24 October 2014

Hebrew Words for Christians: Blessed, “Walking in the Way,” and Sin

I'm going to start with my conclusion because I doubt that many people will care to read through the detailed word study.
Sin is a more complex concept than many Christians think. We often use "sin" to point fingers and pass judgment. We often speak about sin only in terms of rules and disobedience. We're fond of quoting Pauline letters although we do not study enough to fully understand what Paul was really saying. Remember, Paul was once Saul, a student of the great Gamaliel (Acts 22:3),  a Hebrew-speaking Jew of Hebrew-speaking parents. To understand the New Testament, a wise scholar spends some time with Hebrew scripture which informed the faith of the First Century church.
What did I learn from this word study:
  • to be "blessed" is to be walking "the way of the Lord." It is not an emotion or feeling; it is the direction of life's journey. It is living every moment being aware of the presence--even the far distant presence--of God.
  • "sin" is anything that is contrary to the nature of God.
  • "sin blemishes" or "distorts the image of God" that is present in all human life. It is even worse when you are blemishing or distorting others; the word there is "criminal and deserving punishment." [Because all creation results from God's speaking it into being and is, therefore, a revelation of God, sin also might be the abuse of the natural world. Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19. That's why I am an environmentalist.] We are called to live "as God's dear children" to be like our parent. We are called to "walk as children of Light" not to stumble about in darkness. The quotes are Pauline but "the Light" is a Torah metaphor.
  • "sin" may result from an "unfortunate/unavoidable circumstance" which comes unexpectedly upon a person or a community and makes it hard to see and follow the way e.g. sin may be situation rather than choice. Such sin prompts God's mercy, compassion, and sheltering, redeeming, steadfast love. It should prompt the same response in Christians.
  • "sin" is sometimes not disobedience but "wandering." It may be a lack of attention or a great distraction or simply a lack of knowledge. The winding road may still be going generally in the right direction.
  • "sin" that intentionally hurts others people is deserving punishment--probably that image of God thing. It is also the sin that is clearly a violation of Torah and, hence, a rebellion--sin with a high hand--wicked willful revolt against just authority e.g. God.
  • "sin" results from becoming focused on something other than "the way" and may be the natural result of intoxication or infatuation or idolatry. Even if one staggers and falls it is possible to get back up and start walking in the way. "I don't know what came over me..." The only thing to do is to take the next step (or 12 steps) in the right direction. 
  • "sin" is concrete; it is an action or a continuing attitude that results in actions that lead away from the way.
  • Doubt is not sin. Doubt is in fact evidence that at least a mustard seed of faith is present to be nutured and to grow. Being unsure of your direction is not sin. Taking time to consider or reaching out to friends who have faith and walking along with them enables me to move back into the way. Just taking the next step in the right direction, or not running off in the wrong one, restores blessedness.
  • Acting unjustly, selfishly, unkindly is sin. Such actions say, "God does not see. God will not act." I read this to mean that such sin is as great a denial of God than the stated unbelief of the atheist or the agnostic who "does justice, loves mercy, and walks humbly..."
  • Hebrew scripture does not teach that "all sin is equally bad." God is the only absolute in Hebrew scripture. 
The ancient rabbis planted a legalistic hedge around Torah. One of the points of contentions with Jesus was his overstepping the hedge and condemning legalism as a "burden" that the people could not carry. We must remember that Jesus said not one tiny squib of the Hebrew Torah would pass away; that he said he did not come to undo Torah but to make it complete. I think Christians have continued the ancient error of hedge planting rather than road building. When what we teach is more about condemnation than it is about love and forgiveness, when we are more eager to point out "bad choices" than we are to point out "the way",  we are offering neither biblical truth nor "good news" to the world.
One of my periodic projects is a detailed analysis of the meaning, structure, and poetics of the Psalms. Part of that study is learning a few Hebrew words.

