The Invaluable Power of Studying the Old Testament in Its Original Language


People will often ask me why I spend so much time looking into the Hebrew wording of the Old Testament. We speak English and we have many English translations of the Bible—why not just study, share, and teach from the English?

After all, haven't millions of people found Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah reading from English versions of the Bible? Of course, millions of people have found Yeshua in the words of English translations of the Bible and millions more will find Him reading English translations. As a matter of fact, I was very involved in the team that worked for years to bring about the Tree of Life Version of the Bible. So, I am not in any way anti-English translations, however, I am also very much pro original language. Why? Because there are so many exciting nuances contained in the original languages that can add insights to help us better understand the Bible and its Author.

One such example is found in Exodus 30:12-15:

"When you tally the sum of Bnei-Yisrael by numbering them, then every man must pay a ransom for his soul to Adonai when you count them, so that no plague will fall on them. Everyone among them who crosses over must give half a shekel according to the Sanctuary shekel (which is 20 gerahs): half a shekel as an offering to Adonai. Everyone who crosses over among them who is counted, from 20 years old and upward, is to give the offering to Adonai. The rich are not to give more and the poor are not to give less than the half shekel, when they present the offering of Adonai to make atonement for your souls.

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As we read these words in English, we find the commandment of G-D to take a census of Israel. Some words that jump out of the text are "ransom," "atonement," "offering" and "soul." In English, we see a means for counting people by having each give half a shekel offering. No one was required to give more and no one was allowed to give less. It seems very straightforward and, in the plain text in English, it is.

But, if we take a few minutes to look into the Hebrew wording, we find that it brings out a much deeper concept. The Hebrew for the first few words of Exodus 30:12: which in English transliteration is "Ki tisa et rosh b'nai Yisrael." This is generally translated, "When you tally the sum of b'nai Yisrael," or "When you take a count of the people of Israel." Yet, when we look at the Hebrew words, we find the translation of these words can be, "when you lift up the heads of the children of Israel." The concept of these words in the Hebrew is not "when you count the people," but rather, "when you make the people count."

The concept is about value and inclusion, not about numbers. If you look at someone who feels important and valued, he or she will stand straight and have their heads lifted up high. When someone is devalued or made to feel unimportant, they will naturally lower their heads.

That is why the text goes on to say this includes everyone who crosses over. The offering was the same because everyone was to understand that each person was included equally and each one counted equally. They were also to give half a shekel, not a whole shekel, because they were to understand that while everyone counted equally, everyone was only a part of the whole and they needed the other half to be complete. This simple counting of the people helped to impart to them some very important concepts of community that we in the Body of Yeshua still struggle with learning today.

1. It is G-D that makes us count.

2. G-D isn't a respecter of persons. We are all equal in his kingdom. Money and power do not affect our kingdom value.

3. In order for us to be counted, we must be willing to give not of ourselves, but to give ourselves.

4. We can only truly be complete when we are a part of the whole.

When G-D makes us count, He lifts up our heads.

Eric Tokajer is author of With Me in Paradise, Transient Singularity, OY! How Did I Get Here?: Thirty-One Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Entering Ministry, #ManWisdom: With Eric Tokajer and Jesus is to Christianity as Pasta is to Italians.

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