Hello and welcome to another post on Renaissance Woman where, this week, I continue my study of Isaiah 45:7 and specifically my study on the meaning of “evil”.
I recently read a teacher of biblical languages describe Greek as a very precise language and Hebrew as ambiguous. I thought about this as I looked at both Greek words the Septuagint has in place of the Hebrew words translated “evil”. The Greek word translated “evil” in my study passage of Isaiah 45:7 is kaka (from kakos) while the Greek word translated “evil” in Genesis 2:9 is poneros. I’ve already shared how these two words have different meanings so won’t repeat that here but I do find it interesting that the Hebrew makes no such distinction. The Hebrew word translated “evil” in both of these passages, as well as in many passages throughout the OT, is ra.
Ra is a fascinating word. For one thing it’s only two letters and the majority of Hebrew root words are three. But then, ra is not the root. Ra’a is the root word and ra is the masculine form of the noun, the feminine being ra’ah. While this is interesting, I can’t say I’ve gleaned any deep insight. Perhaps with further study. The definition for ra found in the Strong’s is also of interest. The Strong’s number is 7451 and ra is defined as “bad, evil, adversity, calamity, grievous harm, mischief, misery, wretchedness” etc. Again, this is interesting and I find I can’t disagree with the translators who have rendered the latter part of Isaiah 45:7 as “I create calamity” but this is not what fascinates me.
What fascinates me about ra is that it is spelled Resh Ayin (רע). Both of these letters are ones I’ve already looked at in previous studies and, as those studies were so very positive both in the meanings of the letters themselves and the word pictures painted, I did wonder how these same Hebrew letters could end up meaning something as negative as “evil”. I didn’t find anything negative in the meaning of the letters themselves but the word picture was eye-opening. The word Resh is identical to the word Rosh which means “head, leader, principal, commander, ruler, or prince.” Resh also means “poor one” and the shape of the Resh is one bent under a burden or one bent over at the head. The word Ayin means “eye, sight, sparkle, and gleam.” It also means “spring” or “fountain”. The shape of the Ayin is like two eyes on a stalk. In the word ra we see the head bent toward the eyes.
As I began this study, I went down the list of scriptures in the Strong’s containing the word “evil” and read each one of them. I was struck with how often the scriptures describe evil springing forth out of the hearts of mankind. Genesis 8:21 records the Lord Himself saying “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and the book of Jeremiah contains several references to mankind having an evil heart. The book of Jeremiah also contains that oft quoted verse: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (17:9)
King Solomon writes an admonition: “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23) and Jesus, in speaking to the Pharisees, said: “How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35). I understand the importance of guarding our hearts in a way I didn’t before because, if every imagination of our hearts are evil, how can we expect the world to be any other way than it is? How do we make sure the treasure of our hearts is good rather than evil?
The answer to why the imagination of our hearts is evil is found in the word ra itself. Back in the garden so many eons ago, when the mother of us all “saw the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Our parents partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and scripture states “the eyes of both of them were opened” (verse 7). To what? Scripture doesn’t say they were both flooded with wisdom and knowledge but rather they knew they were naked. Directly on the heels of their eyes being opened came the fear of the One who had made them and walked in the garden with them. Not only was the relationship with their Creator destroyed but so was their relationship to each other. Their eyes were opened to a new way of seeing but they were now limited to the confines of the flesh. Their judgments were based on external appearances and they became darkened in their understanding.
This judging by the sight of the eyes is described in scripture. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Proverbs 16:2 says that “all the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits”. 1 John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world.”
As Benjamin Blech says, “The eyes ought not to be our rulers…I possess a head, a mind, and an intellect that must control the desires stemming from sight” (Blech, page 77). It is important to remember the Tree imparted the knowledge of both good and evil and I do not deny there are those who have little or no knowledge of the God and Father of Jesus Christ who still do great good in the world. They have their own moral code or laws that they live by. I have heard people claim to be Christians who have little use for Jesus but find Christianity to be a wondrous set of moral values to pattern one’s life by. Scripture itself says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Does that mean that’s all we have? Try hard to keep the rules, be a good person, do what we believe is good to our fellow humans, and hope that good ends up being enough to triumph over evil?
I say a resounding no! The life we have in Jesus, the Christian life, is so much more than rules and moral codes. We do not have to allow our eyes to be our rulers but neither do we have any longer to fight so they will not rule over us. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Our eyes, the lamp of our bodies, can be so full of light that our bodies are also full of light. (See Matthew 6:22-23) This is possible because we see Jesus. He is the fulfillment of that glorious prophecy in Isaiah: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears” (11:1-3).
I mentioned earlier in this post that the feminine form of ra is ra’ah. There is another Hebrew word pronounced ra’ah. But, whereas ra’ah meaning evil is spelled Resh Ayin Hey (רעה), the other ra’ah means “to see” and is spelled Resh Aleph Hey (ראה). In evil, the head is bent to the eyes and the sight rules. And yet, in the word for “to see”, the Resh is bent to the Aleph. The Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and thus is not only a reference to God but stands for unity with God.
This is the truth that rules in our hearts and guides our seeing. Because of everything Jesus did by his existence as the Incarnate God in the first place, to living here on earth as one of us, to dying on the cross and all that His death accomplished, to rising from the dead and finally ascending to the right hand of the father, we are utterly free. Because Jesus did return to the Father, that same Spirit Isaiah prophesied would rest upon Jesus is poured out in our hearts. We are the temple of this Spirit, living stones fitted together, One with Jesus and the Father. This Spirit opens the eyes of our understanding-eyes that have been closed for so very long-that we might know what is the hope of our calling by the Father of glory (see Ephesians 1). Because the Spirit of the living God lives in us, the very peace of Jesus Christ rules in our hearts. Because this is so, there is no place for any other rule. The imagination of our hearts can no longer be evil but is rather righteousness, peace, and love in the Holy Spirit.
Who the Son sets free is free indeed! That’s us! May our eyes be fixed on Him!
Note: The Hebrew is read from right to left! Hence the Resh is seen bending to the Ayin in one word and the Aleph in the other.
Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptures are quoted from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
Bentorah, Chaim, Hebrew Word Study: Beyond the Lexicon, Trafford Publishing, USA, 2014
Blech, Benjamin, The Secrets of Hebrew Words, Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale, New Jersey, 1991
Haralick, Robert M., The Inner Meaning of the Hebrew Letters, Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale, New Jersey, 1995
Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990