by: Lonnie Lane
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.” I doubt that Elizabeth Barrett Browning meant those words to give insight into the depth of sin or the height of salvation, but that we can count the ways of both, it seemed to apply. Her words were written, of course, in English as are the Bibles most of us read. But were we to read them in Hebrew, as originally written, we would find a greater depth than most of our translations are able to convey. Plus the words in Hebrew often reveal nuances that even the Greek doesn’t make evident.
If I asked you to define sin, what would you say? I asked my Hebrew Roots Bible class and got several good answers, but the scope of how the Hebrew Bible defines sin enables us to realize the “depth” to which sin has permeated our lives. It has become a part of our very character and nature. Now, before you think, I really don’t want to hear this, stick around for the Redemption part and see the “heights” to which Yeshua has redeemed us, so thoroughly and completely. This will help you if you desire to please the Lord and bless you with a security in Him you may not have had before, I promise.
Let’s take the few words for sin in the Greek text: The
first word is one most of us are probably familiar with. It is Hamartia which means to miss the mark, which conversely means to hit the wrong thing,
or the thing not aimed at, as in: “for
all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God” (Romans 3:23). We can all relate to that one, can we not? The Greek word parabasis,
basically means transgression; adikia
is translated as unrighteousness emphasizing that a lack of righteousness is a
characteristic of sin; asebeia is a
lack of holiness; anomia basically
means lawlessness, and having a contempt for the law as in, “Everyone
who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4) It is sometimes
translated as iniquity; poineiria is
translated as depravity; and the seventh Greek word for sin is epithumia, meaning desire or lust for
that which is forbidden.
Now let’s take a look into the Hebrew words for sin. The first is Chata, which is the most commonly used word in Hebrew for sin. It too means ‘missing the mark’ but it has a greater meaning of coming short of the plan and purpose that God has for which not only God has created man, but for you personally, because all sin is personal. Many people do not realize that God has a plan – for nations, for people groups, and for us as individuals. Remember the analogy that every chain is only as strong as its weakest link? If we are strong we serve to strengthen others; if we make choices that weaken us in our place in the chain of events or persons we’re involved with, we in effect, weaken others. If that sounds like too much responsibility, consider that if you’re in a bad mood, do you keep it to yourself or do others around you find themselves overshadowed by the gloom you’re carrying around? When you’re angry about something, do you dump your anger onto others so they are now “dirtied” by what you’re angry about? And, if you are in sin, it is unlikely that you are a godly influence to help others. In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island.” Our sin affects others.
To broaden this more positively, let’s take into consideration that God actually does have a plan for each of us, a good plan, a wonderful plan. Part of our plan has to do with how we each fit into the group in which we were born or situated. We all have a sphere of influence, as said above. God has given each of us an opportunity to be a blessing to those around us. Our decisions determine whether we will be a person who fosters love, encouragement, wisdom, peace, etc. or someone who instigates strife and stress. This word chata gets translated into English as: sin, fault, harm, blame and offence. In each case, it misses God’s best intentions for us. So when we “miss the mark” it doesn’t just affect ourselves, but because we influence others around us, intentionally or not, our “sin” makes us less of a godly influence on others. On the other hand, when we are walking with God and seeking to be a godly person, we quite naturally are an influence for good on others just because of who we are in God.
...when we "miss the mark" it doesn't just affect ourselves...
The second word in Hebrew for sin is pasha. Pasha is translated as rebellion, transgression, sin or trespass. It basically means to revolt or to refuse to come under subjection of a rightful authority. King David used it in Psalm 51. Remember he was repenting to God in this Psalm for his affair and subsequent wrongdoing in his relationship with Bathsheba? He is well aware of his sin, when he cries to God (and humbly lets Israel and us know about it), “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (:2). He was also acutely aware of how King Saul’s rebellion cost him God’s presence which is why he also cried out to God, “Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (:11). Then, after he thoroughly repents, he says, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (:13). He’s asking God to restore him to the JOY that can only be found in His presence which he knew before he sinned. And now that he’s seen that his sin was that of pasha, of transgressing or trespassing the boundary of the commandment he knew was clearly against Torah, with a heart of rebellion because he wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, despite what he really knew God’s word said. Now he wants the opportunity to teach others to avoid such rebellion. Perhaps that’s why he made this prayer so public and didn’t keep it between himself and God. David had a heart to shepherd his people, a heart that was for the most part like God’s own heart until this issue. So when we know something is against God’s commands and we go forward and do it anyway, we are committing the sin of pasha, and it will surely rob us of our joy and possibly His presence in our lives till we repent and make it right with God.
Another Hebrew word for sin is maal, meaning unfaithfulness or a breach of trust. Both faithfulness and lovingkindness in Hebrew are linked in the word Chesed. The violation of Chesed is maal, or to say it in English, the violation of trust, love or kindness, is sin. Anytime there is unfaithfulness, there has been a breach of trust in a relationship. We may blow it off as insignificant to us, but if it damages trust or breaks a relationship of trust, in God’s eyes, it’s an injustice and is sin and no peace can come of it until it is set right. Oh, we can ignore it and not make it right but it will damage our character until it is made right. Here’s where forgiveness, and if needed restitution, should come in, in order to restore peace to all concerned, both the doer and the do-ee.
The next word is aven. The root of this word in Hebrew means nothingness, as in any activity or thought which in the end will prove to be of no value, and is therefore unreal, because it is not aligned with the word of God. Idols as well as the worship of them is seen by the prophets of Israel as empty, as nothing, or of no value or reality, as is any evil devised by men which are false or hollow of any good.
