I have attempted to learn modern Hebrew off and on for the last six years. I haven’t progressed far. But, I won’t allow myself to visit Israel until I can converse in Hebrew with the locals, not English. Since we can’t afford it for awhile, I don’t have the drive to be diligent at my studies. Shame on me.
Updating Hebrew for the 20th Century
I find the history of Hebrew (or any language for that matter) fascinating. In recent times, when Israel was being re-settled by the Jews, the Zionists decided to bring Hebrew back to life as a way to unify the home comers with varying mother tongues. Until then, Hebrew was only used in print. It was not a spoken language, except in some pious religious settings. It was a tremendous effort. Reviving an ancient tongue has many difficulties. Pronunciation has been lost. Vocabulary is limited. The language becomes common, losing it “holiness” for worship, some argued. It would be like Italy reverting to Latin. It would take much revision to make it a useful tool. As a result, modern Hebrew is littered with Anglicized or Arabian words for modern inventions.
Ancient Hebrew is complicated
Modernization also attempts to make the language more precise. Ancient Hebrew is considered a rich language. That means it doesn’t have a large vocabulary, but each word carries many meanings. As opposed to English, which has a huge lexicon and distinct meanings. Ancient Hebrew is filled with innuendo because of this. One word is loaded. The more you understand the culture, the history and the circumstance the deeper the words become.
Jesus’ Tassel Cures a Bleeding Woman
One of my favorite examples of this is the story of the woman who determined to touch the corner of Jesus’ robe. The word is translated in English Bibles a variety of different ways: hem of his robe, border of his garment, edge of his cloak. But, the NAS gets the closest to the true meaning: His fringe. God commanded all Jewish men to place four tassels with blue cording on the edge of their blanket-like cloaks so they would remember His covenant. Jesus, being a Jewish man, would certainly have worn this decoration. In Hebrew, these tassels are called tzitziyot (plural for tzitzit).
The woman, who suffered cramps and bleeding for twelve years, wanted to touch the tzitzit of Jesus. Why?
In Numbers 15, where God commanded the wearing of tassels, the word translated tassel is kanaph. In that context it means border or corner of a garment. But 76 other times in the Old Testament, kanaph is translated as wings. As you can surmise, the meaning is similar, yet slightly different depending on what border or corner the context is referring to… a bird or a garment. The deeper meaning becomes clear, when we read a popular prophecy from Malachi 4:2.
“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness (Messiah) will rise with healing in his wings.” … Or his kanaph: his corner or his border or his tassle.
This woman knew the prophecy, and had faith that Jesus was the Sun of Righteousness, and so she determined to touch his “wings.” Instantly, her cramps disapperead and her bleeding evaporated. Jesus was Messiah.
Jesus said to the woman, “You are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace! You are healed, and you will no longer be in pain.”
Okay, I’ve got to pull out the Hebrew school books again. This language is pretty nifty. Don’t you agree?