A Little Word With A Big Meaning

Have you ever wondered where the alphabet comes from? The first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are “aleph” and “bet”. But it is the first letter and the last letter that are used to denote the alphabet in shorthand… as we might write “ABC” for our alphabet, in Hebrew, “את” can be used: the first letter “aleph” (א) and the last letter, “tav” (ת).

Together these two letters spell a little word, “et” (את), that cannot be translated into any language. It’s basically a way to link verbs and specific nouns, in a way unique to Hebrew. But this tiny word has a special purpose. We can see in the very first sentence of the Bible how full of meaning it can be.

In the beginning God created ‘et’ …בָּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת

Before mentioning the heavens and the earth that God created, the Hebrew text says that God created “את”…This little word comes inbetween the action of creating and the heavens and the earth that were created. Rabbi Dov Ber explains the use of the word את in Genesis 1:1 in Or Torah,[1]:

“Et is an untranslatable word used to indicate that “a definite direct object is next” (so there needs to be an et before the heavens and the earth).” The Hebrew text literally reads: In the beginning, created God את the heavens and את the earth.

As “את” denotes the Hebrew alphabet, he reasons, “In the beginning God created the Aleph-Bet. Since God did this before creating the heavens and the earth, the letters are considered to be the primordial ‘building blocks’ of all of creation.”

We could say that in the beginning God created … את: the alphabet

God created the capacity for words and language. And then he SPOKE all of creation into being with words. Which are formed with letters. Each aspect of creation was called into being with words from God, and today we speak of the the DNA ‘language’ that runs through creation. God not only gave us his word in the Scriptures, but he gave us his Word made flesh, who dwelt among us. And in Hebrews 1:3 we see that,

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

In Jewish thought there are four levels of creation in the Genesis account:

  1. – inanimate matter (rocks, minerals, waters and so on)
  2. – vegetative matter, which can grow and reproduce
  3. – animal life, with willful motion and a voice,
  4. – but only the fourth layer of creation, humanity, can grow, reproduce, move as they wish and also use language.

Only humanity was created in the “image of God” – and with that, the power of creative speech. Words can create, words give us power to change things, to communicate, to form relationships, connections, and to develop our world in a way that the rest of creation is unable to. This gift also gives us the blessing of communicating with God. We can read his word, we can hear him, and we can speak to him in prayer. Language and letters are gifts that help us to relate to our creator.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for inanimate matter means “mute” or “silent” which gives the impression that the capacity to speak is there, but just repressed! It made me think of the Triumphal Entry when people cheered Jesus coming into Jerusalem. The Pharisees told Jesus to shut them up.

“I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

In Isaiah 44:23 creation is commanded to lift its voice:

Sing for joy, you heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.” and Psalm 92:12 says “Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

We know that all of creation is groaning for redemption, and who knows whether plants and rocks will also burst into praise one glorious day?!

We could also say that in the beginning God created… את: A-Z – everything that there is!

A-Z is a sort of catch-all expression – the whole kit and caboodle. “Without him nothing was made that has been made” as John would say. That means that if by some crazy chance there are aliens anywhere (although I very much doubt that there are) we can be sure they were created by our Father God. Each and every molecule, atom, fibre, chemical, cell… all comes from his creative power. And as such, all things – ALL things – are under his power. He made them, and they belong to him.

Dr Vernon McGee put it nicely: “This is God’s universe, and God does things his way. Now you may have a better way… but you don’t have a universe”.

As the world seems to be being shaken, we can hang on to the fact that God is in control. He has not abandoned us, forsaken us, or disappeared. He has not forgotten his creation, but is deeply in love with what he has made, and doesn’t not take his eyes off us for a second. We can become confused as to why he makes the choices he seems to be making, but the fact remains that the universe belongs to him. If we believe the Bible, we can also hang on to the fact that he is perfectly good and perfectly wise. He does know what he is doing, even though there may be times when we might not understand or agree with him.

He is often called the LORD of hosts in scripture. In Hebrew that literally means the LORD of armies. I knew a rabbi who pointed out that ‘army’ means a large group assembled to carry out a purpose, aligned together and acting together to accomplish a task. He said that is what atoms and molecules do. When we think of the LORD of hosts, we can think of the One who created and knitted all of life together to function in the way that it does – not only for battle, but for simply perpetuating creation. The starry hosts – and the hosts of all creation. It was all perfectly made and designed to work together beautifully, by our ingenious and creative Father. He made it all, he orchestrates it, and he owns it. The whole kit and caboodle.

We could say that in the beginning God created… את – the beginning and the end: time itself

Time exists, but only because God made it so. It has a beginning and and end, and inbetween is HIS story. He and he alone knows how it all really began, and he and he alone knows how he reconcile all things to himself at the end. He has told us a lot about the beginning and the end, but they are some of the hardest parts of the Bible for us limted human beings to grapple with. But God is not struggling to grapple with these weighty issues – they are firmly within his grasp. He wrote each day before one of them came to be. He is in no doubt at all about how the world came to be, or what will happen on and after judgement day. The Almighty God who always has been, and who always will be, holds the keys of eternity.

He is the author of time. He is the ancient of days. He has power over life and death, and he knows very well that this fallen and broken earth is not all that there is. He has planned so much more. But we know from his word that things will get much worse before he wraps all creation up like a scroll and brings in the new heavens and the new earth. Daniel is told in chapter 12:1-4

“There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wisewill shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.”

What a mighty God we serve

Next time you read that opening sentence of the Bible, you can know that there is an invisible little word in there, full of meaning. God created את the power of language and speech, he made את all that there is and owns every atom, and created את both the beginning and the end of time. And this God is willing to stoop down and ask you, as Jesus asked his disciples and blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

[1] http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_One/Aleph-Bet/aleph-bet.html

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