Judge Gideon: the Vav that Denotes Tense Inversion

Gideon #2 (Judges 6:11)

Continuing from verse 10, we see how the angel of God is revealing himself to Gideon, addressing him as a โ€˜brave manโ€™. As this verse is straight forward and easy to understand, I do not see the need for any deeper analysis beyond the translation. Therefore, this time, instead of focusing on the content, I will focus on a common Biblical Hebrew point that many students of the Hebrew Bible find confusing. This is ื•’ ื”ื”ื™ืคื•ืš (the Vav of Tense Inversion)

Translation of the story of Gideon in the Hebrew Bible. (Judges 6:11). As this verse is straight forward, this time in the discussion, I focused on a grammar point, Tense Inversion, rather than the content of the verse.

Vav of inversion

Vav (ื•) is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It can have one of two sounds. The first is the sound of the English letter V, the second sounds like O, U or W.

When Vav appears at the beginning of another word, it normally means and.  For instance, ืžื›ืชื‘ (Mich-Tav) means a (postal) letter, so ื•ืžื›ืชื‘  (Ve-Mich-Tav) means and a letter.  Unlike modern English, which tries to avoid starting a sentence with and. This is a most common way to start a sentence in the Bible.  In our short verse alone, this structure appears twice.

ื•ึทื™ึตึผืจึธื โ€“ Va-Ye-Ra โ€“ and he made himself visible

ื•ึทื™ึนึผืืžึถืจ โ€“ Va-Yo-Mer โ€“ and he said

This is the way it works in both modern and Biblical Hebrew. But in Biblical Hebrew Vav at a beginning of a sentence also inverses the tense of the sentence. That is, past becomes future and future becomes past. For example, without the Vav, the first sentence of our verse would be:

ื™ึตึผืจึธื ืึตืœึธื™ื•, ืžึทืœึฐืึทืšึฐ ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื” โ€“Godโ€™s angel will show himself to him.

But with the Vav we get,

ื•ึทื™ึตึผืจึธื ืึตืœึธื™ื•, ืžึทืœึฐืึทืšึฐ ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื” โ€“ and Godโ€™s angel showed himself to him.

Some interpret this form as the Bible’s way to tell us that every story about the past is also a story about the future, or a prophecy. That is, that the Bible is eternally valid. Others consider it as a grammatical construction a deeper meaning. This is a long discussion that I may cover in a separate post. Regardless, this is a very common grammatical construction that anyone who reads Biblical Hebrew must be familiar with.  

Note:
While the above description is correct, it is a bit simplified. More advance students should be aware that, arguably, Biblical Hebrew does not have a real future tense, but rather uses the imperative form to refer to the future. This is a more advanced topic, which I bring here to ensure precision. Otherwise, everything above is valid and correct

Gideon the Judge: Facing God’s Angel

Gideon #2 (Judges 6:11)

In chapter 6 the land is occupied by the Midianites, the people of Midian. They destroy the land and rob its produce. In verse 11 we meet the Angel of God, and we meet Gideon.

We have seen in the previous post, that the land of Israel is repeatedly occupied by foreign powers. Then, God chooses a Judge, who is really a military leader rather than what we call Judge today, to free the people of Israel. The Judge leads them into a war and helps them win. The people of Israel repent, go back to God and for forty years the land is quiet. Then the next generation forgets God, sins, God sends a new enemy, and the cycle continued for 300 years.

This time it is Gideon’s turn to save the people of Israel.

Hebrew and translation of the Bible book of Judges, chapter 6 verse 11. In this chapter we meet Gideon and the angel of God

Discussion

In verse 11 we are introduced to the story of Gideon. In this verse we learn about the background for the story and the characters. We also learn that the Midianites were robbing the people of Israel off their produce. 

But first we meet the messenger, or angel of God.

In Hebrew we call him ืžึทืœึฐืึทืšึฐ; in English it is translated to an angel, but I still prefer to use the word messenger.

When we use the word angel, we tend to imagine a winged being with halos and aura. But this is not what a messenger is in the Bible, clearly not in the Old Testament. The first thing we need to understand is that the word ืžึทืœึฐืึทืšึฐ does not have to refer to Godโ€™s messenger, as the Bible often uses the word to describe a human employed as a messenger by another human.

This, obviously, is not the case here. Here it specifically says ืžึทืœึฐืึทืšึฐ ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื”, Godโ€™s messenger. But as we will soon see in the next verses, this messenger looks exactly like any other human. That is, you could not recognise him by his look. This is important whenever we read about a meeting with an angel, may it be Abraham, Lot, or Jacob.

When people meet Godโ€™s angels, they cannot tell that the โ€˜peopleโ€™ they are meeting are angels, until the angels decide to reveal themselves, give a sign, or show their powers. When angels appear to us, they look just like us. This, of course, raises the question: if angels look just like us, can they be living among us today?

———–

ืึตืœึธื” is a common name for a family of trees in the land of Israel.  Terebinth tree is the common translation, but there are other trees in the family that carry the same name. We are not sure exactly what tree the Bible refers to here.

———–

ืขึธืคึฐืจึธื” is a town in the land of Menashe, about 30km (20 miles) north of Jerusalem.

———–

The last point worth thinking about in this verse is why Gideon is beating wheat in the winepress, and how does it hide it from the Midianites?

In the land of Israel, the time of harvesting wheat is straight after the Passover festival โ€“ which falls around March, April or May. The harvesting lasts until the harvest festival Shavuot seven weeks later. On the other hand, the harvesting season for grapes, ends in the Sukkot festival, around September. This is a little hint our verse gives us.

