Saturday, February 24, 2007

Life in the Language

"And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one of the other people. So I contended with them....."
Nehemiah 13:24-25a

Ben-Yehuda had a dream. Like Nehemiah before him, he felt consternation over the fact that the Hebrew language was not the spoken tongue of his people, the Jews. In the late 1800's Hebrew was the language of the Torah and the language of the prayer books, but otherwise it remained a virtually unspoken tongue. Ben-Yehuda's dream was to revive the language.

Like all good leaders, he began the work by setting an example. Arriving in Palestine in 1881, he required his own family to converse in Hebrew at home. He encountered obvious challenges; what is the Hebrew word for bicycle? Ice cream? Omelet? New words had to be created to accommodate modern life. Ben-Yehuda kept lists of the new words he created and published them in the newspaper.

As an example, the word "menorah" came from the ancient Hebrew word "candelabra" with the modern word for "light bulb" (norah) added on.

It seems that God smiled on Ben-Yehuda's dream. Shira Schwartz, a resident of Samaria, tells what it is like in Israel today:

"Hebrew is read here; Hebrew is spoken here; Hebrew is the language of jump rope songs....and jokes children tell...."

She goes on to speak of Hebrew newspapers, John Grisham novels translated into Hebrew, children text messaging friends on the cell phone in Hebrew.

I wish I could share the entire article Shira has written on the subject; I found it riveting. The article is contained in a newsletter available by subscription through Christian Friends of Israeli Communities.

My mind goes back 30+ years, when I was a student in Bible College. 1974 was a groundbreaking year in that the first woman in the history of the college enrolled in a Hebrew language class. Prior to that, the class had been taken solely by male pastoral students.

How much has changed in 30 years! Now there is a plethora of Hebrew language resources available to children, students, homeschoolers, or anyone who has the interest. I am tempted to incorporate it into our homeschool, but at the moment Latin is all I can handle.

This morning I took the time to re-read Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones. I have reprinted it here. Isn't it a fitting picture of the revival of the Hebrew language?

The Dry Bones Live
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’”

So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

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