The Hebrew language is filled with word play and puns, using words that are spelled similarly, have the same rhythm in the words, or use different words to repeat a thought. This word play is called “Hebraism” and is found throughout the Old and New Testaments. You can see them in Hebrew but not in English. One example of a Hebraism in the New Testament is found in John 3:8:
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
In Hebrew, both wind and spirit is the same word: “ruach.” A person decides which word to use by the context. Both the wind and the Spirit have the same characteristics in which you can see its effect, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. This is a word play.
Another Hebraism is in Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8:
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
“Sons” in Hebrew is banim, “stones” is written abanim. It is no accident that banim and abanim look and sound similar. That is an intentional word play.
There is a wonderful Hebraic word play in Matt. 1:18-21, which we do not catch in English:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:18-21)
Did you ever wonder why the angel said “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,” making a connection between Jesus’ name and the fact that He would save the people from their sins? Hebrew has the answer. Jesus’ name in Hebrew was actually Yeshua. It is the name that Joseph and Mary named their son. Yeshua means “salvation.” So you could read the verse above as
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Salvation, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Do you see it? Do you see the connection between His name and the salvation He would bring? Knowing that Yeshua means Salvation gets interesting. Look at Psalms 96:2:
Sing to the LORD! Bless his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day! (Ps. 96:2)
This verse could be read as
Sing to the LORD! Bless his name! Proclaim his Yeshua from day to day!
Look at Psalms 98:2:
The LORD has made known his Salvation. He has openly shown his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
This verse could be read as:
The LORD has made known his Yeshua. He has openly shown his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
As JJ and I study Hebrew together, I insist that we learn the meaning of the Hebrew names of people and places and not just the Hebrew word for them. In the Bible names were not given to people or places because parents/people liked the sound of the name. Instead, they were given names because names had meaning. So there is a lot to learn from the meaning of names in the Bible.
For example, Bethlehem means House of Bread. Yeshua, the Living Bread, was born in the House of Bread.
Brock and Bodie Thoene are historians and authors of historical fiction. Their books are all very well researched and historically accurate. They base their stories on real events and people. They wrote in their series about the life of Christ, The AD Chronicles, that Bethlehem was the place where the lambs were raised for the Temple sacrifices. So…
- Yeshua (Salvation), the Living Bread, was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.
- The sacrificial Lamb of God was born in the very place where the sacrificial lambs for Temple sacrifices were raised.
- The shepherds who were visited by the angels were raising sheep for the sacrifices.
Isn’t that fascinating?