What is Iniquity?
Roy Blizzard III © 2014
18 If I had regarded iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear;
19 But verily God hath heard; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.
In the last few weeks we have looked at how Jesus thought about Forgiveness, Faith, Hope and Grace. Today we are going to investigate the concept of Iniquity; What is it? Do we somehow “catch” it? What difference does it make if we have iniquity in our lives? Is it the same thing as Sin? And ultimately what do we do to get rid of it?
So just what is iniquity? Well, there are several different words used in Hebrew all translated as Iniquity, but today we are only going to look at one in particular. Here in Psalms 66 iniquity is the English word used to translate the Hebrew word אָוֶן – Ahvehn. The usual basis for this particular concept is from an unused root perhaps meaning to pant, hence, to exert oneself, usually in vain Sorrow, Troubles, or some sort of Wickedness and is even translated idolatry. But, is this really the right way to look at iniquity?
In Genesis 35:18, in the story about Jacob and Rachel, we have an inference to what the word really means. 18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing–for she died–that she called his name Ben-oni- usually thought of as “Son of Sorrows”; but his father called him Benjamin – “Son of the Right hand”.
The basis for this story is hardly understood, but is critical to our understanding or our relationship to God and our fellow man and ultimately for our own sakes. Here is an example of a Biblical Matriarch, Rachel, a so called Godly woman, a person who regarded herself as a servant of God, who experienced a blot of pagan perception in her walk with God. She tries to influence the heavenly systems by means of her actions by praying, not out of submission to God, but rather for the purpose of having some effect on God’s ways. Rachel performed meritorious acts, but not because God desired them, but because Rachel desired to attain her objectives. Does this sound familiar?
Rachel, from what we read in the Bible, believed in God and not in pagan deities, but her faith was not whole and perfect. She appears to have had a mechanistic, pagan approach to God’s reign over her world. In other words, she related to God and the spiritual phenomena around her in purely physical or deterministic terms, such that she thought that she was able to create circumstances for every event in her life, including other people’s actions, by creating conditions that could cause no other course of event. Now what does this sound like? Let me repeat it for you. Rachel related to God and the spiritual phenomena around her in purely physical or deterministic terms such that she thought that she was able to create circumstances for every event in her life, including other people’s actions, by creating conditions that could cause no other course of event. Is this what many pastors and teacher teach? Is this what we experience in our own lives?
How can one create such circumstances in our lives? Let’s look at the Bible for an answer. The Bible lists numerous prohibitions concerning such acts that try to self-create circumstances in our lives. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 the Bible forbids consulting diviners, soothsayers, wizards, etc., much like King Saul did. 9) When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10) There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11) Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12) For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. 13) Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. 14) For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
What was King Saul after when he consulted the witch of Endor? Information that he hoped would allow him a victory over his enemies. So we see King Saul, who was supposed to be a Godly man, go to a chief ungodly woman, to consult with a demon how to overcome an earthly battle that was spiritual in nature. Sounds like what many people do today, doesn’t it?
Let’s get back to Rachel and see if we can determine with a bit more clarity what this iniquity thing is because it seems that Rachel, our matriarch, stumbled by way of this problem before ultimately repenting over it.
Rachael first names her child Ben Oni with the meaning of the name apparently related to the tragic circumstances of the birth. In general, Biblical studies extol the belief that this word meant “The son of my Sorrow” in Aramaic. But, here is an important point for us to consider, since the names of all of Jacob’s other children are in Hebrew how can there be one with an Aramaic name? Herein lays the problem and it has kept us blind to iniquity.
I think we need to understand the name as being derived from the Hebrew word aven – אָוֶן, with the meaning of vanity, or falsehood. “Aven,” for us then is related to the word “ein – אַיּן” which denotes some type of negation. If we do this then we see that this word is used specifically with reference to the meaninglessness of Terafim. I know that everyone here is absolutely aware of what Terafim are, but for those that don’t, Terafim are the primitive Semitic house-gods whose purpose was evidently that of divination by some sort of oracular means so to assist in the events of one’s lives.
In Zechariah 10:2 we read “For Terafim have spoken falsehood, and the wizards have foretold lies, and the dreams tell falsehood; they comfort vain”. Likewise in 1 Samuel 15:23 we read “Rebellion is like the transgression of witchcraft, and stubbornness is like falsehood and Terafim”. Could it be that Rachel understood that her suffering and her death in childbirth were a result of her sin concerning the Terafim in particular, and her vanity and falsehood of her attempts to influence God and the heavenly system in general by way of her magical divinations?
Rachel voiced this understanding of her shortcomings, found by us within the name that she gave to her son and thereby expressed her regret for her actions and accepted her Divine Justice. Even though she had repented, she still needed atonement and within her mind she expressed her sorrow in her son’s name “The son of my vanity” or the “Son of my Futility” in thinking that she was capable of manipulating God.
Interestingly there is another passage for us to compare this concept with and that is found in 1Samuel 4:19:-22, where we read about the death of the wife of Pinchas, son of Eli. At the time of her death giving birth to a son while experiencing a difficult childbirth, she names the child as she dies. Here, too, the name – Ichabod – inglorious or no glory, is associated with sin and punishment, but in this case it was not her own punishment, but rather the punishment of Israel. Here again we discover that the sin in this instance was treating the Ark of the Covenant as some magical box that would allow them to attain victory in war and so it is thematically related to the sin of Rachel.
