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On October 17th at 2:21 AM in Newcastle upon Tyne, Meghan and I welcomed our second daughter into the world. Everything about the birth was as smooth and as calm as it could be. The National Health Service in the UK (not having as many quid to throw around as the medicine-for-profit hospitals in the US) runs something of a skeleton crew, and so there was just one midwife with us the whole time. (When Rue was born I think there were seven people in the room.) I am in awe of Meghan. She leans into everything about birth and embraces it, making it look beautiful and easy and showing that blessing can triumph over curse.
Psalm 46 was our birth mantra:
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day. […]
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Big sister Rue adores Baby Willa.
Also, it’s Autumn!
Mother and daughter are both perfectly healthy and ten days gone little Willa Eve had put on 7 ounces, which I am told is phenomenal. We are grateful to the LORD, for he continues to be kind to us.
Work & Ministry Happenings
- Term is well underway and I am continuing to find my rhythm in a new place with a new baby, etc…
- Taught my first undergrad seminar—getting freshmen to think really carefully and generously about the Bible is going to be a challenge.
- As far as my thesis goes, I am lost in the tall grass on the word משׂא (maśśa’) in Prov 30:1 (does it mean oracle? burden? a place name, i.e., Massa?). I am convinced this is one of the most theologically significant words in the chapter, but also one of the most difficult to navigate.
My brother, Aaron, stayed with us for about a week—we hiked a few miles of Hadrian’s Wall.
Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall
I haven’t yet met an African who is unable to tell you what their name means. Some of them volunteer name and meaning upon introduction. This is particularly true when parents introduce their children. I’m guessing this would have been similar in biblical society. For traditional cultures names carry profound significance. They capture blessings and curses, they tell stories, they root people in families and traditions, and they chart trajectories of hope and promise. So, in the tradition of all the proud and hopeful parents I have met in Africa, here’s what Willa Eve’s name means and why we picked it.
Willa is a feminine form of William. William is, of course, a German name formed from a compound of will and helm. William crossed the linguistic channel with the Normans of Old France when its bearer, William Le Conqueror, domineered England in 1066. (A decade or two later he went on to build, or rather commission, Durham Cathedral.) Willa is the feminine form that the name took in English, its German equivalents are Wilhelmina or Wilma. German will means something like “passion” or “desire” and it is where we get our word will as in, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The word helm is where we get our word helmet, and it means, well, helmet. But! by extension it means something like “protection” or “protector.” So historically, Will-helm probably meant something like “passionate protector” or “willful defender.” A little closer to home, William is the secret first name of Meghan’s dad, Jeff Kiel, and both Meghan’s grandfathers were named William too.
But we also wanted a name from the Old Testament. Meghan has always wanted something that means spirit, or breath, or life, and in Hebrew that’s Eve:
וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ חַוָּה כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה אֵם כָּל־חָי
And the human called the name of his wife Eve (Chavah) because she was the mother of all life (Chay).
Have you ever noticed that in the narrative of The Fall in Genesis 3, the woman is not called Eve until it’s all said and done? The etymology of the name is not entirely clear, but it is connected to the idea of life on the level of sound alone if nothing else. In one sense you could say that Eve didn’t listen to the serpent, pluck the fruit, and give it to her husband—the first woman did all that. She was only named Eve after the fact—an act of faith on the man’s part as he leaned into the promise of God. Though death has now entered the world, she is named life because through her will be born all who will ever live and, in the fullness of time a son who will defeat the serpent and restore life to many (Gen 3:15; 1 Tim 2:15; Gal 4:4). So, the name Eve means life and it points toward our redemption and the end of the curse.
Honestly, though, a major factor in how we pick names is euphony—it has to sound good. J.R.R. Tolkien believed that the phrase cellar door was the most beautiful in the English language. In making this judgement he was totally setting aside meaning and dwelling solely on the sound of the syllables in the ear. We wouldn’t have picked Willa and Eve unless we thought they were deep and beautiful sung together, sweet and warm yet rich and strong.
Here’s to our little Willa Eve growing up to be a beautiful soul, a passionate defender of life.
For the past few years I have mostly listened to ambient and instrumental music cause I am constantly trying to read and write. This album has been the most incredible find recently. German-born English composer, Max Richter, whom you know from a million soundtracks, has re-imagined Vivaldi and the result is exquisite. Simultaneously fresh and faithful, I have been listening to it on repeat.
This video is a great entry point: Live from Berlin 2013, The first movement of Spring
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
One of my most frequent prayers is a prayer for wisdom. It feels silly how often my prayers resolve to this one request. But year by year life feels more complex and wisdom more pressing for managing a household, for friendships, for professional relationships, for parenting, for marriage. If wisdom can’t make life perfect, it will certainly make life less bad than it would be otherwise. A wise life will blunt the edge of the curse as much as we can hope for in this fallen world.
