Hebrew study for the Gentile
First things first: Understanding the basics of Hebrew thinking
Abstract vs Concrete thinking
Before we begin, I would like to make a mention to our Father whom all these come from. As none of this understanding would be rooted or gained without him. We thank you God.As you read, I’d like you to know that we aren’t just talking about the Hebrew language but God’s language. It is the language God gave to mankind for a purpose. We will revisit this purpose later.
I pray this blesses you!
The concept of concrete thinking is understanding something by the way one can interact with it using the five senses; touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. An easy example, and one where we in our western culture come close to eastern thinking, is the name of the Hummingbird. The name gives us an understanding of the bird itself. The beating of its wings creates the humming sound, thus, describing the hummingbird.
Thinking Concretely is to define the noun and it’s character, function, and purpose, through other interactive means.
To understand what abstract thinking is, one must think of things that they cannot interact with physically. An example would be calling something beautiful. One cannot go outside and find the object whose name is beautiful. Another example could be to describe something as funny or amazing. We love adjectives in our western culture but they don’t exist as nouns. There are other abstract nouns like justice or righteousness, which also cannot be found by going out in the backyard, but in language they exist. Nouns and objects with no solid form are a good way to peer into the Hebraic thought process. They expose that the Hebrew is not blind to abstract terminology but that they use concrete terminology to define abstract concepts, therefore, using the image of something and it’s function in nature to describe something else.
We will discuss more on this.
- Now that we understand Abstract vs concrete let us move on to uderstanding Hebrew thinking. We’ll discuss after why it is important to know this and what it has to do with the bible, and ultimately, what it has to do with you.
Before we begin into the letters, we will crash course the thinking that writes them. To do so there are a frew variables to bear in mind.
- Abstract and Concrete (we’ve already gone over)
- Passive and Active description
- Personal vs impersonal
- Linear vs block logic
Now that we understand what concrete and abstract terms are let’s build upon these concepts so we can flesh out the nonlinear thinking of the Hebrew mind.
What is most important is to remember that with whatever we are talking about in the Hebrew we need to view it in motion, even things in nature that do not move on their own, is described through a terminology of interaction.
A good example to give us a clearer understanding is the word Faith in Hebrew, אֵמוּן. Looking at how this word can be used it defines things like, trustworthiness, faithfulness, and a trusting person. This word אֵמוּן comes from a root word that is spelled almost the exact same way אמן which means to be steady, to uphold, something that is reliable. Faithfulness is now synonymous with the characteristic of steadiness and firmness. This word being used towards a person would be defining their character or nature. A person who is reliable and steady means that I can always expect the same results and someone who is firm where they stand on a subject is viewed as faithful in that area. It takes away the linear blanket term of our western mindset over the term ‘faith’ and describes it as if it were something concrete. Remember, faith cannot be found in nature and because it has no concrete form the Hebrew language gives it a motion, characteristic, and function, as if it did.
Our sense of describing something is passive because it can be applied to nothing. Hebraic ways of descriptions are active, as all words are now in a sort of motion.
This kind of thinking does 3 things, it gives the listener (you) a better understanding of what the subject is or does. If you have never encountered something before it tells you not only what the object is but what it does and how to interact with it having no previous knowledge of it. Instead of “God is good” it is more along the lines of “My God is good to me”. It invites the listener into the understanding of the relationship between the speaker and whatever is being spoken of and gives an image into the mind of the listener. This is a personal description, not an impersonal one, enabling the listener to actively engage in the conversation. Lastly, let’s bring it all together with block logic. Think of this terminology as it sounds; blocks, stacking, and compounding upon itself into a solid structure.
