A few years ago, I watched a program on Christian TV that left me awestruck. A messianic rabbi (a rabbi who believes Yeshua, Jesus, is Messiah) was interviewing an Israeli Hebrew scholar about something called “Hebrew Word Pictures.” The man was talking about how the Hebrew language used to be an ideogramic language, meaning pictures were used to describe words. For instance, the Hebrew word for shepherd contains the letters Reysh (symbolized by a head), Ayin (symbolized by the eye), and Hey (symbolized by a window and meaning “to behold”). Together, these letters reveal the picture for a shepherd as a person looking out the window, or one who watches intently.
Pretty cool, right? He kept going with other examples, like these:
MOM: Pronounced em, the letters of the word “mother” are Alef (pictured by an ox and meaning strong, or first), and Mem, which is symbolized by water. The picture for mother, therefore, is that she is the strong water, which, in a desert country is water that is both abundant and dependable. Around such water, a nurturing oasis of life is formed. To me, this is a beautiful, and certainly accurate, poetic portrait of godly mothers, as they were designed by the Creator to be bountiful givers of life.
Note: What’s equally awesome about this entire study is that the Hebrew letters, especially in their ancient forms, look like what they represent. For example, the Alef looks like an ox’s head, and the Mem resembles a wave!
DAD: Pronounced ab, the letters of this one are Alef (like in the word for mother) and Bet, which is symbolized by a house and means strength, or “the first.” The word picture therefore is that the father is the leader of the house!
And here’s one more that’s not so warm and rosy:
LUST: Pronounced avah, the letters are Alef (ox, “strong,” and “first” again, like in “Mom” and “Dad”), Vav (pictured by a hook or a nail), and Hey, which is symbolized by a window and means “to behold.” So, the word illustrates that lust is the strong nail that one beholds. To clarify, a person who lusts is someone who looks out a window and beholds nothing but the strong nail or hook that is oppressing them.
I encourage you to study more about Hebrew word pictures for yourself. I had a bit of fun today doing research on a word that is near and dear to my heart as someone who writes frequently on health and fitness-related topics: the word strength, which means authority, might, strength, power(Strong’s number 8633 if you’d like to look it up)
The word is spelled toqueph in English, and after flipping back and forth through my Hebrew study book trying to transliterate it into Hebrew, I was able to decipher that its Hebrew letters are Tav, Qof, and Pe. I will break each letter down one by one:
Tav: the ancient, Proto-Canaanite symbol for the Tav was the shape of a cross, or an X. It means, “a sign,” as well as “ownership, “to seal,” “to make a covenant,” “to join to things together,” and “to make a sign.”
Qof: The ancient symbol for this letter looks like a person’s head, and appropriately symbolizes the back of the head and means “to follow.”
Pe: The ancient symbol looks a bit like an open mouth, and the word itself means “to gape,” and symbolizes vocalization, expression, blowing, and breath.
So I did what any curious logophile/Bible student/fitness writer/Sherlock wannabe would do: I connected the images to paint a bigger picture, that of “the cross followed with blowing breaths.”
What I’ve found is that these word pictures are a bit like Haikus – brief, cutting, poignant, thought-provoking, each one inviting us to meditate on it for a few unhurried moments. When I finished putting the picture for toqueph together, I set it down, closed my eyes, and imagined the following montage playing out before me:
- Christ breathing His last and giving up His spirit on the cross as preternatural darkness encompassed the sky.
- The sad site of the empty tomb on Sunday morning, still undiscovered, still cloaked in night’s shadows, the soft glow of angels emanating from within it.
- Mary Magdalene exclaiming to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, that He is risen!
- And finally, the resurrected Lord appearing in the disciples’ midst, behind locked doors, and showing them the wounds of His hands where nails had been driven in, and the place in His side where a spear had pierced through. Then, He breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22, NLT).
As this sequence of vignettes played out in my mind, I remembered that the Hebrew word for spirit is ruach (a word that is quite breathy when pronounced correctly!) and means “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit.” As a “ mighty rushing wind,” the Holy Spirit entered the gathering on Pentecost, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that He would send His Advocate “to help [us] and be with [us] forever” (Acts 2:2; John 14:16).
It’s His Spirit that, according to the Lord, “will teach [us] all things and will remind [us] of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
It’s His Spirit that “will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
It’s His Spirit that “helps our infirmities” and “makes intercession for us” when we pray (Romans 8:26).
It’s the Spirit who is the source of our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4).
It’s the Spirit who helps us bear fruit like love, patience, and peace in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Holy Spirit is strength! But it is a strength that can only be received after we’ve been to the cross…
The world gives us countless ways to define strength, from what the body can achieve to what the mind can conceive. But the ultimate strength is not of this world; it’s something we cannot chase after and hope to obtain on our own. Only when we openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe with our hearts that God raised Him from the dead will we be saved and sealed by the breath of His Spirit (Romans 10:10; Ephesians 1:13).
Toqueph. A small, ancient word that, to me, holds great, revelatory truth for today.
 http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=hebrewlexicon&isindex=strength (accessed April 30, 2015)