The nature of language and culture means connotations and meanings of a word can shift and evolve. For example, nowadays rarely does a person mean ‘holy day’ when they say “holiday”. Whenever a word is translated from one language to another the precise meanings can be lost, especially when vast time and cultural barriers are crossed. No language is static and no translation is perfect. So there is great value in exploring the original languages of the scriptures, especially when it is the content of our faith at stake.
Here are five Hebrew words I wish I had known decades ago:
We sing about this every Sunday. Chesed is the Hebrew word for the love God has specifically for his people. Often translated as ‘love’, ‘steadfast love’, ‘mercy’, or ‘lovingkindness’, chesed requires up to 14 English words to properly encapsulate its potent meaning. The problem with our English word ‘love’ is that it lacks power and a backbone. We use this same word to describe both our fondness for pizza and our attachment to our other half. Is it any wonder that it may not mean very much to a person if you tell them about God’s love using our wishy- washy English word?
But chesed – found most often in the Psalms – is different. Chesed is a permanent, covenant, faithful love; not changeable, temporary or based on feelings, as it is in our modern culture. This is no cheesy Valentine’s Day nicety. This is everything we have ever hoped for and more. Chesed is the security, acceptance and devotion within a committed relationship, which every human heart longs to experience.
How different would our lives be if we truly believed we were already completely and perfectly loved by God?
So often we wander off to seek out love in the wrong places. How different would our lives be if we truly believed we were already completely and perfectly loved by God today? Then we could begin to rest, abide in and enjoy God. Accepting that God truly loves me with a chesed love had an amazing, unexpected side effect. Suddenly, there was the release of the pressure I had inadvertently placed on my human relationships to provide my sense of value and identity. As wonderful as my husband and children are, no other person can bear the pressure of providing me with my ultimate sense of worth and acceptance. The truth is I am fully loved and fully known by God. Any additional love and goodness in my life is an extra blessing and bonus to enjoy.
“Help!” This one word is the most frequent prayer I pray now. Whenever I need more wisdom or patience as I go about my day, this little word invokes God’s generous assistance. But I did not always realise help was so readily available. Nor did I always possess the humility to ask for it. I used to feel the pressure to manage so much of my life on my own. And I wrongly saw God standing at a distance judging my performance. Often I would feel overwhelmed with the idea that I may not be able to cope with all the plates I was spinning. I feared that I would drop the ball on the important roles and responsibilities God had entrusted to me. And I so sincerely wanted to get it right.
But God used the little Hebrew word ezer to change my perspective. Throughout the Bible, our compassionate God continually offers himself to us as our ezer. “You are my help (ezer) and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay” (Psalm 70:5). God gave us the Holy Spirit to be our readily available helper (see John 14:26). I can always call on him and he is not annoyed or disapproving when I do.
We were never meant to do all of life alone. Nor were we designed to depend on ourselves. It is not a badge of honour to be self-reliant and independent. God always intended us to rely on his ezer in order to draw us into a deeper dynamic relationship with him. And hopefully, the help of his Church is one way God’s help is expressed in our communities. God delights to be our ezer and that truth gives me new-found confidence to face each day’s tasks and trials. Written by Melissa Briggs