Hello and welcome-or welcome back-to Renaissance Woman!
This week I am back to my study of Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things”. Some translations have “evil” in place of the word “calamity” in this passage and the idea that the Lord creates evil is one difficult to swallow. This week, I continue looking at the Hebrew word bara which is most often translated “create” to see just what it really means.
In an earlier post, I mentioned a video I watched where the teacher said bara means to fatten or to fill. The teacher relates bara to the following words:
Beriy = fat
Barar = clean (the teacher points out soap comes from fat)
Barah = choice meat
Beriyt = covenant (the making of a covenant included the cutting or dividing of meat)
Biyr = fat place-bountiful
Biyrah = palace
He points out the fattening or filling that took place during the six days of creation: the first three days are days of separation but then days 4, 5, & 6 are the heavens, earth, and seas all being filled with plants and animals then the culmination of creation by God creating Mankind. I found another video on bara where the two letter root bar meaning “son of” was related to bara and this picture of mankind filling the earth with offspring confirms the meaning “to fatten” or “to fill”. (Other sources tell me bar is the Aramaic for “some of” rather than the Hebrew, which is ben, and bar in the Hebrew has a host of other meanings. Just an aside…)
I’ve already mentioned how I took that meaning and plugged it in to the various scriptures where bara is used to see if it works. It can, I suppose, so I do not entirely disagree but I do not find “to fatten” or “to fill” entirely satisfactory. When I try it in my study passage, I find “I fatten evil” doesn’t make sense to me at all. “I fill evil”…okay. If the idea is God filling evil in order to destroy it, I could come around to that definition. My reason for not wholeheartedly committing to these definitions is this: there are other Hebrew words used for fattened (or fatted in the King James English) and fill. There is the Hebrew word mashman (H4824) which means fatness but in terms of a rich dish or fertile field or robust man. There is also deshen (H1880) which means fatness or abundance and specifically the fatty ashes of sacrifice. These two words are not all: I count seven different entries in the Strong’s concordance when I look up fatness, fatted, fatter, and fattest. Why use bara? What is the difference in its intent that the Hebrew people would use it rather than one of these other words?
Then there’s male (H4390) which means “to fill or to be full of” and is used numerous times in the Old Testament. Again, with a perfectly good word meaning “to fill” why use bara if “to fill” is the intended meaning? What is the difference and why do I keep harping on it? Because, it is so important to understand what the writers of scripture intended to convey. Do the English words chosen fit the intent? How has our understanding of the definitions of these words changed over time? For instance, if we all truly believe “create” means “to make something out of nothing” then I have a problem. The idea that when God says “I create darkness” and “I create evil” in Isaiah 45:7 He means neither of those things existed until He brought them into being, I run into a contradiction. Evil is not mentioned once in creation story in Genesis 1 where God looks at everything He made and saw it was very good and then rested. Evil does show up in Genesis 2 after God plants the garden for the man He made and we see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil growing there but I plan to look more at that during my study of evil. There is nothing here to back up evil existing because God created it and, since I don’t believe the Bible does contradict itself, I will continue to seek out what create means. I will say it is crucial that none of us build our theology on one fragment of scripture but equally crucial is an understanding of what this word meant to the people who used it.
It’s important to remember the Hebrew language is pictorial. Every word is comprised of letters which are words in their own right and every letter has its basis in a picture. What is the picture that forms when we look at bara? Bara is spelled Bet (ב ) Resh (ר ) Aleph (א ). The Bet is a picture of a tent and the word Bet means “house”. I’ve already written about how we are ultimately the house of the Lord so won’t repeat what I’ve said here. Resh means poverty or head/principal. The letter is shaped like an upside down and backwards L and the picture behind it is either that of a poor person bent over from his burden or that of a bent head. The bent head is a picture of humility and submission to one who is the head but it is also a bending of the intellect in order to be understood. Think of how a teacher teaches a child. The teacher knows far more than the child but no good teacher overwhelms a child by using terms that child cannot possibly understand. No, a good teacher bends over his or her intellect and speaks to that child in a way that causes that child to learn and to grow.
How wonderful that we have a God who bends! There are many instances of His bending towards people in the Old Testament but we see this ultimate bending in Jesus. I cannot fathom what it meant for the Creator to empty Himself and become a member of His creation. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus wasn’t born in a palace or to a rich family. He wasn’t pampered from the moment of His birth and received no honors among men. And still, knowing who and what He was, that all things were given into His hands, He bent further and washed the filth of the roads from the feet of His disciples. This is our God. He is nothing like anything that has been worshipped as a god at any point in history. He is all powerful and the source of all things yet He is the God who bends.
So we have “house” and we have “poverty and head or principal” which are two concepts that ought not harmonize with each other and yet, in the paradox of the character of God, they do. Lastly, we have the Aleph. It looks like a somewhat sideways squiggly X but, in the earliest script, the Aleph was an ox head with horns which symbolizes power and leadership. So now we have house, poverty and head or principal, and power and leadership. I can see where those who define bara as “to fill” are coming from because this is the picture I see forming:
We are God’s dwelling places so our circumstances are also His. Thus, the circumstances of our lives will become the vehicle where He is seen and where we come to intimately know Him as He fills our lives with Himself. Any power evil appears to possess shrivels up and blows away in the presence of our God. Perhaps His being with us isn’t always easy to see but I am confident that, whatever evil besets us, we will be able to say like Joseph: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”
I am still not satisfied with “to fill” as a definition for bara and so will be continuing to take a look at this word next week. Until then, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see that no matter what evil might come against us, we will not fear: Our God is with us! The Lord of hosts is with us! The God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46)
Note: Strong’s Concordance “Fatness, Fatted, etc.” entries in the Hebrew Dictionary: 4924, 1880, 2459, 8081, 75, 4770, 1277