Yaqar: Life is PRECIOUS

PRECIOUS/costly: yaqar. (Verb: 3365, Masculine Noun: 3366, Adjective: 3368).

Root: יָקָר

Sounds like: ya’car

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy gets watched at our house a LOT… like, multiple times a year. So naturally the word “precious” immediately conjures up an image of Gollum possessively desiring the One Ring. The Ring, to Gollum, was the most valuable thing in his life… it was also the most costly thing to his life. It was ultimately his doom.

In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, great wealth was the icon of preciousness. To the dragon, it was his great hoard of treasure, to the dwarves it was the jewel under the mountain… the Arkenstone.  Tolkien likely named the gem from the Old English word for “precious stone”, eorcnanstan, which is found in the text of the epic poem, Beowulf. Thorin valued the Arkenstone above all else. It was the most valuable thing in his life… it was also the most costly thing to his life, as overwhelming greed and pride was the cause of his downfall, which lead to his death in the Battle of the Five Armies.

In the Bible, the word precious, was often associated with such costly gems. When Solomon built the Temple he decorated it with precious stones:

2 Chronicles 4:5-7

He overlaid the main room with cypress wood and overlaid it with fine gold, and ornamented it with palm trees and chains. Further, he adorned the house with precious [y’qarah] stones; and the gold was gold from Parvaim. He also overlaid the house with gold—the beams, the thresholds and its walls and its doors; and he carved cherubim on the walls.

Yaqar has most commonly been translated as precious, but it also could mean costly, rare, splendid and weighty, and these descriptors were frequently attributed to jewels, gems and wealth. But these trinkets of His own creation were not what YHWH considered precious.

Wealth is not Precious

The King of Tyre was one of these men who considered wealth precious, and YHWH chastised him harshly:

Ezekiel 28:11-17

Again the word of YHWH came to me [Ezekiel] saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord YHWH:

“You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious [y’qarah] stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you.  On the day that you were created they were prepared.

You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.

By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendour. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, that they may see you.”

This king was draped in gems, but his desire to gather wealth and deem it as precious was abhorrent to YHWH. This passage remains quite controversial. The description of the king of Tyre comes across as an earthly representation of the Adversary, the divine being who rebelled against YHWH. It’s a hot debate in many circles, the point here, though, is that the worldly emphasis on wealth was not what YHWH considered precious. Humans, in their misguided understanding of the word, have attributed preciousness to materialism. Just as Golem desired the Ring, humans have desired Things and Wealth. 

The Revelation of John addressed this misguided thinking:

Revelation 18:11-17a

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her [Babylon], because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’”

So, if beautiful possessions weren’t precious to YHWH, what was?

One of the attributes that YHWH did consider most precious, and at the same time rare, was wisdom.

Precious Wisdom

Proverbs 3:13-22

How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious [y’qarah] than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her.

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast.

YHWH by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up and the skies drip with dew. My son, let them not vanish from your sight; keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck.

Wisdom is precious because it leads to wonderful things: life, peace, honour, and riches. Riches extracted from misery and war, dominance and slavery, will be harshly removed by YHWH, but for those who seek out wisdom, it will lead to riches beyond our understanding. 

Of course there’s nothing more wise, in all of creation, than YHWH Himself, and His interaction with each soul that He created is quite profound:

Psalm 139:16-18

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

How precious [yaq’ru] also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

The Hebrew word for thoughts also means plans. YHWH’s plans for each person is vast and amazing. In detail He has considered every part of His creation and He knew from the beginning that He wanted to save them. YHWH saw His creation as precious and worth saving:

We are Precious in His Sight

Isaiah 43:1-5a

But now, thus says YHWH, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.

