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God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger, on tablets of Stone, in Hebrew.

When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. -Exodus 31:18

He also frequently spoke to His people in Hebrew. And of course, we now have Hebrew records of all of these divine words.

My question is: Why Hebrew? (I am assuming this is not because God speaks Hebrew in Heaven...)

  • Is it because Hebrew was the ideal language for communicating the truths of the Old Testament?

  • Is it simply because His people happened to speak that language?

  • Are there any Old Testament passages which show God speaking (or writing) in a different language?

I would also love it if you could include a comment about whether this teaches us anything about the nature of God. Thanks.

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With all due respect I must say that this is a rather silly question.. He was the one who gave all the languages at tower of Babel, remember? He listens to my prayers in Russian. Of course he speaks all languages. –  Monika Michael Jul 8 '12 at 7:00
I bet he writes traditional Chinese backwards and mirrored, encrypted with RSA256 just for fun.. –  Monika Michael Jul 8 '12 at 7:02
@MonikaMichael Please don't take it as a silly question. Many people have wondered what the answer to this question is. If you have an answer, please post it. I am interested in the implications of the correct answer as much as the correct answer. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 8 '12 at 7:16
This is a simple question, not a silly one. –  Joe Jul 8 '12 at 18:08
This question does not show any research effort I think is probably the reason it's getting down votes. The fact that the accepted answer begins with "Here's the obvious answer" would lend weight to this theory. –  Flimzy Jul 9 '12 at 3:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Oftentimes, the simplest answer is the correct one. So here's the obvious answer: He spoke and wrote in Hebrew because he was dealing with Hebrew-speaking people at the moment. Had God spoken to them in English, Latin, or Chinese, they would not have understood him!

God, being omniscient, knows all human languages. This means that he has no trouble communicating with the Hebrews in Hebrew, or with you and me in whatever our native tongues may be. So why make it more difficult than it has to be, especially given people's tendency to get his commandments all wrong even when they're spelled out in perfect plainness?

There's a parallel to be found in the Day of Pentecost, where the Gift of Tongues was dramatically made manifest as the Apostles preached their sermon. People from a wide variety of nations and regions were present, and all heard the sermon in their own language. But remember that these were people who had traveled to Jerusalem. It's not at all unreasonable to assume that most of them knew at least enough Hebrew (or whatever language was commonly in use at Jerusalem at the time) to get by. And yet, the Lord gave them the message in the language that they were most familiar with, to facilitate effective communication.

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Excellent. Thanks. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 8 '12 at 21:00

The prophecies of Daniel are chiefly written in Aramaic, thereby providing a non-Hebrew example of a revelation, ergo God spoke to Daniel in a language other than Hebrew. If they were first written in Aramaic by an Aramaic and Hebrew speaker (The Book of Daniel is actually written using both languages in different chapters), then it seems a stretch to argue that the vision itself had to be in Hebrew.

Likewise, John the Revelator most likely did not speak Hebrew (he also spoke Aramaic and possibly some Greek), suggesting that when John received the vision, Jesus was probably not speaking to him in Hebrew.

Finally, Jesus himself raised Jairus' daughter in Mark 5:41 using the words "Talitha Cumi" which are in Aramaic, not Hebrew. (I realize this is NT, but if Hebrew were God's ideal language, I'm surprised that Jesus himself wouldn't choose to use it, especially when evidencing his divinity.) Indeed, when quoting the 22nd Psalm, as he was dying on the cross, he cried out, "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabbatchani" in, you guessed it - Aramaic.

There is a tradition that God spoke Hebrew in the Garden of Eden, but there is nothing Scriptural to assert even that "fact."

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Thanks - very good points. If you would humor me, though... can you add a "Summary" to the top which directly answers the question as to why He spoke Hebrew so often? (I realize it might not be clear why I am asking this question, but I think the implications of the answer will become more clear once the answer is clearly stated.) –  Jas 3.1 Jul 8 '12 at 20:59
With all due respect, I should think it obvious that I find the premis of the question off-base. You need to prove to me that God actually does speak Hebrew more oft than not. –  Affable Geek Jul 9 '12 at 0:56
I don't believe that He speaks Hebrew more of than not. Let me try this a different way. Do we see God speaking Hebrew a lot in the OT? Yes. ... Why is that? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 9 '12 at 1:07
I think Mason Wheeler did an excellent job of answering that. –  Affable Geek Jul 9 '12 at 1:10

Whilst most people on this site have dismissed this question as silly, it is in fact very profound.

The Hebrew language is unique among all language that exist or have ever existed in that it has several distinct layers of meaning. It is, linguistically speaking, a Semitic language like Aramaic and Arabic (among several), but no other language in this class has the layers of meaning that Hebrew retains. There are some vague remnants of a second layer of meaning in the Arabic alphabet, but from my discussions with Muslim scholars, the distinct layers are of no importance in Arabic.