A related word is avon, which is translated as perversion, wrong, miss and iniquity. It basically means to be bent or crooked, like the crookedness of sin. Consider that we call a person of crime a ‘crook’ or we speak of someone’s “crooked ways”.
Another word would be rasha, which is a lack of holiness or impiety or wickedness. This word links both the activity with the concept or idea of the sin. It indicates the confusion with which the wicked one lives. It has the sense of constant agitation and the cause it affects on others. You know how if you’re with someone who is always on edge, always irritated or caustic, it affects you. It’s hard to remain in peace when you’re near someone who’s always contemplating things that are wicked in nature or ascribing evil to events. Job’s friends might fit in this category of sin.
If it’s possible to have a favorite word for sin, ra would be mine. I discovered it as a new believer looking up what it was that would bring healing in everyone’s well known verse, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil (ra). It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8). Well, I wanted all those things in my life so I started looking up words and found that “ra” meant the following: Evil, calamity, distress, adversity, grief, affliction, misery, sadness, sorrow, trouble, sore, noisome, hurt, heavy, vex, wretchedness, harm, ill and mischief. Well now, you’d like to be free of those things, wouldn’t you? God says to be free of them, turn away from them. To turn away is to refuse to acknowledge them or consider them as truth, to put your thoughts elsewhere (like on their opposites). I saw that these words represented the ways of all that was opposed to health and good. This made it clear to me what was of God and what was of the devil. I copied these words into my Bible and every time I get a new Bible, the first thing I do is copy these words into the margin of Proverbs 3. I suggest you do the same, to remind you to turn your thoughts away from such things; they are actually sin! Because they represent unbelief in God and God’s will for us, they are expectation of what the devil would bring rather than faith in God’s goodness and wellbeing, and we know that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
That God has redeemed us from sin is the greatest transaction the universe has ever known.
There are other words in Hebrew for sin but for the sake of space, I want to move onto the solution which God has provided. As much as sin has permeated our individual souls and the souls of our nations and therefore we have had to deal with the consequences of our sin, much more has God made a way out of that morass of sin by the atonement of Yeshua. He refers to it as Redemption. The Bible uses the word Redemption 33 times and the word Redeem 108 times. That number of times makes it a quality worth taking note of. That God has redeemed us from sin is the greatest transaction the universe has ever known. What Yeshua’s blood bought for us was not redeemable by any other currency. He paid the full price for our redemption so that we who take His redemption as His free gift to us are no longer under the power of sin in all the ways stated above. I wish I could tell you to sit back and close your eyes and let me speak these words to you, but you couldn’t read them that way, could you? But take a deep breath and let these words flood your soul with His goodness to you.
This definition comes from Webster’s Dictionary but the same words would define “Redeem” in Hebrew. (Webster was a Christian, by the way, and his original edition, one of which a friend of mine happens to own, contains Scripture verses to further confirm his definitions). So what Yeshua did when He redeemed us by His blood was: to buy, to buy back, repurchase, to get or win back, to free from what distresses or harms, to free from captivity by payment of ransom, to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental or of futility, to release from blame or doubt, to clear, to free from consequences of sin, to change for the better, to reform (re-form, as in making us new creations in Him), repair, restore, to free from a lien by payment of a secured amount, to remove the obligation of (by payment in full), to convert into something of value, to make good, to fulfill, to atone for, expiate, to offset the bad effect of, to make worthwhile, retrieve, rescue and of course, redeem.
Let me now put these words into a statement of what Yeshua did directly for you. With His blood He bought you back from the devil, He purchased you and won you back for God. He freed you and continues to protect you from what distresses or harms you. He freed you from captivity to sin by paying the ransom of His own life. He extricated you and He is committed to continue to help you overcome anything detrimental to you or that would bring futility into your life. He has released you entirely from blame and doubt and has cleared your name from guilt and the consequences of sin. He continues to change you for the better, to reform you as in re-form you into His image, and to repair (and heal) you where needed and to restore you to complete freedom by having paid what you could not. He has removed you from any obligation to pay for sin by converting you into a person of value. He is intent on continuing to make good everything in your life and to fulfill His word to you as you trust Him to do so (See Romans 8:28). He will continue to stand between you and any bad effect of the things that happen in life and He will cause all things to work together in a worthwhile manner in your life so long as you look to Him to do so. When you feel lost, He will retrieve you, and when needed, He will rescue you – all because He has already redeemed you and made you His own.
All the rest of life with God should rest on this truth, that He has already redeemed you and made you His if you have accepted His atonement for yourself. When our hearts are filled with gratefulness for His acceptance of us just as we are today, we will rest in Him to perfect us, and be willing to obey whatever He asks of us. (Be aware, however, of any legalism that adds requirements that will rob you of your freedom and trust in His full redemption. Such rules make us sin-conscious rather than righteousness-conscious, and keep our eyes on ourselves and our performance rather than on the Lord and His mercy and goodness, and there’s never any rest in that. Try as we might, we never get “good enough.” Only faith in Him and loving obedience really pleases Him. It was never about being good enough. Only Yeshua (Jesus) was ever good enough to please God; our good enough comes from being “in Him” by faith in His goodness.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lovely poem ends with these
words: “If God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.” Whatever good God has done for us while we
are still on earth, it is impossible to define the JOY and PEACE to be had in
eternity with God and His redeemed people. No sin is worth forfeiting His
Reprint of this article is permitted as long as you use the following; Use by permission by Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2011.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.