Last Sunday I was invited to substitute for the Open Door class at my church. The class listed a number of  words on the board that "had to do with sin." We read Psalm 1. The class added more words and offered comments on the first group of words. Then we looked at the word study.

"Blessed!” אַשְׁרֵי        
ashar           אָשַׁר                pronounced:  aw-shar         Strong H0833 
                                    Used 2 times in Psalms 41:2; 72:17
                        to be straight, to be right, level (“upright”, “on the level”)
                        to go, to guide, to lead, to relieve
‘ashur           אֲשׁוּר               pronounced:  aw-shoor       Strong H0838
                                    Used 6 times in Psalms 17:5, 11; 37:31; 40:2; 44:18, 73:2
                                    Only appears in Writings: Job 23:11; 31:7, Prov. 14:15
                        in the sense of going:  a step
To be blessed is to be walking in the way of the Lord.
To be called blessed is to be taking a step, walking straight on level ground, walking the way of the Lord.

For Christians, “the Way” is synonymous with following Jesus.

“The Way”         The Hebrew word is
derek                        דְּרָכַ֫יִם              pronounced:  deh’-rek                    Strong H1870
                                    Used 759 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    70 times in Psalms
                        a road (as trodden); figuratively,
                        a course of life or a mode of action
                        conversation, custom, direction, journey, manner, pathway
Its primitive root:
“darak”        דָּרַך                 pronounced:  daw-rak’                    Strong H1869
                                    Used 64 times in Hebrew scripture;
                                    10 times in Psalms 7:12; 11:2; 25:5, 9; 37:14; 58:7; 64:3;                                                   91:13; 107:7: 119:35
                        to tread, to walk
                        to string a bow by treading on it to bend it
                        to bend, to come, to draw, to go, to guide, to lead
                        to thresh by treading down the harvest

derek/darak are words frequently associated with torah/yarah and both include archery images. 
Torah Psalms include phrases like:  “teach us your way, lead us through, walk in your path, walk in the way, chart our course, along the way, by the wayside, lost the way, guide us back into the way, straight course as an arrow flies.”

Lord God, shoot us like arrows along your chosen course.
Let us fly straight and true as you direct us.
Let us hit the target. Let us not miss the mark.

“Sin” as it is defined in Hebrew scripture:

ra'               רָע                 pronounced:  rah                             Strong 7451
                                    Used more than 600 times in Hebrew scripture
                        adversity, bad, evil, contrary to God’s nature
                        Note: the oldest scriptures refer to Satan as Adversary
ra' a'                             רָעַע              pronounced:  raw-ah'                   Strong 7489
                        afflict, broken and unable to serve its intended function
                        blemished and unacceptable sacrifice for the altar of God
                        Note: the “image of God” broken to pieces in the sinful person
appears in Psalms 5:4; 7:4-9;  10:6,15; 15:3; 21:11; 23:4; 27:5; 28:3; 34:13,14,16,19,21; 35:12; 36:4; 37:19; 38:20; 41:1,5,7; 49:5; 52:3; 64:3; 90:15; 91:10; 94:13; 97:10; 101:4; 107:39; 109:5,20; 112:7; 119:104; 121:7; 140:1, 11; 141:4; 144:10

chatta'       חָטָא             pronounced:  khat-taw'                               Strong 2398
chatta'ah חַטָּאָה            pronounced:  khat-taw-aw'                        Strong 2403
                                    Used 300 times in Hebrew scripture
                        sin, offense, deserving  punishment, also the atoning sacrifice
appears in Psalms 4:4; 25:7,18; 32:5; 38:3; 39:1; 41:4; 51:2,3,4,7; 59:3,12; 78:17,32; 79:9; 85:2; 106:6; 109:14; 119:11

