1st April 2011
WHAT DOES ‘AMEN' MEAN?
Amen is a strong and fascinating word. From the original Hebrew language it has been transliterated, keeping the same letters and sound in Greek, English and other languages. It springs from a root word meaning ‘to be'. We could render it ‘so be it'... ‘so it is'... or ‘so it will be.' Colloquially we could say, ‘That goes for me too!'
It is our human response to God, in the expectation of an answer to our prayer. It goes back thousands of years to when the Israelites worshipped in the wilderness and later when they responded to the priests who led them in praise and prayer. Responsive Amens come twelve times in Deuteronomy 27. Note in Jeremiah 11:5 how the prophet responded to God's command: ‘Amen', Lord'. Jesus often said it, translated in the KJV as ‘Verily'. In John's Gospel it is doubled stressing his authority: ‘Verily, verily'. He was actually saying ‘Amen, amen!' The RSV renders it ‘Truly, truly' and the NIV as ‘I tell you the truth.' In II Cors 1:20 Amen stresses the authoritative promises of God in Christ, and in Rev 3:14 Jesus himself is called ‘the Amen'.
The Psalms often express it twice, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen' (Psalm 41:13, also in 72:19 and 89:52). When David brought up the ark to Jerusalem he appointed a psalm of thanks to the Lord to be sung to the Lord by the choirmaster Asaph and his associates, after which, ‘All the people said ‘Amen' and ‘Praise the Lord'.' (I Chronicles 16:7-36).
Nehemiah met enemy opposition in his rebuilding programme and then faced disturbing unrest among the builders, needing firm and courageous handling. With strong leadership, he handled it wisely, telling them what they should do. The successful result in Nehemiah 5:3 was that, ‘The whole assembly said ‘Amen' and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.' What a lovely model for responding to God's word when settling frictions and disputes in churches today! In congregations long ago a hearty ‘Amen' or a ‘Hallelujah' was often expressed during the preacher's prayers and sermon.
See how Ezra, on a specially built wooden platform for the open-air convention, opened and read from the Book of the Law (Nehemiah 8:1-8). Notice the exact responses as a fine model for hearing and obeying God's Word today:
‘All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law and stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted up their hands and responded ‘Amen! Amen!' They bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. The Levites instructed the people; they read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand.' (My italics).
Amen expresses agreement with a doxology or benediction, and as an accepted part of synagogue worship it passed into the life of the early church. Paul used it to end letters, and then others copied it. Mostly used by an individual, but also by people together.
One author, whom I once noted but cannot recall, wrote, ‘The word Amen is the rivetting of a nail to make it firm, the sealing of a document to render it valid, the endorsing of a cheque to make it current and the addition of an oath to confirm a promise.' Do you really mean your personal Amen when ending the Lord's Prayer with that extra doxology of worship and praise to God, ‘Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen'? Maybe today's preachers and worship leaders could invite congregations to respond to their prayers with a strong, united Amen!
Rev. Perry Smith, Belmont, NSW