They are vitally important in Hebrew, though those of faith have jealously guarded them over the Millenia - wouldn't you? And as a result Christian scholars have not been able to see the Old Testament through Hebrew eyes until recently. Even today in Christian Seminaries, Hebrew is not taught except as a language on the literal, superficial level. All the other levels are left out of account. I think this is because Christian scholars do not know these other levels.

But a child growing up in the Hebrew faith is very likely to taught these levels. Every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a meaning. the alphabet is taught as a story of God's action and purposes for us. That is why God's description of himself as the Alpha and Omega (Aleph and Tav in Hebrew) has a very particular meaning. That he is the beginning and the end of all creation simply does not grasp the enormity of this claim.

Combinations of letters into syllables have an additional layer of meaning. So the addition of an additional letter changes meanings. Why this is not recognised by Christians I do not know. Do people not know why Abraham's name started as Abram and became Abraham?

Because the letters have individual meanings, the syllables out of which they are made have complexes of meaning. These ideas are lost in translation so that Psalm 119, the longest Psalm comprising 176 verses, is actually a Litany based on the individual Hebrew letters (of which there are 22). Every section is, in the Hebrew Bible, names after each letter in turn, and each verse of each section starts with the Hebrew letter of the name of the section. And. of course, each verse therefore concentrates upon the meaning of the letter. The beauty of the Hebrew is astonishing. There are 8 verses in each section and each one therefore starts with the same Hebrew letter. This means that Psalm 119 has 22 times 8 verses = 176 verses. No-one who does not speak Hebrew could understand this Psalm properly.

Specific words are built out the simple units. For example the word for Man is Adam, ADM in Hebrew. A, as any Hebrew child knows, refers to God. The syllable DM means blood (or sometimes flesh). Therefore ADM (the way Adam is spelled in Hebrew) means that God has animated our flesh/blood with his spirit. Furthermore the Hebrew word for earth or clay is Adamah, ADMH in Hebrew. The letter H in Hebrew means "giving forth" or "bringing into being" and similar. It is therefore very easy to see why in the second creation story (Genesis chapter 2ff) God shapes man out of clay and breaths his life into him in order to create man. All of this is lost in translation.

The next layer of meaning is the number of the letter, for each letter has a number assigned to it. Complex words therefore have an arithmetic number. In Revelation there is a reference to this in the number of the beast which is 666. This is the arithmetic total of the numbers in the name of NERO the Roman Emperor at the time when the book was written. Of course is could mean other things too, but that this approach is contained in the last book in the Bible is indicative that the Hebrew approach still remained as a means of exegesis even at the time of the writing of Revelation by John the Divine on the Isle of Patmos - i.e. even after the Greek influences and translations of the Bible were in general use.

I could go on. For there are yet more layers of meaning which we could discuss, for example Bible codes, but I do not want this discussion to become too complex and technical.

As a person born at the crossing of the Hebrew and Christian faiths (something which could not have happened before the mid 20th century but now much more common as a result of Globalisation, the Internet and the creation of Liberal Judaism) I am at home with these ideas. God spoke Hebrew, not because He wanted to speak to the Hebrew people, but rather because he chose the Hebrew people and taught them who he was by teaching them through the Hebrew language. No other language could be used to express God's being and purposes.

In the same way, I am surprised by the contrast between Christian and Hebrew exegesis. The Christian is rather stodgy and limits itself to established modes of thinking (it progresses but slowly). The Hebrew is more like a detective story in which the answer to the question is sought out and constructed out of the language before it is tested in the practical living of the faith.

I am firmly of the opinion that unless you can understand Hebrew like a Hebrew, you cannot really understand how and why God acts as he does in the world and with us. I find Hebrew study an astonishing journey in faith. The vistas and horizons it opens up are mind-boggling.

I hope this helps?

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The first identification of Hebrew as a language was around the time of Noah after the flood and before the tower of babel.

At the tower the bible states all men spoke the same language (Hebrew). God punished the builders by confounding their ability to communicate not only with each other but also with God. During the time that followed we see the chosen people communicating in Hebrew with God until Pentecost, when all language and peoples were blessed.

Until Pentecost the will and nature of God was only given through Jewish followers (Hebrews). Simple Christian understanding with assumption that Adam and Eve were also given Hebrew as a way to communicate with their creator. So, yes, I would assume it is the language of Gods choosing.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE. Can you edit this answer and add some references for the ideas you forward, particularly showing who holds such a doctrinal position and what their basis is? In particular the idea that the language issue at Babel affected people's ability to communicate with God as that is not a mainstream Christian understanding. See What makes a good supported answer? for more ideas on how to formulate answers for this site. Thanks. –  Caleb Oct 15 '12 at 6:47
Agreed. A claim like this should be backed up with sources of some sort. The Bible says that all men spoke the same language before Babel, but it does not specifically identify that language as Hebrew. And in fact, a literal reading of the text--that the languages of all men were confounded--would seem to indicate that the original language no longer existed after God finished his work there. If you could add some references to clear up this point, it would greatly improve the quality of your answer. :) –  Mason Wheeler Oct 15 '12 at 23:52

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