Beating out wheat in the winepress so effectively tells us two things. The first is of the habit of the Midianite to rob people. They would clearly take the harvest if they knew he was beating the wheat. The second hint tells us when the story takes place. That is, in the middle of spring, somewhere around April. This is the time when winepresses are idle. Not a place for the Midianites to look for harvest until the harvest of the Autum. A safe place to hide your produce.

In this one verse, we are given a full introduction to the story, the protagonist, the background and the time of year. In verse 12 the plot will begin.

The Book of Judges: Gideon, the 5th judge – the rise of a powerful leader

Gideon #1 – introduction to Judges (Judges 6:1-10)

Gideon (Book of Judges) leads he people of Israel to win against the Midianites

I love the Book of Judges. So, letโ€™s start with an introduction to the book. It will give us the background we need for the story of Gideon.

In the twenty-one chapters of the book, we discover a pattern that will characterise the people of Israel for generations โ€“ even until today. It is a pattern of a cycle that repeats endlessly.

First, the people of Israel forget God and His ways. For example, in Judges 2:10

ื•ึฐื’ึทื ื›ึธึผืœ-ื”ึทื“ึผื•ึนืจ ื”ึทื”ื•ึผื, ื ึถืึถืกึฐืคื•ึผ ืึถืœ-ืึฒื‘ื•ึนืชึธื™ื•; ื•ึทื™ึธึผืงึธื ื“ึผื•ึนืจ ืึทื—ึตืจ ืึทื—ึฒืจึตื™ื”ึถื, ืึฒืฉึถืืจ ืœึนื-ื™ึธื“ึฐืขื•ึผ ืึถืช-ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื”, ื•ึฐื’ึทื ืึถืช-ื”ึทืžึทึผืขึฒืฉึถื‚ื”, ืึฒืฉึถืืจ ืขึธืฉึธื‚ื” ืœึฐื™ึดืฉึฐื‚ืจึธืึตืœ

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, that knew not about God, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

Second, once sin and the wrong ways have been established, God, removes his protection from the people of Israel, letting them experience the hardship of the world without His protection. For instance, in Judges 2:14

ื•ึทื™ึดึผื—ึทืจ-ืึทืฃ ื™ึฐื”ื•ึธื”, ื‘ึฐึผื™ึดืฉึฐื‚ืจึธืึตืœ, ื•ึทื™ึดึผืชึฐึผื ึตื ื‘ึฐึผื™ึทื“-ืฉึนืืกึดื™ื, ื•ึทื™ึธึผืฉึนืืกึผื•ึผ ืื•ึนืชึธื; ื•ึทื™ึดึผืžึฐื›ึฐึผืจึตื ื‘ึฐึผื™ึทื“ ืื•ึนื™ึฐื‘ึตื™ื”ึถื, ืžึดืกึธึผื‘ึดื™ื‘, ื•ึฐืœึนื-ื™ึธื›ึฐืœื•ึผ ืขื•ึนื“, ืœึทืขึฒืžึนื“ ืœึดืคึฐื ึตื™ ืื•ึนื™ึฐื‘ึตื™ื”ึถื

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He gave them over into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.

Only then, in times of pain and suffering, the people rediscover God and the covenant they made with Him. They repent. And God, eternally patient, true to His word, remains loyal to the covenant, forever, as we can see in the Book of Judges 2:1

ื•ึทื™ึนึผืืžึถืจ ืึทืขึฒืœึถื” ืึถืชึฐื›ึถื ืžึดืžึดึผืฆึฐืจึทื™ึดื, ื•ึธืึธื‘ึดื™ื ืึถืชึฐื›ึถื ืึถืœ-ื”ึธืึธืจึถืฅ ืึฒืฉึถืืจ ื ึดืฉึฐืื‘ึทึผืขึฐืชึดึผื™ ืœึทืึฒื‘ึนืชึตื™ื›ึถื, ื•ึธืึนืžึทืจ, ืœึนื-ืึธืคึตืจ ื‘ึฐึผืจึดื™ืชึดื™ ืึดืชึฐึผื›ึถื ืœึฐืขื•ึนืœึธื

And he said: ‘… I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said: I will never break My covenant with you;

Finally, God chooses a seemingly ordinary person and raises him to become a JUDGE, a temporary leader to fight the enemy and save Israel.

For a single generation the people of Israel manage to remember the grace of God and follow His ways. But it never lasts more than one generation. The next generation, raised in times of peace and prosperity, forgets God again. Once more, they need to go through pain and suffering to remember.

This cycle lasts in the book for twelve judges and for over 300 years (~1350-1014 BC), all the way until the first king, King Saul.  In this series of blog posts, I will cover the story of the fifth judge, Gideon. (~1191-1151 BC.) which starts Judges 6:5.

Final note about the Book of Judges

Just by looking at the general pattern in the book of Judges, we can learn so much about the people of Israel, who forget the ways of God so often. We learn about God and his eternal patience, and we learn about the relationship between God and the people of Israel, and how despite the infinite number of times that the people of Israel have disappointed God and left His way, God is committed to this relationship forever.

We also learn why suffering is necessary.

We have short memory, and most of us can learn only from our personal experience and never from the experience of others. When we live in a good time, we attribute it to ourselves, our power, and our talent. We become conceited, arrogant. We feel that we are the masters of the world.  God has no place in our hearts and takes no part in our decisions.  It is only at time of hardship and suffering that we realise we are not in control. Only then can we clearly see that each moment of our lives is a precious gift given to us. It is not created by us.

This is what Judges is repeating over and again, so we can learn from the experience of others and not have to go through suffering ourselves. Just like the story of Abraham negotiating with God, the Book of Judges is a guidebook that teaches us and gives us an opportunity to learn from the experience of others. Yet, we always fail to follow.

Subscribe to our blog and get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

Join 6,832 other subscribers