More Hebrew Idioms & Metaphors
by Christine Egbert
As I explained in my first article on this subject, “A Misunderstood Hebrew Idiom”, an idiom is an expression that cannot be understood by its literal meaning, like “punch the clock” or “eat your heart out.” In this article I will delve into a few more Hebrew idioms and one very interesting metaphor.
Between 300-400 AD Jerome wrote about an original copy of the Hebrew gospel of Matthew located in the library in Caesarea. More recent research into the literary and linguistic background of the synoptic Gospels by Professor Flusser and Dr. Lindsey reveals the gospels were first written not in Greek but in Hebrew.
WESTON W. FIELDS
In his article addressing this revelation, Weston W. Fields states that he became acquainted with David Bivin, Robert Lindsey, and Professor David Flusser, of the Hebrew University during his sabbatical year in Jerusalem. It was then that he read Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by Bivin and Blizzard (cited in my first article on Hebrew idioms).
This ground breaking work was the result of a generation of research into the linguistic and literary background of the synoptic Gospels by Prof. Flusser, Dr. Lindsey, and their associates in Jerusalem. Understanding the Words of Jesus popularized Flusser and Lindsey’s research.
In his article, WESTON W. FIELDS writes: “It is important to understand that this book was born out of a combination of circumstances which cannot be found anywhere except in Israel and which could not have been found even in Israel only a few years ago. These factors include a rapprochement between Jewish and Christian scholars in a completely Jewish University, freedom of study unhampered by religious hierarchical control, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a growing appreciation for their bearing on NT study, and most importantly, the fact that gospel research in Jerusalem is carried on in spoken and written Hebrew.”
The article’s author goes on to cite two other foundational works by Lindsey: A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, and a pamphlet entitled “The Gospels.” Of these, Fields writes: “The burden of these books may be summarized in a few propositions which not only go counter in some respects to the prevailing wisdom of N.T. scholarship outside of Israel, but also represent something perhaps more revolutionary than might first appear. These propositions are: Hebrew was the primary spoken and written medium of the majority of the Jews in Israel during the time of Jesus. Jesus, therefore, did most if not all of his teaching in Hebrew.”
With this in mind–that the New Testament is a Hebrew book—let’s continue our endeavor to properly interpret Hebrew idioms and metaphors.
BINDING & LOOSING & KEYS To The Kingdom
(Matthew 16:19) “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The Roman Catholic church interprets this passage to mean that Yeshua gave Peter the authority to change YHVH’s instructions, His Torah. They interpret it to mean that Peter, and every succeeding Pope, has the authority to declare what is allowed or permitted, even when it defies Yah’s written Torah instructions, and Heaven must comply. This, of course, is blasphemy.
The Hebrew words for “bind” is acar and for “loose” is pathach. “Bind” in rabbinic literature means to prohibit. “Loose” means to allow. Greek translators, however, have chosen to use the literal rather than intended idiomatic definition for bind and loose.
The correct understanding of Matthew 16:19 is this: all things which heaven has declared permissible and whatever things heaven has prohibited are Peter’s. He was given these “keys to the kingdom”. God never gave any man authority to change HIS WORD, not Peter, and certainly not the Popes of the RCC. Even Yeshua, the Messiah, came only to speak His father’s words, and to do His Father’s will, and He is the head of the body of Messiah. This passage, when interpreted correctly, reinforces sound doctrine.
ALL POWER and AUTHORITY come from God in heaven. Yah’s people are to reflect His standards, not invent their own. The Greek establishes this. The passage should have been rendered (and has been in the Literal Translation) as “whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven. And whatever you loose on the earth shall be, having been loosed in Heaven.” This translation is consistent with the Greek “estai dedemenon” and “estai lelumenon,” which are in the periphrastic “future” NOT the “past” perfect tense. Literally it means “shall be, having (already) been bound,” and “shall be, having (already) been loosed.”
When correctly translated the passage remains consistent with God’s warning not to add to or take away from his Word, and with the Lord’s Prayer, which says: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Yeshua never gave Peter the right to change His Father’s established Law. Yeshua fully expected Peter—just like Moses—to govern in accordance with His Father’s instructions. For as Psalms 111: 7-8 says, “His commandments, all His judgements, are sure. They stand fast forever and ever.”
POOR IN SPIRIT
Matthew 5:3, in the KJV reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Yeshua probably had Isaiah 66:2 in mind, when he spoke to the crowd that day. It reads, “But I will look toward this one, to the afflicted (aniy) and the contrite of spirit, who tremble at My Word.” The Hebrew word translated as “afflicted” in Isaiah 66:2 is “aniy”. It means afflicted, lowly and humble. To their credit, more recent translations of Matthew 5:3 render the phrase, which the KJV translated as “poor in spirit” more accurately as “humble in spirit.”
PERSECUTION OR PURSUIT?
