I know next to nothing about the Hebrew language. 501 words, or so my Duolingo app tells me. That’s not very much from a language that has 45,000 words, not including compound words. The Bible alone has over 8,000 Hebrew words in it. Oy vey, I have a long way to go…
I once had a Jewish acquaintance try to dissuade me from studying her language: “It is a lifelong pursuit.” She must have thought I was presumptuous to think I could even begin to understand something that still dazzles the rabbis. And she’s right! It is a bit presumptuous.
As I study, I am discovering that the Hebrew language is mysterious, amazing, and deeper in meaning than I ever imagined. I am persuaded that it would take a thousand years to unravel its mysteries, and even then, I fear I would have barely scratched the surface.
If my efforts are so futile then, why do I insist on pursuing it?
Because it is mysterious, amazing, and deeper in meaning than I ever imagined.
I have always wanted to be able to read the Bible in its original languages. In fact, during 9th grade, I remember memorizing the Greek alphabet symbols, along with their names and sounds. A couple of times, I even wrote phonetically in Greek in my diary so that no one else could read it. But that wasn’t enough.
I wanted so badly to learn more than just the alphabet! In 10th grade, I went so far as to have my parents purchase a Greek language curriculum and a Greek New Testament. But I didn’t have the drive to complete more than the first few pages. The curriculum collected dust for a few years before I got married and left it behind for my mother to throw away. I hung on to the New Testament for a while, telling myself I’d learn someday, and then finally gave it away to someone who could actually use it.
However, something has changed for me in the last few years. I have discovered that things are not what they seem to be. This thing we call Christianity has at least got the basics right – Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified to save the world. But that’s about all they’ve managed to keep straight. I’ve discovered that today’s man-made doctrines are every bit as worthless and misleading as they were back when Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees.
“6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
When it comes to sorting out the truth from the traditions, Christians have a lazy go-to excuse: “If it’s not important to the doctrine of salvation, then it’s not worth my time or effort.” The problem with that reasoning is this: it’s the spirit of truth that draws people. If we are running around promoting a bunch of lies, what is to distinguish Christianity from the man-made religions?
For instance, creationism is not a “salvation” issue. However, I know a man who got saved as soon as he discovered how ridiculous the theory of evolution really was. Anything can be a salvation issue if it’s holding you back from seeking the true Creator.
I digress. My motivation for learning Hebrew is pretty simple and compelling:
- I am tired of depending on modern prescriptions for how one should go about interpreting the scriptures.
- I am tired of all the lies that are buried under hundreds, even thousands of years of tradition.
- I want to see what the believing Jews saw in Christ’s day, to know what they knew, to have the proverbial scales fall from my eyes as they did from Paul’s. Torah plus Christ is a wondrous revelation to behold!
- I want to see how it all fits together – the Old Testament and the New – into one harmonious whole, whose sum is greater than its parts.
- Most intriguing to me is the miraculous combination of Hebrew letters into their words. I want to learn as much as I can about the language whose words are made up of individual letters whose individual meanings combine to define the word created by them. See the explanation below.
The ancient Hebrew is both phonetic and pictographic. I copied and pasted the following from Jeff A. Benner’s website so you can see what I mean:
The Hebrew word (av) is spelled with two Hebrew letters, (aleph) and the (beyt). In Hebrew, the word “aleph” means “ox” and the original pictograph of this letter is an image of an ox head, which represents the idea of “strength.” The beyt, a Hebrew word meaning “tent” or “home,” is an image of a tent, the home. When the meaning of these two letters are combined we have the “the strength of the tent” and is descriptive of the tent poles which provide strength to the tent. As the beyt can also represent the home, this word also means “the strength of the home,” and is the Hebrew word for “father.”
Begin to look more deeply into this, and you will discover that the Hebrew language is full of words that are constructed like this. It’s beyond amazing; it is miraculous.
Benefits of studying a language I will never have time to master:
As I learn the meanings of a few letters, combinations, and root words, I am finding that I can interpret some of the names and places I come across while reading the scriptures in English. Some of these interpretations lead to a greater understanding of the Creator and His plan.
Take Beer-sheba, a word I have read and heard over and over throughout my lifetime. This time, when I came across it, I had to stop and think. “Beer” means well, as in a water-well, and “sheba” means “seven.” But “sheba” also means “oath.” So Beer-sheba is the Well of Seven or the Well of the Oath. In a miraculous language like Hebrew, where the word is made up of letters whose definitions lend meaning to the constructed word, an indisputable, unbreakable relationship is established between the words “oath” and “seven.” The seventh-day sabbath is God’s first covenant with mankind. It is His oath of rest to us, made on the seventh day of history. Before man ever sinned, God said, “I have already established a way to save you from your sins and a way to allow you to enter into my rest.”
“16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”
These deep meanings and sublime understandings just explode out of nowhere during the course of learning this beautiful language. Some of these epiphanies add to an underlying infrastructure that I am building in my head. I’d like to call it “The Big Picture,” but I can’t quite put any of it into words for you. I just know that it makes me who I am, makes me believe what I believe, and informs my understanding for every verse. Occasionally I find something that conflicts, and then a reassessment of what-I-think-I-know becomes necessary.
On the other hand, I sometimes see something clearly enough that I can articulate it and pass it on. In fact, yesterday I wrote a short blurb about the connection between the Hebrew words for “seven” and “sabbath.”
In conclusion: I won’t ever learn it all, but one could use that excuse to avoid any pursuit. I’ll tell you this much: I am immensely enjoying myself, and I won’t be stopping any time soon.
P.S. If you have always wanted to pick up a second language, Duolingo offers all its languages free of charge. It’s fun, interactive, and addictive. And, no, I’m not getting paid to say so, lol. Just passing its usefulness on to you all. I have been using their Spanish course for years, and I have learned way more from them than I ever did in college. They have both Hebrew and Greek if you would like to gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
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