Through my interest in Israel and the Jewish people, I felt it would be interesting to learn Hebrew, to be able to read it and speak it, to be more of a witness to the Jewish people. I have been teaching myself to read Hebrew over the past ten years, and I have a couple of Hebrew Bibles that I read to try and keep it fresh in my mind. I have had the privilege to visit Israel a few times myself, and it was great to be able to speak a little bit in a few shops. As there are not many people to practice with over here, my listening and speaking isn’t that good.
I have found it very interesting being able to read the Bible in Hebrew, especially when it comes to people’s names, and places. There are also many plays on words in the Hebrew that we just miss out on completely, just because they do not translate into other languages. Sometimes when a verse doesn’t read well in English, it can be because we are missing some important information that was lost in translation. For example, the explanation given for the name Jehovah Jireh in the English translation is, “in the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen”. When we read the verse in the Hebrew original, it becomes clear that Jireh means ‘to see’ or ‘to provide’. When Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham told him in Hebrew, ‘the Lord shall see to Himself a lamb for a burnt offering’.
Other interesting features are the plays on words. For instance, we read in Isaiah about the Lord Jesus, that they ‘made His grave with the wicked, and He was with the rich in His death’. The word ‘vav’ in Hebrew for ‘and’ can also mean ‘but’. When we read the two words in Hebrew, ‘wicked’ - ‘rashim’ and ‘rich’ - ‘ashir’, we find that they are spelled using the same letters only in a different arrangement. So in Hebrew, the literal translation is, they ‘appointed His grave with the wicked, but He was with a rich (man) in His death’. It is as if the Lord is saying He is able to rearrange the circumstances of Christ’s burial just as easily as He rearranges the letters on a page.
Learning Hebrew is not difficult. You start by learning the alphabet, then the pronunciation of the letters. After that, simple words and phrases. Reading from right to left is not difficult either. The most difficult part of learning Hebrew is the tenses and word beginnings and endings, as these can be different depending on who you are speaking to, whether male or female or a group of people. There are some good books that can help. Learn Biblical Hebrew by John Dobson is very good. He starts off very simply, with small words and easy verses to translate.
I think I would like to be able to speak Hebrew fluently, but I don’t know if that will happen. I would like to keep studying it, and to be a witness to the Jewish people. I would recommend learning Hebrew to anyone. I was not very good at languages at school but I have enjoyed learning Hebrew, and it reveals a deeper meaning behind many of the Old Testament stories we know and love.