5 Hebrew words every Christian should know (2)

3. שָׁלוֹם

SHALOM

Maybe you saw shalom on this page and thought: “Great, I know this one already!” But the biblical concept of shalom involves much more than our typical use of the English word ‘peace’. Shalom is not merely the absence of conflict; it actually encapsulates wholeness, wellness, peace, security, welfare, prosperity and more! The Lord is shalom (Judges 6:24), and he blesses his people with shalom (Psalm 29:11). This is what Jesus offers as the Prince of Shalom (Isaiah 9:6). His sweet shalom is meant to infiltrate our entire lives, if we would only invite him in to do so!

I had honestly believed there were certain areas of my life that were not of interest to God – food, exercise and sleep, for example. These felt too mundane for God’s intervention. But a proper understanding of shalom, and indeed a thorough reading of the whole Bible, reveal that God actually cares about every single area of our lives. His help and guidance is not restricted to just the ‘spiritual’ or ‘moral’ areas.

This was a game-changer for me. God offers us so much choice and freedom, but he also cares and is willing to help. When I opened up new corners of my life to God’s direction I was amazed how he flooded in with grace and answers. He showed me I was turning to food for comfort instead of him. Then he showed me what it looked like to instead eat and drink to the glory of God, as it says in 1 Corinthians 10:31. My workout sessions shifted from frantic attempts to better myself, to refreshing times of conversation with the God who loved me so well already. He even showed me I could ask him to help me rest; to “lie down and sleep” in shalom each night (Psalm 4:8) – a huge blessing to a mother of young children!

Though it is still a work of grace in progress, my overall health, eating habits, body image and stress levels have improved drastically. I am so thankful for the complete package of shalom that Jesus was offering me all along.

(Almost) everything you need to know about Hebrew

Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. A bit of Daniel and Ezra, and one verse in Jeremiah were written in Aramaic, a language very similar to Hebrew.

Jewish people call the Old Testament the TanakhThis is an acronym which stands for the first letters of the three Hebrew words Torah (law/instruction), Nevi’im (prophets) and Ketuvim (writings). Jewish scholars divide the biblical literature into these three sections.

Hebrew is read from right to left, instead of left to right like English. Hebrew books even open the opposite way to English books.

Hebrew lay dormant as a spoken language for nearly two millennia, until the late 19th Century when visionary linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda spearheaded the unparalleled movement to revive it as the mother tongue of the Jewish people. Today there are about 9 million Hebrew speakers in the world.

Because the Hebrew language died off as a spoken language for nearly two millennia, the revived modern Hebrew language is much more similar to biblical Hebrew than modern Greek is to New Testament biblical Greek.

Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Amharic all belong to the Semitic family of languages. ‘Semitic’ is derived from the name Shem, one of Noah’s sons.

There are a number of acrostic poems found in the Bible that we completely miss in our English translations. For example, each verse in the famous passage about the ‘Excellent Wife’ in Proverbs 31:10-31 begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order. It is the Hebrew way of saying “this is the complete A-Z” on a topic.

4. תִּקְוָה

TIKVAH

In the English language we casually use the word ‘hope’ with the downgraded meaning of a wishful thought or desire: “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow”, or “I hope our cricket team wins”. This can easily cloud our understanding of biblical tikvah which, in contrast, is a guaranteed assurance that if the Lord says it will come to pass, then it will do so. “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope (tikvah) will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18).

Tikvah is an expectant waiting for a desired outcome. It means to gather together, wait for, hope for or bind (by twisting) together. While the idea of hope in English is abstract, this Hebrew root word offers a more concrete expression of hope as an ever-strengthening rope as its strands are collected and then twisted together.

A thin thread may be faster and simpler to make than a shipyardstandard rope, but it certainly would not hold up under pressure. To make a durable, useful rope, the process of binding and twisting many threads together is essential.

As we hope and wait upon the Lord for his direction, his timing and his action, then our faith and character can be built up: “But those who hope/wait expectantly [the verb form of tikvah] in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Our microwave-oven, instant-gratification culture has taught us that waiting is a waste, but the biblical viewpoint values the process and outcome of expectantly waiting.

Hope used to be such a vague word for me, but now I can cling to biblical hope as the sturdy rope that it is! “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:13, NKJV).

5. ירְִאָה

YIRAH

Yirah means ‘fear’. I felt drawn to study this word because I wanted freedom from the growing number of fears that rattled around in my head. I tried not to dwell on them, but that did not seem to actually make them go away.

I had always found the phrase “fear of God” a strange one to comprehend. And I imagined there must be a different source word behind the fear of God as opposed to other types of fear – especially as the phrase “fear of God” is sometimes translated into English as “reverence” or “awe of God”. But this one word yirah is used to speak of both the fear of God and the fear of other things, like enemies or death.

The question is actually whether our fear is rightly directed. We all have an innate drive to fear something. It is impossible to be truly fearless. The scriptures are very clear about who deserves all of our yirah: “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13, NASB).

We should realise there are entities more powerful than us and there are circumstances outside of the realm of our control. God wants us to recognise our limitations and then direct our yirah towards him. After all, he is the most powerful one in the universe. So why should we fear anything above him or besides him?

Fear directed towards anything else grows like a weed and then festers like a sore. However, the fear of the Lord is a wellspring of life, goodness and wisdom to those who take hold of it. “The yirah of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil” (Proverbs 19:23, NASB).

The wonderful news is that we are not stuck. We can ask God to help us uncover the lies behind any ungodly fears and to replace them with biblical truth. The central key to dealing with unhealthy fears is to choose to put all of our fear onto our trustworthy, faithful God.

Now whenever a fear pops into my head, which thankfully is much rarer, I have an effective strategy. I stop and say: “I choose to fear God instead of X. He alone is worthy of my fear” (Isaiah 8:13-14). Then I ask God to give me wisdom about any practical action I may need to take and I move on with my day. Life with our yirah rightly placed on the Lord is so liberating!

A life-changing exploration

The Bible is the most incredible book. All of us have only begun to dip our toes into the vast depths of its riches. Obviously it is an amazing blessing to have the Bible translated into English. But as our language and vocabulary continue to morph, it is worth our time to seek out the original, precise meaning of key words. We want to make sure we are accurately hearing what God is saying.

With so many Greek and Hebrew resources available online now, exploring the Bible in the original languages is more accessible than ever. And the exploration can be life-changing! Although my life now would not look too different to the outsider compared to five years ago, inside the difference is stark.

There is abundant life available in Christ, and these beautiful Hebrew words capture that so well. God loves us with an unshakeable chesed love. He delights to be our constant, supportive ezer help. His shalom peace can bring wholeness and well-being to every area of our life. Our expectant tikvah hope in him is secure. We can put all of our yirah fear onto him, for he alone is worthy.

Written by Melissa Briggs

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