(March 16, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, concludes his series on selected Hebrew words…
Camping on sand is not a good idea! Even though a tent may be sound and the ropes strong, unless the pegs are hammered in securely, the tent will collapse and may even be blow away. You need, therefore, a sound piece of ground into which the pegs can be driven.
This is the thought behind Isaiah 22:23, ‘I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honour for the house of his father’ (NIV). Unless a nail or peg is driven into something solid and dependable, it is of little value. The Hebrew word that is translated in this verse as ‘firm’ is ’aman which means ‘to be firm’ or ‘permanent’ – we are more familiar with this word as ‘Amen.’ It is found over 100 times in the Old Testament.
The first time the word is used in the Old Testament is Genesis 15:6 which states, ‘Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.’ ‘Believed’ is the word ’aman and it not only tells us simply that Abram believed God but also tells us something about the nature of Abram’s faith in God in that it was firm and secure. The statement means so much more than the fact that Abram believed God’s promise.
Another Hebrew word, which is closely related to ’aman, is ’emeth which is used 125 times in the Old Testament and has the meaning of ‘truth,’ ‘dependability’ and ‘sureness.’ Let us see how these words – and especially the Amen-concept to which they point – are used in the Old Testament.
1. Amen includes trustworthiness in what we say
We find the word ’aman used in Genesis 42:20 where Joseph, who is unrecognised by his brothers, requires them to bring their brother Benjamin to him: ‘You must bring your youngest brother to me so that your words may be verified …’
The word ‘verified’ is the Hebrew word ’aman. Joseph was saying that he was testing their integrity to see if their words could be depended on.
We find the same idea in Jeremiah 23:28 where God tells the prophet, ‘… let the one who has my word speak it faithfully (’emeth).’ Our integrity is expressed in the words that come out of our mouths.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:37, ‘Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one’ (NIV).
2. Amen implies stability and durability
Inherent in the words ’aman and ’emeth is the concept of stability and endurance. The first time ‘emunah (which is found 63 times in the Old Testament) is used is Exodus 17:12 in the incident of Moses holding out his arms over the battlefield while Israel fought against Amalek. Aaron and Hur supported his tiring arms, and we read; ‘… his hands remained steady (‘emunah) till sunset.’
The Messianic verse in Isaiah 33:6 reinforces this, ‘He will be the sure foundation (‘emunah) for your times …’ The sense of stability (as in the KJV), and of one whose dependability is sure, is recognised.
Psalm 100:5 uses the word to speak of the enduring nature of God’s faithfulness: ‘For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever, his faithfulness (‘emunah) continues through all generations.’
The parallelism of Hebrew poetry reinforces the fact of the permanency of God’s trustworthiness. Faithfulness has endurance as one of its prime characteristics.
3. Amen is the cement in the relationship between God and man
In the Hebrew Old Testament the words chesed and ’emunah are often found closely together. The KJV inadequately renders Exodus 34:6 as ‘…abundant in goodness (chesed) and truth (’emuna).’ The RSV gets closer to the meaning with ‘… abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’ The significance of this combination of the two Hebrew words, which is found 33 times in the Old Testament, is that they are in the context of relationships.
This passage from Exodus includes the inscribing of the covenant on stone and the divine invitation for God’s rescued people to trust him. The Contemporary English Version more precisely renders it, ‘I show great love, and I can be trusted.’ This is the language of relationship. While this combination of words generally deals with the relationship between God and man, it is also used in reference to relationships between people.
In Psalm 85:10 we have the beautiful affirmation: ‘Love (chesed) and faithfulness (’emuna) meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other’ (NIV).
4. Amen is a thunderous cry of confidence
The word ‘Amen’ is not a timid little response to a prayer; nor is it meant to serve as a full stop to indicate that a prayer has ended. Rather it is a victorious declaration of confidence in God! It is an affirmation that God is in control and is to be completely trusted. ‘Amen’ is not so much, ‘May it be so’ as ‘It will certainly be so!’
And the basis of such confidence is the nature of God. This is demonstrated in 27th chapter of Deuteronomy where, in the challenge Moses gave to the Israelites in the twelve consecutive verses from verse 15 onward, the response of the people is, ‘Amen.’ We miss the passionate implication of this word if we relegate it to religious terminology.
Again the powerful significance of the word is seen in the New Testament in the book of Revelation where it occurs in nine verses and on each occasion but one it is seen to be a positive and confident declaration.
For example, Revelation 7:9-12; ‘I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count … standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever. Amen!’’’
Heaven resounded with the thunderous shouts of the amens by the worshippers!
5. Amen is the character of God
The word ‘amen’ tells us something about the character of God. In Isaiah 65:16 we read, ‘Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth (’amen); he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth (’amen).’
Yahweh is a God who can be trusted in all things and at all times because that is his character. So ’amen is a word that points to the character qualities of truthfulness and faithfulness. This is powerfully reinforced by Isaiah 25:1, ‘O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvellous things …’
The words ‘perfect faithfulness’ in Hebrew are ’emunah ’amen which repeat a similar concept – it is a doubling up of an idea which, in Hebrew, indicates perfection. (We find the same thing in Isaiah 26:3 where ‘perfect peace’ is actually a repetition of the word ‘shalom’). Thus confidence in the utter faithfulness of God’s character is acknowledged and praised. The Message translates the phrase with the words ‘solid and sure’ which accurately conveys the meaning of this description of God’s character.
6. Amen is God’s final word
The writer of Hebrews begins his letter with the statement that, ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. …’ (Hebrews 1:1).
He was affirming that while the prophets declared God’s message, the final word of God was spoken to humankind through his Son, the ‘Word made flesh’ (John 1:14). He, as it were, was God’s final Amen to his redemptive promises and purposes. Paul writes about Christ in 2 Corinthians 1:20, ‘… in him the “Yes”, and in him the “Amen”.’ All God’s promises find their fulfilment in him.
John makes even more evident the fact that Jesus is God’s final Amen: ‘These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation’ (Revelation 3:14). Here John categorically states that Jesus is the divine Amen. He may rightly be called this for he is the God of truth and faithfulness (Revelation 19:11).
There is another sense in which we may say that ‘Amen is God’s final word.’ It is with this word that the written revelation of God comes to an end. The final word in the Bible is ‘Amen’ verifying, as it were, all that has gone before. God had the final word! And God will have the final word when all his purposes are triumphantly fulfilled.
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
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