Sometimes, it’s the little things that really nail you. Know what I mean? Those easily missed details that, once you see them, change your perception. Discoveries like that are so much fun. And sometimes very personal.
I just had one of those light bulb moments last week. I’m in a small class studying biblical Hebrew. After months of work, it’s really exciting to finally be at the point of reading passages in the ancient language.
Lost in Translation
In any tongue, something gets lost in translation. Toss in drastic cultural differences, unfamiliar ways of thinking, and erase a few thousand years of history – you’re in for a challenge. There is no word-for-word translating. Original phrases and colloquialisms are just weird. It’s an enormous task to remain true to the text and still be understandable. Kinda like sorting out Mt. Everest pebble by pebble. Shout-out to all the real translators out there. You have my respect.
So, my light bulb moment. We were given an assignment to translate Jonah 1:1-3. Just three small verses. And there, right there in the first verse, it struck me.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:”
I know what you’re thinking. “Wow! That’s amazing!” Right? Um, no.
Ok, here’s a fairly literal translation of that verse:
“And it was, the word of the LORD to Jonah, son of Amittai.”
Do you see that? There is no “came”.
This phrase is repeated in Jonah. In my own bible reading, I came across it several times in Ezekiel. In fact, it’s pretty common through the Old Testament.
Big deal, right? Translators had to put “came” in there so it would make sense to English-speaking readers. True. But here’s what I found interesting.
There are Hebrew words for “came” and “appeared” and “revealed”. Yet, they’re not used here. If they were vital to the text, one of them would have been included. That sent my curiosity-bell clanging. Why? How much difference does it make anyway?
The more I mulled it over, I found that the little filler word influenced my understanding. It’s a subtle thing, sure. But those four letters mean something. “Came” implies delivery; a direction, an action. Something that wasn’t there before, is there now; and “came” implies a somewhat traceable route.
For instance, pizza. (Roll with me here.) If suddenly there is a hot box of yummy pizza sitting on your dinner table where there was none just moments before, there are 2 likely possibilities. Take out, or delivery. That pizza (mmm…pizza…) came to you. Someone brought it. Handed over the box. And I hope you tipped them well.
If, however, the pizza did suddenly appear on its own; that would be freaky! Where the heck did it come from? I don’t know about you, but I’d be more than skeptical. I may, in fact, run out of the house screaming. Gluten-free chicken pesto notwithstanding. There’s too much unknown about that pie. That just doesn’t happen! (I also never turn down a gluten-free chicken pesto pizza. This is serious.)
But with the word of the LORD, maybe the route isn’t important. Maybe “that”, “how”, or “if” it came just doesn’t matter. The word was. That’s the significant part.
And the Word Was
When I thought about this myself, the first place I went was the very beginning. Creation. We read in Genesis how the LORD spoke, and it was. Whatever words He said, BOOM! Done. They just were. His word is that powerful.
(The following are excerpts from Chapter 1 of Genesis, with underlining I have added. For the entire chapter, click on this link.)
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created….
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.
There aren’t a lot of details in what happened between the speaking and the being. Was it loud? Brilliant and blinding? Was there a concussion of energy that rolled through the universe? We’re told very little. Mainly, He spoke and it was.
The apostle John begins his gospel similarly to the first verse of Genesis.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
I’ve always loved this passage. It’s truth is profound, and deep, and beautiful. Looking at the first verse in Hebrew, it’s a fairly literal translation. (Yes, I know it was originally written in Greek.) And it shares some key things in common with the first verse in Jonah. Mainly, “the word was.”
Here’s why I think this is so cool. The Word of the LORD was to Jonah. To Ezekiel. And all the prophets. It was in the beginning. And always mind-blowingly powerful. It needed no further introduction. No trumpets and light shows. Sure, sometimes it came in wild, amazing prophecies. (If you haven’t yet, read through Ezekiel’s book. And then tell me you wouldn’t pee. your. pants. if you were in his place.)
But sometimes, it wasn’t in wind. Neither the earthquake, nor the fire. But instead, His word was – and is – quiet. Still.
But no matter how softly He speaks, His words are undeniable. They are compelling. In fact, all throughout scripture, as well as church history, we read of followers who did unthinkable things because of His word. Both amazing and ridiculous. Take our friend Jonah for instance. He really didn’t like what the LORD had to say, so he ran away. Bad move. But that’s not our point. He knew what the LORD said. We aren’t told how; he just knew.
While reading through Isaiah, and Daniel, or about guys like Samson, I’ve often wondered. I’m in Christ, and I have His Spirit. I can boldly approach the throne of grace. So, why doesn’t His word “come” to me? It seems like the prophets had clearer reception or something. Where’s the disconnect? Afterall, I’m seeking Him. I want to hear. But when was the last time I was awakened from sleep, like Samuel, by the voice of the LORD?
How This Inspires Me
I find great encouragement in knowing that the delivery isn’t the focus. Sure, sometimes His word “comes”, and it’s a big deal. There might be angels and thunder and visions. More often than not, however, His word simply is. And that’s a really big deal.
Think on Hebrews 11:6:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Seeking Him is obeying His word. Thunder and visions, or still small voice, we have the choice to follow or run – like Jonah.
I encourage you, friend, to keep your hand to the plow. Keep pursuing Him. Keep reading, and thinking on His truths. Tune the ears of your heart to recognize His voice. Ask Him to develop your discernment. I know that’s my prayer this year- that I would know His still, quiet voice in the midst of the cacophony of others that shout for my attention.
But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. – Deut. 4:29
Now, I’m going to order pizza.