Mt 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
According to “Hebrew Idioms in the Gospel of Matthew” by Claudia R. Wintoch, there are four mistranslations in this one sentence: In Mark 5:10 Yeshua, has not changed the subject in which He is describing the character of those in God’s kingdom. The Greek word diuku, as well as the Hebrew word, radaf, can both be translated as either persecute or pursue. However, the Hebrew word radaf is more commonly defined as pursue, while the Greek word diuku is most often defined as persecute. Bible translator chose to translate diuku with persecute because of the following two verses dealing with persecution.
According to Bivin & Blizzard, “The sudden shift of the pronoun from the third person to the second is a clear indication that these verses were not originally a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but a part of another context or story. They were probably placed after Matthew 5:10 by the editor of Matthew’s source because of the word “persecution” which appears in both passages.” (1994:77).
The word righteousness in Hebrew, tsedeq, is a synonym for salvation and it would be a more accurate translation in this verse. The Greek word translated theirs gives the reader the wrong impression, since we do not possess the kingdom. The best translation would be, “of such as these,” the same term Jesus used when saying that the Kingdom of God is for such as those children coming to Him. The kingdom of heaven has been misunderstood as referring to Jesus’s second coming since He said that “the kingdom of God is near you” (NIV), which implies that it is close, but not here. However, while the Greek word eggizo means about to appear, here the Hebrew equivalent qarab means the opposite. It means that it has arrived; it is here. This is clearly seen in OT passages like Genesis 20:4 where Abimelech “had not come near” Sarah (had not had sexual relations with her). Secondly, the word heaven refers to God Himself, being one of the synonyms for God. Taking these mistranslations into account, Matthew 5:10 should read something similar to this: “Blessed are those who pursue salvation, for such as these are in the kingdom of God.”
CLOUDS WITHOUT WATER
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Let’s examine the phrase “clouds without water.”
Jude 1:12 calls them “spots in your feasts of love, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear. Clouds they are without water…”
For decades I understood this to be an allusion to phonies, and it certainly can be. But let’s dig a bit deeper. In Scripture a cloud is often the symbol of a divine presence. A pillar of cloud led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
Numbers 11:25 “And the LORD came down in a cloud…”
Exodus 24:18. “Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain…”
Exodus 16:10 And it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of YHVH appeared in the cloud.
And of course, Scripture tell us that Yeshua ascended to heaven in a cloud. I could list more scriptures about “clouds”, but I’ll let you look them up for yourself. For now I want us to look at the Hebrew word for rain. Here is what Rabbi Ismar Schorsch had to say about rain in his article: “TORAH LIKE WATER”
“It is the midrash that lifts [this] episode out of the ordinary. On the verse, ‘They traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water’ (22), some mystically inclined Rabbis opined: ‘Water actually stands for Torah,’ as it is said (by Isaiah, 55:1), ‘Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water.’ Having gone for three days without Torah, the prophets among them stepped forth and legislated that the Torah should be read on the 2ndand 5thdays of the week as well as on Shabbat, so that they would not let three days pass without Torah.” (Babylonian Talmud, BavaKama 82a)
Root Word For Torah
Now let’s take this study one step further. Let’s look at the root word for TORAH, yara. The verb yara means to throw, cast, or shoot, but it is also connected to the act of raining.
Hosea 6:3 “Then we shall know, we who follow on to know YHVH. His going forth is established as the dawn. And He shall come to us as the rain, as the latter and former rain to the earth.” Brown Driver Briggs includes “to throw water or rain” in its list of definitions of yara.
“Give ear, O you heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain. My speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.”
Rabbi Bernie Fox writes: “Rashi explains that in this pasuk, (Deu 32:1-2) HaShem is describing the effects of the Torah upon its students. In the first portion of the pasuk, the Torah is compared to rain and dew. What is the message transmitted through this comparison? Rashi comments that although the earth needs rain in order to sustain life, rain is not always appreciated. Rain can cause inconvenience. The traveler does not wish to battle inclement weather. A farmer whose harvested crops are still in the field is not pleased with a summer storm. Dew does not have the life-sustaining power of rain, however, it is more appreciated. Dew provides moisture without inconvenience. Rashi understands the pasuk to contain a fundamental lesson. Rashi understands rain to represent an activity with a long-term sustaining effect. Dew, in contrast, symbolizes activity providing immediate joy and benefit. He explains the pasuk to mean that the Torah combines the benefits of rain and dew. Like rain, Torah sustains life. Through observance and study of the Torah we can achieve eternal life in Olam HaBah–the world to come. Yet, the Torah also has the quality represented by dew–immediate gain. We are not required to sacrifice happiness in this life. Instead, the Torah enhances our temporal existence in the material world.”
We, in the Messiah, understand that it is the Living Torah, Yeshua, who give us life.
WHAT ARE CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN?
Clouds without rain are those who have the appearance of God’s presence, but without rain (TORAH)! And what did Jude 1:12-13 go on to say about clouds without water? They are carried about by wind. They’re fruitless autumn trees, twice dead, and they will be plucked up by their roots. They are raging waves of the sea, foaming out their shame. They’re wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.