by Lois Tverberg
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you visit him? (Psalm 8:5)
One of the words that seems to be used in a strange way in literal translations of the Bible is the word “visit,” or pakad in Hebrew. In the King James Version, it seems to not make a lot of sense in the passages it is found in, as in Exodus 20:5 when it speaks about “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” Often, the word “visit” is not being used in any sense that we normally use the word, and shows that a literal translation is sometimes quite misleading.
The word pakad in Hebrew is fascinating in its breadth of meaning, only rarely meaning the most literal usage, “to visit.” Its overall meaning is to pay attention to, but that can be in either a positive or negative way. It can mean to care for (as in Psalm 8:5), or even to come to one’s rescue:
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely visit you (come to your aid) and take you to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24)
But it can also mean to have God’s attention in a negative way, as judgement or punishment:
Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” (Exodus 32:34) (meaning when I bring their sins to my attention, I will punish their sins.)
Interestingly, Jesus makes a powerful statement using this word when he says, “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:43-44) He doesn’t just mean when he “visited” them by coming to earth. He is using the Hebraic sense of the word, both positively or negatively, in the strongest possible sense. For those who repent and follow Christ, God has come to their rescue, to save them eternally, but for those who ignore him, it will be the source of their punishment, when God “visits” their sins on them in the judgment to come.
See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.
For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).