Summertime

Posted in feasts, israel, specific Hebrew words on May 26th, 2010 by yf

After the feast of Shavuot follow the summer months. It is a long haul through the summer heat from the spring festivals – concluded by Shavuot – to the autumn festivals. The Hebrew tells us of the nature of this time and our task.

In Israel, the main fig harvest is in summerIn Israel, the two main harvests are in spring and autumn. Summer is the time of ripening fruit: the main harvest of grapes, figs, peaches, apples and pears are gathered in late summer.* Summer is also the time of waiting for the autumn rains. If they fail, then starvation threatens by spring.

The Hebrew for summer qayits can also mean ‘summer fruits’. It derives from the word quwts meaning ‘to clip’ or ‘to awake’ or (by extension) ‘to watch’. A similar sounding word quts means ‘to end’.

In Israel, the grape harvest is in summerThese meanings are brought together in the Hebrew Bible.

The gap between the spring and autumn feasts corresponds to the gap between Moses bringing down the commandments from the mountain top the first time and the second time. In between, is the discovery of Israel worshipping the golden calf, the consequences (Moses breaking the tablets, the death of 3,000 in Israel and reorganisation in the camp) and the return by Moses to the mountain top to receive the commandments again.

So, it is no surprise that summer – the period of this long interlude – is a time of judgment in the Bible (Isaiah 16:9, 18:6; Jeremiah 48:32; Amos 8:1-2). In Amos 8:1-2, the Lord shows the prophet a basket of summer fruit (qayits) and then says that the end (quts) has come for “My people Israel” – a play on words. Ezekiel 7 speaks of the end (qayits) of Israel being awakened (quwts) against her.

Therefore, we need to make good use of the summer – to be ourselves awake and to gather food (Proverbs 6:8, 10:5, 30:25), the summer fruits, so that the wine and dried figs may be prepared. The summer tests us. Are we fruitful? As we shall see, the autumn brings the results.

*Figs also provide a smaller, early harvest in June as well as a pre-harvest of tiny immature figs in April/May that promise later fruitfulness.

The nature of waiting

Posted in feasts, specific Hebrew words on May 16th, 2010 by yf

The count down to Shavuot (Pentecost) is a time of waiting – just as a child counts the days hopefully to the day a parent will return or a present is due to be received.

counting the days to shavuotHebrew captures the nature of this waiting in the word qavah, often translated as ‘wait for’ or ‘hope for’. The root of the word comes from qav, meaning cord – as in a measuring cord. Time is measured out but qavah also means binding together. It shows the binding together that can occur through waiting. As the modern English phrase puts it, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

We have seen how Adam was impatient for a companion and other early speeches in the Bible show longing or impatience for another human being to solve things or meet our lack. There are, then, two questions – how we wait, and what or who we wait for.

The Bible tells us to “wait for the Lord, … yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14): “qavahqavah”. We are told both to wait and to bind together with the Lord. This is our preparation and our test. We can be measured by how we wait.

Heaps & heaps

Posted in covenant, feasts, israel, specific Hebrew words on May 8th, 2010 by yf

Following Passover is a time of preparation marked by counting: a count down. But preparing and counting down to what?

From the day after Passover, we are told to keep tally of seven sabbaths and to keep tally of fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath (Leviticus 23:15-16). This brings us to the feast of Shavuot (weeks), also known as Pentecost from the Latin for fifty. At Shavuot a new grain offering is made.

The double instruction to count shows that the Lord really wants us to number the days between the two feasts. Various traditions and methods for the days of ‘counting the omer’ have developed.* Device for counting the omer and showing the blessingsThe omer is the measure or heap of grain that is offered on the day after Passover. So, we are counting the heaps.

Passover marks Israel’s escape from Egypt. Shavuot, by rabbincial calculation, marks the day the Ten Commandments were given to Moses. In Hebraic understanding, this is the marriage covenant of God with Israel, with the sabbath as its symbol: the wedding ring to mark Israel’s commitment to the Creator and the Creator’s commitment to her.

The days of counting mark the period between the two: building on ‘freedom from’ in order to be ready for ‘commitment to’. In these days, we are counting our blessings – heaps and heaps – whilst waiting and preparing.

The agricultural year in Israel mirrors this. The barley harvest is at Passover, barley being an early crop. Shavuot is the feast of the general harvest and in particular the wheat harvest. Between is an anxious time of waiting, for the Spring weather is changeable and the crops vulnerable. The harvest could fail. The Hebrew for the hot dry wind, chamsin, that blows at this time derives from the Arabic word for fifty since the wind can last fifty days.

The fifty days of counting the omer and of the chamsin are to prepare and mature the freed Egyptian slave girl so that she is ready for her marriage covenant. Freedom in itself is only a first step and the trials that follow are a preparation for something greater. This time of excitement and thanksgiving can also be a time of failure if not used well. The seven sabbaths are seven reminders of what is at stake.

*In Jewish tradition, each day has a different blessing and significance. The illustration is of a device that counts the days and shows the blessing for each day.

What target?

Posted in character of God, covenant, specific Hebrew words, the law on May 6th, 2010 by yf

yarah - to shoot, to hit the target
Chattah is the main Hebrew word for sin used in the Bible. Like many Hebrew words, its root has a concrete meaning: chatta means to ‘miss the target or standard’ or to ‘miss the way’. The implications are great.

In Hebrew, sin is not a matter of intentions or somebody suffering hurt. Remarks such as “I meant well”, “I’m doing my best” or “nobody got hurt” do not address the issue. Instead, sin is a matter of failing to achieve a standard or follow a path. There is a legal tinge to chattah: of failure to meet an obligation.

Who then sets the standard or path or holds the other end of the legal deal?

In modern culture we are often told to “aim high”, and our institutions are replete with targets, goals and accountability measures. The approach in the Hebrew Bible is different. Standards are set externally. Sin is against the Lord, for it is the standard that He has set that we fail to attain; it is His covenant with us that we break. “Against you and you only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).

The Hebrew also shows us how we can follow the path that He has set. The word yarah means to shoot or point or teach. From it comes the word torah meaning teacher, or teaching or the Law (the Torah). The target is set by the Lord and He teaches us how to hit it. Thus: “…your eyes will behold your teacher. And your ears will hear a word behind you, saying “This is the path, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:20-21). Through His word, God points us to the path and shows us how to keep to it.

When we fail, the sin offering required under the Law is itself called chattah: the remedy is identified with the fault, the sacrifice takes on the sin (Exodus 29:14 etc.). Sin – our failure to follow the path God has shown – is not lightly set aside or dealt with. Covenant has been broken; the stakes are high.

Avoiding sin is not a matter of nominal compliance with Torah or of relying on sacrifices. It is a matter of the heart. Thus: “The Lord weighs the hearts. To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord, rather than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:2-3); and “Bring your worthless offerings no longer… I cannot endure iniquity… Learn to do good; seek justice… ” (Isaiah 1:13, 17). The heart itself must learn and seek.

Engaging with – practising – the word of God becomes central. In Judaism, the wisdom of the sages or of a tzadik (holy man) founded in Torah can provide a pattern to be followed. For believers in Yeshua as Messiah, he is the word of God become flesh and provides both the pattern and the sacrifice: “love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

yarah - to shoot, to hit the target