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Hebrew 9
Psalm 91:2

We continue on this verse in Psalm 91, and we probably won’t get to my friend Fowler’s “fowler” in 91:3. For first we have the richness of 91:2 to contend with.  A serviceable English translation of 91:2 is:


“I say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, I will trust in him.”  


Three words call for attention:  “refuge” (מַחֲסֶה, mochaseh) and “fortress” (מָצוּד, matsud) and “trust” (verb is בָּטח, batach). All of them are richly suggestive.  The noun “refuge” is built on the verb “to be a refuge/take refuge” or חָסָה, chasah. It is interesting that the words swirling around “refuge” in Ps 91 are things like “wings” and “shadows” and these are also present in many other Scriptures, such as Ruth 2:12 or Jud. 9:15. We can expand our vocabulary a little through II Sam 22:3, where God is “my rock” (tsur; צוּר) in whom “i take refuge.”  Then, God is “my shield” ( מָגֵן, magen) and the “horn” (קֶרֶן, qeren) of my “salvation” (יֶשַׁע, yesha). Each one of these four words is powerful and has extensive tentacles throughout the rest of Scripture. 


Let’s illustrate only a few of these. The Book of Exodus provides us lots of examples of “rock" (tsur)—such as battles where leaders are sitting atop the rocks at Horeb (חֹרֵב, choreb).  God will stand (עָמַד, amad) before him “there” (sham) on the “rock” (tsur) at Horeb (choreb). Wow!  We know all these words now. But later, in 33:21, God wants Moses to stand (נָצַב, natsab) on the tsur.  Note that we now have two verbs for the concept of “standing.” Then, in 33:22, things get interesting as we have several new words—because God is introducing the concept of his glory passing by and then placing Moses in the cleft of the rock. Let’s see what we can do.  The glory of God is the כָּבוֹד, kabod. God, in the divine glory will place (sim, a familiar word) Moses in the נְקָרָה, neqarah, “cavern/cleft” of the rock (tsur) and then pass by (verb is עָבַר; abar). This is exciting stuff because it is gently but firmly building upon the most basic ideas and terminology and taking us much deeper. The word neqarah is rare; it only appears 2x in the Bible.  But we would never otherwise know this, since we are learning it in the context of the rest of the words.


Well, let’s move on to refuge and taking refuge. We have seen the verb is chasah and the noun is machaseh. Ps. 2:12 talks about “blessed are all who take refuge in him,” with “blessedness” being אֶשֶׁר, esher.  It normally is found in the form ashrey, אַשְׁרֵ֣י.  We see a person (אָ֭דָם, adam) blessed whose “strength” ( עֹז, oz) is in God (Ps. 84:5).  We have an appearance of machaseh in Ps. 62:7 where God is called the “rock” (tsur) of my “strength” (oz)—words we have seen.  But we also have Ps. 61:3 where God is a machaseh and a “strong tower” (מִגְדָּל, migdal). The words multiply, but fully within reason and not in an unlimited capacity.  


When we turn to “fortress” (matsud), we see that it can also be translated as “stronghold.” God is my “rock” (this time it is sela, which we have seen), my fortress and my deliverer (פָלַט, palat), with the last word opening up a huge world of deliverance and escape and rescue from enemies (II Sam 22:2).  Psalm 144:2 gives us the richest collection of like words.  God is called “my lovingkindness” (חֵסֵד, chesed), my matsud, my “high tower” (מִשְׂגָּב, misgab, which differs from the migdal in that a misgab, derived from שָׂגַב, sagab, emphasizes something that is inaccessibly high).  Thus, we have more than one tower, though not many more than two. A little patience and the language will have no choice but to begin to yield up its secrets to us. Then, continuing with Ps. 144:2, we have words we have seen:  a “deliverer” (palat), a “shield” (magen).  This is a God who subdues (רָדַד, radad; only 4x in Bible) people (עַם, am) under me (with the preposition being tachath (תַּחַת). What a rich harvest of words!  But the great joy of this is that once you take the time and make the effort to walk through these words in more than one context you see not only that the number of these words isn’t unlimited but that you generally get more than one word for the “price” of one. You often get a noun and a verb, and perhaps there will be an array of more specialized nouns derived from your basic word.  Thus, the building of the vocabulary not only is fun but it goes rather quickly.


Let’s conclude this essay with a brief reference to the verb batach, “to trust.” It is such a rich verb, appearing 120x in the Bible, but we can build our understanding of it by seeing its “companions.”  In Ps. 21:7 we have the “king” (מֶלֶךְ, melek) trusting (batach) in the Lord and in the Lord’s chesed. The kinds of things in which one trusts are relatively limited:  one can trust in the Lord, and in his “holy” (קֹדֶשׁ, qodesh) “name” (שֵׁם, shem). Though the verb batach doesn’t appear in Psalm 20:7, the thought of that verse is too good to lose.  Some trust in “chariots” (רֶכֶב, rekeb) and others trust in “horses” (סוּס, sus); but we, in contrast, in the name of the Lord our God.  




It looks like we haven’t made much progress moving through Psalm 91 but, as we see, almost every word takes us or allows us to take a journey of words that makes richer each word. Most of these words appear frequently (for example, the least frequently-appearing word in the previous paragraph has about 120 appearances), but some have been rare—radad only appears 4x and neqarah twice. But this group of about 30 new words is enough for one day.

Hebrew 10

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