Steve Bostrom column: Out of the mouths of babes

Steve Bostrom column: Out of the mouths of babes

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After Jesus healed the blind and the lame (!!!), (Mt 21:15ff) “when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they became indignant saying to Him, "Do You hear what they are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?"

Jesus alludes to David’s Psalm 8:2 -- “By the mouth of babes and infants, you have founded a stronghold to silence the foe and the avenger.”

The Hebrew words behind “babes and infants” describe sucklings who can coo or caterwaul but not shout praise. Their sounds are incoherent. What foundation can God build from such frailty?

And more: “founded” = Hebrew: “yasad” – “establish, found, lay a foundation, build a fortress.” An expert builder told me that the essentials of a home were: first, the foundation, then the roof, the flow and light. How does God build a “strong” foundation with insubstantial utterances of babies?

Some baby blessings

Satisfied babies, the essence of cuteness, coo and charm. They open up new reservoirs of love. We nestle someone infinitely fascinating, imago Dei with 37.2 trillion cells – each cell stamped with its own inimitable DNA and intransigent gender. Imagine!

Our daughter, Rachel, has three children, including baby Charlotte. I asked Rachel: “What does being a mother mean to you?” Rachel thought for a while, then replied: “Being a mother has enriched me more than I could have known.” What a foundation!

And more: Nov. 9, 2019, Thaddeus Busbice, age 87, died. When I pastored in NC, I knew Thad and family. Born during the arduous Great Depression years, he was raised on a Louisiana family farm with seven brothers and sisters.

Seven! Friend, this was the Depression! How was their zest for life greater than ours?

Receiving his Ph.D. in Crop Science in 1965, Thad’s dissertation was a seminal work in the field of plant breeding: “Inbreeding depression and heterosis in autotetraploids with application to Medicago sativa L.” Thad’s ongoing research revolutionized alfalfa genetic research. What God and Thad accomplished!

Children can bring blessings! What a foundation!

But, cynical cultural eugenics have led to new austere birth rates. “One of the main reasons young respondents give for wanting fewer children (or none at all) was a desire for more leisure time. Increasingly in a culture habituated toward self-interest and sexual freedom, children are viewed as curses rather than blessings” (Breakpoint 11/14/19).

Counterintuitive baby powers – especially The Baby

Let’s be honest. What about dissatisfied babies: cranky – even choleric – overtired – mixing up night and day – producing stress hormones in themselves and us? Babies – especially sick or wounded babies - exhaust us.

Even so, God can lay a foundation of humility, faith, compassion and kinship. For example, my column, “Family Size:” “Our children, better than anyone else, teach us what sinners we are. Apparently, God knew I needed a lot of instruction.” “If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your neighbors, or the world you live in, or the Christian faith” (JI Packer, “God’s Words,” 71).

Friend, God and “infants” accomplish this range of life instruction “without a word” – “wow!”

“In” = “not capable of” + “fant” = “speech.” We marvel; the Word made Flesh became an “infant.” How far will God go to demonstrate his love for us?

In 1661, an anonymous American author considering Jesus’ birth wrote: “To teach us humility all this was done/We learn haughty pride and resentment to shun/A manger His cradle who came from above/The great God of mercy, of peace, and of love. Chorus: Now let us be merry, put sorrow away: Our Savior, Christ Jesus, was born on this day.” What a FOUNDATION!

God’s stronghold and singing

“Stronghold” is “oz” – “strength, might.” Over forty times the Psalmists SING of such ‘strength.’ In our culture, few sing for joy. Below are JOYFUL songs with “oz.” Let’s connect these songs with babies.

After the pursuing Egyptian army had been swallowed whole into the Red Sea, Moses SANG: “The LORD is my ‘strength’ and my song” (Ex 15:2). Somehow, babies lay this foundation - inarticulately admonishing us to sing along heartily.

Before the 40-year journey across the wilderness, Moses sang: LORD, “in your ‘strength’ you will guide them” (Ex 15:13). Like Moses, little ones prompt us during mid-night lullabies to believe: “God’s strength will guide us too.”

Deborah’s battle song recounts unexpected victory against the mighty kings of Canaan. She urges herself on: “March on, my soul; be ‘strong’” (Jud. 5:21). Babes can rally us against mighty obstacles.

Hannah sang: “The LORD will judge the ends of the earth, giving ‘strength’ to his king” (1 Sam 2:10). Babies motivate us cry out to God for justice.

David sang: “Look to the LORD and his ‘strength’… ‘strength’ and joy are in his dwelling place, ascribe to the LORD glory and ‘strength’” (1 Chron. 16:11, 27, 28). Likewise, children help us repeatedly deeply scrutinize God’s strength.

More to life than we know

Tie together David’s Psalm 8 with his Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims his handiwork.” One translation continues: “They have no speech, there are no words.” Still, night-sky photographer Lane glows with awe about our universe. “Drive away from town light. Look up. You may see something that will forever change your life.” Or hold a baby. Like stars, the mouths of babes chant God’s glory. He’s orchestrating stars and babes in his purposes.

Mystery! “In our children, we venture something beyond our control” (“The Gift of Children,” First Things, 11/19). Does God have such a gift in your future? Can we hear God calling: “Adopt,” “Foster,” “Be fruitful and multiply?”

Mystery of mysteries! God sent his Son as an inarticulate baby -- our FOUNDATION -- the STRONGHOLD of our children and our children’s children -- against the foe and avenger.

This is the first of six columns based on Scriptures where astonished Jesus asked: “Have you never read?” 

Steve Bostrom, descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, father-in-law of seven, and grandfather of 13, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. He is ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America. To contact him, email: stevebostrom@gmail.com.

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