In my previous post, I began to discuss the first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah and why I think it is all so much lovelier in the original Hebrew. My point here is not to tell you all you should learn Hebrew (though it’s not the worst idea) but to try to share with you what I see in the text, bot to help you understand it and to give an appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of the Word itself. Last time we talked about parallelism and repeated sounds. This time I have two points but I think they are much simpler.
Prophets often have a thing. Hosea had to marry a degenerate woman. Jeremiah is shown things by God and asks what he sees (who’s got the better end of that deal?). In verse 11 of chapter 1, the Lord asks Jeremiah what he sees and the prophet answers “a rod (or branch) of almond.” The Lord responds by saying, “You have seen well for I am watching over my word to do it” (v. 12; my translation). And about now unless you have a Bible with good footnotes you should be asking yourself what on earth this means. It is reasonably clear ion the second part that God is saying He will watch carefully to make sure His Word is fulfilled. But why an almond branch? It doesn’t make much sense in English. In Hebrew the meaning is immediately clear. The word for almond in Hebrew is shaqed and the word used here for watch (and certainly Hebrew has a lot of other words for watch or guard which could have been chosen) is shoqed. They are almost identical. And really Hebrew vowels are a more minor thing than consonants. They appear not as letters themselves but as dots and dashes around the consonants. So in the original text, which had no vowels, the two would have looked identical. My Bible did not explain this all to me. I would be interested in knowing if yours did.
The last point I wanted to make from this chapter comes from the latter half of verse 17. The ESV here reads: “Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” That’s a pretty good translation. The key element here is that it uses the same verb twice. That is what the Hebrew does too. In Hebrew they are two slightly different forms of the same verb so that the first might be translated “be in dismay” (reflexive) and the second “dismay” as a transitive verb. A good test of your Bible translation would be to look at this verse and see if the same verb is used twice. The King James does not do so neither do paraphrases like the Complete English Bible. My favorite of the ones I have looked at is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which translates: “Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.” I like the use of the word break; the Hebrew also can have the sense of “to shatter.” And I like that the verb is used slightly differently in the first and second halves. To break down is not the same as to be broken but we get the connection. That’s how the Hebrew comes across too.
And that is Jeremiah 1. I have enjoyed these posts so much I am hoping there will be more in Jeremiah worth posting about.