Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

by Zondervan
Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

Devotions on the Hebrew Bible: 54 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

by Zondervan


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Fifty-four short devotions based on passages from the Hebrew Bible—written by some of the top biblical language scholars of today.

The main point of each meditation in Devotions on the Hebrew Bible comes from a careful reading of the passage in the Hebrew Bible, not from an English translation. The authors use a variety of exegetical approaches in their devotions: grammatical, lexical, rhetorical, sociohistorical, linguistic, etc. Some insights focus on particular words and their role in the passage, while others highlight background studies or provide a theological reading of the passage.

Each devotion draws students into translating a short passage and pursuing an understanding of why this or that insight matters for their lives and ministries. Devotions on the Hebrew Bible encourages professors, students, and pastors alike to keep reading and meditating on the Hebrew Scriptures and find new treasures from the biblical text.

Celebrated contributors include:

  • Daniel I. Block
  • Mark J. Boda
  • Hélène Dallaire
  • Nancy Erickson
  • Michael Williams

Devotions on the Hebrew Bible contains a devotion on every book in the Old Testament and can be used as a weekly devotional or as a supplemental resource throughout a semester or sequence of courses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310494539
Publisher: Zondervan Academic
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Milton Eng has a Ph D in Old Testament Studies from Drew University. He is presently East Coast Project Director for the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity (ISAAC) as well as adjunct professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.

Lee M. Fields (Ph D, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati) is a Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, Elizabeth City, NC. He has taught courses in Hebrew and Greek, Old and New Testament, and interpretation. In addition to supply preaching and some ministry, he has taught Sunday school classes and other small groups at churches. He has also presented various series for churches on church history, denominations, and one on canon, text, and versions called "From Stone Tablets to Clay Jars." He has also been involved with Bible translation efforts in Africa and Asia. He is the author of Hebrew for the Rest of Us (1st edition, Zondervan, 2008), An Anonymous Dialogue with a Jew in the series Corpus Christianorum in Translated (Brepols, 2012), and Hebrew for the Rest of Us Video Lectures (Zondervan, 2016). He also was contributor and co-editor with Milton Eng of Devotions on the Hebrew Bible (Zondervan, 2015). He has also written articles in various publications, both popular and scholarly, including a blog on Zondervan's koinonia website entitled "Hebrew and You."

Read an Excerpt

Devotions on the Hebrew Bible

53 Reflections to Inspire and Instruct

By Milton Eng, Lee M. Fields


Copyright © 2015 Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-49453-9


A Faith That Grows





And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6 was an important verse for Paul (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6) and James (2:23). There are distinctions in the Hebrew text that help us understand their different emphases.

The first word in Hebrew is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("and he was believing"), not [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("and he believed"), as the ESV and most English versions read. The verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is an open-ended tense in Hebrew that is not used very often. Typically, in past contexts this tense is used when repetition is involved, like in Genesis 29:2–3. (This observation applies to both weqatal and yiqtol.) More rarely this tense is used to mark open-endedness, as in Genesis 2:25, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "they were not ashamed ..." [not [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]!]. The tense is used to provocatively present an open-ended stage for the following story of Genesis 3. (See 1 Sam 1:10 "was crying," 1:12 "while it was happening," and 1:13 "was not being heard" for more examples of the open-ended use of this tense.)

The Hebrew verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] looks at the process of believing without looking at the beginning or end of the "believing." The tense does not imply that Abram first believed God at this point. Nor does it present Abram's faith as complete at this point. Abram had started to trust Yahweh's promises when he travelled to Canaan in Genesis 12. And the author's choice of this tense at 15:6 forces the reader to think about ongoing implications. In a real sense, Abram's faith was a lifelong "walk." His faith matured and was tested. The most climactic test comes later in Genesis 22 with the command to sacrifice Isaac. James specifically makes the link between Genesis 15 and Genesis 22. James may have been aware of the open-ended nature of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and he certainly interpreted Abraham's life accordingly. Paul, on the other hand, linked Abram's faith to the second clause in Genesis 15:6 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "and he considered it for him righteousness." This crediting is a simple past wayyiqtol, a complete act, including the endpoint. That was Paul's point, and his application of this verse fits the Hebrew, too.

There is another ambiguity with the word "him." Did Abram consider God's promise "righteous," or did God consider Abram's faithfulness "righteous"? There is a hint in Hebrew that God responded to Abram's faithfulness by considering it "righteousness." The language choices appear to track Abram as the main participant on stage. There is a little helping word "to him" that weaves through the story. In v. 1 the word of Yahweh comes "to Abram." In both 15:4 and 15:7 when Yahweh speaks to Abram, an extra pronoun is added for Abram, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("to him"). The author was using Abram as the point of reference. This makes it probable that the phrase "to him" in 15:6 was referring to Abram: "and [the Lord] considered it [Abram's faithfulness] for him [Abram, a pronominal tracking device] righteousness." Incidentally, the medieval commentator Rashi (1040 – 1105) reads Genesis 15:6 similarly: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "the Holy One, blessed be he, considered it for Abram merit and righteousness because of the faith that he placed in him."

