We continue in our glorious journey towards the mastery of Biblical Hebrew vocabulary. The verse for today reads, “For the day of the Lord upon all nations is near. As you have done, so it will be done to you. Your recompense/dealing/reprisal will return on your (own) head.”
Several words invite consideration from this verse. The concept of “nearness” is expressed with the adjective קָרוֹב (qarob), derived from the verb קָרַב, (qarab, “to come near/approach”). A sentence using this word (for a family redeemer) also brings in other useful terms (Lev. 25:25): “If your brother becomes poor and has sold some of his possessions, and if the redeemer (qarob) comes to redeem it, then he may. . .” In passing, the word for “if/that” is כִּי (kiy). But to be poor is here expressed through a 5x-appearing word in the OT, all of which are in Lev 25 or 27, and is מוּךְ (muk). This brother (ach) has sold (makar) some of his possessions (אֲחֻזָּה, achuzzah; from the verb achaz, “to grasp, take hold of,” which we have already seen). The concept of redemption is expressed through the verb גָּאַל (gaal, “to act as a kinsman/redeem”).
We can continue on the subject of qarob/qarab for a bit longer. In I Ki. 8:46, a prayer is offered to God. The prayer says, “When (kiy) they sin (חָטָא, chata) against you. . .and you get angry (אָנַף, anaph), and you give (נָתַן, nathan) them to the enemy (oyeb). . .” The noun form of chata is חֵטְא (chet). The Hebrew Bible is replete with terms for sins and laws and various types of animals, and we luxuriate in discovering all of them. For example, the chata/chet may be one “sin” but פֶּשַׁע/פָשַׁע (or pesha/pasha) is a “transgression/to transgress.” Big difference between the two words for “sin,” I am sure. People keep sinning. We need words to describe their acts. Eleven words so far.
The issue here is that the Day of the Lord is near. Well, my NT writing these days talks about those who won’t enter the Kingdom of God because of various kinds of conduct, either sins of intemperance or illicit kinds of worship, and now we enter into the world of the imminent dawning of God’s Day. Day of the Lord and entry into Kingdom. The world is just getting started and now we have to think about and plan for another destruction. We don’t know the precise contours of this, but we can be assured that most of the people in the world will be clobbered, as is God’s wont, and a few will be delivered, but those who are delivered will then constantly sing God’s praises for being a just and righteous and merciful God.
Then we move to the notion of “reprisal/recompense/dealing” in the second half of the verse. It will return (שׁוּב, shub) upon their heads (רֹאשׁ, rosh). But let’s first get to this “reprisal’ (גְּמוּל, gemul). Every time I seek a translation of this word a new English word pops up. We have the three words above, but then there is “what is deserved” or “reward” or “benefit.” Gemul only appears 19x, so we desperately hope we have fewer than nineteen definitions of it. The verb is a complex one, גָּמַל (gamal), which can mean “to wean” as well as the more standard “repay” or “reward” or “deal bountifully with.” The verb appears 37x, and two examples are (Gen. 21:8): “When the child (Isaac) was weaned (gamal), Abraham made a great feast” (מִשְׁתֶּה, mishteh) for him” and, from II Sam. 19:36, “Why (מָה, mah, often seen as lamah) should the king compensate (gamal) me with compensation/reward (gemul)?”
We recall from the previous paragraph that reprisal shall “return” (shub) upon their heads. Shub is a frequently-appearing word, and useful to illustrate all kinds of Hebrew words. From Gen. 3:19, “You are dust (עָפָר, aphar) and to dust you shall return (shub).” In another passage we have the pleasant euphony of “dust and ashes” (aphar and epher). In Gen. 18:33, we have Abraham returning “to his place” (maqom). In the riveting chapter about the near-sacrifice of Isaac, we have Abraham talking to a young man (נַעַר, naar) and telling him that he and Isaac will go and worship (שָׁחָה, shachah) and then return (shub). Twenty words.
Let’s conclude this essay by looking at the final word of the verse: rosh. Various things can be on top of the head, including a “basket” (סַל, sal) or, more specifically on the “uppermost” (we have seen alyon) basket were all kinds of foodstuffs (מַאֲכָל, maakal; note that this noun is built off the verb “to eat”: akal) that were “baked” (אָפָה, aphah) and the birds (עוֹף, oph) of the air came and ate from them (Gen. 40:17). This was the dream (חֲלוֹם, chalom, 40:16) of Pharaoh (פַרְעֹה). Finally, one should note that the “beginning” of a “month” (חֹדֶשׁ, chodesh) is often called the “head” of the month. And the verb form of “month” is חָדַשׁ, chadash, which often is best rendered “to renew” or “repair” or “restore”—and we can see how that might be related to the “first” of a month.
So, about another 28 or more words in this lesson, as we continue to let Obadiah teach us, even if we aren’t always clear what the lesson is or, even if we were clear on it, whether we feel inclined to observe it.
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