Hints for Happiness with Hebrew

For those of you who are convinced that preaching the OT demands (or at least would be greatly aided by) a knowledge of Hebrew, Dennis Magary offers the following advice in Preaching the Old Testament:

  • Determine first if you are an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Knowing this will greatly influence the most effective way of learning Hebrew vocabulary, which is a vital discipline but is also rather relative to each learner. If you have a process that works for you, please share it with the rest of us.
  • Perform a comprehensive review of basic morphology and syntax. Helpful in this regard is a detailed review of the many verb endings and pronominal suffixes. A good place to start would be your elementary Hebrew book.
  • Have on hand the pertinent reference material, such as Waltke/O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax and Chisholm’s From Exegesis to Exposition. Personally, Waltke/O’Connor is probably more comprehensive than the everyday pastor would need. It is also somewhat dated, given the progress that is being made in Hebrew studies.
  • Listen to the text being read orally. There are a number of resources on line and for purchase that the diligent preacher can listen to with text in hand. In my opinion, this would be a luxury.
  • Read the text. Although pretty straight-forward, Magary offers some practical ways of doing this, e.g. (1) read with a parallel version in hand, (2) read a few verses as part of your devotional times, and (3) read with others who know Hebrew, such as a fellow pastor in your church or area [btw, I think this is a great idea].
  • Take advantage of computer-assisted study of the Hebrew text. Personally, I use Bibleworks and find it invaluable.
  • Most importantly, always use the Hebrew Bible in preparation for teaching and preaching. Until the preacher acquires some polished skill, this may be labor intensive. However, I’ve found that such hard work is always rewarded. If this sounds like a daunting task, I would recommend starting conservatively. That is, plan to preach one or two psalms a year or preach one of the minor prophets (e.g. Habakkuk, Obadiah). The benefit would be that you spend time using your Hebrew, but it’s not as toilsome on a weekly basis as preaching through the book of Genesis. If you need work at narrative, which is actually easier Hebrew than poetry, try Jonah (or Ruth). Most people are so familiar with the story of Jonah that reading the Hebrew is easier. Once you get more comfortable using your Hebrew (or Aramaic), you can then branch out into larger books, such as Genesis or Samuel.

In my opinion, the key is to stretch yourself. Preach and read the Hebrew text early and often.

I’m looking forward to the next chapter, “Preaching from the Historical Books.” I hope my comments don’t get me kicked out of the posse here at Expository Thoughts . . . intrigued?

In the meantime, any thoughts or hints on using biblical Hebrew?

18 responses to this post.

  1. Randy,

    I hope your comments don’t get get you kicked out either…send me an email first if you plan on denying the trinity or something along those lines.


  2. I’ll let you know, Paul. By the way, did you see that you were the 1000th comment on Expository Thoughts. Congratulations! How should we celebrate?

  3. Randy, I had no idea that we had reached the 1,000 mark. To celebrate we should make Chris, Jerry and Rich offer 1,000 excuses as to why they never grace us with their “expository thoughts.”

  4. “Thoughts”…you never said anything about offering my thoughts. All you’ve ever asked for is finely tuned articles. If you want my thoughts, I’d be glad to share them…though I’m quite certain they won’t satisfy the coherent quotient at this site.

    How’s that for #1 of my 1000 excuses?

  5. #2 – I’m intimidated!

  6. #3 – Chris is always criticizing my posts…

  7. #4 – I tried to write an article on a postmodern view of absolute truth, but couldn’t find any material and wasn’t certain it would make a difference.

  8. Posted by Chris Pixley on February 1, 2007 at 2:42 am

    What posts, Jerry? Looks like you still owe Paul 997 excuses. Me–Paul’s spoken many times of my annual post. I’m assuming that’s what I’ve been assigned. And I’ve got 11 more months to make good on my quota!

  9. Posted by Chris Pixley on February 1, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Oh yeah, I don’t have time to write any posts ’cause I’m trying to beef up on my Hebrew. Thanks, Randy.

  10. Thanks for this Randy.

    I love preaching from the OT. I will admit, keeping my Hebrew sharp is a challenge. Writing a ThM thesis helps!

    I too use BibleWorks, and find the vocab module very helpful for this. I can create a filtered list of vocab words just for the passage I am working on, so as to focus my vocab review to something I am preaching anyway.

    Are you familiar with “The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative” by Steven Mathewson? His “Appendix A: Adavanced Plot Analysis” is very helpful.

