Thursday, February 25, 2010

Well today was interesting. Another interesting day that started with a very interesting Bible study. I was doing my daily devotional reading. I use a Bible study method called the SOAP method where you choose one Scripture from your reading that stands out to you, you make an Observation about it, then Apply it to your life, and finally, say a Prayer over it. I was reading today and nothing was really standing out to me all that much, but I finally decided to choose Psalm 29:11 which says: "The Lord gives strength to His people. He blesses them with peace."

I began to journal about it and then I thought to myself -- I wonder what the Hebrew words for strength and peace are? I remembered hearing that the Hebrew word for peace is 'shalom." So I did an online search for the meaning of the word shalom and found that the general translation of peace is rather lacking. Shalom has a much wider meaning, including: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony and tranquility. Try plugging that definition of peace into Psalm 29:11 and it's amazing to think of all the blessings that God bestows upon His people.

But even more fascinating for me than that was what I learned about the word strength. I never did find the Hebrew word that is being used in this verse. But I learned that the Hebrew word "El" which is often used for God was originally written with two pictographic letters in the Ancient Hebrew. The first pictographic letter depicted an ox head. The second depicted a shepherd's staff. The ox represented strength and the staff authority. Thus, God is the strong one of authority! Second, for Ancient Hebrews, a staff across the shoulders was understood to be a yoke. So they saw God as the ox in the yoke. When plowing, 2 oxen were yoked together. One was older and more experienced. The younger one would learn from the older ox. So the Ancient Hebrews saw God as the older, experienced ox and themselves as the younger ox. In other words, we yoke ourselves to God in order to learn from Him.

The funny thing is that one of my favorite Bible verses comes from Numbers 23:22. Not too many people have a favorite verse in Numbers, but when I first read this verse I just loved the imagery. It says, "God has brought them out of Egypt; he is like a strong ox for them." Other translations say a wild ox. The image of God as a wild ox really stuck with me. I loved thinking about my God as a wild ox -- powerful and unpredictable. And knowing that the Hebrew word for God was once depicted with an ox makes the imagery even more powerful!

Then I found this imagery repeated in Psalm 92:10 where the psalmist says, "But you have made me as strong as a wild ox. How refreshed I am by your power!" This related perfectly to my daily verse which said that God gives strength to His people. But it's not just any strength -- it's His own strength! And what does God use His strength to do? He uses it to bring His people out of slavery -- to draw them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. I have to believe that if God gives me strength it is for this same purpose -- not to bask in my own strength, but to use it to help others and to bring them out of slavery.

So many things are lost in translation. I've had so many interesting Bible studies of late based around the study of Hebrew words. If you're interested, another interesting word study is "disciple."

Until tomorrow, Shalom!

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