Sometimes the language of the Hebrew Bible challenges us not because we do not understand the words themselves, but because we miss the feelings they express and the ideas they develop. Consider this example:
דֶּרֶךְ־מִצְוֹתֶיךָ אָרוּץ כִּי תַרְחִיב לִבִּי׃
(derech mitzvoteycha arutz ki tarchiv libi)
I shall run the way of Your commandments,
for You will enlarge my heart. (Psalm 119: 32)
The psalmist says he runs in דֶּרֶךְ־מִצְוֹתֶיךָ (derech mitzvoteycha) “path of your commands.” The word for “command” or “commandment” in Hebrew is מִצְוָה (mitzvah). It originates from the Hebrew verb צָוָה (tzavah) which means to “order” or “direct,” and thus “a commandment” is something literally “ordered.” The psalmist does not just walk, but he runs in the “path which God ordered.” He is clearly eager to follow God’s direction.
Biology has taught us that the heart pumps blood filled with oxygen through our body literally supplying us the strength to run. But that is not what the psalmist means when he says “you will enlarge my heart”. The verb for “enlarge” is רָחַב (rachav) and it indeed means something “wide” and “broad”. In the ancient Near East one’s “heart” לֵב (lev) was not understood as a blood-pumping organ in a biological sense. It was understood to be something responsible for will, decisions, motivation, emotions, thinking and intent of any human being. By saying “you will enlarge my heart” the psalmist in fact says “you will give me the desire, will, right thinking, in other words, an ability to keep running in your commandments, i.e. being utterly committed to God and His Word.”
Do you enjoy digging deeper into Scripture? Do you read it so that others in your circles of influence will be impacted as well? Open the world of the Hebrew Bible even wider by learning how to read Hebrew.