The very word “ONOMATOPOEIA” can trigger an instant, mental knee-jerk reaction: “I don’t want to see it, read it, nor attempt to speak it out. It’s too big a word, too long, too weird. Too many vowels in a row. Whatever.
Ironically, the definition of that word is all about sounds and speech, and their meaning. First, let’s get past the pronunciation challenge: “ON-O, MOTT-O, PEE-UH”. There you go. It wasn’t that difficult.
Onomatopoeia is a long word to describe other words that SOUND like what they are:
BUZZ, ZIPPER, HICCUP. CRUNCH. You get it. It sounds like what it is. Now we can get on to GILGAL.
Gilgal is first mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30, it being cited as the destination for the children of Israel to enter the Promised Land. Joshua 4:19 then confirms that Gilgal indeed was the place where Israel entered. It is rather a miraculous story, involving a supernatural parting of the waters not unlike the prior parting of the Red Sea many years earlier, as Israel was being chased by the Egyptian army.
Regarding the Jordan parting:
14 So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people,
15 and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest),
16 that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
17 Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.
The Lord (in Joshua 4) then commanded the Israelites to take twelve large stones (one per tribe) and stack them as a memorial (“cairn”) that would prompt later generations to inquire as to why they were stacked. This would then incite memorial conversations to recount the greatness of the deeds of God in making a way for the people to enter in. And they entered in to a place called Gilgal. That is where the stone memorial was erected.
Gilgal in Hebrew means “a wheel, or rolling”. As you can see, it is a Hebraic onomatopoeia – sounding like a wheel rolling, but not a perfectly smooth wheel rolling, because then one would be inclined to think the place should have been called Gil-Gil, or Gal-Gal, mimicking a smoother rolling, uninterrupted cycle. Instead, we have two sounds, one a little different from the other, almost pointing to a less than perfectly smooth road, or perhaps the differentiation in sounds is due to a hand-made wheel a little out of round. Whichever may be responsible for the GAL sound after the GIL, somehow I have found encouragement in the implication that the journey the Lord has His people on is not necessarily a smooth road. Mine sure hasn’t been.
There seems to be something in the human psyche that longs for the smooth things, the easier high-speed route, the predictable, the methodical, the uninterrupted.
Meanwhile we find ourselves in a fluid, living relationship with a God Who, unlike carved images that will look like how they looked years ago when they were first carved, is described by His Son as a Spirit (or wind):
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Our religious inclinations seem to bend towards formality and process. Predictability. We want it the same all the time. No surprises, please.
To their detriment and eventual destruction, when the prophets of the Old Testament, in obedience spoke tough words to the wayward people, the masses sadly responded and sought out prophets who would tell them “smooth things” (Isa 30:10). They were willing to forsake the bumpy road of righteousness, requiring humbling and always inconvenient repentance and turning, in favor of the uninterrupted broad highway of convenience and pleasure.
To lesser jeopardy, but nonetheless also sadly offline with the higher plans of the Kingdom, Tevye the patriarch (“Fiddler On The Roof”) explained much of the what the Jews followed and embraced in Tsarist Russia by singing that now-famous song, “Tradition!”. Biblical accuracy stood in jeopardy of being trumped by how they’d done it in the past. A formula for trouble. Relationship arthritically morphing into religious protocol.
Traditions are great. Memorials and commemorations are totally wonderful. But it appears, both biblically and experientially, that our great God, Who indeed loves process, order, planning and methodology, also speaks clearly to our spiritual adventure into the unexpected and the inconvenient:
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
The pilgrimage of God is guaranteed to take us into unknown and even uncomfortable realms. It is in these places, when the Gil and the Gal seem to take us to our limits of unpredictability, that faith finds its proper home – where we realize we are invited to a place of intimacy with the Comforter, as opposed to a place of comfort. It is that place we are being called into, where we can say as the psalmist says in psalm 116:
“I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord”.
Whatever the will of God is for my life, I want and accept that will.
Peter went so far as to tell us that when we find ourselves in tough situations, we would do well to not explain to God how He ought to be handling our deliverance, but instead committing our souls to Him, recognizing His ongoing creative nature:
1 Pet 4:19
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
I believe His Kingdom coming is Gilgal – a bumpy road. Church progress will be Gilgal. Our personal progress will be Gilgal. Relationships. Communications. All of it. But it will be good. He will be glorified in our trusting while not knowing the HOW or the WHEN of His deliverance. We find ourselves in faith.
Meanwhile The Faithful One promises He will not leave us nor forsake us. And we are admonished and invited to not leave nor forsake Him.
9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus, our High Priest, walked His own Gilgal and can fully relate to ours.
I believe part of the work of our relentless enemy, the Accuser, is to falsely present to us a counterfeit, smooth gospel – in fact, a gospel so smooth and easy that when the reality of God invades our life we can, if not biblically founded, become susceptible to discouragement, complaint, and even anger. That is why the writer of Hebrews clearly points us to the supernatural and proactive work of the Word of God to keep us centered on the King and the Kingdom, so that we do not fall prey to misconceptions and complaint.
What a great plan. What a great God.
Gilgal to you, pilgrim.
Another bump. Another step closer to our destination.
There remains a rest for the people of God.