I am a little bit artsy, but I am over-the-top nerdy. When the Word Nerd kit from Illustrated Faith Kit came out, I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. I have been blessed as I let my inner nerd guide me through the devotional.
The first page I did was the dedication page in my Inspire Bible…
Week one of the Word Nerd kit from Illustrated Faith suggested reading the first chapter of John and responding to the text by taking note of something new. I opened my Inspire Bible and the page had some line art on it. I thought, I never thought about that verse before, so I’ll just color this page. As I did so, something about the following translation of John 1:16 did not sit right with me: : “From His abundance, we have all received one gracious blessing after another.”
So I opened a ESV translation, which read. “From his fullness, we all have received, grace upon grace.” And I felt a sigh from my heart: “Ah, yes.” But I didn’t fully understand.
I looked at the “Week 4” card next:
Open to the Psalms and find one that speaks right to you. What stirs your heart about it? How does it feed you?
The Psalm that I picked for the “Week 4” card was Psalm 119, which seemed like a good idea at the time, since it fit the “Word Nerd” theme. I ordered some cute background paper from the Illustrated Faith Print & Pray shop along with some additional printables that fit the Word Nerd theme. The alphabet paper made me think I should learn the Hebrew alphabet as I journaled through Psalm 119, which is an acrostic poem and mentions a letter of the alphabet at the beginning of each 8-line section. I practiced writing in Hebrew. (I hope that I wrote: “Blessed be God who teaches my hand to write.”)
A minister who travels often to Israel told me that all Hebrew letters aren’t just letters, they represent a picture of something and the names of the letters are used as words and the letters all correspond to a number, so I decided I would make myself a little table. What I didn’t know when I started this project is that people have spent decades studying the Hebrew alphabet and nobody agrees about all the pictures or the meanings. What I was trying to do was not neatly possible. I tried, but I left the table below in pencil so that I can revise it as I learn more and clarify my thinking. For the spelling of Hebrew letters, I just used what was in my Bible, but don’t be surprised if you see alternative spelling elsewhere.
The letter “Beth” made it all seem so simple: Early forms of Beth looked like a tent; the word is translated as “house” and the letter represents the number “2”, which is about division and the appearance of choice. The chart below is as far as I could get in one week…
If you look into the meaning of Hebrew Numbers, there are countless interpretations! I took what I read into consideration and then simply anchored the meaning of the first 10 numbers to the creation story. Beyond 10, I held to the rule that the fullness of a number multiplied by 10 must show the fullness of meaning. I have a deeply held conviction that numbers need to make sense and relate to one another! (The numbers associated with the letters is part of a system called gematria, which seems to have emerged after the Bible was written.)
1 = God creates light and saw that it was good (God is one and God is good!).
2 = God separates the heavens from the earth (it’s the only day not declared good).
3 = Green life starts to grow (strength and hope).
4 = God puts the sun and the moon in the sky to mark the seasons (seasons).
5 = God creates the graceful birds of the sky and makes the water alive with fish (grace).
6 = God completes the work of creation (the whole of creation).
7 = God establishes us the Sabbath; a rest reminds us that God is sovereign; the world carries on without us (God’s sovereignty?).
8 = One beyond (life and eternity).
9 = New beginnings (Adam and Eve are told be fruitful and multiply; 9 months is the length of pregnancy).
10 = The fullness of God.
Curiously, once I finished my table, I understood why I struggled with the New Living translation of John 1:16:
God’s fullness (10) = Grace (5) + Grace (5)
I wondered if other combinations adding to ten would tell me something about the fullness of God. I may be full of beans, but for me personally, it was a very satisfying result:
10 = The oneness of God (1) + new beginnings (9); God created this world and could start again.
10 = Choices (2) + life and eternity (8); God shows us fullness in that He gives us choices; the right choices lead to life and eternity and God gives us the Word to guide us.
10 = Hope (3) + Sovereignty (7); God is the one who gives us hope and is on the throne no matter what happens in the world and working all things together for God’s purpose. (As a Presbyterian, this combination held a strong resonance for me.)
10 = Seasons and elements (4) + the whole of creation (6); God’s fullness is seen in the seasons and elements that make up this world and how everything in this world is connected.
10 = Grace (5) + Grace (5); God’s fullness is grace upon grace.
What still kind of astonishes me about the last equation: the letters represented by the equation form God’s name.
The “yah” is the number 10. The “he” is the number 5. “Vav” can mean “and” Like I said, I may have made many wrong turns, but I understood or think I understand (on a very deep level!) what seemed not quite right about the New Living Translation of John 1:16.
