Today, class, we are going to review our parts of speech. Okay, so I know that this does not sound like the most exhilarating topic for a blog, but follow me on this one and I think you will see why the journey is worth it. I stumbled across this as I was working through Genesis one word at a time, taking them all apart, letter by letter, and doing my best to understand the Bible at molecular level, if you will. And this just blew me away. So let’s dive in.
The Bible opens with these words:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
Pretty straight forward, so it would seem, but the truth is we could spend a life time on this verse and barely begin to touch the depths of knowledge that is revealed here. If you don’t believe me, just stop and consider what it means to create heavens and earth, what it tells about the one we worship, and how it informs us as to why he is worthy of worship. Look at all the components needed just to create one aspect of this reality we inhabit, a slug perhaps. Forget about the complexity of a snail, just consider a slug – can you speak one into existence? I didn’t think so. Now consider solar systems and galaxies, how powerful do you have to be for your words to make that a reality? I don’t think I will ever get over the wonder of these words, but it gets even more amazing when you have the privilege of reading them in the Hebrew.
Now this where things really start to get interesting.
One of the first things we have to recognize is we are reading translations of the Bible which are, for the most part, very well done and trust worthy. However, Hebrew is a language and not a code to be broken. In other words, you can’t just swap out the Hebrew letters for English letters and have a book that the average English reader could understand. Translators have to make judgement calls about which words best capture the meaning and intent of the passage for their audience. This is why the King James reads so different from the NIV or ESV. English was a different language back in the day, and people have ceased to talk that way, so the translators had to adjust to keep step with the evolution of our language.
Even more fun, English and Hebrew sentences have a different construction. In English, we typically have a subject>verb>direct object construction of sentences. We can look at a sentence and determine by the word order which part of speech is which. An example:
Sally hit the ball.
The ball hit the fence.
The electric fence shocked Sally.
We know that the ball did not hit Sally. We also know that fence did not hit the ball, and that Sally did not shock the fence. No one has to tell us this, because despite the fact that each of the words serve as both subjects and as direct objects within the sentence, the forms and structures of our language tell us which part of speech the words function as.
In Hebrew things get a bit trickier as the sentences do not always follow the subject>verb>direct object formula. Instead, direct objects can float around all over the place in a sentence, so we need some way to know what is the direct object of a sentence verses the subject of a sentence.
Now if you have slept since your last English class, let’s do a quick review on what direct object is. A direct object is the object towards whom the action is directed. Another way to say this is that direct object is the noun that receives the action of the verb. So the ball in the first sentence received the hit, the fence received the hit in the second, and Sally received the shock in third.
If we go back and apply this to Genesis 1:1, we see that God (subject) created (verb) the heavens and the earth (direct objects. Yes, there can be more than one). Or in other words, the heaven and the earth received the creation, God’s action in this sentence
How do we know this? Aside from the fact that this is one of those times the Hebrew does follow the English structure for sentences, there is included within the Hebrew text a little word that indicates which words are the direct objects. It is called…..a direct object indicator. It looks like this, את.
It is not included in English translations, because we don’t need it. The sentence structure tells the reader what they need to know, and there is no English word that operates as its equivalent.
This is such an established and accepted fact that when I was going through Genesis, I almost breezed by it without a second thought. The only reason I decided to pay it any attention at all was out of a desire to be thorough and consistent with my work. And I am so glad I did, because these two letters blew me away.
If you look this word up in the Brown-Driver-Briggs, the gold standard of Hebrew definitions, you will find a rather lengthy and in-depth discussion of this word as a direct object indicator, but if you flip over a page, you will find another word that looks identical. It is only used in a handful of verses, but here is the most familiar:
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Joel 3:10
Do you see it? Remember a direct object is what receives the action of the verb. So direct object indicator would prepare the reader to see what is receiving the action of the verb. Which one of the items above prepares something to receive something?
Congratulations, if you picked plowshare, because that is exactly what a plowshare does. It prepares the earth to receive the seeds.
I know, this is all well and good, but someone out there is saying, “But, Emily, I want to hear about Jesus not all this grammar stuff.” We are getting there, just keep going!
Let’s skip back over to Revelation, where Jesus proclaims:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 22:13
How many of you know that’s probably not what he really said? Pick up your jaw, Ethel, and think about this with me. Was Jesus Greek? I don’t think so. In fact, I am pretty certain that he was Jewish, and being Jewish he would have probably referenced the Hebrew aleph-bet, not the alpha-beta, or even the alphabet.
And in the aleph-bet, the first and last letters are the aleph and tav, our direct object indicator. The word that prepares the reader to see the word that will receive the action of the verb. The word that shows us action alone is not enough if it is not received, if reality is not impacted, changed or transformed, then the action of the verb is an exercise in futility. And here is Jesus saying, he is the one through him God’s actions are translated into this realm, that it is through him we receive God’s goodness, love, and grace. Through Jesus the world sees the Father and witnesses our Father’s heart for us.
As I worked my way around this, I was brought back to the Gospel of John where we are told that:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3
Do you see that? All things were made through him. Just as the action of the verb flows through the direct object indicator, creation flowed through him. It is the same picture we see in Genesis 1:1.
But despite all this, it wasn’t until I wrote it out in the paleo-Hebrew that I just sat staring at the goodness and wonders of our Lord. In the paleo-Hebrew, the first letter of our word is an ox head. It stands for strength, power, authority, and protection. The second letter is two sticks and symbolizes a sign or mark. When you put the letters together in the paleo-Hebrew, you also put the ideas together. So one possible translation is a “sign or mark of authority and power.” Or perhaps “the authority and power of the sign.” Either way, all I know is that when I look at the picture, I see Jesus. Right there, in Genesis 1:1, always and forever, the beginning and the end.