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A Hebrew Homonym

11 The word of the LORD came to me: What do you see, Jeremiah? I replied: I see a branch of an almond tree.
12 The LORD said to me: You have seen right, For I am watchful to bring My word to pass.

Jeremiah 1:11-12 (JPS)

Almond tree / I am watchful – We lose so much when we read the text in a translated language. Below, the two Hebrew words look identical, but are expressed with very different meanings. In one case, the word שקד is an almond tree, but the second occurrence of שקד means to “watch.” What is going on?

As many of you already understand, Hebrew words, especially ancient Hebrew, was written without vowels. So without the jots and tittles, we only see the consonants. When reading out loud, we can inflect different vowel sounds between the consonants which ultimately dictate different words. This is why the two seemingly exact same words are actually quite different.

The first is pronounced “shaqed” while the second is pronounced “shaqad.” But as any good scholar testifies, whenever the same word is used for different purposes in the text, there is a relationship that can be derived.

Here, God shows Jeremiah an almond tree and suggests that this means God is watching to ensure his word will come to pass. It is an early example of a homonym. Almost like showing you the bark of a tree because your dog likes to bark at passing vehicles.

Without this understanding, we are left to wonder why God would show Jeremiah an almond tree. What was the point of that? In addition, we might begin a whole doctrine to enforce the concept of an almond tree as the symbol of God’s watchfulness. Eventually, we might come across religious campaigns or churches called “God’s Almond Tree.”

Simply put, God showed Jeremiah an almond tree because the word is the same word that God uses to express his watchfulness. It all comes back to language and God’s creative energy exemplified therein. Hebrew is a very concrete language and uses tangible items to express intangible concepts. This is one of those moments.

It’s About Community

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:21 (KJV)

Your – The word in Greek is hymōn which finds its root in hymeis, the plural form of this possessive pronoun. It is the word most often used in the Epistles and Gospels when addressing people. English translations of the Bible do not pick this up because they lack the differentiation between your (plural) and your (singular).

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The Legacy of Isaac

And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham begat Isaac:

Genesis 25:9 (KJV)

Generations of Isaac – When someone begins to tell you about the generations of a person, they normally begin with that person’s children. I’m expecting this verse to end with and Isaac begat Jacob, but instead the verse jumps to Abraham. Why?

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Duality or Triune?

Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Genesis 2:7 (JPS)

Breath of life – What is man made up of? That is the question here. Jewish traditions imply that humans are dual in nature made of a body and a soul. They adopted this concept from Plato’s dualism. However, Trinitarian Christians who desperately want to see their concept of a triune God imitated in the creation of mankind adopted the construct of a soul, a body, and a spirit. Which is correct?

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Mankind and Life

And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

Genesis 3:20 (KJV)

Adam & Eve – Do you recognize the importance of names in the Bible? They mean something… And this something becomes a moment of teaching about character, about the story, or about a lesson. God Himself will change people’s names to represent a shift in plot line or character. With this in mind, what is the significance of the names, Adam and Eve?

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The Devil is in the Details

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (KJV)

Devil – Raised in a western Christian community, I imagine a red figure with horns and a long tail when reading the word, “devil.” I might even think of a dragon or serpent as symbolic representations of this word.

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Contradictory Interpretations

And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Genesis 15:6 (KJV)

Believed – What happens when two Biblical authors use the same verse from Genesis to support two contradictory messages? For the most of us, we just brush it under the rug or fiddle with the wording until it fits better. Both Paul and James, Rabbis of their time, use this verse about Abraham believing to support their message about faith and works.

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A Thorn in the Side

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (KJV)

Thorn in the flesh – How many of us think we know what this means? We respond nodding our heads, of course, this is an idiom and our 21st century western worldview knows exactly what Paul is talking about. Right?

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