+44 1989 548022 / Contact Us

More Hebrew Idioms and Metaphors

by Christine Egbert

As I explained in my first article on this subject, A Misunderstood Hebrew Idiom, an idiom is an expression that can’t be understood by its literal meaning, i.e. “punch the clock” or “eat your heart out.”  This article will delve into more Hebrew idioms and one interesting metaphor.  

Between 300-400 AD Jerome wrote of 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.” [http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/GTJ-NT/Fields-Gospels-Jesus-GTJ-84.pdf ]

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 NT 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 understand Hebrew idioms and metaphors.

BINDING & LOOSING

(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 has selected this passage and interprets it to mean that Yeshua gave Peter the power and authority to change Biblical Law.  They interpret it that Peter, and later the Pope (whoever has that title at any given time), can declare what is allowed or permitted from Earth, even if it goes counter to Torah, and Heaven has to follow along.

They, of course, are wrong!

The Hebrew words for “bind” is acar and for “loose” is pathach. In rabbinic literature the meaning found for “bind” is prohibited, and “loose” means to allow. The Greek translators, however, used the literal and not intended idiomatic meaning for bind and loose.

A more appropriate understanding is that all the things that Heaven has declared to be allowable (permitted) or whatever Heaven has already prohibited are to be Peter’s (and later the ‘church’) guide for behavior.  Those are the ‘keys’ to enter into the kingdom of heaven for everyone.  Instead of giving man the authority to decide between good and evil, this passage is intended to reinforce that all power and authority comes from Heaven and we are to be reflections of that standard.

THE POOR IN SPIRIT

(Matthew 5:3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Hebrew word translated “poor” is aniy. It also means humble and lowly. Yeshua probably had Isaiah 66:2 in mind: “… says YHVH, but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word,” when he used the phrase translated by most English Bibles as “poor in spirit.” Many newer English translations now use “humble.”

PERSECUTION OR PURSUIT

Mt 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

According toHebrew Idioms in the Gospel of Matthew” by Claudia R. Wintoch, there are four mistranslations in this one sentence: She writes:

1. In the previous verses Jesus has described what a person of God’s kingdom looks like and He has not changed the subject. The Greek word diuku, as well as the Hebrew word radaf, can both be translated either with persecute or pursue, the latter being far more common for the Hebrew word, and the first for the Greek word. The Bible translator chose to translate diuku with persecute because of the following two verses that deal with persecution. Bivin & Blizzard comment that 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).

2. The word righteousness in Hebrew, tsedeq, is a synonym for salvation (which appears only seven times in the gospels), which would be a more accurate translation in this verse.

3. 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.

4. 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, almost here the Hebrew equivalent qarab means the opposite, that it has arrived, it is here. That is clearly seen in OT passages like Genesis 20:4 where Abimelech “had not come near” Sarah, i.e. 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 therefore read similar to this:

“Blessed are those who pursue salvation, for such as these are in the kingdom of God.”

CLOUDS WITHOUT WATER

Now, let’s take the metaphor “clouds without water.”

Jude 1:12 “These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water…”

For decades I took this to be an allusion to phonies. And it certainly can be. But let’s dig a bit deeper. A cloud in Scripture is often a symbol of 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…”

Exo_16:10 And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

Yeshua ascended to heaven in a cloud.  I could list more! There are dozens of references like these, but I’ll let you look them up for yourself.

Next we’ll look at the Hebrew word for rain.

But first, let’s read this excerpt from an article by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, titled: “TORAH Like Water.”

THIRSTY FOR TORAH

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 second and fifth days of the week as well as on Shabbat so that they would not let three days pass without Torah” (Babylonian Talmud, BavaKama 82a).

Now let’s take this one step further. Let’s look at the root word for TORAH, yara. The verb yara means to throw cast or shoot, but is also connected to the act of raining (Hosea 6:3) Brown Driver Briggs includes in the definition “to throw water or rain.”

Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain. My speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: (Deuteronomy 32:1-2)

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?

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RAIN AND DEW?

“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. [1]

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.”

SO WHAT DOES THE METAPHOR CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN MEAN?

Clouds without rain are those who have the appearance of God’s presence, His anointing (a cloud), but without having rain (TORAH)!

And what does Jude 1:12-13 go on to say about these clouds without water?

It says they are carried about of winds. They are trees whose fruit withers.  They are twice dead and plucked up by the roots. They are Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame. It calls them wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *