Dayeinu – It Would Have Been Enough

by Lois Tverberg

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )

If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.

If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.

If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.

If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The verses above are from a much longer melody that is sung at Passover celebrations every year. It is a very ancient song, written about 1000 years ago. It is one of my favorite parts of the celebration, as a long list of God’s blessings are recounted, with the idea that if God would have stopped at any one, they would have been completely satisfied. What a wonderful attitude of gratefulness! How much longer would the list be if we as Christians added to them…

If He had redeemed me with His suffering and death,
but not filled me with His Spirit,
it would have been enough.

If He had filled me with His Spirit,
but did not guide my life daily as His disciple,
it would have been enough.

If He guided my life daily as His disciple,
but did not lovingly answer my prayers,
it would be enough.

If He lovingly answered my prayers
but did not give me His promise to spend eternity with Him,
it would be enough.

(Add your own verses here!)

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

Learning to Read

Child reading

by Mary Okkema

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3

Child readingBecoming like children has a different meaning for each one of us. It can mean playing on the floor, being spontaneous with sounds, learning to see things with childlike eyes, and many other things.

For me, learning to read Hebrew feels a lot like becoming a little child again. Since this language is new to me, there are still so many words that are unfamiliar, but those I do recognize seem to jump off the page. I want to study them in great detail, much like a child wants to look at every bug and stone and leaf while taking a walk.

Taking a closer look at Genesis in Hebrew, brings questions to mind like, “Haven’t we heard this word somewhere else in scripture?” It helps us understand how the disciples would have heard and recognized when Jesus was quoting Old Testament scripture, as He so often did in His teachings.

Familiar words like “ruach” (wind/spirit), “ha-aretz” (earth/ground), and “ha-shamaim” (heavens/sky) from Genesis 1 enhance our appreciation of the creation story. Adam’s rib gets a second glance knowing that the word for “rib” can also mean “one side.” We see the word “basar” (flesh) used for the filling in of Adam’s side, is the same word used for the substance of beings used for sacrifices like a bull or ram (as in Deuteronomy 12:27).

The story of the first temptation in Genesis 3 can also be so familiar in our minds, yet when we read it again we see that the word “nahash” (snake, serpent) is repeated over and over as the one doing the talking, and “Satan” is not mentioned. Could other animals speak too at this point?

Sometimes the Hebrew language can be much stronger as in the case of Genesis 3:15:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (NASV)

In English a “bruise” is a minor injury but the Hebrew word here, “shuph,” has the action of pounding, which is much more violent.

So as we begin to see, it can be a wonderfully rich experience to go back to the beginning and look for the Lord like a little child again.

Photocred: GMR Akash

Adamah – from Earth, And Yet More

by Lois Tverberg

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

When we read Genesis in English, we don’t see several wonderfully profound ideas contained in the words it chooses to describe the relationship of man to the rest of creation and to God. The word for ground is adamah, and of course the first human is called “Adam.” It perfectly fits the scene of God forming Adam from the adamah, and the fact that Adam’s skin is red (adom, in Hebrew), like the ground. Adam is given the task of working the adamah, and when Adam dies, he will return to the adamah.

Even though we are fundamentally made from the earth, the Scripture says that we are unique in our connectedness to God himself, when he created us in his image and breathed the ruach (breath) of life into us. We are not mini-gods, we are created things just like everything around us. But, we are different from the rest of creation because of the unique kind of life we were given by God himself.

There is a wise rabbinic saying about this. It is said,

A person should always carry two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one should be written, ‘I am but dust and ashes,’ and the other, ‘All of creation was made for my sake.'(Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)

That is, we should all humbly realize our own frailness and short life on this earth, and our “feet of clay” – our tendency to sin. But yet we should also continually be reminded we are all created in the image of God, each one very precious in his sight.

Ish & Ishah – Together Fully Human

by Lois Tverberg

(Adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), Because she was taken out of Man (ish).” For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:23-24

The creation story has many profound things to say about God’s intention for our lives. We can be enriched just by looking closely at the Hebrew words that are used to describe the first human Adam, and then the creation of man and woman.

It may surprise English readers that the word adam is a neutral term meaning “human,” not specifically a man. In the original Hebrew text, all references to Adam are neutral until God takes some of Adam’s flesh and makes a woman – ishah, in Hebrew. Only at that point is Adam called ish, a man. The Hebrew word ishah hints at her origins from within the ish, something that we can mimic in English, with the words “man” and “woman.” But interestingly, Adam is never called an ish until the ishah has been separated from him. It is as if the text is implying that male and female cannot define themselves fully as human without the other.

We may not realize that this logic is part of the next verse that says that for this reason, when a man and woman marry, they become “one.” They are returning to God’s first design before the ish and ishah were separated. The complementarity between man and woman is inherent in the way they were taken apart from each other, as the first ishah provides what the ish lacks. In God’s design, it is the the two together who ultimately reflect the image of God.

Shalvah – Peace Within Your Walls

by Lois Tverberg

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. – Psalm 122:6-7 KJV

Often in the past several thousand years, Israel has been in the center of international controversy. It’s as if the powerful spiritual battles that have happened in that land are ongoing, and still trigger events in world politics today. With this in mind, it is good to be reminded that God tells us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” in Psalm 122:6, above.

Older translations often complete that verse by saying that God would prosper those who do so. The idea that God would make us wealthy for caring for his people is actually a mistranslation of the word shalvah, which doesn’t mean prosperity, but actually ease, security and freedom from worry. The NIV now translates this verse in the following way:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”

In Hebrew, we can also hear how the verse is composed to gently roll off the tongue as well:

Shalu shalom Yerushalaim, yishla’u ohavaikh.

The overall effect in reading the verse is to hear both poetic parallelism and alliteration, as the soft sound of the “sh” is used in the words shalu (ask, pray), shalom (peace), Yerushalaim (Jerusalem), and yishla’u (security, tranquility). We also hear the closeness of ideas of shalom (peace, well-being) and shalvah (tranquility, security, ease). We see that those who care about God’s children in that troubled land will find tranquility themselves.

Why? God has chosen Israel for a purpose that will not be fulfilled until the end of the age. The people there show the ongoing struggle within all of humanity, spiritually. They are no better and no worse there than the rest of the world, and when we pray for God’s shalom to be established there, we are praying for ourselves as well.

Geshem – Rain from Heaven

by Lois Tverberg

The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. – Deuteronomy 11:11-12

During our five weeks in Israel in late June and July, not once did it rain. In fact, almost 6 months go by each year without any rain, between May and October. In all of the Middle East, water is precious, like oil is nowadays. In ancient times, countries that had water in abundance became superpowers, and the countries with little barely survived. Egypt received almost no rain at all, but had abundant water from the flooding of the Nile. That was why when regional famine came, people went there to purchase food, like Abraham and later Joseph’s family. The water available from the Nile each year was 30,000 times more plentiful than the yearly rainful to Israel – an enormous difference indeed! It is therefore interesting that God saw the water of Israel as superior to that of Egypt. In Deuteronomy 11:10 – 12 it says,

The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

The difference between Egypt and Canaan was that in Egypt the crops were irrigated by the labor of hand-watering, while in Canaan the land was entirely watered by rain, geshem in Hebrew. In the ancient Middle East, that had profound spiritual implications, because rain was understood to be a gift straight from God, whereas water drawn by hand was a seen to be human self-reliance without regard to God. Egypt and Canaan, therefore, were a contrast of security of human effort compared to dependence on God.

This was a spiritual lesson for the Israelites when they left the land of Egypt for the promised land of Canaan — that when God chose a land for his people, he didn’t choose a place where they could have security because of their own efforts, he chose a land where they would be far more dependent on him and would need his presence watching over them to send them the living water of rain, geshem.

Many of us have seen God do the same thing in our own lives, when we step out to follow him and he takes us from security in our own efforts and brings us to a point of dependence on him, which doesn’t always include prosperity as the world sees it. God often desires dependence for his people rather than abundance, contrary to what “prosperity gospel” teachers may tell us. While we may not have the material wealth as if we lived in “Egypt”, we know that God’s eyes are on us from the beginning of the year to the end.

Metzudah – God is Our Refuge

by Bruce Okkema

In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. – Psalm 71:1-3

Masada stands as a huge outcropping of rock jutting 1,440 feet above the desert floor on the western shore of the Dead Sea. It is located fourteen miles north of the southern end of the sea and eleven miles south of En-gedi. Masada remains today one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols, and except for Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of people visiting Israel.

Its history as a desert fortress goes back far into the past. David moved throughout this region of the southern Judean desert as he was hiding from Saul, and quite likely spent time on this mountain. Although Masada is not mentioned by name in the Bible, we see glimpses of it in several places where God is called a “rock of refuge”, or “my fortress.” Metzudah means “refuge” or “fortress” in Hebrew. (In addition to our text above, see also 1 Sam 22:4-5, 23:14, 24:22, and Psalms 18:2, 31, and 144:2.)

The remains that we we see today are from the time of Herod, who not only increased the fortifications, but built magnificent garden palaces on either end of the mountain. It almost never rains here, yet Herod built an elaborate water system to divert water that originated in the Judean mountains into cisterns at Masada. Servants carried water from there to upper reservoirs servicing the palaces, to an Olympic size swimming pool!

The reason Masada is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols is for what occurred there during the Jewish revolt against Rome during 66 – 72AD. A group of Zealots took Masada and it became a place of refuge for other Jews fleeing the Roman terrorism. For three years they were able to fend off the Romans and worship the Living God while enduring the rigors of desert life. Finally, faced with certain capture and torture, the group of 960 chose to take their own lives, rather than become slaves of Rome. “The valor of the Jewish zealots residing on Masada during the Roman siege is celebrated as the supreme example of self-sacrifice for the preservation of the nation of Israel. Today, when the recruits of the Israel Armored Corps take their oath of allegiance, they do so on Masada to remind each generation of the price their forefathers paid for their nation. They cry: “Masada shall not fall again!” (1)

To climb the arduous snake path in the 120° sun, to imagine looking down helplessly from above on your fellow countrymen enslaved to build a siege ramp against you, to stand at the precipice thinking across history about all the many who have served the Lord at the cost of their lives is to wonder if I will have the courage to stand that test for my Lord one day.

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. – Psalm 2:10-12

Tzarah – When Times Are Tight

by Lois Tverberg

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. – Isaiah 63:9

When we are are in distress, in our English, we use many vivid physical images to describe it, like feeling crushed, low, burdened, or weighed down with our troubles. We picture ourselves as if we are carrying a heavy object that is pushing down on us.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, a different picture is used for the same idea of affliction. The word for distress is tzar or tzarah, and it also means “narrow” or “tight.” The picture is that of being hemmed in, squeezed, or trapped with no options. Often King David speaks about being pressed (tzarah) by his enemies. When God gives relief, rahav, the word literally means widening. For instance, in this translation of Psalm 4 it says:

When I call out, answer me, O God who vindicates me! Though I am hemmed in (tzarah), you will lead me into a wide, open place. [lit., you will widen, rahav me] Have mercy on me and respond to my prayer! (Ps. 4:1-2, NET)

There is an interesting verse that uses this image. In Isaiah 63:9, it says that when God’s people were afflicted (tzar), he himself was afflicted (tzar). God wasn’t just sitting back, relaxing comfortably in heaven while his people were in distress. When his people were squeezed, God was feeling squeezed too! God feels our distress and our worries, he doesn’t just shake his finger at how little faith we have. He is always intimately near, caring for us in our troubles more than we can ever realize.

Photo: Archesnps

Tzel – The Necessity of Shade

by Lois Tverberg

The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. – Psalm 121:5-6 NASB

Many times in the Psalms, God is referred to as “shade” (tzel in Hebrew), and the Bible speaks of us under the “shadow of his wings” (Psalm 63:7). This image didn’t speak to me powerfully until I experienced the heat and sun of the land of Israel myself, especially in the mountains near Jerusalem.

Many days reached nearly 100° F, and near the Dead Sea, it was over 120° F. Clouds are extremely rare in the summer, so nothing protects a person from the power of the sun’s rays. When we stood in the sunshine we could quickly feel our skin burning, but under a tree, the breeze made us quite comfortable. We also sensed the sun’s heat as the temperature rose each day from below 60° F at dawn to almost 100° F by afternoon.

It is interesting to see how in Psalm 121, it speaks of the sun “smiting” us, the same word also translated as “to hit, attack, or strike down”. In ancient times, it was thought that just as the sun was the source of heat that “attacks” us by day, the moon is the source of cold that “attacks” us by night. So when God led his people in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, God was sheltering them from the ever-present enemies of cold and heat in the desert .

We can also see why the image of “shade” is often used to mean protection. For instance, in Numbers 14:9, Joshua reassures the people that the Canaanites will not be able to win against them because their protection (shade, tzel, literally) has been removed from them. Without shade, it is impossible to survive in that land, and if their shade has been removed, they are defenseless.

Now that we have a better understanding of the great need for the cool of shade, which was a picture of protection by God, we can better appreciate the following psalm, among many others:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow (tzel) of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” – Psalm 91:1-2

Ganav – Another Way to Steal

by Lois Tverberg

You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. – Leviticus 19:10

We can learn a good lesson from an interesting Hebrew idiom that uses the word ganav, “to steal.” The phrase to “steal someone’s mind” means to deceive – to keep information from another. It is found in Genesis 31:20, which very literally reads, “Jacob stole Laban’s mind (literally, heart) by not telling him he was running away with his daughters.” Many translations render the idiom as “to deceive” – that Jacob deceived Laban and thereby “stole his mind.”

A synonymous idiom that is still used today is “geneivat daat,” meaning “stealing knowledge”. It has a fascinating definition that we don’t often consider. To “steal knowledge” is to fool someone into having a mistaken assumption, belief, or impression, even if no lying is involved. If a shopper is convinced that he is buying a top quality item and the clerk never mentions that it is defective, that would be “geneivat daat.” Or, if a store increases its prices temporarily so that it can advertise huge markdowns, that is “geneivat daat.”

We all know what it is like to be taken in by this type of deception, and often when we realize we have been “duped,” we feel as if someone has stolen something from us. And interestingly, the rabbinic thinking is that we have been robbed. The sages saw that the phrase includes the word ganav, to steal, and concluded that the commandment, “Do not steal” also prohibits “stealing another’s mind”, or deceiving others. Indeed, the rabbis spoke of seven types of thieves and the worst was the one who “steals the mind.” (Tosefta, Bava Kama 7:3) (1)

As angry as we get when it happens to us, often we see that we are guilty of it ourselves. Geneivat daat is when we offer to pay the bill at a restaurant, knowing that the other person won’t accept, or when we invite someone to a party that we know they can’t attend, both ways of creating a false impression of generosity. When we take credit for something we didn’t really do, or pad our job resume (2) – all these things “steal” others’ goodwill, understanding, or deliberately create a false impression of ourselves.

When we remember that we are serving the God of truth, we realize that he doesn’t approve of such forms of verbal manipulation. How many times a day do our words not match our intentions? We may not give a second thought about all the little ways we are deceptive, but we should if we want to be God’s people of integrity.