Seven Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know
When you read the Bible, knowing some Hebrew words will always enhance your understanding. The Hebrew tongue is a bottomless well of treasures. After all, God revealed Himself to mankind in this language. The richness of Hebrew, especially Biblical Hebrew, can surprise even native speakers!
On top of it all, we know the Bible can be confusing. Which is why we prepared a list of seven Hebrew words that every Christian should know. These words will transform the way you read the Scriptures. And they can grow your faith if you let them.
So, without further ado, here are:
SEVEN HEBREW WORDS EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD KNOW
1. Hear, O Israel – SHEMA
People often say that ‘seeing is believing’, but did you know the Bible teaches the opposite—that listening is more important than seeing? We can see it presented perfectly in the words of the Shema prayer.
Shema Prayer is the most important prayer and declaration in the Jewish life, based on a verse from Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear (shema), O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
The prayer is named after the first word of this passage. Shema, in the simplest terms, means ‘to hear’. But it also means to obey and take action. So, to hear God is to obey God—and to obey God is to hear God.
Taking action in response to His powerful voice is essential in putting shema into practice. The hearing and responding are conjoined.
To learn more about SHEMA, read our article about it.
2. God’s Unshakable Love – HESED
One of the Hebrew words for ‘love’ is hesed, which is actually a difficult word to translate into English. That is because it can have a range of meanings. Theologian John Oswalt said hesed is “… a completely undeserved kindness and generosity”.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Though the mountains be shaken, and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken”. (Isaiah 54:10)
Hesed is not just a feeling, but an action. It is not a romantic, infatuation-based kind of love, but a faithful, reliable kind. Hesed is loyal. Hesed is love put to action.
And most importantly, hesed is the unfailing love God has for YOU. It is one of the most fundamental characteristics of God, consistent with what we know about His covenantal nature.
To learn more about HESED, read our article about it.
3. The Assurance of Things Hoped For – EMUNAH
The Hebrew word emunah is translated into English words “faith” and “belief”. But it is can also be understood as “faithfulness.” And yet, it describes much more than just believing something about God. It reveals a life of full reliance upon Him.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Emunah is faith that results in faithfulness, implying action. It shouldn’t be a total surprise then that the word amen shares the root with Emunah. Amen means “so be it” or “may it be so”.
The idea of faith is like a staircase. You may intellectually know that the stairs go up to the next level. But you can’t just believe in the stairs. You need to climb the stairs, to experience what’s above.
To learn more about EMUNAH, read our article about it.
4. God’s Holy Rushing Tide: RUACH
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet writes that God arrives “… like a rushing tide driven by the breath of the Lord”. (Isaiah 59:19) What an awesome image of God’s power and beauty!
The Hebrew word we translate as ‘breath’ in this verse is ruach, which also means ‘Spirit’. So, Isaiah is saying that when God shows up in a situation, it is with an unstoppable power of the Spirit with Him!
The Apostle Paul shared a revelation about the power of God’s Spirit as well: “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you …” Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit who arrives like the unstoppable power of a rushing tide, lives in YOU!
The Ruach will always give us guidance and comfort when we lack.
To learn more about RUACH, read our article about it.
5. The Breath of Life: NEPHESH
To fully grasp the weight of the Hebrew word nephesh, we need to return to the beginning. God called the world into being with the power of His Word. But man came alive because God breathed into him:
“And 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 (nephesh).” (Genesis 2:7)
Nephesh is generally translated in the Hebrew Bible as “soul”. It reveals the immeasurable significance God places on human life –He bought our souls with His Son’s blood.
As believers, the value we place on life should reflect the high esteem God has for life. The way we interact with, speak and relate to one another should be in light of our understanding of nephesh.
To learn more about NEPHESH, read our article about it.
6. Beginning of All Wisdom – YIRAH
Do you have awe of God? The word we translated as ‘awe’ throughout the Bible is the Hebrew word yirah. It can also be translated as respect, reverence and worship. But yirah also means ‘fear’.
“The fear – yirah – of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” (Proverbs 9:10)
Moses was filled with fear (yirah) when he begged God to see His glory and could not behold it lest he should die. The Israelites were filled with fear (yirah) when Moses came down Mount Sinai.
I grew up thinking that to “fear the Lord” meant being scared of Him. But as I was in real awe of a stunning sunset, I didn’t feel fear. I felt awe and wanted to worship the Creator. I felt yirah!
Awe moves us to worship God.
To learn more about YIRAH, read our article about it.
7. Returning to God – TESHUVA
To some people, ‘to repent’ means simply to regret something or feel guilty about our actions. But the Hebrew word we translate as ‘repentance’ has a much deeper meaning.
Teshuva is more than a feeling of guilt or regret — this Hebrew word comes from the verb ‘to return’.
Repentance is not a state of mind, but a decision and a course of action. It is deciding to turn away from where you are headed and moving back toward God.
“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart …” (Joel 2:12)
The process of repentance makes sense only if there is a place we can return to. And that was made possible thanks to Jesus, our Messiah. He opened the doors for us to return to the Father.
To learn more about TESHUVA, read our article about it.
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