My favorite example is found in Deuteronomy 32:4 “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
There are a few things to notice here: “He (God) is the rock”. I ask you, the reader, is God a rock? No trick questions here, the answer is simply no, God is most assuredly NOT a rock. What this verse is doing is giving our abstract God a concrete form inside the description of the rock. Hopefully somewhere in your lifetime you’ve experienced a rock and have a grasp on the hardness and solid characteristic of it. Moses is taking this and applying it to God, and not just God but what God does. “His work is perfect; For all his ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He”. The next question one could ask (though we’ve already answered) is what does a rock have to do with any of this? Why go from talking about a rock to his work, ways, truths, lack of injustices, and righteousness? We can answer this question with another question, which is, what do all these things have in common including God Himself? If you guessed they’re all abstract terms, you guessed righteously. Moses uses the rock, which is something strong and where one can take refuge in the sense of not slipping, to describe God and his work. As the verse progresses, we aren’t just talking about God anymore or his work but we take the abstract term and adjective ‘perfect’ and gain understanding of this. ‘Perfect’ in Hebrew is צוּר, which means to be whole or complete.
To summarize, let us go back to faithfulness and remember the root meant to be steady and firm, in the sense of reliability of the rock, which God is. The same way God is firm and strong and is a place of refuge or sure footing, is the same way his works are whole and complete, just as he is strong and reliable. Because he is strong and firm his works are whole. That, by nature, is faithfulness as we have read. He is strong, firm, and faithful to complete and make whole all He does (His works are perfect). ‘Way’ in Hebrew speaks of the way of life or way of thinking and ‘justice’ is to decide on a case, or to judge. I’ll leave the rest unto the reader, but we see here how the compounding attributes of God, his works, ways, perfection, and justice are all built upon the concrete nature of the rock. They all describe God and his character towards us.
It may help to think of the letters or words as gears working together. A word, can be seen as a machine, though it be many parts it is all one body.
1Co 12:12 “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
Understanding the Hebrew Letters
Bet is the second letter of the hebrew Alef-Bet and therefore has the numerical value of 2. It is in it’s earliest form viewed as a house or container, which you’d enter or go into. Thus, Bet means to be inside of, within, or to enter.
Gimel is the third letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet and therefore has the numerical value of 3. In it’s earliest form, it is viewed as the foot referring to motion.
The Dalet is the fourth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet and therefore has the numerical value of 4. In it’s earliest form the Dalet was a picture of a door referring to the entrance or transition.
Hey is the fifth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet therefore it’s numerical value is 5. In it’s earliest form the Hey was written as the man with his arms raised, it was said that he is beholding a great sight and exhaling in awe.
Chet is the eigth letter of the hebrew alef-bet therefore it’s numerical value is 8. In it’s earliest written form the Chet was written as a wall as a seperation.
Yod is the tenth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet and therefore has a numerical value of 10. The Yod written in it’s earliest form is the shape of the arm from the elbow to the fingertip, representing the strength of one’s arm which is their works, ability, or worth.
The fifteenth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet is Samech making it’s numerical value 15, or 60. The earliest form of writing this letter was the shape of a thorn, meaning to grab hold of something, or, to turn something or to turn it away.
The Peh is the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet making it’s numerical value 18 and 80. The earliest form of writing the letter Peh was to draw it as a mouth which was the opening of the head, as well as that which one expresses his mind through.
The Tsade is the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet making it’s numerical value 18 or 90. The Tsade written in it’s early form was portrayed as a man on his side, laying in wait, on the hunt.
The Qof is the ninteenth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet making it’s numerical value 19 or 100. The Qof is written in it’s earliest form as a line through a circle representing the horizon where the sun meets the earth, signifying a coming together.
The Resh is the twentieth letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet making it’s numerical value 20 or 200. The Resh in it’s earliest form was drawn out as a man’s head representing the mind or will, as well as the top or beginning of something.
The Shin is the twenty first letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet making it’s numerical value 21 or 300. Written in it’s earliest form the Shin was drawn as the two front teeth representing a pressing. This letter can also be seen as fire, as both consume.
The Tav is the final letter of the Hebrew Alef-Bet and is the twenty second making it’s numerical value 22 or 400. The Tav, written in it’s original form was in the form of a cross representing a mark. This could be a mark for anything but in most cases it was a mark to signify direction, objective, or goal.