I think that John may have tried to express his understanding of the meaning of God’s name. He was saying something that he held to be as true as 5+5=10. I’ve seen grace defined as “unmerited favor.” God is the one who gives favor to whom he pleases. God will do what God will do. God is who God is. Praise God’s Holy Name!!! God’s fullness is “awe” and “awe”!
That was my major blessing and discovery: A sense of feeling God revealed in a most curious way. And I just set out to learn a little about the Hebrew alphabet!
As I journaled my way through Psalm 119, I found it was very easy to learn new Hebrew words once I learned the alphabet.
One of the things that I love about Psalm 119 is how the whole Psalm affirms the relationship between virtue and happiness.
I looked up the Hebrew word for love, which is “ah-ha-VA”. But it turns out the word I should have been looking for was “chesed”, which is translated below as “unfailing love.” My pastor tells me that “chesed” is the most frequently used Word in the Old Testament and that it is often translated as “loving-kindness.” I suspect the New Testament writers were thinking of “chesed” when they wrote about love: Love is patient; Love is kind. We use the word “love” to describe all kinds of likes and fleeting feelings, but God’s love for us is the kind that never lets us go, that holds all of creation in a loving embrace.
I just enjoyed reflecting on the goodness of God and God’s Word as I made this page. There is truth to Psalm 119:45: “I will walk in freedom for I have devoted myself to your commandments.” As more and more people live by the ten commandments, we all experience greater freedom.
The verse: “You have done many good things for me” made me think of the Johnny Appleseed song that’s often sung as grace. My favorite word that starts with “Teth” is “tob”, which means “good”.
I am very blessed to have my grandmother’s Bible. I pulled out her Bible to read Psalm 119 in it and found these notes from her: “Why read the Bible? To know salvation, to know how to be holy, to find comfort, to get values, to get wisdom, to have joy.” I can tell from the notes in my grandmother’s Bible, how much comfort she took from the Word of God.
There were too many fun verses to illustrate on this page! I played around a little with trying to better understand the way that God’s word is a light. The word for light is made up of the characters “aleph”, “vav”, and “resh”. I got a little frustrated with the various definitions people provided for “aleph”. I broke down and bought a Biblical Hebrew dictionary with Scripture references.
By far and away, the most common use for the word “aleph” is “one thousand”, which is a little confusing because the character “aleph” is used to represent “1”. “Vav” is a connecting symbol. And “resh” means beginning, but the picture represents a head. So I was thinking of light and the Word as “strength for our heads.”
I like how The Message translates Psalm 119:130. “Break open your words. Let the light shine out. Let ordinary people see their meaning.” Learning just a little bit about Hebrew has helped me break open some words, to see nuances that I didn’t see before, and to have better understanding.
I could find eight different words for “The Word” in Psalm 119. The number 8 is often about life and eternity. The “chet”, the eighth letter of the alphabet, looks like a doorway. Maybe the Word is a doorway to life and eternity. (When I go looking for meaning, I often find it; I’m not always right!).
Psalm 119 keeps giving me more and more reasons to love the Bible!
Just learning the Hebrew letters gave me so much food for thought. I had so many “ah-ha” moments. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of many passages in both the Old and New Testaments. I’ve felt God revealed in a way that I did not expect. God wants our hearts, more so than our heads, but it can be a delight to make connections and seek out meaning. I’ve discovered that it’s not about having the right answers, but about the journey of discovery as we continue to seek out the fullness of God.
If you would like to learn Hebrew Alphabet, make it easy on yourself and begin with a song.
I learned to write the Hebrew letters by watching a YouTube video by a Baptist pastor.
The website Ancient Hebrew Research Center, which was created by a man who simply got pulled into the study of Hebrew letters, shares what he has learned from looking at the history of the Hebrew alphabet from early forms of the letters to its present from.
Rabbi Trugman will take you deeper into the alphabet with his YouTube video series Secrets of the Hebrew Letters.
The best sight I found online was Hebrew for Christians. He shares what he has learned from the Jewish tradition in a respectful way and yet see things from a Christian perspective.
If you want to see the Hebrew for a verse, Bible Hub shows it side-by-side with a word-for-word translation. (Type in any verse. The first page will be parallel translation. Just click on the word “Hebrew”)
It’s been a great journey, but the final page I journaled on Psalm 119 is just a simple prayer to return to the ordinary focus of my days.