Earlier this week, a dear elderly friend sent me a link to a well-known Messianic Jewish preacher. He was teaching on “strengthening ourselves” in the LORD, saying we are entering a time when we all need to learn how to do this more and more. King David did this often. For years I have loved the Psalms and read from them almost daily, which is a very Jewish tradition, whether we realise it or not.
“The Book of Psalms, Hebrew Tehillim, meaning Praises, is the first book of the third section of the Bible, the Ketuvim or Sacred Writings, and comprises 150 psalms. The Levites in the Temple sang a psalm for each day of the week.” (Rabbi Louis Jacobs) The Hebrew Bible has the same books as the Christian Bible but in a different order. The first five books are the same, then come all the prophets, and then lastly the sacred stories such as Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs etc.
Although not all Psalms are written by King David, he is the one who spoke most often from his heart. He composed pieces of such beauty and honesty, covering the subjects of hope, sadness, anger, confusion, anguish, hope and joy in the salvation of the LORD. His honesty has helped me many times.
This week has been difficult. ISIS murdered British and international tourists on a beach in Tunisia. The American Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal for a state not to recognise same-sex marriage. This over-ruled many state-led laws to the contrary, while undermining the Constitution. On a personal note, my mum had a fairly serious accident on the first day of visiting family overseas, bringing home the frailty of my elderly parents.
Some days the shock, anger, grief and tiredness that come from seeing the world changing, just as the Bible predicted, leads us to feel overwhelmed. My heart aches for the families and loved ones of those murdered on a beach while on holiday. My heart aches at the spirit of rebellion against such a gentle, loving God and His creation of male, female and marriage.
So, how - when we feel like this - do we “strengthen ourselves in the LORD”? 1 Samuel 30. 6 says: “Now David was greatly distressed…. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God."
The word for “and he strengthened himself” in Hebrew is “va-yit-chazek”. The Messianic Jewish preacher said this word. But he didn’t go deeper at this point. The teaching was good and it really encouraged me.
But today, as I sat, having admittedly had some tears over recent events and having gone through shock, to anger, to grieving for God’s Holiness, I suddenly realised the LORD had asked me to study the word “strong” in Hebrew six months ago for a friend's toddler's dedication.
Firstly, let’s look at the verb structure in “he strengthened himself.” In Hebrew, there are seven verb stem structures. Three are active, three are passive and one is a combination of both the active and the passive. So, in Hebrew verb structure, God makes it very clear how severe an action is and who is causing the action. So, there are even levels of personal responsibility for our actions built into the Biblical Hebrew.
The verb stem used in this verse literally means that David is both the giver and receiver of his action. He is both doing the action of “making strong” and the receiver of "being made strong." An equivalent example would be if we hit ourselves! In Jewish learning, the seven verb stems are often drawn on a menorah, three stems on one side (active), three on the other (passive) and one that has both elements as the middle branch. David’s act of “strengthening himself” is the equivalent of that middle branch, of both strengthening and being strengthened.
This beautifully summarises the dichotomy of faith of which Peter wrote in the New Testament in 2 Peter 1. 1-15, when he simultaneously spoke of God’s Divine Power, Holiness and promises “being given to us”, and yet we are "to make every effort to make our calling and election sure." If the New Testament were written in Hebrew, I would imagine that would be exactly the same verb stem used as David “strengthening himself.”
So, what does the word “strong” mean in Hebrew? It is the word “chazak" and it means: “to be strong, to give strength."
But it can also means all the following: "to repair, encourage, to grasp, seize, hold, to catch hold of.”
In these rapidly changing times, if we are true followers of Jesus/Yeshua, we need to grasp hold of Him and His promises, we need to seize His Word in our hearts and minds and never let go.
But “Chazak” can mean even more. It can mean: “to establish oneself firmly, to rally strength" and "physical and internal strength of character.” Now, I have the most incredible small, trusted group of friends, who are the most amazing “strengtheners.” It was one of these who sent me the video of the Jewish Messianic preacher; pointing out that we need to develop this skill of encouraging ourselves, because there may come a time when we don’t have those precious friends around us.
So, I am passing on the encouragement, to each of us to ask the LORD to help us learn how to “strengthen ourselves” in Him more and more.
But the root word for “strong” in Hebrew goes even deeper still and it is here that His language really begins to help me grow in my understanding. It means:
“to become mighty”
“to be of good courage”
“to lean, maintain and wax louder and louder”
When terror attacks, or immorality, for example, landslide into our daily lives and national mindsets, instead of becoming withdrawn and demoralised, we are being called to “lean into the LORD more, to become mightier in our love and obedience to His Word, and to wax louder and louder in our worship and praise to Him, the Creator of the Universe.” This will include prayers asking Him to forgive those who are acting in rebellion to Him. These prayers are not easy and I said mine with tears this morning as I read the international news. Let Him take the weight of your anger, weariness and aching for the world to be different, as you lean into Him with all you’ve got.
But lastly, the LORD often takes my understanding of His mind and heart higher, by looking at the other side of a verb. Remember I mentioned that of the seven Hebrew verb stems, three are active and three are passive? This often translates into a positive action or a negative action from one Hebrew root, depending on its stem structure. In life, I can often tell what is wrong by knowing what is right, and vice versa. To me the definition of what is right and wrong is found in God's Bible. With the verb “to be strong” the passive version literally means this:
“Failure to respond to a person or message.”
The world around us is literally becoming weak. It is doing this by a failure to respond to the person of Jesus Christ and the message He brings. Salvation is a free gift, to anyone, no matter what they have done. It is the definition of strength to respond to His message of the Bible. It is the definition of weakness to fail to respond to His outstretched arms inviting you to repent and be at peace with Him.
Be strong in the LORD.