  11. Posted by Mike Jarvis on February 2, 2007 at 11:54 pm


    Although my understanding of Hebrew needs a lot of work. I came across a great website containing MP3 recordings of the Hebrew Bible being read aloud. I would like to offer this as a resource for listening to the text being read orally.


    Thanks for writing these articles. I’m finding them very helpful (and encourging).


  12. Thanks for the link, Mike.

    I meant to add this earlier, but here is a link to some Hebrew being read (Gen & Jon). This sight also has most of the Greek NT in MP3 format.



  13. If you are a solo Pastor at a small/medium sized church with many time constraints (like every faithful pastor) this concept, esp. for those of us who don’t have a D Min or Th D and/or are not language kings, sounds almost impossible. Maybe idealistic is a better description. Especially if you believe that as Pastors we need to be in the business of really shepherding and caring for our sheep. I mean if you read Richard Baxter’s “the Reformed Pastor” (whose thesis i am not arguing against), that means getting into the homes (and lives) of all of our people. Personal discipleship and counseling is very time consuming as is biblical exegesis/exposition.

    I know very few pastors who are both exceptional shepherds and profound Bible expositors.

    Is there a half way point? Am i missing something?

  14. Caleb,

    You make some valid points. It’s a difficult task to do responsible discipling and counseling while maintaining use of the biblical languages. I’m sure some of the other men can discuss this more appropriately, but I do have one thought.

    I believe that many times we are trained to prepare an expositional sermon by reading many books and commentaries. In my opinion, using the biblical languages allows the preacher to rely less and less on what other men have said and more and more upon our own reflection upon the inspired text. It seems to me that the most profound expositors both past and present are those men who preach the text accurately yet through their own personal reflection. That is, they think about and preach the text faithfully yet originally. More to the point, they interpret the text correctly but think for themselves. In my opinion, skills in the languages help this process.

    This process, though, is a long one. Even, we who have attended and completed seminary must develop these skills patiently and through hard work.

    I’m sure the others will want to respond to your comments and questions.


  15. Posted by Mike Jarvis on February 3, 2007 at 2:32 am

    Thanks for the link, Randy. I’m always looking for good resources like this.


  16. Randy,

    Some very helpful thoughts!



  17. Posted by DavidR on February 3, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    This is helpful encouragement — I am a firm believer in the value of handling biblical lanaguages at first hand for those with a responsibility to teach Scripture to the faithful.

    A couple of responses from my perspective:

    1. You write of Waltke & O’Connor that “It is also somewhat dated, given the progress that is being made in Hebrew studies“. Hmmm. Progress is being made in the study of classical Hebrew language — but could you tell me one area where this progress has rendered W-O’C less than helpful?

    My own sense is that the main drawback of W-O’C is its sometimes over-schematized handling of syntactic categories, so that once the reader has assigned a construction to a given category, the semantic value seems rigidly fixed — as if syntax was a kind of morphology. (This is also true of some treatments of NT Greek syntax.) OTOH, on the odd occasion, it is! :)

    Still, it remains a very useful and insightful aid to gaining experience of biblical Hebrew. For those a bit daunted by its girth, Arnold & Choi’s A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, which has something of the flavour of a precis of W-O’C, might be a helpful alternative.

    And about the “dated” thing — read anything by S.R. Driver: that kind of depth and mastery of language is very rare today. I’m an avid user of BibleWorks, but that generation knew the text, and the language, much better than we do today, IMO.

    2. In connection with the advice to “Listen to the text being read orally”, somebody recommended MP3s. I too have found that those recorded by Abraham Shmueloff (same as the Mechon Mamre ones noted above, also available here, among other places) invaluable in turning the Hebrew Bible into language as opposed to a coded message, whose decoder can be found in the NASB! I’d rank this bit of advice pretty high for those trying to “turn a corner” with their Hebrew!

    Thanks for this encouraging post!

    David Reimer

  18. David,

    Thanks for your points. I agree on many levels with your observations on W-O. It is over-schematized, much like Wallace’s treatment of Greek Syntax. I do believe that W-O is helpful…much more user-friendly than GKC. In my opinion, Wolfgang Schneider’s Grammar has a syntax section that would be most useful for pastors. However, it is still in German. His is the best reflection of handling Hebrew syntax in light newer research, especially in his treatment of verb tenses.

    Thanks for the other link.


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