Learning Hebrew – Sermon for Sunday, February 19


Shalom!
Let’s all say that together.
“Shalom!”
Shalom is a Hebrew word that you would use to greet someone.
Now let’s say, “Mazel Tov!”
“Mazel Tov!”
Do you know what we just did? We just congratulated each other for being able to speak Hebrew! See how easy it is to learn Hebrew?
As you probably already know, Hebrew is not an easy language to learn. For one thing, it is written from right to left and there are no vowels in the Hebrew alphabet making it difficult to pronounce the words.
But for just two easy payments of $19.99, we’re going to learn the meaning of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And the name of that first letter is, “Aleph.” We’ll have to learn the other twenty-one Hebrew letters some other time.
The reason we’re going to focus on learning a little Hebrew as we look at Psalm 119 this morning is because it is considered to be the most important of the 150 Psalms. The reason for this is because it highlights the importance of knowing and obeying God’s Word.
Just to show how important Psalm 119 is, there are Christians all around the world who follow what is known as “The Daily Office” reading of the scriptures which can be found in The Book of Common Prayer and comes to us from the Episcopal and Anglican church tradition.
These daily scripture readings include an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Gospel reading, and several Psalms that tie in with the Christian year. If you follow these readings every day for two years, you will have read through most of the bible.
Since the Psalms are such an important part of the Bible, this Daily Office approach is designed in such a way that you read all one hundred fifty Psalms every single month during those two years. And so, the idea is that if you read all of these Psalms every month over a two-year period, the Psalms will become very familiar to you and since the Psalms are prayers, they will help you to have a deeper prayer life.
Just to show how important Psalm 119 is in this Daily Office schedule of readings, it has you read a portion of Psalm 119 every single Wednesday for those two years. Psalm 119 is a very important Psalm.
If you randomly open your bible to somewhere near the middle of it, you will probably open it up fairly close to Psalm 119 which represents the longest chapter of the entire Bible.
There are 176 verses in this Psalm. I think there’s something very symbolic that Psalm 119 is in the middle of the bible since Psalm 119 talks about the importance of God’s Word. God’s Word is meant to be at the center of our day to day living out of our faith.
Here is the neat thing about Psalm 119. It’s an acrostic Psalm which means that this Psalm begins each section of eight verses with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
This is something we don’t notice since we depend on our English translations of the bible. Psalm 119 was organized this way to remind us that God’s Word helps to bring order and rhythm to our lives.
If you ever feel stressed, out of sorts, confused, directionless, just read a little of Psalm 119 which reminds us that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path which is one of the verses in this Psalm. God’s Word is what helps us to be the people God has created us to be.

The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph. Say “Aleph” with me. “Aleph.” See, you’re already getting an A+ in class today. You know the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet!
This is what the Hebrew letter, “Aleph” looks like.
Since this is the first letter of the alphabet, the Jewish people saw this letter as the most important of all of the Hebrew letters. This letter was seen as the master of all of the other Hebrew letters.
Let’s listen again to how this Psalm begins and yes, I’ll read it in English, not in Hebrew!
“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.”
“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances. I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.”
There’s the first section of the twenty-two sections that we find in Psalm 119. And it all begins with the letter “Aleph.” It’s like the Psalmist is saying to us, “Just like Aleph is the most important letter of the Hebrew alphabet, obeying God and God’s Word should be the most important priority in our lives.”
This first Aleph section tells us that if we make God’s Word a priority in our lives, that we will be happy and we will not be put to shame. That’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it? That’s what most of us want, right? We want to be happy and we want to not live in shame.
This doesn’t mean that we will be perfect because we all make mistakes, but it does meant that putting God first in our lives will put us on the right path. And when we veer off God’s path, and we all do from time to time, God offers us grace and helps us to find our way again.
The Jewish people believe that there are a total of 613 laws that can be found in the Hebrew scriptures. That’s a lot of laws! How in the world does God expect us to keep 613 laws?
Maybe you have heard the story about the time when Moses went up the mountain alone to speak with God while the rest of the people waited for him below. When Moses finally came down from the mountain, the people asked him, “Well, what did God tell you?”
And Moses said, “Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we don’t have to obey these hundreds of laws anymore. God has whittled it down to just Ten Commandments.”
But here’s the bad news. These ten are a real doozy!”
During a church event one evening, a church member wore a sweatshirt that had a variation of the Ten Commandments, but these were called Country Commandments. I thought these were pretty good.
Here’s the country version of the Ten Commandments so they are easy for us to understand:
One God, No Gossipn’, Sunday Go to Meetn’, No Stealn’, No Wantin’ Neighbors Things, No Hanky Panky, Honor Ma & Pa, No Idols, No Killin’, & No Cussin’.
That kind of simplifies it, don’t you think? The Country Ten Commandments.
Sometimes we think of rules and laws only in a negative way, but that’s not how the Bible views them. God has given us rules, laws, and commandments to help us stay on the right path. They help us to be fully human and to be the people that God has created us to be.
Jesus affirmed the importance of following God’s commandments when he said that he came not to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them. In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus expands the meaning of God’s commandments to not murder and commit adultery by including how we control our anger and lust.
Jesus knew that it wasn’t just our actions that matter to God. It’s what leads up to our actions that matter. We need God’s Word and God’s law to help us see who we are and who we are to be. And that takes discipline, daily discipline in applying the bible to our everyday lives.
Arabian Horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses, and test them to see if they are completely trained.
The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to go without water for many days. Then they turn them loose.
Of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer.
They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience, he gives them a signal to go back to drink. Obedience is what will help these horses and those who ride them to survive when they are out in the hot and arid desert.
In a similar way, as we obey God’s Word and follow God’s teachings, we will be able to persevere as we face the challenges of life. This is why Psalm 119 begins with the Hebrew letter, “Aleph,” the master of the Hebrew alphabet. It reminds us that obeying God is the most important thing we can do in life.
Whenever you are facing a difficult decision and you’re tempted to not do what God wants you to do, remember this first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Seek God with all of your heart. Obey God’s Word.
And you will be happy.

Shalom!

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