Abraham is the father of faith. God is good and his promises are trustworthy. As we journey through life on earth, we do not always see God's perspective on individual situations, just like Abraham did not see how he was going to have children and a great inheritance. But Abraham was trusting God. We can be encouraged. Our faith is not a one-time assertion, but a life of faithfulness. We may look back and say "we have believed God." More practically, we learn from this verse that we please God when we are trusting him. We are believing that his promises are true and sure in Jesus Christ so that we do not need to fear the future even if we do not know the future. We live and grow in faith.

Randall Buth

Emotional Meltdown: Stuttering in Hebrew

GENESIS 37:30b




The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?

After convincing his brothers to leave Joseph in the pit, Reuben steps away from the group and misses the meal at which the brothers sell Joseph to the traveling Midianites (37:25 – 28). Reuben had planned to go back to the cistern secretly to rescue his youngest brother Joseph, but unbeknownst to him, the Midianites had bought him for twenty pieces of silver and took him down to Egypt to be sold as a slave. Unaware of these developments, Reuben hurries to the cistern and finds it empty! Overcome with despair and grief, Reuben spontaneously tears his clothes and utters a statement that could be construed as stuttering (involuntary repetitions of sounds), stammering (involuntary repetitions and hesitations in speech), or blubbering (uncontrollable noisy sobbing). Reuben no doubt assumes that Joseph is dead since his brothers had recently threatened to kill him. Reuben is overcome with grief and breaks out in a sharp and piercing outcry.

In this passage, the author intentionally combines two sound-related poetic devices — assonance (repeated vowels) and alliteration (repeated consonants) — to express the confused and emotional state of Reuben. The repetition of the vowel "a" and consonants [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (aleph) and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (nun) engulf the stuttered speech of Reuben. Although these literary devices are found primarily in poetry (e.g., Ps 147:13; Song 6:3; Isa 22:5; 24:17), narrative prose occasionally borrows the features in order to emphasize a point — in this case, confusion and grief.

Assonance and alliteration join a series of similar-sounding words into one key idea. They can also serve as mnemonic devices to assist in the memorization of a text, especially in an oral culture. By providing a vivid and sudden shift in the flow of the language, these two features highlight a critical juncture in the narrative and draw the reader further into the story. Hebrew pericopes that include assonance and alliteration are difficult to translate accurately into modern languages. Consequently, readers of modern translations often miss the intensity of the Reuben discourse and the emotional outburst expressed in the Hebrew language.

In our story, Reuben is at a loss for words. He is distraught, disturbed, confused, and angry. What would he do now that his brother was gone? What would his father do upon learning of the disappearance of his favorite son? Modern translators have attempted to represent the mood of this pericope, but none has succeeded in expressing the explosion of emotions released by Reuben, primarily because of the lack of linguistic equivalents between languages. When the reader of the pericope encounters the speech of Reuben laden with assonance and alliteration, he/ she is immediately engulfed into his stuttering and emotional outcry. Reuben's utterance is not connected to the question of where he should go, as found in most modern translations: "The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?" (KJV); "The boy isn't there! And I, where can I go?" (NET); "The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?" (NRSV); "The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?" (NIV); rather, it is directly linked to his emotional state: "The boy's gone! What am I going to do!" (The Message); "The boy is GONE! Oh no! Oh NO! NO! What am I going to do now??" (my translation).

Emotional outbursts and passionate feelings are a part of human nature. It should not surprise us that biblical characters expressed them vividly in their discourse! Moses (Exod 17:4), Job (3:11 – 16), David (Ps 42:11), and even Jesus (Matt 21:12) burst out with emotions. God welcomes our outbursts and assures us that none of them is beyond his control and sovereign rule over our lives.

Hélène Dallaire

God Prepares His Messengers




ESV Then the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth?

Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?"

Have you ever questioned your ministry ability? Moses, one of Israel's greatest leaders, did. The Lord of all creation selected and sent Moses on a mission to go to God's people and communicate his message. But the prophet was not a ready and willing messenger.

Scripture calls God's servants "messengers" (Mal 2:7) because God sends them. Moses reasons that he cannot be God's messenger, so he declines his assignment. His argument centers on his perceived inability, that he is unable to speak to his own satisfaction. Commentators speculate about the cause of Moses' inability. One thing is certain; God responds as if Moses' inability is a disability.

How do we know this? When Yahweh responds to Moses' refusal, he chooses words that illustrate his role in disabilities. In Exodus 4:11 the words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "deaf," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "mute," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "sighted," and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "blind" all occur in the piel, indicating physical disabilities. Because the four terms are uniquely inflected, this pattern plays a crucial role in interpreting this passage. It is particularly significant that the Hebrew word used here that our Bibles translate "mute" means "able to understand but not able to speak." Because Moses comprehends the message, Yahweh challenges Moses to look beyond what he considers to be his speech limitations. Moses can understand; God will help him speak.

