Hebrew Grammar and Homiletics

You mean that my Hebrew grammar/syntax classes in seminary and assigned readings in it make a difference in my preaching? Of course! In the studies of biblical languages, the theoretical serves the practical, as with theology. Here’s one example.

In 2 Chronicles 21.11, when the story teller describes Jehoram’s wicked reign over Judah, he uses the hiphil twice (zanah – which means to commit harlotry – and nadach - which means turn aside from). The phrase with these verbs in it translates like this, loosely: “[Jehoram] made high places in the hills of Judah and caused those who lived in Jerusalem to commit harlotry and he caused Judah to turn aside [from Yahweh].”

Since these two verbs – commit harlotry and turn aside from – are in the hiphil, they have a causative meaning (“A” caused “B” to “C”). But, as Walkte and O’Conner point out in An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), the “Hiphil represents the subject as causing and object to participate indirectly as a second subject in the notion expressed by the verbal root” (435). In other words, the object of the above sentence (2 Chr 21.11) is Judah, those who dwell in Judah. The object of the sentence – Judah’s residents – are active participants in the action of the verbs (commit harlotry and turn aside from God). The hiphil helps get this idea across, along with context and other passages that clearly show Judah’s residents committing idolatry and turning from Yahweh.

In homiletics, then, this translates into an illustration/analogy: Jehoram led Judah into harlotry, as if he were holding their hands. Yet they didn’t resist; they participated, like those who follow the leader, like an older brother who coaches his younger brother to go write on the wall with permanent marker. Both are guilty, but especially the leader. So in Judah: both the king and his subjects are guilty for abandoning the Mosaic covenant/constitution, but especially the leader, king Jehoram.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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4 comments on “Hebrew Grammar and Homiletics

  1. Mike G. says:

    Shane,

    This is great. This ties in nicely with our lecture in Heb 3 yesterday, so I sent a link to the WSCAL listserve. Thanks for the encouragement!

    MG

  2. Shane Lems says:

    Nice! Be sure to read that whole paragraph/section in IBHS, because not all Hiphils are like these, to be sure!

    shane lems

  3. Bruce S. says:

    brother who coaches his younger brother to go write on the wall

    Where’d ya come up with that illustration?

  4. Shane Lems says:

    Ha! Come check out the walls of my home! Good thing we used semi-gloss…
    shane lems

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