You see, I was privileged to grow up on a farm down in Georgia. It was not necessarily a large farm. We had around fifty acres altogether. My grandfather actually owned three such farms. He also managed two or three other farms of a friend of his, a physician from up in Atlanta who owned several huge tracts of land down in Fayette County.
Thus, our little farm was surrounded by numerous other ones. So, as far as the eye could see, it was as if one was living in the middle of nothing but farms.
Now, when I say farm, I do not mean cropland. Mostly, we were into what is more properly called “animal husbandry”. This is the technical term for the farming of domestic animals. Dictionary.com defines it has “the cultivation and production of edible crops or of animals for food”.
And that is exactly what a lot of people did where I grew up. We all had large vegetable gardens, to be sure. Although some sold their excess produce at roadside stands or at the farmer’s market, these were essentially for personal consumption. However, most everyone raised swine and cattle, or “hawgs and beef” as we called them, for purposes of sale and income.
To support this, there was far more land under pasture than actual cultivation. Pastures provided summer sustenance and winter hay for the animals. The one large crop that was cultivated was usually corn; but that was mostly used to feed pigs and cows.
Because of this, large herds of cows were abundant and ubiquitous. At any given time, my extended family may have had a couple hundred cows and around one hundred hogs. These numbers varied as my grandfather and father constantly bought and sold animals at auction.
Now, cows are what are known as ruminants. This means they have multi-chambered stomachs – four compartments to be exact.* By comparison, we humans only have one chamber in our stomachs. When we swallow our food, we desire for it to go down and stay down. If it does come back up, we get indigestion, and that is usually quite unpleasant.
But this is not the case for cattle. Their digestion process is designed to take place in stages. Hence, food is often swallowed and stored in the first chamber of their stomach, only to be regurgitated and then re-chewed later. In short, when a cow is ruminating, it is in the process of chewing food that has already been grazed and swallowed before. And apparently, they love it!
This, then, is the origin of the phrase “chewing the cud”. It is often seen as cattle lie down and continue chewing constantly for extended period of time, even though they are not actually grazing anything at the time.
I share all of this because of what is said to us in chapter one of the Old Testament book of Joshua. Here, the reins of leadership among the Israelites are being passed from Moses to Joshua. In the process of charging His new servant leader, God tells Joshua (1:8): “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
God used two key verbs here. The first, “keep”, is the Hebrew word “yā-mūš”, with the negative “lō-“ in front. This translates as “not do depart”. God obviously wanted Joshua to retain a knowledge of His Word. But He also wanted him to abide by what that Word commanded. Thus, Joshua is told to “do” everything written in it.
The second key verb God used was “wə-hā-ḡî-ṯā”, which translates as “you shall meditate”. It comes from a root word meaning “to muse”. This word has the context of reflection and meditation, to be sure. But it involves more than these things. It implies that the reflection and meditation is allowed to show forth in inspiration, and then into motivation to action. Again, this leads to God’s admonition to Joshua to “do” what is written in His Word.
So, what is God saying? Simply that, as His servants, we must retain an essential knowledge of God’s word. We must keep it with us, reflect upon it often, and let it inspire and motivate us to action as a result.
All of which raises questions for you and me. How often do you and I consume, or take in, God’s word? Rarely? Infrequently? Frequently? Weekly? Daily? Do we make it a point to attend regular weekly worship and hear God's Word proclaimed? Do we seek involvement in regular corporate Bible Study? Do we practice regular private Biblical devotions? Certainly we should, and hopefully we do.
And yet, as commendable as all of this may be, is it enough? According to Joshua 1:8, perhaps not. Perhaps God expects even more than a mere regular consumption of His Word? The real question thus becomes whether or not we go beyond this and actually continue to muse upon God’s Word. Do we take it in and then just let it pass? Or do we take it in, hold it, bring it back up, ruminate upon it, and let it inspire and motivate us afresh and anew?
The next time you drive by a cow pasture and see cattle blissfully chewing their cud, remember the admonition of God’s Word. For you and I may not have a four chambered stomach; but we do have a soul. And that portion of our being cannot be nurtured by anything but the truth of God’s Word. Even now, perhaps, it is yearning for sustenance. May it not go hungry!
*SOURCES: http://www.reference.com/motif/health/how-many-stomachs-does-a-cow-have. Also, an excellent blog on this subject has been written and can be found posted online at: http://holdingtotruth.com/2013/12/01/meditate-muse-gods-wo
rd/. Lastly, www.biblehub.com is an excellent source for Bible study, including helpful Greek and Hebrew language and word study tools.