Partly inspired by my Hebrew studies, I’m writing 12 poems inspired by 12 Hebrew verbs.
Today the verb I’m looking at is אוֹר / or (it’s pronounced just like the English words “or” and “awe”). Depending on the stem, it can mean to be/become light/bright, to be illumined, or to give light.
I first came across this word when I heard a song in Hebrew based on Isaiah 60: arise, shine, your light has come. I learned the words, “Kumi, ori” and I couldn’t help but think of the word ‘orient’ and the sun rising in the East. Ironically, the Latin root of the English word, oriri, isn’t to do with shining but rather rising. (And if you’re joining the dots: yes, kumi is the same word Jesus uses when he raises Jairus’ daughter).
More recently, reading Genesis 1:3 in Hebrew for the first time, I learned how the noun for ‘light’ has the same root. And I loved hearing the sounds of the words: v’yomer Elo-him, yehi ohr va’yehi ohr.
This verb is used about 43 times in the Hebrew Bible. Obvious uses are:
- Genesis 1:15–17 where the sun and moon give light on the earth;
- Exodus 13:21 where God gives light to the Israelite camp in a pillar of fire (cf Nehemiah 9:12);
- Exodus 20:37 which describes the lamps in the tabernacle;
- How God illumines: Psalm 18:29, Psalm 76:5.
But there are other uses. It can be used to refer to dawn or daybreak (1 Samuel 29:1, 2 Samuel 2:32) and people’s eyes are also said to light up, like when Jonathan tastes honey (1 Samuel 14:29).
A personal favourite of mine is Psalm 119:130: Your instructions are a doorway through which light shines. This resonates with the theme that walking in the light is righteousness (cf 1 John 1:5–7) —and that reminds me of a previous poem I wrote last Christmas, ‘Who walks when you walk in darkness?’
But another major use of this verb is in regard to God’s face shining — and this is a synonym for favour. So, you have:
- The classic priestly blessing in Numbers 6:25 (which is kind of just saying the same thing twice): The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
- Psalm 67:2 “May he smile on us” is literally “May his face shine on us” (and again several times in Psalm 80);
- Daniel 9:17.
The theme of shining is also picked up in the New Testament:
- It’s used of God shining in the darkness in Zechariah’s song (which borrows heavily from Isaiah, Luke 1:79), John’s gospel (John 1:5), and Paul’s writings (2 Corinthians 4:6, Ephesians 5:14)
- In Jesus’ teachings about the righteous, and how they will shine and should let their light shine (Matthew 5:16, Matthew 13:43) and this is echoed by Paul (Philippians 2:15);
- In Jesus’ teachings about the eyes as the lamp of the body (Luke 11:36);
- And of course in Revelation where God is the light of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:23).
So these were the things I was thinking about as I wrote today’s poem.
The God who shines
You etch upon the blank slate,
Surface and texture reply.
You bring form and give meaning,
The hidden becomes known.
Each day, you stretch out your palette,
Every colour in the spectrum,
Each with you as its source,
All unified in your radiance.
You favour alights upon us,
And we shine with your likeness.
You breathe and the heavens shimmer,
Our eyes are filled with awe.
Photo by Ilja Tulit on Unsplash