Good morning! Welcome to another week and another post on Renaissance Woman. This post will be my last on bara, the Old Testament Hebrew word most often translated by the English word “create”. For the sake of this study anyway as there is still a great deal to learn. As I looked up scriptures containing the word bara, I found many that stirred up questions and opened up avenues for more study. I am staying focused on Isaiah 45:7 though and thus plan to move on to taking a look at the meaning of “evil” in upcoming weeks.
Regarding bara: I am finally ready to settle on a definition. I have previously shared how there are some who say bara ought to be translated “to fatten” or “to fill” and have also shared how I find those definitions unsatisfactory for two reasons: 1) because there are other perfectly good Hebrew words used to express those concepts and 2) neither definition encompasses what the word intends to convey in the passages where it is used in scripture.
I don’t believe there is any language where a word means one thing in one place and something entirely different in another place. I have also previously shared where I plugged the different definitions for bara I’d come across into every passage where the word occurred to see if the definition worked. An excellent example is in Jeremiah 31:22 where I find: “…For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth–A woman shall encompass a man.” The definitions “to fatten” or “to fill” simply do not work in this passage. Neither does defining bara as “to do a new thing”. I was curious so I looked up the Hebrew words in this passage and it isn’t bara repeated twice. There is a different Hebrew word translated as “a new thing”: chadash (H2319) and it means “new, fresh.”
After all these weeks of study and compiling information from different sources, here is what I think is the closest and fullest definition of bara: to cause something new to come into being and grow to accomplish an intended purpose. It is long and complicated but it is a definition I find fits every occurrence of bara in the Old Testament. I find it even works in 1 Samuel 2:29 where bara is translated “to make yourselves fat” and in Joshua 17: 15 & 18 where bara is translated “to cut down”. In both instances those involved had a purpose and caused something new to come into being in order to bring that purpose about. In the 1Samuel passage that something new was a malformation of something God had ordained and the purpose was the satisfaction of selfish appetites. It was born out of greed. In Joshua, the purpose was to make a home and the new thing necessitated the removal of existing trees. In both of these cases, the purpose did originate in the minds of mankind but the bringing about the new thing was accomplished using processes and material already in existence. The same is true in the Jeremiah 31:22 passage where God is causing a new thing to come into being in order to satisfy His purpose but, while this new thing is originating in the mind of God and is something only God can do, man and woman already exist.
My point is, I don’t need to think “something out of nothing” every time I read the word “create” in scripture. This is a point I think is important when I apply my definition of bara to Isaiah 45:7: “I create evil.” What is God saying here? Is bara intending to convey the idea that God is the source of evil i.e. He caused it to come into being or does bara mean evil is the thing already in existence God will use to cause something new to come into being and grow according to His purpose? The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon lists Isaiah 45:7 under the definition “to shape or fashion new conditions and circumstances” so some scholars, at least, do not think the passage is saying God is the cause of evil.
The context of Isaiah 45:7 establishes both the Lordship and uniqueness of God. God says to the future ruler Cyrus that, no matter how great he thinks he is, God alone is God. God goes before him and has held his right hand (verses 1-3). The rest of the chapter continues to establish the absolute truth that God alone is God and I find this an important truth to have established when it comes to evil. There is a prevalent idea among believers, never outright declared but there nonetheless, that God is the God of good and Satan is the god of evil. God might have had His original intent but Satan got in there with his lie and ruined everything. God did what He could in Jesus but Satan is still ruining God’s plans.
I simply cannot go into how much the Bible refutes that so will simply use what is said in this chapter: “I am the Lord and there is no other…Truly You are God, who hide Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior! They shall be ashamed and also disgraced, all of them; they shall go into confusion together, who are makers of idols…For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God…Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other.” Satan is not a god neither does he wield power equal to God. Evil exists but, drawing on my study of bara, God comes down into it, makes His home in the midst of it, and destroys it forever by causing something new to come into being and grow and accomplish His purpose.
One of the best examples of this is found in the story of Joseph related in Chapters 37-50 of Genesis. Just in case someone is reading this who is unfamiliar with the story it is, briefly: Joseph is the only son of Jacob’s most-loved wife. He is also younger than his brothers, by a great many years in some cases, which makes the special attention paid to him by Jacob something difficult for the brothers to handle. Worse is the favoritism and elevation of Joseph over the other brothers, including the first-born son, which was something NOT DONE in that culture. This special treatment does appear to make Joseph act a bit like a brat. The story records him bringing a bad report of the brothers born to the maidservants to their father and then comes the sharing of his dreams. You can just imagine how this teenage kid telling his father and brothers one day they’d all bow down to him went over. I am not surprised that, when his brothers see him coming across the fields to check up on them in his fancy coat, they decide to kill him.
Two of his brothers intervene. Reuben convinces the others not to kill him but rather to drop him into a pit (or cistern). Reuben appears to have vague plans to rescue Joseph but apparently he thinks of some pressing task because he isn’t around when a caravan of slave traders comes along and Judah convinces the other brothers that, rather than killing Joseph, a better idea was to sell him to the slave traders. Joseph is taken down to Egypt and sold as a slave. I won’t relate all the ups and downs of his circumstances there but worth nothing is how Chapter 39 of Genesis stresses that “the Lord was with Joseph” and noticeably so (verses 2-3, 21, 23).
Joseph is eventually made ruler over Egypt second only to the Pharaoh and the day comes when his dreams are realized: his brothers come to Egypt and-not recognizing him-bow down to him. When Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers he says an interesting thing: “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). After the death of their father, still fearing Joseph might take vengeance on them, the brothers come once more before him and Joseph has this to say: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50: 19-20).
This is a fascinating story. Joseph sees God with him and at work in his circumstances so that he says, “God sent me before you”. But, Joseph does not ignore the fact that the intent of his brothers was evil. God no doubt could have got Joseph to Egypt a myriad of ways. Perhaps Joseph’s suffering-and the Bible makes it clear he did suffer (See Psalm 105)-would not have happened. It did happen and he did suffer because his brothers thought evil thoughts and acted on them. And yet, while those evil thoughts and actions brought about circumstances I’m sure Joseph would have avoided if the choice had been his; those very same circumstances were the ones God worked in to elevate Joseph to a position where not only the lives of his people were saved but the lives of the people of Egypt as well.
There is a passage of scripture which states, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). This passage states what I’ve seen so far in my study of “I create evil” (Isaiah 45:7). No matter who may come against me with plans of evil, God is with me. If a circumstance arises which brings evil instead of good, God is with me. Not just with me-He lives inside of me by His Spirit. That same Spirit that energized the creating Word is in me still energizing but also transforming and renewing. In Jesus Christ I live and move and have my being and He not only creates evil but makes peace.
Until next time, let us each one hold fast to the truth that we are the very temples of the Holy Spirit and, as we hold fast, may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
Note: for a comprehensive look at the story of Joseph, I recommend Joseph: A Story of Love, Hate, Slavery, Power, and Forgiveness by Dr. John C. Lennox.
Brown, F., S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Eighteenth Printing, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Massachusetts, 2018, Page 135
Green, Jay P. Sr., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew, Greek, English, Volume 3, Authors For Christ Inc., Lafayette, IN, 1985
Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990