And the Lord appointed a set time, saying, Tomorrow the Lord shall do this thing in the land.
Exodus 9:5 (KJV)
Tomorrow – One of the most fascinating intricacies of the Hebrew culture is their understanding of time. It’s not linear as we view it today. In our Greco-Roman culture the past has already happened and is behind us on this linear path, whereas the future is in front of us. But the Hebrews didn’t view it like this.
The Hebrew word for tomorrow is machar from the root achar which means “to be behind”. To reinforce this thought, the word for yesterday is tĕmowl from the root muwl meaning “in front”. So in the Hebrew culture, tomorrow (the future) is behind us, and yesterday (the past) is in front of us. That’s quite the opposite of how we view time today, isn’t it? How can this be? Are they walking the linear timeline backwards?
In a way, yes. Time isn’t linear in the Hebrew culture – it’s cyclical. But that being said, their history was filled with events that they could clearly see. You’ve heard the phrase “hind sight is 20/20”, right? That’s completely Hebraic. Everything that has happened is easily seen, and in order for us to see it, it has to be in front of us. The future, however, can’t be seen. We don’t know what’s coming, so it’s behind us.
Now the perspective of time is a big deal. The ways in which we talk about time can influence how we perceive things. We speak as if we’re walking into the future, or the past is far behind, and this drives a particular view based on our own cultural understanding. But when we stop and think about this, we realize it’s the complete opposite of how the Hebrew culture understood time. And this is just one instance. How many other cultural differences are there? And more importantly, are they influencing our interpretation of Scripture?