh. It is the picture of the back of the head and it stands for ‘human reasoning.’ It also can be a symbol for ‘obedience’. A person has to choose whom he will obey. Either he will follow the ways of God or his own thinking.
Now, back to the meaning of the word musar or discipline. Musar is a picture. Let's take a close look at it by comparing and contrasting the two letters on the right with the two on the left.
Do you see similarities? The mem and the samech are both roundish, and the vav and the resh are similar to one another in their shape. However, there are differences between each letter also. You'll see that mem has an opening at it's base while samech is completely closed. Vav’s top stroke is less dominant than that of the resh. These comparisons and contrasts are part of the story of musar. Discipline is in fact, illustrated in the word musar.
Discipline can be defined as "corrective instruction intended to guide individuals toward peace, prosperity, a good outcome". Musar is the picture of two persons (or options). On the right is a person who’s thinking is given fresh perspective by the continual washing and cleansing of the living waters of God’s Word. Ideas, thoughts, or opinions which would be lead him to stagnant living are washed away. His ideas are continually purified under the spout of truth. He can expect blessings, peace, and protection. The Proverbs are full of this same sentiment. Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews, taught that the man who set his thoughts on the Spirit would enjoy abundant life and peace.
The person on the left stands in contrast to the man on the right. His thinking is limited to his own reasoning. He is close minded to the helpful instruction of God's word. That which is intended to support him through life is subjugated to his own exaggerated thoughts of himself. Note the oversized ‘head’ on the resh-- in fact, the resh is the image of a head so large that there is no body! This guy is guided totally by his own ideas of right and wrong. The Proverbs also speak of this type of person. He is called a fool and his ways are called folly. There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of them is death.
The word musar pictures two people or approaches to life. Discipline is intended to draw out the distinctions between these two. Discipline is meant to help us avoid being the fool and become, instead, the man who is blessed, at peace, and a vessel of living water. The writer to the Hebrews (not surprisingly) was surely thinking of this idea when he wrote:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”
How is discipline to be done? ......that will be the topic of the next post.