You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it
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Why does God forbid this? Because the Maker of words; the Word Himself; the Author, needs no editor. He already said exactly what He wanted to say, and in exactly the way He wanted to say it.
This issue matters enough to God that He repeated it elsewhere.
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s house and speak all the words I have commanded you to speak to all the cities of Judah who come to worship there. Do not omit a word’“(Jeremiah 26:2).
”Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and prove you a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).
“See that you do everything I command you; do not add to it or subtract from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
“I solemnly declare to every one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book, that if any one adds to those words, God will add to him the plagues spoken of in this book; and that if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take from him his share in the Tree of Life and in the holy city—the things described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
I had read all those verses, and it made sense to me, but there was one aspect of this command that I was oblivious to until it happened to me: it’s irritating.
I stumbled onto a webpage many years ago in which the blogger had taken one chapter from my first book,A Whisper in Winter: Stories of Hearing God’s Voice in Every Season of Life and had copied it into a post. Copyright rules aside (it had just gone out of print, and the rights had been transferred from the publishing company to me), that was flattering. Until I came upon a sentence I would did not write; a sentence that didn’t sound at all like me, didn’t flow with the rest of the paragraph, and ended with an exclamation point.
The feeling of violation overwhelmed me. Along with that, I felt frantic and confused. Why did this woman feel the need to put words in my mouth? Why did she think she could just trespass on my intellectual property? Why did she think I needed an editor?
In that chapter, entitled “Jellybeans and Marshmallows,” I described a breakfast-in-bed scenario in which Zac, then only 7 or 8, if I remember correctly, thought it would be a nice thing to bring me all his favorite foods for breakfast. Hence the jellybeans and marshmallows, along with whipped cream, graham crackers, and a handful of chocolate chips. As I surveyed the “feast,” knowing full well I would need to eat some of it, I wrote that on a daily basis, breakfast for me consisted of coffee and more coffee, but almost never food, and certainly never sugar.
And then that woman added, “Except for maybe a chocolate chip cookie!”
What? Aside from the blatant contradiction to my last sentence, and the unasked-for help, it was that exclamation point that really upset me. Because I don’t use them, except in texts and Facebook posts, where they pop out of me at will.
I’ve worked as a freelance editor over the years, and I am brutal about exclamation points. If you’ve written well, they’re completely unnecessary. Adding one does not elevate the intensity of your sentence. You should have done that with your words. So in my entire book (and in the second), the only place I would have used an exclamation point was in dialogue, where they belong. Because we do exclaim some of our sentences, right?
I kept reading, and found two more such sentences. And it was then that, despite my aversion to confrontation, I wrote a nice note to the woman. I thanked her for liking my book enough to promote it, mentioned a casual word about copyright laws and how she had dodged a not-so-nice encounter with my publisher, and then pointed out that she had not copied it correctly, because three foreign sentences had found their way into my work. I ended by asking her to either take down the post, or delete the sentences she had added.
I got no response. I waited a week, wrote again, and got no response. By now I was fuming. When I wrote the third time, she replied, with what seemed like a little indignation, that she had just had heart surgery and couldn’t be bothered with this.
And that was the final word. Except that every once in awhile, I think about that chocolate chip sentence and the abhorrent exclamation point, and I’m both irritated and embarrassed all over again. I can’t bear the thought that anyone would read that and think those were my words.
I doubt that God is worried about embarrassment. But I am absolutely sure that He is irritated when we try to help Him along by adding something we think should be there, or taking away something that we find difficult and/or not supportive of our favorite position or belief; when we misrepresent His heart, His words, His intention and His style.
He has said everything He wanted to say, exactly the way He wanted to say it, and that needs to be the end of His story. Period.