God patiently responds to Moses' logic when he asks him two questions: Who puts man's mouth in place? Who makes man unable to speak, hear, or see? Yes, remarkably, who makes those who cannot speak unable to speak? Wouldn't we expect God to say, "Who makes those unable to speak, able to speak?" But God's argument for Moses states that if Moses has a disability, God gave it to him. God should certainly have a fuller understanding of Moses' limitations than Moses did! This verse not only addresses God's role in disabilities, but it also sets the stage for his provision through his people.

In the prophets, God echoes his role in disability: "In that day, declares the Lord, I will assemble the lame, and gather the outcasts, and those whom I have afflicted" (Mic 4:6, ESV). Like Exodus 4:11, this passage reminds us that God assumes sovereign responsibility for disability, which includes assuring us that he will one day heal those who have disabilities. "The Lord gives sight to the blind" (Ps 146:8, NIV). For now, we may choose to say with Job, God's agent to assist people with disabilities, "I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame" (Job 29:15, NIV).

If God calls us to speak, he will enable us to speak. For those of us who have a disability, as most of us will as we age, this passage assures us that God not only gives us our mission assignments, he also empowers us for the task. Disability should not keep us from experiencing the joy of serving God. What is more, our greatest joy in serving God may come from helping others with their disabilities.

Dave Deuel

You, Who, Me?





You shall not make for yourself an image

in the form of anything in heaven above

or on the earth beneath

or in the waters below.

What is often lost in translation is the real meaning of "you."

In English, the personal pronoun "you" can be singular or plural. In other languages, "you-singular" and "you-plural" are clearly distinguished. In Spanish, for example, we have "usted" and "ustedes." In Chinese, we have [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ni) and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ni men). When it comes to the Ten Commandments, such as "You shall have no other gods before me," which "you" do we have?

Surprisingly, all the verbal forms and second person pronominal suffixes in the Decalogue are masculine singular. That is why Exodus 20:4a says [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "You shall not make for yourself an image" (singular), and not the similar but plural construction as found in Deuteronomy 4:16a, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol" (NIV). In other words, the Ten Commandments are not written to "you-plural" but to "you-singular." They are not written to "you all" but to "you" as an individual.

This is unusual in the context of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19. The entire nation is gathered at the foot of the mountain to witness Yahweh speaking to Moses in a theophanic appearance of thunder, lightning, and smoke. God himself conveys to the Israelites through Moses, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (Exod 19:4), addressing them in the plural. One would expect the same plural address in the Decalogue.

The fact that the Ten Commandments are addressed to you in the singular emphasizes their personal and ethical character. It has long been observed that these statements are not "commandments" per se or even "laws." There are no specific punishments spelled out for breaking these "laws" as in the Book of the Covenant (Exod 21 – 23), and the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet ..." is not even a law one can observably break! Rather, the Ten Commandments are ten principles for personal conduct in daily life, and they are just as relevant today as they were in the days of Moses.

As believers, we have not only made a commitment to the gospel of Christ, but we have made a commitment to a system of personal ethics inculcated in the eternal moral law of the Decalogue. These principles include exclusive worship, parental honor, respect for life, respect for the marriage bond, and respect for the personal property of others. George Mendenhall has put it well: the Ten Commandments should really be called the "Ten Commitments."

Since the Ten Commitments are really a personal system of ethics and not corporate law — that is, they speak to the singular "you," not the plural "you" — they cannot be applied to corporate entities. The sixth commandment, "You shall not kill," for example, cannot be applied to corporate structures like governments and to such issues as capital punishment. Rather, the singular "you" emphasizes the personal nature of these commitments and the fact that one cannot hide in the shadows of a corporate body like the church. Our commitments must be singular and personal.

The old-time preachers used to s ay, "God has no grandchildren." Each generation must make their own spiritual commitments afresh and anew. Faith cannot be inherited. Have you-singular made such a commitment? May our response never be, "Who, me?"

Milton Eng

How's Your Walk?





You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes

and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.

The ESV translates this verse with three parallel commands. Yet, the Hebrew text has only two finite verbs (imperatival yiqtol /imperfects), "follow" and "keep." The translation "walk," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], is an infinitive construct with the prefixed preposition [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Since the Hebrew construction does not attest three parallel imperatival forms as translated in the ESV, how does the infinitive construct relate to the two main finite verbs?

Finite verbs are "finite" because they are limited to a grammatical subject that can be the first, second, or third person. They also mark mood and tense-aspect. Nonfinite verbs (participles and infinitives) are not limited by person, but still carry some qualities of verbs. The actions of chief importance to the speaker are usually conveyed through the use of finite verbs; nonfinite verbs usually communicate subordinate ideas (participles are also used verbally to mark mood and tense-aspect).


Excerpted from Devotions on the Hebrew Bible by Milton Eng, Lee M. Fields. Copyright © 2015 Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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Introduction Listing of all the devotions, in Hebrew Bible canonical order, together with the authors The Authors
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