Doesn't Have the Same Ring to It

A phrase sometimes used for heaven in popular Christian music is "Beulah land." Upon hearing a song sung a few weeks ago that used this term, I did a quick search for "Beulah" in the ESV on my Pocket PC. Imagine my surprise when the search returned no hits! Confused, I tried my search again in the King James and found Isaiah 62:4. I returned to the ESV to try to figure out what was wrong with a translation that would leave out "Beulah land"!

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

Again, speaking of the restoration of national Israel, God promises his people that they will no longer be called "Forsaken" (Hebrew, azubah), as in an unmarried and unloved woman. Instead, she would be called "My Delight is in Her" (Hebrew, hephzibah). Israel's land (key to these promises, as I noted in a previous post) would no longer be called "Desolate" (Hebrew, shemamah), but instead, it would be known as "Married" (Hebrew, beulah).

In other words, this verse points out with a dramatic comparison the coming judgment and future restoration of Israel and her land. Because of her sin, Israel was judged and "forsaken" by her God, and removed from her land, which God allowed to become desolate. Isaiah prophesies of a coming day of restoration when God would once again delight in his people and restore them to their land.

It is interesting that even the King James translates the second occurance of beulah as "married" ("thy land shall be married"). So why sing about "Beulah land" instead of heaven? I guess "heaven" just doesn't have the same ring to it.


Larry said…
In this and your other post on music (name written on his hands), I can't help but think you are being a bit harsh on the use of poetic images in music. While Beulah Land is not my favorite expression, I think it is a poetic form, perhaps not to be taken any other way. And in poetry (music), it seems useful to use poetic images.
Mark Perry said…
Larry, I can't help but think that you're misunderstanding my point. Just recently, you've taken people to task on your blog because they use scriptural terms in a way you feel is inconsistent with the scriptural context. Is this so much different?

My point is not that poetic imagery is wrong. Rather, my point is that just because a phrase occurs in the Bible does not mean it is sacred. To use a "poetic image" in a way foreign to the Scripture is misleading.

To use a transliteration of a Hebrew word to apply to something foreign to the context is not simply using poetic imagery. If "Married Land" carried the same significance as beulah, then I would have no problem using it (I think the Hebrew word hallelujah is a word whose meaning we all know, for example).

I was genuinely surprised not to find the word "beulah" in my Bible. I thought it was a "Bible word." It's just a Hebrew word that was transliterated one time in the verse and translated another time. Nothing sacred about that.

Is the picture of our names being written on God's hands a wonderful reminder of our security in Christ? Sure it is. But is that what Scripture is talking about? No.

Does it "seem useful to use poetic images" in music? Sure, I guess so. But if we are going to use images directly from Scripture, why not use them in the same way Scripture does? That's my point.
Larry said…
I didn't know Beulah wasn't in the Bible either, but I had never looked. I always knew (or at least thought) that Beulah Land was a term for heaven. I wonder if the term used in teh song was drawn for Isa. Or it is just become common language over time for heaven. It may be that over time, it became so common that no one associated with the Isa passage (especially since it isn't there in English). I don't know.

But anyway, sorry for misunderstanding your point
Mark Perry said…
Beulah is in the Bible. It's a Hebrew transliteration. The word means "married." The modern versions translate it both times in Isaiah 62:4, while the King James transliterates it once (beulah) and translates it the other time ("married"). Perhaps to single college students or something, "married land" might seem like heaven, I don't know.

The fact that you didn't even realize beulah meant something other than heaven makes my point perfectly. I'm all for "poetic language" and using biblical terminology in hymns and poetry. However, if we use those terms in ways that are completely devoid of their biblical significance, what is the profit?
Bruce McKanna said…
You'll probably be seeing some more traffic here since the blog linked to this post. Just a thought from a friendly New Covenant theology perspective, but is your dispensationalism keeping you from using the Old Testament analogously? If so, you're going to have to throw out any hymns that talk about our eternal state as the "Promised Land," such as "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" or "On Jordan's Stormy Banks." You'll also have to ditch those that refer to the eternal city (a place and a people) as "Zion," such as "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord," and "We're Marching to Zion."

But seriously, doesn't the Marriage Supper of the Lamb show that our eternal home with our Savior to be Beulah Land, the Place of Marriage? If so, I think the use of that imagery is perfectly appropriate. I think the problem you are seeing is that the rampant biblical illiteracy we face means that we no longer recognize these obscure allusions included in these songs.

By the way, I think this applies to your previous post, but my only concern there is that the name referred to by Isaiah is corporate, not individual. I have no problem seeing that the name of the people of God (and from where I stand in history, it includes both Jew and Gentile by faith in Christ) is written on the hands of the Savior (metaphorically to be sure, but literally in the scars...what powerful imagery), but it may be stretching it to think of it as my name personally. Though it does seem that individual names are written in the Book of Life, so I may be straining at a gnat here. Now there's an example of using a biblical phrase apart from its context.

And, from a guy raised in Buckeye Land (almost heaven), Go Bucks!
Wayne Leman said…
Thanks for this good post, Mark. I have linked to it from a post on the Better Bibles Blog. Actual translation is usually better than transliteration and you make a good point for that in your post.
Mark Perry said…
Thanks for stopping by, Bruce. While I have no problem with using the Old Testament analogously or illustratively, my dispensational interpretation does incline me toward the original context and the intention of the author. As I was trying to explain to Larry above, the original context of Isaiah 62:4 does not even give a hint of “heaven.” However, I think you have captured my real point: the rampant biblical illiteracy we face today precludes most people from even realizing that this is a biblical allusion, much less knowing what the original context included.

Thanks for the kind words, Wayne.
Michele said…
Hi. This is an amazing story that happened to me. I had been feeling very bad lately because I had messed up with God so much. I felt like I've sinned so much, and I felt so lost and confused, and ashamed of myself. I prayed a long and heartfelt prayer, then at night I went to sleep. That night I had several dreams and in one of the dreams there is a man that has three sons. One of his sons (the eldest one) had a name that I thought to be either Beluah or Beulah. I didn't completely remember. Then, later on in the morning I had gone to church to attend a Senior Adult Revival (I am young, but all ages could come so I did). There is a group singing there by the name of the Shiloh Quartet. They were singing songs and sometimes they asked us to stand up and sing out of the Hymnal. We did that a couple of times. After the second time, and after we finished the song, Steve from the Shiloh Quartet suddenly asked us to start singing the chorus of a song. He started singing it. I didn't know what he was singing, but I was trying to go along with it. Then, he sung (along with everyone else that knows the song) "In Beulah Land, Sweet Beulah land" and it automatically hit me that is the name of the person in my dream. I immediately knew that this happened for a reason. It wasn't a coincidence (I don't believe in coincidences). I thought about the lyrics and I immediately knew that God was trying to tell me something. And I felt better. I felt like God is trying to tell me that I'm not lost and he hasn't forsaken me. I know that I've messed up a lot, but it's similar to how Israel messed up a lot but God never forgot her. He is still with Her and He is still with me.