We continue with Jonah, but now we discover we are in the interesting situation that we are starting to know several words of a sentence, and thus we have to work harder to find new words. But this should actually be a joy for us, since it means that the language is starting to “jell” for us. In Jonah 1:7-8, we have many words, but we also have a grammatical construction or two that I want to point out that will aid our mastery.
Let’s begin with a translation of 1:7: “And a person said to his neighbor, ‘Come let us cast lots so that we would know by whom this evil/trouble has befallen us. And they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.”
Simple, straightforward, alluring, and we have already seen most of the words. We note the interesting reality that the words for “neighbor” (רֵעַ, rea) and “evil/trouble” (רַע, ra’) have the identical consonants in Hebrew. You wonder if there was a kind of ancient Hebrew joke about the neighbor….”Ah, yes, he is trouble!” We have already seen “evil/trouble” but “neighbor is new.”
One of the most familiar biblical passages using the word rea is in Jer. 31:34, where we surprisingly know several of the words: “And every (kol) man (ish) shall not teach (לָמַד, lamad) his neighbor (rea) again (עוֹד, od) or every man (ish) his brother (ach) saying (amar), “Know (yada) the Lord because (kiy) all (kol) shall know (yada) me (including the not-translated אֵת, eth) from the least (qaton) to the greatest (gadol), says (neum) the Lord, for (kiy) I will forgive (סָלַח, salach) their iniquity (avon) and not remember (zakar) their sin (chata) again (od).” I decided to quote the entire thirty-word-long verse to show that we have run into all but three or four of them.
Let’s pause on some of these words from Jer. 31:34 before returning to “neighbor.” Let’s start with lamad, “to teach/study.” II Sam. 22:35, repeated in Ps. 144:1 has a blessing (barak) of God who trains/teaches (lamad) my hands (yad) for war (milchamah) so that my arms/strength (זְרוֹעַ, zeroa) can bend (נָחַת, nacheth) a bow (qesheth) of bronze (נְחוּשָׁה, nechusah). So, we already know many more than half of the words, but a caution has to be issued about nacheth. It is here translated as “bend,” and it appears 10 other times in the Bible, but some of the ways it is rendered include “be broken” (which may be consistent with “bend”), “go down/sink deep” or “settle” or “go deeper.” You can see how Biblical Hebrew will bring you to clarity and despair, and sometimes in the same sentence. Lamad appears 17x alone in Deuteronomy (more than 20% of the Biblical appearances), because Deut. is quintessentially a “teaching” book. The author urges Israel to “listen” (shama) to (el) the statutes (choq) and to the judgments (mishpat) which (asher) I (אָנֹכִי, anoki) teach (lamad; Deut 4:1).
And, a word on forgive (salach). It is a frequently-appearing verb (47x) that seemingly manages to cram most of its appearances into Leviticus and Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8. But for my purpose here, let’s just look at its appearance in Ex. 34:9, In Moses’ prayer to God, he says, “If (im) I have found (matsa) favor/grace (חֵן, chen) in your eyes (ayin), Lord (adonai), go (halak), I pray (na), among us (qereb—in our midst, we have seen this to mean “near”) even though (kiy im) we are a people (am) stiff (קָשֶׁה, qasheh) of neck (עֹרֶף, oreph). God pardons (salach) our iniquity (avon) and sin (chata) and takes us for an inheritance (נָחַל, nachal; also נַחֲלָה, nachalah). So, we march through the language, picking up words every sentence, but the words are fewer and even if they aren’t always crystal clear, the verses generally do give us enough clarity so that we can learn more deeply. And one more word from Jonah 1:7. The little word שֶׁל, shel, in the phrase בְּשֶׁלְּמִ֛י, meaning “by whom,” ought to be noted. Fourteen words so far.
Let’s return to Jonah and move to 1:8: “And they said to him, ‘Tell us, we pray, on account of whom this trouble is upon us. What is your occupation? and from where have you come? What is your land? and What people are you from?”
Lots of interesting questions and it isn’t always hyper-clear exactly what the question word is. I will point out a little of that here, but focus also on a few words. The word for “tell” is familiar (nagad) and appears regularly throughout the Bible. The phrase I translated “on account of whom” is literally “with which to whom,” and you just have to massage words until it makes English sense. The “trouble” is the ra’ of the earlier verse. “What” is mah, which we have seen. But “occupation/work” is new (מְלָאכָה, melakah). A great combination of useful words with melakah appears in Ex. 35:31, where the craftsmen of the tabernacle are introduced. God has filled (מָלֵא, male—two syllables) them with the spirit (ruach) of God (elohim) in wisdom (חָכְמָה, chokmah), with “understanding” (tebun, which we have seen, but the verb בִּין, bin, “to understand” is new), with all knowledge (דַּעַת, daath) and all manner of workmanship/occupation (melakah). “From where/whence” is derived from the word אַיִן (ayin).