Verbs of Trembling/Shaking
The previous essay not only got us started on verbs like ragaz, which means to trouble or agitate or to be angry/enraged or quake, but it encouraged us to look more closely at the world of quaking, shaking, trembling and the agitation that comes with it. This may relate to physical agitation or an inner spirit of agitation or natural forces being agitated/moved/shaken. So, this verbal field it implicates a wide swath of human emotions as well as natural phenomena.
Let’s begin with a few verses to “warm up.” In Ps. 18:7, we have, “The foundations (mosad) of the earth (erets) shook (גָּעַשׁ, gaash) and trembled (raash) and the mountains quaked (ragaz). They were shaken (gaash) because he was angry (חָרָה, charah).“ Just to show that we are dealing in a broad concept of human disturbance that may have many words that accurately can capture it, let’s compare some translations of this verse:
NIV trembled and quaked and shook they trembled
ESV reeled and rocked and trembled they quaked
KJV shook and trembled and moved were shaken
NKJV shook and trembled and quaked and were shaken
NASV shook and quaked and trembling and were shaken
Thus, our English renderings seem to go between trembling and quaking and shaking, with one reference to moving, reeling and rocking but I am not sure I can suggest a difference among them. In many instances human experience is of such a generic nature that many words can be used to capture it. But, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes a rapier-quick intellect and specificity in sorting out and weighing words will be key. In this case, I think we have several verbs that are well-nigh interchangeable: ragaz, gaash, raash, as in this verse, but also a different “tremble” verb is charad (חָרַד). There are others, too, but let’s let these be our dinner serving for the night.
You wonder if gaash and raash were really the same word at some point or in some contexts. Gaash only appears 9x in the Bible, and four of them are really the “same” text (Ps. 18:7; II Sam 22:8, each twice). That leaves just five other appearances, but the first, from Job (34:20) is precious: “In a moment (רֶגַע, rega, 23x) they die (muth) and in the middle (חֲצ֪וֹת, chatsoth, derived from chatsah, “to divide”) of the night (layelah) the people (am) are shaken (gaash) and pass away (abar) and the mighty (אַבִּיר, abbir) are taken away (sur) without (lo) a hand (yad).” That last phrase is fascinating, but does it mean “without a hand to help them” or “with ease (i.e., by God’s power)?” No clue. Interesting is the alliteration of abar/abbir.
Gaash appears thrice in Jeremiah in connection with waters. I’ll only examine one. The grammar of 5:22 is quite complex, and we are not ready for it, but it talks majestically about the perpetual (olam) decree (choq) of the sand (חוֹל֙, chol) of the sea that cannot be passed (abar) “though it (the sea) agitates/shakes/quakes/moves to and fro (gaash) and they cannot prevail (yakol) even though the waves (גַּל, gal; derived from גָּלַל, galal, which means “to roll away”) roar (hamah).” Hamah (34x) is fascinating because it covers sounds all the way from a little “humm” (it may be an onomatopoetic word) to a howl or a roar.
On one occasion in Jeremiah gaash is connected to the human activity of staggering or shaking, probably when drunk. Jer. 25:16 has the interesting triad of “drink” (shathah) and “staggering/shaking” (gaash in the Hithpael—this probably suggests drunkenness) and “going crazy” (halal in the Hithpael. It is interesting that the same verb meaning “praise God” in the Qal can mean “to go mad/crazy” in the Hithpael).
Let’s transition to raash, which appears 30x. We saw it in tandem with gaash in Ps. 18:7. Because it is in Ps. 18, it also is in II Sam 22 (verse 8). But raash, perhaps because it appears more often than gaash, also implicates large movements in the realm of nature. The Psalms illustrate this. One of my favorite Psalms is 46; in verse 3 we have, with respect to the sea: “Though its waters (mayim) roar (hemah) and be troubled/foam (חָמַר, chamar) , though the mountains (har) shake (raash) with their swelling/majesty/pride (גַּאֲוָה, gaavah).” Ps. 60:2 has, “You have made the earth (erets) tremble (raash in Hiphil); you have split it open (פָצַם, patsam, which is an OT hapax). Heal (rapha; an interesting word derived from rapha is rephuah, רְפֻאָה, a “remedy” or “medicine”) its breaches (sheber) because it is מוֹט, mot (“slip/falter”).” Psalm 60 is suffused with rich words, all of which beckon, but upon none of which we can stay. Is this a parable of life? That beauty is all around, but we simply must rush past? If we stop and examine, we become mixed up because we “lose” our way. Ironies abound when you start going slowly on texts.
Raash is a favorite of other Hebrew poetry. For example, in Jud. 5:4, after a signal victory, a poem celebrates it: “Oh Yahweh, when you went out (yatsa) from Seir, in your marching (צָעַד, tsaad; צַעַד, tsaad, is the noun “step”) from the fields (sadeh) of Edom (אֱד֔וֹם), the earth (erets) trembled (raash) and also (gam) the heavens (shamayim) poured/dropped/dripped (נָטַף, nataph) and also (gam) the clouds (עָב, ab) dripped (nataph) water (mayim).” Twenty words so far, though I feel there are a few more in us today!
Let’s look at Ps. 72:16. There will both be a journey of hopelessness and learning in this verse. This has historically been seen as a “Messianic” psalm, and in these closing words the promise of abundance appears. “There shall be (hayah) an abundance (פִסָּה, pissah) of grain (בָּר, bar; I have explored about five or six terms for grain already) in the earth (erets); on the top (rosh) of the mountains (har) shall wave/tremble/quake (raash) its fruit (peri) like Lebanon, and they shall flourish/blossom (צוּץ, tsuts) in the city (iyr) like the grass (עֶשֶׂב, eseb) of the earth (erets).”
This is the journey of learning; hopeless dawns when we look at pissah. It is a hapax, and so we think it must mean “abundance,” and the online dictionary takes us to פַס, pas, which appears 5x, but that is deceptive, because it is only from two passages (Gen. 37; II Sam. 13:18-19), and in every place seems to be a descriptor of a garment. Is it “long-sleeved”? or “of diverse colors?” The dictionary says it means “flat of hand or foot” and thus might be a tunic reaching to these parts of the body. But, as we often are with Biblical Hebrew, we are at sea. Then, we are told it might be related to פָסַס, pasas, which itself is a hapax, and may mean “disappear/vanish” (Ps. 12:1), but how that relates to length of garment or abundance is problematic. So, the best thing to do is what I learned as a child—memorize all kinds of useless information and, when you grow up, you will find that you are the master of such intimate pieces of worthless knowledge that someone will find you very interesting, hire you, and it will transform your life.