If you’ve ever heard any teaching on the book of Proverbs, you’ve probably been directed toward chapter 1 verse 7 and taught that the fear of the LORD holds the key to wisdom (cf. 9:10). This verse is something like a thesis statement for the book. The phrase fear of the LORD occurs fifteen times in Proverbs, especially at significant turning points (Prov 1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 31:30). So what is this enigmatic phrase driving at?
This idea is a transplant, part of Proverbs’ project of rooting wisdom in God’s covenant with Israel. Consider Psalm 19:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
As you read this list, your might think that one of these things is not like the others. After all, law, statues, precepts, commands, and decrees, are clearly synonyms, while fear is not. Something happens to fear when it is joined to the LORD. I’ve heard Bruce Waltke reflect that in the same way that a butterfly has nothing to do with butter and flies, the fear of the LORD is more than the sum of its parts. Psalm 19 sets the fear of the LORD alongside all these terms as an equal (Psalm 111 is also worth looking at). Within the book of Proverbs the fear of the LORD is defined as the hatred of evil (8:13), a fountain of life (14:27), and instruction in wisdom (15:33).
Now consider Deuteronomy 6:1–5. This passage is the lead up to the Shema (Deut 6:4–5), the most sacred confession of Judaism and the heart of the covenant with the LORD. Jesus himself directs us toward this text as the greatest commandment and the fulfillment of the entirety of the law (Matt 22:37–40; Mark 12:29–30).
1 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules —that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, 2 that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Here at the height of the covenant, fearing the LORD is shown to mean keeping his commandments and these are summed up in the confession that (1) the LORD is unique and (2) that we uniquely love him. It is inconceivable to me that any author of Proverbs could write or read 1:7 without thinking of Deut 6:1–5.
Without reference to Proverbs, I came across the most beautiful exposition of all this in Calvin a few weeks back:
To begin with, the believing heart does not haphazardly forge for itself some kind of god. Rather, it looks to him who is the true and only God. It does not ascribe to him whatever qualities it pleases but is content to take him as he shows himself to be; it is always careful not to depart from God’s will through headstrong pride. Knowing him thus, and understanding that he governs all things by his providence, it confidently accepts him as guardian and protector, and therefore entrusts itself to his keeping, since it knows him to be the author of all that is good. If beset by pressing need, it at once falls back on him for help, and after calling on him by name it awaits his aid, for it is persuaded that he is both generous and kind. It relies with assurance on his compassion, never doubting that for every distress there is a remedy furnished by his mercy. …
That is what is meant by pure and true religion—namely faith, joined with unfeigned fear of God, the word ‘fear’ comprising both love for the righteousness which God has commanded in his law, and reverence, freely and wholeheartedly given, for his majesty.
Love + reverence before the character of God = fear of the LORD. Can you even imagine what your life would look like if you lived it this way? What I love about the book of Proverbs is that it takes this weighty covenant relationship and brings it down to the level of common life. It applies the law to our finances, relationships, attitudes, and emotions. This amounts to a stance of humble dependence and trust before our LORD (Prov 15:33; 22:4). Wisdom is not a life hack, it is a relationship. If you want wisdom you must simply press into the character of God.
As Christians, pressing into God’s character calls us to life with Christ. Is it any wonder then that Jesus himself is characterized by the fear of the LORD, by wisdom? (Isa 11:1–5; Col 2:3; 1 Cor 1:30). If you resolve each day to move toward your savior in faith and obedience, you are moving toward wisdom.
Perhaps praying for wisdom is not such a bad way to practice the fear of the LORD (James 1:5, 17).
LORD, do not give us human wisdom, that sacrifices greater goods for worldly gain. Give us yourself that we might know what it is to fear the living God. Lead us in true wisdom that we might walk in faithfulness and security.
7th century BC, 7.5 cm circumference, a sand glass bowl made in Syria, taken to Italy by the Phoenicians. This is the era of King Josiah. Incredible. Isn’t it gorgeous?
- Praise God with us for Willa Eve’s safe and healthy arrival.
- Pray that we would have wisdom and patience to parent two little girls under two.
- Pray that Rue and Willa would grow up to be dear friends, that they would get along and be a support and encouragement to one another.
- Pray that, despite everything, I would make steady progress on writing my thesis and grow as an interpreter and teacher of Scripture.
- Bruce Waltke’s insight on butterflies is in his commentary: The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1–15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004) 100.
- Calvin quote/translation is from Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 Edition, translated by Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014) 8–9.
- I found the Syrian bowl in Sabatino Moscati, The Phoenicians (New York: Abbeville, 1989) 491.