Is seeking God best achieved by actions or by words? Perhaps the best answer to that is, Yes.
Nearly every English translation uses one English word for two Hebrew words in Psalm 105:4. For example, the publishers of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) boldly describe it as "the most literal" English translation of the Bible. It translates Psalm 105:4 as,
"Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually."
But when the psalmist wrote that, he used two different Hebrew words that we translate "seek." Only the recently translated Common English Bible (CEB) seems to note this, as it translates Psalm 105:4 as,
"Pursue the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."
In the first half of the verse, the Hebrew word is daras, which means to tread or to beat a path; to frequent or to follow; to "pursue" (CEB). In the second half of the verse, the Hebrew word is baqas, which means to search out or to strive after; to ask or inquire; to "seek."
Perhaps the psalmist chose two different words on purpose. Imagine that! A writer actually caring about the words chosen to express what he or she is thinking. The two words put together in this verse give us a picture of running after God as we cry out to God; of exerting ourselves to get to the place of prayer while expressing ourselves in the practice of prayer.
As the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek the LORD and His strength," perhaps he was thinking of an ongoing pursuit. To "beat a path," or to "frequent" a favourite place speaks of an action that's repeated and persistent. For example, there's a used bookstore that I have frequented so often that the owner greets me by name, and knows the kind of books I look for. And in my life with Jesus, I want my relationship with him to be defined as an ongoing pursuit, not an occasional visit. If I really want to walk closely with Jesus, and truly want to live by his strength, I'll be sure to beat a path to his door every day!
But as the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek His face continually," it seems he was thinking of a search that may not be so easy. To "search out or to strive after" or to "ask or inquire" suggests that sometimes God is not so easy to find amidst our circumstances. Sometimes God seems hidden. Sometimes his face seems behind a cloud of troubles we're struggling with. That's not rare, and the psalmist goes on in Psalm 105 to share examples of instances in Israel's history when God may not have been so easy to find. He writes of famine (v.16) and of oppression (v. 25), and gives God the credit for causing those troubles. Anybody who says that God only calms storms, but never causes them hasn't read of the God who "called for a famine upon the land" (v.16), or elsewhere, where we're told that "He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted the waves of the sea" (Ps. 107:25). But in Psalm 105, before the writer mentions any such troubles, he urged his readers to search hard for the face of God, and to ask him to reveal himself.
Both of these words are a help to me. I want my life to be characterized by a running after God, beating a trail to be in his presence, and to be frequently found waiting in his presence, eager to receive the strength he gives to those who wait for him (Isaiah 40:31). And I don't want troubles in my life to hinder me from calling out to him as I strive to find him in such circumstances. I want to urgently inquire after him in prayer and Bible study as I search for him until we're face to face amidst life's challenges, so that I can learn what he wants to teach me in those times.
That's why I think both Hebrew words are truly important in this psalm. And it's why seeking God is best achieved by both our actions and our words.
© 2023 Ken Peters