My favorite novel is John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden. East of Eden wrestles with questions of human nature, and good and evil. Are we born good or evil, or are good and evil choices?
These questions find an answer in the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Cain is outraged that God preferred his brother’s offering to his own. In Genesis 4:6-7, God warns Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (NIV)
“You must rule over it.”
Other translations say it differently…
“Do thou rule over it.” (ASV)
“Thou shalt rule over him.” (KJV)
“You must subdue it and be its master.” (NLT)
“Do thou,” “Thou shalt,” and “You must” are translations of the Hebrew word “timshel.” Here’s where the genius of East of Eden shines…
“The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
There are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
Think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.
Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.”
“Thou mayest” or, simply, “You may.”
Timshel means we have a choice. In every aspect of our lives, we have choices. WE CHOOSE!
Will our choices serve ourselves or others? Will our choices bless others or curse others? What will the impact of our choices be on the world? Are our choices God honoring, or not? Regardless of how we answer these questions, our choices are our own. And, the responsibility for my choices lies on me.
Timshel is both a gift and a responsibility. I get to choose how I will use my day, who I will spend my day with, what I will accomplish, or not. I choose. But, I am also responsible for those choices. Were they godly choices? Were they wise? Were they loving?
“Think of the glory of the choice.”
What will you choose today?