Ari Lamm Profile picture
4 Jan, 26 tweets, 5 min read
Time for another one: Why read the Bible in Hebrew?

Today's example is from the story of Samuel's childhood. Let's take a look at the word "na'ar" (נער).

A thread (for non-Hebrew readers too!) 🧵 1
Let's take a look at seemingly one of the weirdest verses in the Bible: 1 Samuel 1:24.

Hannah brings her only child, Samuel, to serve God in the Temple at Shiloh. When she arrives, the Bible tells us: "And the child was young" (ESV).

Okay, now buckle up... 2
First problem: why does the Bible mention this? What else would a child be?!

But more important, here's where today's word "na'ar" comes in. Because what the verse says *in Hebrew* is "And the na'ar na'ar."

Yep. You read that right. It just repeats the same word twice! 3
What those words literally mean is: "And the child was a child", a tautology if ever there was one, right?

You can tell the English translators just had no idea what to do. So that's where you get "and the child was young" (ESV, KJV), "the boy, young as he was" (NIV), etc. 4
What's going on here?

The answer here requires two steps—one has to do with the meaning of the word "na'ar" throughout the Bible, and the other has to do specifically with the story of Samuel's youth.

Let's begin with "na'ar" itself... 5
The first important thing to know about na'ar—forms of which appear well over 200 times in the Bible—is that it actually has two different meanings. 6
The first is "child" or "youngster".

As in when Pharaoh's daughter finds little Moses floating in the Nile: "When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the 'na'ar' was crying" (Exodus 6:2). 7
The second, however, is "servant".

Think, for example, of how the Egyptian servant who helps David defeat the Amalekites introduces himself: "I am an Egyptian 'na'ar', servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago" (1 Samuel 30:13). 8
In some cases the Bible actually makes use of both meanings in a single sentence!

From the Binding of Isaac narrative: "Then Abraham said to his servants (ne'arav): Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy (na'ar) will go over there and worship..." (Genesis 22:5). 9
The second thing we need to know is that the word "na'ar" is a major key word in the first three chapters of 1 Samuel.

And it's that ambiguity between "child" and "servant" that lies at the heart of the emotional and theological drama surrounding Samuel's childhood. 10
Let's start with Hannah's painful predicament. All she wants is to have a child...but that child will never be hers.

"For this child [na'ar] I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord..." (1 Sam 1:27-28). 11
What does "I have lent him to the Lord" mean?

Well, Hannah had promised that if God granted her a child, she'd surrender him to the high priest Eli as a servant in the house of God:

"And the 'na'ar' served the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest (1 Sam 2:11). 12
So in order to have a child (na'ar)...Hannah had to give him up as God's servant (na'ar).

Meanwhile, Eli—the one to whom Hannah entrusts her child, her na'ar—has children of his own, whom the Bible describes with the word 'na'ar' as well (1 Sam 2:17)... 13
...But these children, Hophni and Phinehas, are terrible disappointments.

"Thus the sin of the 'ne'arim' was very great in the sight of the Lord" (2:17)

(Note: 'ne'arim' is the plural of 'na'ar' in Biblical Hebrew). 14
Even worse, Eli's children (ne'arim) use their own servant (na'ar) to perpetrate their abuses, extorting the Israelites at the Temple:

"When any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant ('na'ar') would come while the meat was boiling..." and take what he wanted (2:13). 15
And when Eli learns that his servant (na'ar) Samuel has been blessed with prophecy...

("Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the 'na'ar'" [3:8])

...the prophecy Samuel must deliver is that Eli has failed as a father, and his children (ne'arim) will never succeed him. 16
So in the end, Hannah gains a na'ar (a child) only to lose him as a na'ar (a servant)...while Eli gains a na'ar (a servant) only to lose his ne'arim (his own children).

Consider that: Samuel, one of the greatest prophets, was born out of two lives of unimaginable sacrifice. 17
And these sacrifices—Hannah's and Eli's—were mirror images of each other. The gift of Samuel's leadership and prophecy came at a cost.

So the point at which Samuel transitions from Hannah's na'ar (child) to Eli's na'ar (servant) is of crucial emotional/theological importance. 18
And that brings us to our verse: 1 Samuel 1:24.

Because that's the moment when that transition occurs. And the Bible is sure to highlight it: "And the na'ar na'ar".

We can now appreciate the powerful weight of these words... 19
It's not "and the child was young", or "and the child was a child". But rather: "and the child—Hannah's child—became a servant—Eli's servant"

...And neither Hannah nor Eli would ever fully recover. 20
So what can we learn from this?

Well, first of all, the 'na'ar' ambiguity illuminates the remarkable faith of both Hannah and Eli.

Right after Hannah surrenders Samuel, she thanks God for giving her a child in the first place, one of the Bible's most moving prayers (2:1-10). 21
Her faith was so stunning that ancient Jewish tradition actually portrayed Hannah's words as the model for all subsequent prayer.

"Rabbi Hamnuna [late 3rd century] said: how abundant are the teachings that can be derived from the verses of Hannah's prayer!" 22
And Eli, in turn, accepted his fate with equanimity. Remember: Samuel had just prophesied God that Eli's entire house would be destroyed on account of his children's sins.

Eli's response?

"It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him" (3:18).

Can you even imagine? 23
But even more than all this: the 'na'ar' ambiguity is the Bible's way of reminding us that even as we celebrate and give thanks for Samuel's wondrous gifts as a prophet and leader...we must also acknowledge the extraordinary sacrifices of those who made those gifts possible. 24
And we must always remember: anything *we* achieve in this life is due to the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before us. Those who made us who we are. Our Hannahs and our Elis.

We are not self-made. We are all somebody's na'ar. /end
Oh, and P.S. I will never tire of thanking the @CatherineProj and the incomparable @zenahitz for giving me an excuse, through our Biblical Hebrew study group, to explore all this!

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More from @AriLamm

27 Dec 21
Why read the Bible in Hebrew?

Today's example is from the story of Noah. Let's take a look at the word "chamas" (חמס).

A thread (for non-Hebrew readers too!) 🧵 1
Why did God bring the flood and destroy His first go at creation? Genesis 6:11 fills us in: "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence" (ESV).

What does that mean? Lots of fighting, war, etc.? 2
Well, that's where today's word "chamas" (חמס) comes in, which is the word being translated as "violence".

The English translators often rendered "chamas" that way, but not always. I suspect they weren't too sure what the word meant.

So what *does* it mean? 3
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Read 4 tweets
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Read 6 tweets
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A thread:
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Read 15 tweets

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