Meditation in the Bible

There is much concern, and rightfully so, among Christians when someone brings up the subject of meditation. There are a lot of counterfeits out there. People ask, “Are we trying to ‘conjure up’ Jesus or someone from the Bible, or get Him to give us ‘special knowledge,’ or special treatment? Are we trying to enter a trance? 

What is meditation, and how does Christian meditation differ from the world’s counterfeits? The Bible’s answer may surprise you. We’ll go into it in some detail, so that you can know everything the Bible says about it. Study for yourself.

The English word “meditate” is listed fourteen times in Strong’s Concordance, only two times in the New Testament, and one of those—Luke 21:14—really should be “premeditate.”

“Meditation” is listed six times, all of them in the Old Testament. Fifteen of these references are in the Psalms, and seven of those are in Psalm 119. Interestingly, Psalm 119 uses a different Hebrew word than the other passages use. It is siyach, which means, “to ponder,” that is, “to converse (with oneself, and hence aloud) or “to utter” (commune, complain, declare, meditate, muse, pray, speak). Other than Psalm 119, only Psalm 104:34 uses the noun form of this word.

The rest of the Old Testament passages in which “meditate” occurs use forms of
another Hebrew word—hagah—which means “to murmur” (in pleasure or anger); “to ponder” (imagine, meditate, mourn, mutter).” So the two Hebrew words are pretty much equal in meaning.

At this point you may begin to think how strange it is that the Hebrew words for “meditate” seem to include so much sound. We know that non-Christian meditation often includes sounds, chants, and mantras. It brings to mind a completely different passage—or is it so different? There is a text about “wizards that peep and mutter” (KJV). The text is Isaiah 8:19.

Here it is, from the New American Standard Bible: “When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God?”

If you look in the lexicon to find out what word is translated “mutter,” you will discover, perhaps to your astonishment, that it is hagah—same word, same form, same tense as “ ‘This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night’ ” (Josh. 1:8, emphasis supplied).1 The same word as “In His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2, emphasis supplied.) The same word as “I meditateon You in the night watches” (63:6, emphasis supplied).

Clearly, the action the wizards were performing was not wrong—in fact, we are commanded to do it. What, then, made them wrong?

Let’s go back to Isaiah 8: “ ‘Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn’ ” (vv. 19, 20). The KJV says, “No light in them.”

These wizards and mediums are using a God-given form of communication to consult, not the dead, of course, but the devil. They are then using the information they receive to lead the people who believe them away from the Word of God. The Lord makes it very clear what He thinks of these practices in the following verses. Here is His strongly worded warning: “They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward. Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness” (vv. 21, 22).

But what about those who do not follow these deceivers? “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; . . . The people who walk in darkness will see a great light” (9:1, 2). And there follows one of the most beautiful of the Messianic prophecies.

Is any of this still going on in this enlightened age? Today it comes as part of the broad category labeled “New Age.” The principle is crystal clear. Meditation connects you with somebody. You might want to be certain with whom you are connecting! Every one of the above texts commands that we are to meditate upon God, His law (the Bible), and His works.

But here is the central point in this conversation: To be afraid to meditate properly, because some others do it inappropriately (or even dangerously), is like being afraid to use the telephone in case you might get a wrong number. Meditation is an essential part of a balanced Christian life. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). It’s a promise.2


1. Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural references in this article are from The New American Standard Bible.

2. Adapted with permission from the iFollow Discipleship Resource, ©North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.