Discover An Unexpected Spiritually Rewarding Practice for the New Year
For the past year I have had the privilege of serving as a theological and exegetical reviewer for a new Bible translation. Interacting with the original biblical languages in greater measure has been a surprisingly rich, deeply devotional endeavor.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, however, because knowing and studying the original languages can and should be a spiritually rewarding exercise. That’s the premise of a new devotional resource built on the scaffolding of biblical Hebrew.
With Devotions on the Hebrew Bible Milton Eng and Lee Fields have gifted the church a remarkable resource. Not only is it meant to encourage continued Hebrew language engagement, it’s also meant to nurture our devotional life and faith. Each of the 54 devotions “are designed to bring out some grammatical or lexical insight which cannot be gained in English translation alone along with some point of spiritual application.” (13)
Two devotions from the book of Jeremiah illustrate how knowing and studying biblical Hebrew is an unexpected spiritually rewarding, deeply devotional practice.
Calling as Gift • Jeremiah 1:5
I don’t know about you, but I often associate “calling” with a burden to carry or task to complete. Not so, says Chloe Sun in an illuminating devotional on the Hebrew word נָתַן.
Sun expands our understanding of this simple word, which God used in Jeremiah's call in 1:5. This verse says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed (נְתַתִּֽיךָ) you as a prophet to the nations.”
While we often associate God’s “appointing” with divine sovereign choice and as a dictate of grave responsibility, this Hebrew word carries with it a far more positive meaning. Instead, נָתַן means quite literally gift. This verb occurs not only in regards to his calling, but also God giving Jeremiah his words (1:9, 15) and emotional strength (1:18).
Being a prophet is a gift from God. When God gives Jeremiah the gift of a prophet, God also endows the gift of words and the gift of emotional strength to him. One cannot do God’s work effectively without all three elements. Even external circumstances such as the enemy’s opposition are allowed by God to accomplish his work. God is the source of all things. God gives! (75)
Do we see our calling as a gift from God or a burden to carry? Do we seek God’s gift of words, wisdom, and emotional strength in accomplishing that calling?
Sun is right: “We need to trust that God has given us all we need in order to do his work!” (75)
Universal Guilt, Unlimited Grace • Jeremiah 25:15, 26b
Sometimes it can be easy to think that group or those people are under God's wrath. But me, and us? No way! Yet Michael Williams won’t let us get away with that conclusion. He draws our attention to a fascinating Hebrew grammatical construct in Jeremiah 25.
When Jeremiah had brought this prophetic word to the people of Judah, they were on the brink of destruction from constant attack. So they would have welcomed his prophecy against “all the nations” in 25:15, particularly the one at the end of the list: “the king of Sheshak” (שֵׁשַׁ֖ךְ) This is where things get interesting grammatically! As Williams explains it:
“Sheshak” (שֵׁשַׁ֖ךְ) is rendered in 'atbash' writing, which represents the Hebrew letters of a word in reverse alphabetical order. So, for “Sheshak,” 'š' (שׁ, the second letter from the end of the alphabet) represents 'b' (ב, the second letter from the beginning of the alphabet) and 'k' (ךְ, the eleventh letter from the end of the alphabet) represents l (ל, the eleventh letter from the beginning of the alphabet). (76–77)
Hidden at the end of this list of nations is a cryptogram for Babylon! Thus, God was planning to judge those people who were causing Judah so much misery. So far so good! Except Williams reminds us of the nation who headlined God’s list of divine judgment: “Jerusalem and the towns of Judah” (25:18)
All nations, all people were to drink from God's "cup filled with the wine of my wrath" (25:15) Human guilt before God is truly universal. So is his grace: “Into this dark reality the light of God’s grace will shine brightly when his own Son, the only guiltless human being who ever lived, offers to drink for all of us guilty ones this cup filled with the wine of God’s wrath.” (77)
As we approach Christmas Day, may Williams remind us of both the universal guilt of humanity and the universal grace of God.
“Our hope and prayer is that readers would be drawn to a deeper love for, understanding of, and adherence to the Scriptures and the God who gave them, and that God himself might be glorified thereby.” (14)
Discover in Devotions on the Hebrew Bible this coming year a spiritually rewarding devotional practice by knowing and studying Hebrew more deeply.
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