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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner


Many who are embracing the Hebrew language of the Bible will often use the Hebrew words for key Biblical words instead of the English. Some examples are, shalom, ruach hakodesh, kehilat, torah, and many more. While I believe this to be a great idea I often see some errors in how the Hebrew is applied.

I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:11, RSV)

A common mistake is made with the "savior". If you look this word up in a concordance you will find that this word is #3467 in Strong's Dictionary and is identified as the Hebrew word ישה (yasha). Because of this many believe the Hebrew word yasha means "savior" and this is not true. The word ישה (yasha) is a simple verb meaning "to deliver." When the letters י, ו and מ are added to the verb a more complex verb is formed and more specifically a hiphil participle verb. A hiphil verb is causative and would mean "cause to deliver." A participle is a verb of present or continuous action meaning "delivering." A hiphil participle verb combines both of these meaning "causing to deliver".

In Biblical Hebrew there is a fine line between verbs and nouns and both can be used to describe an action or a person, place or thing. The word מושיה moshiah( can be used in the sense of an action as in Deuteronomy 28:29 where it is translated as "save" but literally means "causing to be delivered." The same word can be used as a noun as in Isaiah 43:11 where it is translated as "savior" but literally means "one who is causing to be delivered."

The word moshiah (as a noun) is generally translated two different ways as shown below.

I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:11, RSV)

But when the people of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera (Judges 3:15, RSV)

As the words savior and deliverer are the same Hebrew word there appears to be a contradiction between these two verses. If God is the only savior how can there be another savior such as Ehud? A good understanding of what the word moshiah means is critical in proper interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. As the verb moshiah is a hiphil verb meaning "to cause to be delivered" we can see that God is one who "causes to be delivered" and this can be done by the hand of God himself or by sending another to be the agent of the deliverance. Israel's deliverance is caused by God, the one and only moshiah, who sent Ehud.

There is one other point to make concerning the word moshiah. Remember that this verb/noun is written in the participle form. God is not one who has delivered (past tense) and he is not the one who will deliver (future tense) he is the one who "IS DELIVERING" (present tense).

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