Friday, June 20, 2003

A Bit of Trivia

The Letters in Zephaniah 3:8

I am still deciding what series to start next week. In the meantime, I thought I would provide a bit of trivia.

Can you construct a 1 or 2 sentence paragraph that uses all 26 letters in the English alphabet? Could you, at the same time, make it meaningful? It can be done as shown by the following sentence. I have highlighted the use of each letter.

Esther is the providential story of young Jewish queen who reveals the zealous brutality of Haman to King Ahasuerus, known in secular history as Xerxes. 

The sentence uses half the letters in the first four words, but it is not until the very last word that the final letter appears.

There is one verse in the Hebrew Scriptures that contains all 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet plus the 5 final forms used at the end of words. That verse is Zephaniah 3:8:

“Therefore wait for Me,” declares the Lord, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My burning anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My zeal. (Zephaniah 3:8, NASB)

Changing two words in the translation and adding one more, yields a translation that uses all 26 English letters:

Therefore wait for Me,” declares Jehovah, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My unquenchable anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My extreme zeal. (Zephaniah 3:8, NASB)

Would such a change in the translation have any merit? Possibly so! The Old Testament is full of letter games. The most common is the use of acrostics where each new sentence, or so, begins with the next letter in the Hebrew aleph-bet. For example, Psalm 119 is a 7 by 22 acrostic. Lamentations uses varied acrostic structures to great effect. Esther hides the Name of God using 4 acrostics. In would seem that in Hebrew literature, using all 22 letters is a way of communicating completeness. 

Now look at the message in Zephaniah 3:8. Note the two-fold statement of intent to gather the nations and kingdoms, and the two-fold proclamation of His indignation and anger, and the two-fold totality of all His anger and all the earth. The verse has a tone of a complete and final judgment. The Hebrew author underscored it by including the complete list of the 22 letters of the aleph-bet and their 5 final forms.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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