(Author's note: This article originally contained the Hebrew characters. They appeared in the document from right to left, but once published on-line, reverted to left to right. To eliminate confusion, the Hebrew letters have been deleted from this document. If you would like a copy of the full document with the Hebrew letters, please email me. Thank you for your understanding.)
So then I will change up all the peoples to a pure language that they might all call on the name of YHVH to serve Him shoulder-to-shoulder, as one man. (Zephaniah 3:9)
Hebrew is certainly a special language. It is the language in which Jesus and His disciples studied the Scriptures. As believers in an omnipotent and omniscient G-d, we must accept that Yah had reasons for creating Hebrew as the language by which the history of His people, the Jews, was delivered. While we cannot fathom His thinking on this subject, we can infer many things by examining the nature of language.
That the TaNaKh was written in Hebrew is clear from the fact that there are things which can only be understood in the original. For example, Adam names his wife Eve, not because she was created towards night (an English meaning), but because she is the mother of all living things. Her Hebrew name, Khava (Strong’s #2332), of which Eve is a pitiful transliteration, comes from the root khaiya (#2421), which is the verb 'to live'. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such examples.
Hebrew is a verb/action oriented language. If you look at the Hebrew dictionary at the back of any Strong's Concordance, you will find the origins for most words that go back to primitive roots. These roots are invariably three letters. Even seemingly four letter roots are traced back to three letter ones. For example, 'galgal' #1534, a wheel or rolling thing, is traced back to the verb 'galal' #1556.
Words with the same root consonants are always related to each other. In English, you can see that pan, pen, pin and pun are totally unrelated. However in Hebrew, all words with the same root are related. Words with the same root give unexpected shades of overlap, which enrich our understanding of the text. This makes the language of TaNaKh very rich in meaning. Nuances also flow to each word and this is why you frequently see many translations for a single word in the Strong's or other Hebrew lexicon.
Another reason there seem to be many meanings for words is related to the verb structure of Hebrew. While the rest of Hebrew grammar is remarkably simple, regular and even repetitive, the verb system is somewhat complex. This is what we would expect in a language that is based on verbs. Although there are only three tenses (as opposed to 9-15 in English, depending on how you count them), the Hebrew verb system is based on what is called in Hebrew 'binyanim', a word which literally means ‘buildings’, and carries the idea of levels of strength. In the Strong's, no reference is made to these binyanim, which is one reason so many meanings appear in each definition. In addition, the participle (present) tense of a verb can be used as a noun to indicate the person who is doing the action.
There are seven binyanim, or strengths, of verbs. It should be noted that not every root appears in all seven strengths.
(intensive or causative)
(causative or transfer of experience)
To begin with a simple example, the root 'safar' #5608, includes the meanings commune, (ac)count, declare, number, reckon, scribe, shew forth, speak, talk, tell (out), writer. The actual verb ‘to count’ uses this root in the pa'al. The verb ‘to tell’, or ‘recount’ as we use it in English, uses the verb in the pi'el form. The participle form of the pa'al is the ‘sofer’, which is the scribe or writer. (As an interesting side note, the reason the scribe is literally the one who counts is because of how Torah scrolls are written. The lines are copied from another scroll, one at a time. As the scribe finishes each line, he adds up the numerical value of the line he has written [each letter has a numerical value] and looks to see if it matches the value of the original line.) The noun for number, ‘mispar’", #4557, you will see is related to this root, as are ‘safer’ #5612, meaning ‘book’, and ‘s’for’ #5610, meaning ‘a numbering’, as in a census.
The verb ‘to go’, halakh #1980, appears in the pa’al, pi’el, hiphil and hitpa’el. In Genesis 15:2, Abraham describes himself as ‘going’ childless in the world. This is a pa’al usage. In Psalm 86:11, the author says he will ‘walk’ in the truth of Yah; this is a pi’el usage. There is an inference that it requires more from the man than the action of just moving one’s legs to walk in the truth (perhaps a decision of his will). A hiphil usage of this root appears in Deuteronomy 8:2 where Yah ‘led’ the people all the way through the wilderness. In other words, He caused them to walk. Finally, we see the hitpa’el usage in Genesis 5:22 and 6:10, where both Enoch and Noah are said to have walked with Elohim. The reflexive form gives us an insight into the unity of spirit that these men had with Yah. Incidentally, the word ‘halakha’ which we use to describe the practical way of carrying out the commands of Torah comes from this root. It is the way we ‘walk’ out our faith.
One more interesting example stems from the root ‘shanah’ #8138. Meanings given in Strong’s are from the idea of folding: do (again), double, change, disguise, be diverse, pervert, prefer, repeat, return. A pa’al use appears in I Kings 18:34 where Elijah, in his contest with the prophets of Ba’al, orders that the water be poured on the sacrifice a second time. In II Kings 25:29, Evil Merodach changes the garments of Jehoiachin, who had been in prison, signifying a pi’el use of the word. A pu’al, or passive, use of the root occurs in Ecclesiastes 8:1, where it is said that a man’s face is changed because of his wisdom. Finally, I Kings 14:2 gives an example of the hitpa’el use as Jehoram tells his wife to ‘disguise herself’, an action done by the self to the self.
This root gives us an interesting insight into the word for ‘year’ #8141. Especially as we observe the feasts on an annual basis, we see they are a repetition, a holy rehearsal, as they are called in Leviticus 23. And even though we repeat the same rituals yearly, we also expect a change, in ourselves, changing ever into the image of Yeshua (Romans 8:29), and especially in these times, as this world moves closer and closer to the climax of natural history and the return of Messiah as prophesied. One more interesting fact about the word ‘shana’ in Hebrew is that its numerical value is 355. This is approximately the number of days in a lunar year, the twelve months alternating between 29 and 30 days, and was in fact the number of days in the Hebrew year of 5764, eight years ago.