A Study of the Hebrew Word Musar
By Kyle Pope
The book of Proverbs begins with the stated objective—“To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding” (1:2, NKJV). The word translated “instruction” in this text is the Hebrew word מוּסָר musar. This word holds special significance that is valuable for us to understand.
Derived from the verb יָסַר yasar meaning to “discipline, chasten, instruct,” which is also represented in Ugaritic by the cognate verb ysr of the same meaning (TWOT, I, 386-387), musar can refer to punishment, training, or education. In the Old Testament, musar is first used in the second reading of the Law, when the Lord speaks of the Israelites as having seen the “chastening (musar) of the Lord your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 11:2, NKJV). Here it is described as something that they could witness. The next verses list three things that were a part of this “chastening”: 1. God’s rescue of the people by the signs in Egypt and the destruction of Pharoah’s army (11:3,4); 2. God’s treatment of the people in the desert (11:5); and 3. The punishment of the sons of Korah (11:6). From this example we learn that musar was both corrective and instructive.
Musar is communicated in various ways. When one is punished for wrong doing it is musar (Proverbs 7:22). It is something that can be taught in words—“My son, hear the instruction (musar) of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8). Musar can be learned by observing circumstances that surround a person. In the book of Proverbs the writer looks at the rundown home of one whom he passes and learns the value of work (Proverbs 24:30-34). This education from one’s own observation is “receiving musar” (Proverbs 24:32). This is not the idea of letting “nature be your guide.” Rather, the one who heeds the revelation of God may see in the circumstances and consequences of life the wisdom of God’s revelation.
Musar must be “received” and not rejected if it is to be of benefit (Proverbs 1:3; 8:10; 19:20; Jeremiah 5:3; 17:23; 32:33; 35:13; Zephaniah 3:7). We are urged not to despise musar (Job 5:17); the wicked hate musar and cast the words of the Lord far from them (Psalm 50:16,17). Fools despise musar (Proverbs 1:7). The book of Proverbs personifies musar charging the reader to—“take firm hold of instruction, (musar) do not let go; keep her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:13). The “reproofs” of musar are “the
way of life” (Proverbs 6:23).
While human beings can teach musar it is primarily something we learn from God. Jeremiah shows us that a benefit of a living God (in contrast to an idol) is the musar He offers. Jeremiah points out that—“A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine (musar).” (Jeremiah 10:8). The New American Standard calls this “the discipline (musar) of delusion.”
Jesus is offered as musar. In the beautiful and yet heartbreaking prophecy in the book of Isaiah that tells us about the suffering Messiah we see Jesus as musar.The text reads—“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement (musar) for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” (53:5). This tells us more than simply that Jesus suffered a representative measure of the punishment we deserved—Jesus was the instruction (musar) that we must receive. Looking to His suffering should teach us the seriousness of sin and its penalty. This instruction (musar), if accepted can bring us peace with God and spiritual healing.