rasha         רָשָׁע              pronounced:  raw-shaw'                 Strong 7563
                                    Used 250 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wicked, evil, criminal, morally wrong, wickedly departed the way
The "sin" word used most frquently in Psalms, appearing in Psalm 1:1,4,5,6; 3:7; 9:5,16,17; 10:2,3,4,13,15; 11:2,5,6; 12:8; 17:9,13; 18:21; 28:3; 32:10; 34:21; 36:1,4; 37:10,12,14,16,17, 20, 21; 39:1; 50:16; 55:3; 58:3,10; 71:4; 73:3,12; 75:4,6,10; 82:2,4; 91:8; 92:7; 94:3,13; 96:10, 101:8; 104:35; 109:2,6; 112:10; 119:53,61,95,110,119,155; 129:4; 139:19; 140:4,8; 141:10; 145:20; 146:9; 147:6

avon           עָווֹן                 pronounced:  aw-vone'                   Strong 5771
                                    Used 231 times in Hebrew scripture
                        iniquity, guilty, perverse, crooked, twisted
                        makes the path crooked, distorts the image of God
appears in Psalm 18:23; 25:11; 31:10; 32:2,5: 36:2; 38:4,18; 39:11; 40:12; 51:2,5; 59:4; 65:3; 69:27; 78:38; 79:8; 85:2; 90:8; 103:3,10; 107:17; 109:14; 130:3,8

pesha         פֶּ֫שַׁע                    prounounced:  peh'-shah                Strong 6588
                                    Used 93 times in Hebrew scripture
                        transgression, rebellion, breach of trust
pasha        פָּשַׁע              pronounced:  paw-shah'                 Strong 6586
                                    Used 41 times in Hebrew scripture
                        rebel, revolt, transgress,break away from just authority, defy
                        apostasize, quarrel
appears in Psalm 5:10; 19:13; 25:7; 32:1,5; 36:1; 37:38; 39:8; 51:1,3,13; 59:3; 65:3; 89:32; 103:12; 107:17

asham       אָשַׁם              pronounced:  aw-sham'                  Strong 816     
                                    Used 35 times in Hebrew scripture
                        offense, transgression, guilty, condemned, utterly desolate
                       Note: this word is a recognition or consequence of sin.
appears in Psalm 5:10; 34:21-22

ta ah                     תָּעָה                pronounced:  taw-aw'                      Strong 8582
                                    Used 50 times in Hebrew scripture
                        wander, go astray, stray, err, vacillate, reel, stagger as a drunkard,
                        be out of the way
appears in Psalm 58:3; 91:10; 107:4,40; 119:110,176

shagah      שָׁגָה              pronounced:  shaw-gaw'                    Strong 7686
                                    Used 21 times in Hebrew scripture
                        swerve, meander, reel as intoxicated, be deceived/ravished                                         by a prostitute, wander through ignorance, err
appears in Psalm 11:10,21,118; Psalm 119:10

All these Psalms would be worthy of more close reading. If time had allowed, I had noted Psalms 34, 37, and 109 for class discussion.
But time was short. A good thing since the class was very vocal and involved in applying these Hebrew word meanings to the gospel of Luke which the class had studied immediately previously and to various other New Testament ideas.
I concluded the class by reading Psalm 1 again, this time from the Amplified Bible.
The class wanted to linger and talk more. Wow! a lesson on sin that offered hope.

My favorite on-line Hebrew/English translation tool includes both the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon and Strong’s concordance and lexicon.

This is a link to an article by Stephen Beale that includes some of the Hebrew words but also their translations into Greek and New Testament Greeks words.

1 comment:

K Cummings Pipes said...

" If the canonical Psalms are our model, few hymn-writers could hope to write with such remarkable insight (into God and His creatures, who are only dust) and remarkable craftsmanship (e.g. the first three words of the first Psalm begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (א), each also has a shin (ש), and two of the three also have a resh (ר), even though each is only a 3-letter word. Even those unfamiliar with Hebrew cannot miss the remarkable assonance and alliteration in those opening three words: “ashre ha-ish asher”)." T. David Gordon http://secondnaturejournal.com/the-imminent-decline-of-contemporary-worship-music-eight-reasons/