Month 8:12, Week 2:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year 5935:212 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 7 November 2011
A Pure Language
Hebrew for the Millennium?
Continued from Part 1
I was once asked whether Hebrew was the "pure language" mentioned in today's passage and a couple of days ago I was asked if Hebrew would be the lingua franca of the Millennium, much as English is in our day. Indeed over the last 3,000 years the lingua franca has changed as follows:
"For then I will restore (hafak = 'turn about', 'change', 'return', 'convert') to (among) the peoples a pure language (safah, 'lip') that they all may call on the name of Yahweh, to serve Him with one accord ('consent' - KJV)" (Zeph.3:9, NKJV).
Greek > Latin > French > English
So I thought we could answer both questions today. Since many Messianic congregations and organisations insist that Hebrew instruction be mandatory for Yahweh's people because of this passage, it's probably time we tested what amounts to a mitzvah (commandment) if what they say is true.
Firstly, let us make it clear that we are nowhere commanded by Yahweh to all speak one language. The fact that we all spoke one language before the confounding of tongues because of the Tower of Babel does not necessarily mean that Yahweh wants us all to speak one language again. And if He did, which language? And if Hebrew, which variant? For like all languages, Hebrew has never remained static (unchanging). Today's modern Hebrew is very unlike the Hebrew of the Tanakh (Old Testament) just as modern English is very unlike the ancient Anglo-Saxon from which it evolved. And if there is a pure Hebrew, and if that is the language we are all to speak in the Millennium, then how do we know it is anything like the Hebrew we know today?
Many claim that Adam and Eve spoke Hebrew. It is assumed by them that Hebrew has passed down from the Garden of Eden pretty much unchanged at least to New Testament times if not beyond. Thus, they would claim, Hebrew was spoken by the whole world before the confounding of tongues by Yahweh. I think the evidence for that is poor at best, and non-existant at worst.
The Hebrew word safah, which in our passage today is either translated as "pure language" or "pure lips" is a hard word to translate. It's root meaning is 'termination' or 'boundary' which is why it is used of lips, for these are a 'boundary' of the face. So safah could mean lips (sefeth, plural) - literally or by implication, a language - or a margin or edge (such as that of water, a vessel, cloth, etc.). To know the correct translation we must carefully look at the context, and to do that we must ask the question: why is Yahweh restoring this safah? The answer: so that His people can call upon His Name with ONE ACCORD. Which then leads us to ask the question: will speaking a pure language enable people to be of one accord? And if Hebrew is so pure, why are Hebrew-speaking Jews and Messianics so divided? Since most of them speak Hebrew, why is there such disunity?
There is, in my view, only one answer to these questions, and it is this: our passage is not talking about a pure language but purity of LEV (HEART), that is, "PURE LIPS"...which is why I believe the New International Version has got this translation correct:
In other words, a common language (which obviously is important for communication) for all peoples, whilst important for fellowship in the Name (i.e. Besorah/Gospel), is not the main thing, which has to be purity of lev (heart). But there is a third sense of safah that we must not miss, and that is 'boundary'. Purity results when we operate within Yahweh's bounds, and those bounds are Torah.
"Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of Yahweh and serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Zeph.3:9, NIV).
There is obviously considerable advantage to knowing at least some Hebrew for the betterment of personal and congregational Scripture study. However, I am not convinced that Hebrew will necessarily be the lingua franca of the Millennium, though in some form it could possibly be. Whatever the original Adamic language was, that is more likely, in my view, to be the chosen language, though that is pure speculation. Was it Hebrew? Unlikely, even though it was probably very closely related. Why? Because Hebrew is named after Eber, the great grandson of Shem (Melchizedek) (Gen.10:21), who fathered Peleg. The name literally means 'one who passes over', the same as 'Hebrew' or 'Habiru'. By the time Eber lived and spoke the language/dialect that he did, languages (including Hebrew) had been around a long while and had had time to change and evolve. Interestingly, the word 'Hebrew' itself does not appear in any written literature until Ben-Sira, about a century before the birth of Messiah.
I would therefore counsel you to be careful about any chauvanistic claims made by Messianic Hebrew-speakers. Language is not the primary issue but the condition of our lev (heart). Today we have a lingua franca which most of the people of the world speak, and that's English, and it is clearly what Yahweh is using today for the international dissemination of the Davar (Word). Until Yah'shua (Jesus) returns, no one can for sure say what the primary language or languages will be so let no one guilt you into a forced study of Hebrew to be 'acceptable'. Why, in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day most Hebrews spoke Aramaic, a related Syrian language, and not Hebrew? because that was the local lingua franca of the time!
So by all means learn some Hebrew of your own free will and learning a little Greek won't do you any harm either. If you learn Hebrew proficiently, and have the time, go for it! But we will be judged, in the end, by our attitude toward Yahweh and people, and not by our linguistic abilities. That is almost certainly the "pure language/lips" that Yahweh is speaking of in Zephaniah.