Only in Hebrew

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hands of the Egyptians . . . Exodus 14:30  NASB

Saved – If you’ve never asked yourself why God chose Hebrew as the language of His personal revelation, this verse should raise the question.  Oh, it seems so straightforward on the surface, but that’s because we don’t pay much attention to the rabbis’ view of the consonants in Hebrew.  However, when Rabbi Akiva read this verse, he noticed that changing the vowels (a perfectly legitimate thing to do since there aren’t any vowels in the written text) made a difference so great that it alters everything we think about deliverance.  Only in Hebrew.  Only in Hebrew could you notice this change.  Only in Hebrew could the alternative reading still be a correct one.  Only in Hebrew would God reveal a second meaning in the same word.

The usual rendering of this word (the root word is yasha’ – to deliver, to rescue, to save) is vayyosha’ (“Thus the LORD delivered”).  But the word may also be read as vayyivvasha’.  This reading makes the verb reflexive.  Now it would be translated “Thus the LORD was delivered.”  Akiva noticed that with this reading God Himself was delivered when the people of Israel were saved from the Egyptians.  Rabbi Meir echoed the same interpretation when he said, “Redemption is mine and yours, and I, as it were, was redeemed with you, as it is said: ‘whom you have redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a people and its God.’”[1]

What does Akiva mean?  He means that redemption is a divine need, that it is not simply a matter of God saving Man but also of God saving Himself through the deliverance of Man.  Akiva taught that salvation was a concern of God Himself and even though God chose Israel to bring this about, God will insure that redemption occurs even if Israel totally fails in its mission.  Why?  Because God will be glorified.  God will be magnified.  And that means that God will absolutely bring about the restoration of His creation because it reflects Him.  We should never be in doubt about God’s ultimate success since God’s own name is at risk in this process.  We hallow His name when we fulfill His commandments because we bring His reflection into a broken world, but God Himself hallows His own name in the process of restoration and He will accomplish this no matter what.  It is on this basis and on this reading that Heschel can say, “God is in search of Man.”

What do we learn?  We learn that we are of concern to God not simply because God loves us (that is quite a lot) but also because God’s honor and glory are wrapped up in deliverance.  When God rescues us, He also rescues Himself.  He restores His own honor.  God does love us, but even more, He will bring honor to Himself – and you and I are a part of how that will be done.  You and I are essential to restoring God’s honor.  How does that make you feel?

Topical Index:  Akiva, saved, yasha’, honor, Exodus 14:30


[1] As cited in Abraham Heschel, Heavenly Torah, p. 107.

 

10 thoughts on “Only in Hebrew

  1. This is what we call here in the deep South- “shoutin’ ground!” To say it, know it and show it- I belong to Him! I have been purchased, redeemed, bought with the precious blood of the Passover Lamb and now am one of the Master’s servants, sons, stewards and saints. I may say along with Paul and myriads of others, “my G-d” for I am His and He is mine. I have entered into sacred blood-covenant union with the Holy ONE, Yeshua HaMashiach, the LORD Jesus (who is the) Christ. He is (ever)able, -able to save them to the uttermost that come unto G-d by Him, and I am the willing one, when I finally, freely, gave unto Him my unreserved “yes” and this, dear friends, is the ‘marriage’ made in heaven.
    When we know “G-d So loved..”- and when we know “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all- how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8.32)- it does tend to put a new spring in our step, and a new song in our hearts! Hallelu Yah for the cross!

  2. Vowel points, not part of the text, raises a rather fascinating hermeneutical question. Do I choose the vowel points I think belong because of my already determined belief system (my doctrine), or do I accept the vowel points designated by some authority (rabbi, priest, pastor, scholar)? Both of these require a commitment outside of Scripture itself.

    1. Yes Ian, but without the vowel points originally, it means ALL the different renderings! That’s the beauty of hebrew. Work and worship are not two different meanings of the same word, it’s THE definition.

  3. I am guessing that much of what I read in Scripture that canhave a double meaning that it means both. To me, this understanding of God’s “need” for us to be in relationship would fit nicely with Gregory A Body’s book “Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” in which his thesis comes down to God so wanting to have a love relationship with his creation that he created them free which takes a risk on God’s part that his creation might go against him. Oh Duh! It happened and God suffers as his creation suffers. However, in thelong range we know that God will ultimately triumph. However, until the fruition has become, He really does “need”, desire us to be with him. Thanks, Skip for your words.

  4. That makes me feel very very secure in God’s love/sovereignty for me – is how that makes me feel! There were many times in scripture that I can remember when pleading with God someone was recalling His memory to His Word/Torah & reminding Him He cannot bring dishonor/shame on Himself & His Word – it would be embarrassing for Him to turn His back on the Israelites & other instances too. I am so thankful He is not a liar & has to keep His Word – to Thine Oneself Be True – pertains to Him first & then us.

    jano

  5. From Wiki:

    “Heschel later taught Talmud there. He joined a Yiddish poetry group, JUNG Vilna, and in 1933, published a volume of Yiddish poems.”

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (2nd from right) in the Selma Civil Rights March with Martin Luther King, Jr. (4th from right). Heschel later wrote, “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Joshua_Heschel

    Heschel’s view that “When God rescues us, He also rescues Himself,” as strange as it may seem, and it certainly seemed strange to me when I first encountered it a few years ago, is a key concept in the psychology of Carl Jung, as I understand it

    I did a search on Heschel and Jung and apparently they did not know each other’s work, but I also came across the photo of Heschel marching with Martin Luther King that I saw at my girl friend’s house 40 years ago.

    Funny how all these things are “tied together.”

    1. “Four schools have been named for Heschel, in the Upper West Side of New York City, NORTHRIDGE, California, Agoura Hills, California, and Toronto.”

      When I saw the picture of Heschel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Joshua_Heschel, it made me think of Northridge Academy High School.

      Because three years after that picture was taken, in 1968, my girl friend’s mother showed this picture to me.

      And she showed me something Rabbi Heschel had written.

      I had never seen a Rabbi, so I thought he looked sort of wierd, but I read what he had written (a page or two) and was attracted to it.

      At the time I was essentially a high school drop out with no job and their daughter had been boarded at Northridge because she had been “recalcitrant.”

      That must have been where they were introduced to Rabbi Heschel.

      Their daughter was beautiful and talented at many things and I was just Irish working class.

      But for some reason they encouraged our relationship and thought I was the only hope for their daughter.

      As it turned out, they had a very big influence on me, getting me off the road to perdition and into college.

      We married and moved to Del Mar, where she had lived with a teacher in her senior year of high school.

      The she moved on to bigger and better things, but we remained friends.

      By the grace of God, I got into UCSD.

  6. Now my mind is wondering: Is that why Moses was so successful at reasoning with YHWH? Every time the redemption of Israel was at stake, he brought YHWH’s honour into the argument…

    Seeing that Moses understood Hebrew fairly well, I personally think that he might just have known about this vowel thing.

    Eish, the glory of YHWH is so much bigger than my understanding!

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