Ezra 8:8 “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” (NASB)
Introduction It had been 70 years since the Jewish people had been in their homeland. God judged the people for their unfaithfulness and refusal to heed His many warnings. The Babylonians invaded the land of Judah in 605 b.c and 597 b.c, with the formal fall of Jerusalem occurring in 587/586 b.c. Jeremiah 29:10-11 predicted 70 years of captivity and prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel went with the people who were taken away some 800 miles to Babylon. Over time the people became accustomed to Babylonian life and the lingua franca (spoken language) of Babylon, Aramaic. Bible books such as Daniel and Ezra evidence such influence with both books containing both Hebrew and Aramaic.
Additionally, as the Jewish teachers and scribes (Ezra being the prime example) worked to preserve the Hebrew pronunciation of the Hebrew letters in the manuscripts of God’s words that they faithfully copied. The Jewish scribes came to adopt the Aramaic alphabet in the process, being that it had come to be widely used throughout the Babylonian empire and in the lands surrounding Israel. By the days following the return of the exiles from Babylon, the Jews spoke more Aramaic than Hebrew, and so the text of the Old Testament, though still being a Hebrew text, came to be more copied using the Aramaic script that was learned during their sojourn in Babylon.
Now why this little historical lesson? Because in the opening text of today’s post, Ezra the scribe is reading the Torah or scroll containing the first five books of Moses to the returning exiles in Jerusalem. Ezra is preaching God’s Word to an eager crowd who, for the first time in seventy years, were hearing the scriptures being read aloud and publicly explained. Undoubtedly as Ezra read the Hebrew text, the explanation would had been most likely given in Aramaic to the people, since that was the language they spoke.
Imagine hearing those words as a Jewish exile, and then Ezra sending out assistants to the crowd, including yourself, to hear the explanation and if need be, the Aramaic to those who were used to that language. The great festival too which the text mentions is the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorates God’s faithfulness to their Jewish ancestors during their journeys through the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula.
Nehemiah enables the crowds to begin applying the translation, interpretation and preaching of the text read by Ezra. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read – “Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” What is the response of the people to the preaching and application of God’s wonderfully translated and interpreted words? Nehemiah 8:12 explains – “All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” (NASB)
God in His providence enabled His word to be easily translated, transmitted, preached and taught Even though the people of Ezra’s day may had possessed limited knowledge of the Hebrew, God had in His providence ordained the preaching and teaching of His Word to be read, explained and applied. Even in the process of disciplining His people, God had orchestrated the international scene of that day to adopt the Aramaic language that happened to be closely related enough to the Hebrew. Why is that significant? Because God knew that when the Jews returned back to the land of Israel, they would need to re-learn the Words of God and the similarities between Hebrew and Aramaic were close enough to enable the continued preservation of the text of scripture and the preaching thereof.
Conclusion: The relationship between translation, interpretation, preaching/teaching and application
From the small discussion above and the examination of Nehemiah 8, we have seen the vital link that exists between a proper understanding of the Biblical text, preaching and application. We can note by of conclusion the following points of application:
1. The Word of God was revealed in original languages that were meant to be translated into other languages that could be rightly interpreted, preached and applied by those preaching in the languages of the people.
2. God in His providence preserved His word in the copying process and translation efforts of scribes and translators
3. The task of preaching and teaching is to observe the text in other translations. If possible, the original languages should be accessed through either word studies or directly studied by God’s men in order to bring the people in as close of contact as possible with the words of the Holy Ghost. The preacher’s task is to: interpret the text; explain the text to listeners, exhort listeners to apply the text and then go and live the text.
4. Application of the text will include internal transformation and outward conformation to the text of scripture as so empowered and led by the Holy Spirit. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)