Untangling Hebrew

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Long String

Today I will attempt to illustrate a beautiful Hebrew circle of thought. My only problem is knowing where to slip into the circle so the teaching will be seamless... So I think I will begin with one of those verses which are mysteriously hard to understand, but seem like they shouldn't be.

Psalm 19:4 "Their line has gone out through all the earth..." (NASB) (the context is, "The heavens declare the glory of God...") Line here is from the Hebrew קו (KAV) - a line or cord. The root of this is קוה(KAVAH) - to bind together, collect, expect; hope; linen yarn. What do hope and a rope have to do with each other? When I say to someone, "Throw me a line!" I am (usually) speaking figuratively and I mean, "Give me some hope here!"

תקוה (TIKVAH) is a common derivative of this root, meaning "hope". There is another interesting derivative: מקוה (MIKVEH), which is translated as "hope" in passages such as Jeremiah 17:3 "O LORD, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame..." (NASB). There are several other instances in Jeremiah where מקוה (MIKVEH) is found in the same phrase. The interesting thing is, a "mikveh" is more commonly known as a pool of water where one becomes ceremonially clean (i.e. like a full-dunk baptismal, except you immerse yourself; the attendant is only a witness.) So not only is it a hope, but a cleansing.

Is this a stretch? Consider then Ezra 10:2 which reads, "We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this." Same word, mikveh, and the context is that of cleansing the people from sin. So the Hope of Israel is also the Cleanser of Israel, a Mikveh into which we must immerse ourselves to find freedom from sin.

Bringing us back to Psalm 19:4, what is the "line" or "rope" of the Heavens? The Messiah, the Hope of Israel, who cleanses us before God. Perhaps it was this concept of which Paul was thinking when he wrote in Romans 8:20-21 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." (NASB) The Heavens also wait in hope for the Messiah to come and restore it to its former glory.

A few more notes on Psalm 19: Verse 3 is translated in the NIV "There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard" however a more accurate translation would be "There is no speech and there is no language, their voice is not heard." (this is mentioned in the footnotes of the NIV - a better place would be the text) This actually makes more sense- people who think they hear stars talking are usually locked up (unless they are astrologers, then they get away with it somehow).

In verse 7, David begins "The law of the Lord is perfect..." He is not changing topics. The declaration of the heavens is mute and easily misunderstood, so he contrasts their glory with the glory of the Torah, which is perfect, and enlightens even the simple-minded. He also asks in vs. 12 that God will keep him from hidden faults and errors, and willful sin - something to remember for those who like to look to the heavens to find signs and some "deeper knowledge" of God from them. It is very easy to slip into grave error if the heavenly host becomes more important to one's theology than God's written word.