Small ceramic goblet filled with wine on a wooden platform. Text over the top: The God who saves (a poem). Faith in Grey Places

The God who saves (a poem)

Partly inspired by my Hebrew studies, I’m writing 12 poems inspired by 12 Hebrew verbs.

The verb ישׁע / yasha is indirectly familiar to many Christians because it’s the root of names like Joshua and Jesus, both of which mean ‘the LORD saves.’ (Hence Gabriel’s instruction to Joseph: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 NIV)

There are some interesting things I learned here. 

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First of all, yasha appears most frequently in the Hifil stem. That is, it carries the connotations of someone causing something for someone else. As I’ve mentioned before Hebrew verbs have seven main stems. The normal active voice is the Qal stem (e.g. “he killed”); but in the Hifil stem is causative or declarative (e.g. “he caused [someone else] to kill”). It puts a really interesting slant on some of Jesus’ teachings (e.g. Mark 9:42–47).

Anyway, yasha doesn’t appear in the Qal stem; most of the time when we read a normal active voice translation in the English, like “God saves” it’s the Hifil stem in the Hebrew. “God saves” is the appropriate translation, but if you can dig into the Hebrew it’s almost like God is causing or declaring the prosperity or wellbeing of someone

There’s more. 

When verbs appear in the Hifil, they get extra letters added to them. Namely an H at the front and a Y (or I) in the middle near the end. So, whilst the verb is theoretically יָשַׁע / yasha in the dictionary, you never see it that way in the Old Testament texts; instead the third person male singular form is יְהוֹשִׁיעַ / yehoshia. This is why, for example, the name ‘Hosea’ (with an H at the front) means ‘salvation’ and ‘Hoshaiah’ means ‘YHWH has saved.’

And there’s more. 

Like many languages, Hebrew wasn’t static – and neither was its spelling. As I learned from Max Rogland, the name “Joshua” appears in standard biblical Hebrew as יְהוֹשֻׁעַ but is steadily supplanted by יֵשׁוּעַ in late biblical Hebrew prose, Talmudic Hebrew, and Rabbinic texts.

If you’re not familiar with Hebrew letters and pointing, the things to note are:

  • Instead of two vertical dots under the first Y/J (a very short e), we have two horizontal dots; this is a longer vowel that sounds like ey as in they
  • The ה (i.e. H) has dropped out, along with its O-sounding vowel וֹ.
  • The U-sound has changed from three little dots to a full-blown letter וּ.

I had never understood why people said Yeshua and Joshua were the same name even though they blatantly have different vowels in English. Well, the simple fact is that Old Hebrew used Yehoshua and later Hebrew had Yeshua. As I said, I learned that from Max Rogland in his handbook on the Hebrew text of Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 [(p. 16), Baylor University Press. Kindle Edition.]

So anyway, this verb appears a bundle of times in the Old Testament, along with other related nouns like ‘salvation.’ The one that sprang to mind was from Psalm 116:

12 What can I give back to the Lord
    for all the good things he has done for me?
13 I’ll lift up the cup of salvation.
    I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
14 I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
    in the presence of all God’s people.

Psalm 116, CEB

Here, the ‘cup of salvation’ could well allude to a drink offering. 

But also bear in mind that Passover meals had four cups, the second of which was deliverance. Yes, there are plenty of theories as to which cup Jesus took during the last supper, no I haven’t studied them yet. 

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11:23–26, NIV

But I do find it interesting that although Christians talk about the bread and wine in communion, when Paul gives us what is probably the earliest written account of the last supper, he talks about the bread and the cup:

Lastly, and in part to add to my poem last week, I went to a requiem eucharist for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Anglican Liturgy has some epic words. Here are a few from the service I took part in (similar words are on the Church of England website here):

After the prayer of confession:

May God our Father forgive us our sins
and bring us to the eternal joy of his kingdom,
where dust and ashes have no dominion.

As the communion table is prepared:

Lord God, you have promised
that Jesus is the bread of life
and will raise up on the last day all who love you.
May all who are called to a place at your table
follow in the way that leads to the unending feast of life.

So here you are. All poems in this series are also listed here

The God who saves

You are the great agent of transit,
Reaching into the dark, confined hollows of tears
And bringing us out into the light.

You are the architect of destination,
Terraforming eternity into a new expanse
Where safety rests secure. 

You are the conduit of vision,
Opening the corridors of destiny
And laying the table of welcome.

Photo by Rey Proenza on Unsplash

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