So how was all this “iniquity” corrected? Let’s look at Jacob’s intention in naming his son “Benjamin”. “Yamin” literally means “right”, but it implies an oath or vow because a person vows by his right hand. So the name Benyamin then means “son of the right hand” – or “son of the oath.” This refers back to Jacob’s oath at the beginning of this story in Genesis 28:20-22 where he vows, “…If God will be with me, and guard me on this way that I go, and give me bread to eat and a garment to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, Then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone which I have set as a monument shall be God’s house, and all that You will give me I shall surely tithe for You.”
Jacob, in re-naming his son, appears to understand that if he had not set a negative educational example for his family by means of this vow in Genesis 28, by trying to gain assistance from the heavenly system so that he could obtain beneficial ends from Divine Providence, Rachel would have never considered bringing sorcery from her home in which she had grown up into Jacob’s home. Because of this knowledge, he accepts his Godly educational responsibility for Rachel’s sin and her punishment that is meted out due to it.
So now do you see how trying to manipulate God without truly knowing what God’s will really is, is called Iniquity. This is where we have failed in our study of God and his nature and how we relate to God. If we are busy worshipping God out of fear, how are we ever going to really know the mind of God? How are we ever going to go to God in prayer and earnestly beseech him without trying to manipulate Him into doing OUR will and not His will?
That seems a bit strange to us doesn’t it. Haven’t we been trained to ask God for everything? Yes, Yes we have, but we never considered it to be iniquity have we?
What did Psalms 66 say? “18 If I had regarded iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear”. Let me translate it this way, “If I had determined to seek out my will in the situation by some other ungodly means, the Lord would not hear or obey my request.”
When we regard a situation in our minds and heart without fulfilling God’s purpose God considers it Iniquity since we set ourselves up to be God. We can’t catch Iniquity from someone else. Iniquity is a type of sin since we are definitely missing the mark of Righteousness, but it is not the only type of sin in the Hebrew mindset. However, this is a huge problem for the world today since we are bombarded with the concepts of just telling God what you want and He has to do our bidding. WRONG. This is Iniquity.
It is against this backdrop of understanding that Jacob’s re-naming his son should be understood and a simple question asked, “Why must Jacob set up a monument twice, and why must he twice name the place Beit El? Jacob, when he makes his early vow, does not make his faith in God, or his acceptance of the yoke of His Kingship, conditional with regard to fulfilment of God’s explicit commands. What Jacob does is make a conditional vow. He chooses an active involvement in a close relationship with God with a commitment having a deeply rooted sense of being a servant of God, and a constant awareness of his connection with God. Jacob also lays out some practical expressions of his active involvement as being conditional, such as turning the monument Beit El into “God’s house” and tithing his income for God: “The Lord shall be my god, and this stone which I have set as a monument shall be God’s house, and all that You will give me, I shall tithe for You.”
Apparently, Jacob had to repeat the act of setting up the monument and naming the place because the first time around it was not done properly. Jacob had to correct his first errors by doing them over again, but this time in the proper way. Why? Because he made a “deal” with God, as it were, concerning Divine service of God’s protection and his own safe return, which is improper.
A person who has the opportunity to serve God must do so willingly and wholeheartedly without using the opportunity as a means of obtaining a desirable outcome of Divine Providence through deal making. Just let me win the Lotto Lord and I’ll tithe my 10%. In other words, we don’t seek God’s favour by using some special prayer as if it were some sort of Talisman. Remember the “Prayer of Jabez”. Look at Jacob’s vow, “All that You will give me, I shall surely tithe for You”, this simply cannot be fulfilled without God giving him something to tithe. Just making the place into “God’s house” by worshipping Him is an act that is appropriate and proper and there is no justification for using this occasion and opportunity as a tool for obtaining favors from God.
Because of this “deal”, Jacob had to renew the identity of the site as a place of the Divine Presence, after already having built an altar there and worshipping God. Jacob turns the place from one where Divine service is used to fulfil one’s own needs, to a place where Divine service is a clear, unconditional, given state of existence, and where Divine service leads to God’s revelation and His blessing. By doing this Jacob shows his recognition that existing within God must be the basis for a relationship with the Divine Presence, rather than a later result that is conditional upon such a relationship. Jacob understood that his second revelation of how God interacts with man gave him a second chance, an opportunity to correct his previous actions, and he took advantage of it. This is what the Jews call Teshuva, or a correcting of one’s previous behavior.
Should we now worry that we are to suffer like Rachel because of our deal making with God? No, we are not to worry, we are to simply repent and stop the behavior and learn to exist within God’s existence. But remember Psalms 66:18, if you do this deal making God will not hear your prayers. Satan might though and act to destroy your walk with God.
God extends to you a personal invitation to seek Him and call upon His Name. This is not a demand to stand before Him in judgment, but to receive His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness. The LORD stands at the door and knocks for you to open the door. Rev. 3:20. What holds us back? It is our shame, but it is precisely this great wound that can only be healed by God’s love.
As believers, we journey toward humility in a faithful walk with our God and Father rather than struggle for perfection; we confess our need for forgiveness and seek reconciliation with all those we might have harmed and thereby God extends his loyalty, His Grace towards us. As we turn and draw near to God for life within God’s Hope – God’s salvation, then God turns and draws near to the brokenhearted for consolation and sends us his Holy Spirit to comfort us and empower us. As it is said, the Lord is near to the one with a broken and crushed heart – Psalm 51:17.