At age 59, the Lord began fulfilling a dream He had been pressing on my heart for my entire adult life: reading the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. I had taught myself Greek when I was ages 23-25, and the process went relatively smoothly. (I still use it daily.)
So soon after I tackled Hebrew. I got through the initial grammar, but then life’s other demands moved in, and I couldn’t make the time to continue into reading from the Hebrew Bible. Without that exposure to the Hebrew text itself, the grammar was soon lost.
That pattern repeated itself perhaps a half dozen times over the following decades. I would get through the grammar, only to lose it because I couldn’t carve out enough time to continue into translation.
Finally, at age 59, having been forcibly freed from my “day” job, I had the time to tackle Hebrew and follow through with it. But as I began the grammar again, I found that I no longer had the memory to master the myriad of verb forms involved. They just wouldn’t stick in my aging mind. Sadly, reluctantly, in great disappointment I began to face the fact that my lifelong dream would never be fulfilled.
But the Lord wouldn’t let the dream die. He continued to prod me toward learning Hebrew. Then He made clear to me that while I no longer had the memory to forcibly conquer Hebrew, if I repeatedly exposed myself to it over a period of time, I could gradually absorb it.
I began using that approach, with the help of some excellent tools (first, A Reader’s Hebrew Bible from Zondervan, then Hebrew tools for my Kindle from OliveTree.com). At first I read two-to-three verses per day, then worked up to ten verses per day. As a bonus, since I knew Greek, I decided to daily read the same Old Testament passage from the Greek Septuagint immediately after reading it in Hebrew.
I began reading straight through from Genesis 1, and as of this writing (November, 2015), I am in the last chapter of 1 Kings. Am I a Hebrew expert? Not by anyone’s definition! But what an enjoyable process! I’m finding that having to patiently plow through the text a word or phrase at a time has some of the benefits of meditation. Such a slow, systematic approach to the text, necessitated by my primitive Hebrew skills, is helping me see many truths that I would have missed during a quick reading in English.
This process is helping me realize again several important truths:
- The Lord delights to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).
- If we allow Him, He will bring to completion every good desire that He instills in us (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
- God’s Word is absolutely marvelous and will richly repay all the time and effort we invest in it.
- The Old Testament is a treasure house full of riches. God is a God of action, and He reveals Himself by what He does. If you want to understand Him better, watch Him in action. In the Old Testament we watch Him over a period of perhaps 1,500 years or more (compared to about 60 years in the New Testament). All the foundations of the New Testament are in the Old Testament. If you want to more fully understand the New, read the Old.
Interesting postscript: during these recent years while learning Hebrew, I listened to an audiobook of a biography of the hymn writer, John Newton (writer of “Amazing Grace”). I was fascinated to hear that my fellow hymn writer, born two and a half centuries before me, also felt compelled to teach himself Greek and Hebrew. He conquered both, even without the wonderful language tools available today. It seems that God is very serious about giving His hymn writers broad and deep Biblical training.