A Friday Reflection: Biblical Hebrew Syntax

 וְהֶאֱמִן בַּֽיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָֽה׃

And he was believing in the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

In this Hebrew verse, the first word וְהֶאֱמִן starts with a וְ (waw conjunction) meaning “and.” The rest of the word הֶאֱמִן is a hiphil perfect verb from the basic root אמן meaning “firmness” or “certainty.”[1] In the hiphil stem it means “stand firm,” “trust” or “believe.”[2] Typically, the hiphil stem describes causative action or the causing of an event by an agent.[3] The hiphil stem is in the active voice, and the key words “caused” or “made” are often inserted. For example, “they caused to kill” or “they made someone king.”[4] However, the hiphil stem may also express a simple action which would preserve the qal stem meaning and negate the causative meaning mentioned above.[5] This is most likely the case with הֶאֱמִן in this sentence,[6] but verbal aspect must also be considered to understand the reason for the hiphil stem and to determine the meaning of הֶאֱמִן.

For this discussion, it is important to focus on two forms of verbal aspect in Biblical Hebrew: qatal and wayyiqtol. The qatal aspect is associated with the perfect designation to express a state or a condition that requires duration or repetiton or to view a situation or action as a complete whole that is temporally undefined.[7] The wayyiqtol aspect involves an imperfect verb plus waw consecutive. In general, an imperfect verb denotes an incomplete action or describes an event without the end in view,[8] but when an imperfect verb is prefixed with waw consecutive, it will be translated with a similar aspect as a perfect verb.[9]

Next, it is important to point out that these two forms are often together in narrative. According to H.H. Hardy,

wayyiqtol verbs depict the mainline events of a narrative. The story is moved along from one event to another using successive wayyiqtol verbs. When additional setting material, contrasting statements, summaries, epexegetical remarks, background information, or any out-of-sequence occurrence is provided, the sequence is interrupted by a switch in verbal form. If this information is also perfective, then the verbal form is qatal.[10]

This is the sequence of the general context leading up to הֶאֱמִן in Genesis 15:6. In the first few sentences of the narrative of Chapter 15, Abram and God are having conversation

(v.2) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.3) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.4) God took Abraham outside and said (wayyiqtol verbs)

(v.5) God said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.6) (Abram) he was believing הֶאֱמִן (qatal verb)

This shows the verbal form switch of Genesis 15:6, but this switch goes undetected in most english versions of the Bible that translate  הֶאֱמִן in 15:6 as “he believed.” This is certainly within the translation possibilities of the hiphil perfect (qatal) form. As mentioned above, the hiphil stem can express a simple action like the qal stem, but the interruption of verbal sequencing points to the writer trying to emphasize something in the narrative. The writer switches to the qatal aspect to emphasize Abram’s belief in the Lord as a complete whole that is temporally undefined. Abram did not start to believe in the Lord at this point in the narrative, rather Abram started believing in the Lord in Genesis 12.  For Abram, believing in the Lord was not a one time thing in 15:6, nor was it finalized at this point, but it was a repetitious process of believing. Thus, an appropriate translation of הֶאֱמִן is “he was believing.” The writer uses וְהֶאֱמִן “and he was believing” to emphasize that Abram’s faith was a journey. His journey of faith wasn’t perfect, but Abram was believing in the Lord, and it was because of this believing that the Lord “counted it to him as righteousness.”

Just like Abram’s faith, the Christian faith is not a one time thing, but a journey of believing. It is a life of trusting in the promises of God. We are living and growing in belief, and we are called friends of God.

Footnotes:

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A Friday Reflection: God’s Greatness and Goodness in Glorification

Glory, in the theological usage, refers to the greatness of God’s entire nature, to his brightness, splendor, magnificence, and fame, to his visible and dwelling presence among people. “The Lord Almighty, he is the King of glory” (Psalms 24.10), and “his glory covered the heavens” (Habakkuk 3.3) and “filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40.34). 

When God creates humans, he shares his glory by crowning them with glory and honor (Hebrews 2.7b). This reveals the goodness of God. He creates humans in his image and likeness, and thus humans experience the grandeur of his being and reflect his glory back to him. This is how humans glorify God. They are to be holy as he is holy; they are to be good as he is good; they are to love as he loves. They are to live as signposts pointing to God and spotlighting his greatness and goodness. 

After the fall of Adam and Eve and the entrance of sin in the world, the human privilege of reflecting God’s glory was forfeited, and the glory diminished in humans. “God made people upright, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7.29). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3.19). Sinful humans are separated from God. They are seeking their own glory. They want others to glorify them. This is pursuing false glory because true glory belongs to God alone, and he does not share his glory with rebellious humanity or idol gods. 

The human condition did not deter God’s greatness and goodness towards humanity because he continued to reveal his glory throughout history and ultimately through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1.3 states that “he [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” John 1.14, referring to Jesus, states, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God-the Father sent God-the son (Jesus) as a visible dwelling presence among people. Jesus is the glorious divine light that shines in the darkness, and he came to sacrifice his life for the sins of the world. At Jesus’ crucifixion, his status as “the Lord of Glory” was veiled (1 Corinthians 2.8), and they esteemed him stricken of God (Isaiah 53.4). To say that any good could come through crucifixion was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1.23). 

But in the greater scheme of things, the glory of God was revealed in Jesus’ death, and he was raised from the dead in glory. In Acts 3.13-15, the apostle Peter preaches that although Jesus, the Holy and Righteous One, was disowned and killed, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant and raised him from the dead. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he conquered the physical and spiritual death that began at the sinful fall of Adam and Eve. The glory that was universally defaced and perverted at this sinful fall is restored and consummated in Christ. He is the firstfruits of the glorious resurrection life. Jesus’ glory and resurrection life is not only for himself but  is shared with others.

Because of his greatness and goodness, God calls people to Jesus Christ so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6.4). Those who are followers of Jesus partake of his glorious new life. They “with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3.18). But like Jesus before his resurrection, Jesus’ followers will experience suffering. They will share in Jesus’ sufferings in order that they may share in his glory (Romans 8.17b), but “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4.17). Thus, Jesus’ followers are to rejoice because they experience the sufferings of Jesus, which will result in great joy in the future when Jesus’ glory is revealed (1 Peter 4.12-13)

In this present age, followers of Jesus undergo the process of sanctification (of being made holy). Sanctification is closely related to glorification, in that glorification involves the completion of sanctification. While glorification has begun in this present age, final glorification occurs in ‘the life of the world to come’ at the glorious return of Jesus (Colossians 3.4). 1 John 3.2 states, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” This is “the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” and when he appears, his people will “receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (Titus 2.13; 1 Peter 5.1, 4). Future glorification depends on the greatness and goodness of God. God could have left humans in their sinful self-glorifying state, completely separated from him and his glory, but because of his love, mercy and grace, God made a way of redemption in order that humans could experience and share in his glory once again. Because of his power, almighty God carried out his plan of salvation through Jesus so that humans could receive glorification into the image and likeness of his glorious son. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! (1 Timothy 1.17)