This is one of my favorite verses in biblical Hebrew – Psalm 23:1:
יְהוָה רֹעִי לאֹ אֶחְסָר
(YHWH ro-’ee lo ekh-sar.)
As a student of biblical Hebrew, it takes me several rounds of translation before arriving at smooth-sounding English. I love the first stage of this process, and I really don’t ever want to lose that. It’s the stage where I just make very literal connections between the Hebrew words and a raw understanding in English. Why do I like this part? Because it brings God front and center.
For example, my first attempt to put English words to Psalm 23:1 would look like this:
YHWH (personal name of God) = Shepherd-of-me. Not I will be in lack.
Yes, I can take that another round or two, and make the English sound smoother. And that’s necessary for understanding. That’s why we have so many excellent Bible translations.
But for me, nothing can replace that first close-up look at the verse. It’s the simplicity, the intimacy, the truth:
I have a God who has let me call Him by His personal name. Without any further words, I can simply say: “God. Shepherd. My.” That relationship, that connection is so clear in just those words standing next to each other, with no fanfare. Just the raw purity of knowing I belong to God, and He is a relational God. All of that is clear in just those three words.
And then the next part: Emphasis on Not I will be in lack. That “not,” coming first, overrides all else. With God, my personal shepherd, there simply is not lack. Period.
This is what I love about biblical Hebrew, and this is why it is worth the effort to learn it.
I have recited the 23rd Psalm so many times in my life. From earliest childhood, we had to memorize and recite it often in Sunday school. And that is wonderful. That’s as it should be. God only knows how much the recitation of those words (in English) in my early years shaped my relationship with Him.
But when I now make that first raw translation from Hebrew, the words empower me even more deeply. I feel like God has filled my heart through those words. That pure message takes me back to the basics of my relationship with God: He is everything to me.
God bless you and lead you in your own study of biblical Hebrew. Shalom.
Interested in getting a taste of biblical Hebrew? There’s more to learn on my biblical Hebrew blog.
Want to jump into the basics of biblical Hebrew? Here’s a beginning biblical Hebrew course I offer online.