Friday, October 31, 2014

Isaiah 12:2

Isaiah by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
I am on a plane right now traveling for business and I thought it might be a good time to jot a few things down for a short post. This post is inspired by a recently returned sister missionary that I heard speak today in church. Isaiah 12:2 was her missionary scripture that had been on her display plaque. The scripture reads as follows

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
Isaiah 12:2

There are a number of things that jump out about this verse on first reading. One of the most obvious is the unusual use of the name Jehovah in the KJV. KJV uses this term only four times (see footnote a for this verse in LDS scriptures or at the link above). This is a bit deceptive since it is actually a very common word in the Hebrew Bible. For a complicated set of historical reasons the Hebrew word Yahweh, from which we get the anglicized Jehovah, has been traditionally translated as LORD. Note the all caps. In most editions they use a normal capital for the first letter followed by smaller caps for the last three. I'm not going to spend the time to get that to display right just now. But this use of caps is an important part of the translation apparatus for English speakers to note that the original word was the sacred name of Deity Yahweh and not a word that means lord or gentleman or esquire or master or landed gentry. There is a word that conveys this type of idea and when it occurs it is translated lord or Lord if at the beginning of a sentence. The lack of all caps is used to differentiate the original meaning. This is all very funny to Hebrew readers as there are no capital/lower case letters in Hebrew.

So with this background, I must now ask why on this verse the decision was made to translate the word Yahweh as Jehovah here, and why it should be LORD JEHOVAH. The answer is that the Hebrew uses the very uncommon name Yah Yahweh. The name Yah is a curious one. It is obviously similar to Yahweh but for the most part it shows up as a part of male proper names, usually coming to us in English as the "iah" ending in names like Hezekiah, or Obediah, or of course Isaiah. As a stand alone name it occurs only twice in Exodus, 15:2 and 17:16, four times in Isaiah in three verses 12:2, 26:4 (here it is Yah Yahweh again), and 38:11 (Yah Yah in this case). These five verses are the only places this name is used in the entire Hebrew Bible with the notable exception of Psalms where it is used 43 times. From this we can see the usage of the name is special and that Isaiah can be linked with Psalms in a very close way. This is actually just one of many links between Isaiah and Psalms.

I suppose at this point I should have drawn some profound meaning of this usage of the name, but the reality is I don't have any idea what significance it holds, only that it is unusual and therefore special. If you have ideas please discuss in the comments. It is actually not the part of the verse that interested me at first.

Instead I find profound the use of the world "salvation". This word occurs twice in this verse, once as yeshuati (my salvation) and once as leyeshua (to salvation). You may have already made the connection that Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua or the word salvation. Now suddenly we have a very profound messianic verse. I offer my translation:

2 Behold, God is my Jesus; I will trust, and not be afraid: for my strength and song is Yah Yahweh; and he shall become for me Jesus.
I find especially moving in interpreting Yeshua as a proper name the phrase "my Jesus". That term in English only occurs once in our standard works, 2 Nephi 33:6 which is during Nephi's exegesis of Isaiah, having quoted this verse just a bit earlier in chapter 22. I find it plausible that Nephi is reflecting the wording of this verse.

I also love the idea of "become for me" as a translation of the Hebrew word li which although could also show possession and be rendered in English as a simple "my" as KJV did, literally means "to me" or "for me". It brings a very personal touch to the prophecy.

The sister who spoke did not of course mention any of the above. She bore powerful testimony of her experiences which were also moving and concluded in the solid Mormon tradition of bearing her testimony in the language of her mission, Portuguese in this case. I think this is also illustrative of how we can sometimes teach in ways we would never expect when the spirit is present.


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