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“The Chastening of the Lord”
A Study of the Hebrew Word Musar

by Kyle Pope

The book of Proverbs begins with the stated objective - “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding”  (1:2, NKJV). The word translated “instruction” in this text is the Hebrew word musar. This word holds a special significance which is valuable for us to understand. 

            Derived from the verb yasar meaning to “discipline, chasten, instruct,” which is also represented in Ugaritic by the cognate ysr of the same meaning (TWOT, I, 386-387), musar can refer to punishment, training or education. 

            In the Old Testament, musar is first used in the second reading of the Law, when the Lord  speaks of the Israelites as having seen the “chastening  (musar) of the LORD your God, His  greatness and His mighty hand and outstretched  arm” (Deuteronomy 11:2, NKJV).  Here it is described as something that they could witness. The next verses list three things which were a part of this “chastening” - 1. God’s rescue of the people by the signs in Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army (11:3,4), 2. God’s treatment of the people in the desert (11:5) and 3. The punishment of the sons of Korah (11:6).  From this example we can see that musar is both corrective and educational. 

            Musar is communicated in various ways.  When one is punished for wrong doing it is musar (Proverbs 7:22). It is something that can be taught in words - “My son, hear the instruction (musar) of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8).  Musar can be learned by observing circumstances that surround a person. In the book of Proverbs the writer looks at the rundown home of one whom he passes and learns the value of work (Proverbs 24:30-34). This education from his own observation is “receiving musar (Proverbs 24:32). 

            Musar must be “received” and not rejected  if it is to be of benefit (Proverbs 1:3; 8:10; 19:20;  Jeremiah 5:3; 17:23; 32:33; 35:13; Zephaniah  3:7). We are urged not to despise musar (Job 5:17); the wicked hate musar and cast the words of the Lord far from them (Psalm 50:16,17).  Fools despise musar (Proverbs 1:7). The book of Proverbs personifies musar charging the reader to, “take firm hold of instruction (musar) do not let go; keep her, for she is your  life” (Proverbs 4:13). The “reproofs” of musar are “the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). 

            While human beings can teach musar it is primarily something we learn from God.  Jeremiah shows us that a benefit of a living God (in contrast to an idol) is the musar which He offers. Jeremiah points out that, “A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine (musar).” (Jeremiah 10:8). The New American Standard calls this “the discipline (musar) of delusion.” 

            Jesus is offered as musar. In the beautiful and yet heartbreaking prophecy in the book of Isaiah which tells us about the suffering Messiah  we see Jesus as musar. The text reads, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement (musar) for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” (53:5). This  tells us more than simply that Jesus suffered the  punishment we deserved. Jesus was the instruction (musar) that we must receive. Looking at His suffering should teach us the seriousness or sin and its penalty. This instruction (musar) if accepted can bring us peace with God.

Pope, Kyle. "'The Chastening of the Lord' : A Study of the Hebrew Word Musar" Biblical Insights 2.5 (May 2002): 17.  

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