For I am YHWH your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious [yaqar’ta] in My sight, since you are honoured and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you…”

To be precious in God’s sight is quite amazing… we are far more valuable than jewels and gold, silk and spices. And when we feel our life is worthless, we must remember that with every bit of suffering YHWH promised to rescue us. Our blood is precious and will be redeemed:

Psalm 72:12-14

For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious [w-yeqar] in His sight.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash.com

Life is what was precious to YHWH… and little human lives, made in the reflection of YHWH, held a special place in God’s heart. Yeshua noted that innocence of a precious child is how we all need to come before YHWH:

Luke 18:

And they [the crowds] were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

Regardless of our age, and all our failings and all of our sufferings, His plan all along was to redeem the blood of all the living:

Psalm 116:4-17

The cords of death encompassed me and the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of YHWH: “O YHWH, I beseech You, save my life!”

Gracious is YHWH, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate. YHWH preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, for YHWH has dealt bountifully with you. For You have rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before YHWH in the land of the living. I believed when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” I said in my alarm, “All men are liars.”

What shall I render to YHWH for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of YHWH. I shall pay my vows to YHWH, oh may it be in the presence of all His people. Precious [yaqar] in the sight of YHWH is the death of His godly ones. O YHWH, surely I am Your servant, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid, you have loosed my bonds. To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of YHWH.

Humans are notorious for trying to cheat death. We are all trying to escape our fate… that a certain date on the calendar will be our last, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. As grim as that sounds, the truth is, we have to stop fighting for these bodies to live forever. It’s not the plan God has for us:

Psalm 49:7-13

No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him— for the redemption of his soul is costly [w-yeqar], and he should cease trying forever— that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay.

For he sees that even wise men die; the stupid and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses are forever and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the way of those who are foolish, and of those after them who approve their words. 

Life is precious, but we can’t hold onto it on our own. Redemption of the soul is costly and only the blood of the Messiah could, and would, truly redeem us.

The Precious Blood of the Messiah

Our bodies will all die, but it is our souls that are rescued from death. YHWH provided His Son named “Salvation” to save us. Precious to YHWH was the blood of those who have suffered. To varying degrees we have all suffered, but thankfully the Messiah doesn’t judge by degrees. He shed his blood on behalf of all humanity, from the poorest to the richest.

But God also suffered in this exchange. He loved His creation so much that He willingly sacrificed what was most precious to Him, His Son. It was the only way death could be conquered. When Adam and Eve (human, life) ate the garden’s forbidden fruit, they were ultimately choosing to be gods on their own terms, rather than partners with God.  In that moment they made a covenant with death. The Messiah was sent to break that covenant.

Isaiah 28:15-18a

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception. Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly (precious) [yiq’rat] cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.  He who believes in it will not be disturbed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place. Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand…

Yeshua (Jesus) knew this passage well. And he was very aware of the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, which they ate in disobedience. Near the end of his ministry Jesus told a parable about a landowner who rented out his vineyard. But the renters got greedy and when the landowner sent his son to check out the status of his land, the renters killed him to take his inheritance for their own. Jesus then asked the listeners, 

Matthew 21:40

“Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

Unable to see themselves in the story, they replied:

Matthew 21:41

“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”

With their answer Yeshua knew they didn’t get it at all, and so he didn’t react to their response, instead he said this:

Matthew 21:42-43

“Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief cornerstone; this come about from YHWH, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.”

Humanity, to Yeshua (Jesus), was precious. He saw that, as YHWH’s image bearers, we were valuable and potentially splendid… but humans would also be the most costly thing to his life. They would ultimately be the reason for (and cause of) his death.

Humans started off by choosing the forbidden fruit, but Yeshua said that the Kingdom of God would be given to anyone person producing the fruit of it. We are called to be producers of God’s goodness… and we should see that life is the most precious gift. Jesus gave up that gift and paid the price of death, so that we could live in the Kingdom regardless of our great failings.

How much do we value Yeshua? How precious is the Messiah to us?

The Magnificent Price

There’s a weird and wonderful story in the book of Zechariah which foreshadowed the Messiah’s death. YHWH called on Zechariah to pasture a flock of sheep about to be slaughtered. He was given two staffs: one called Favour and the other called Union. But in a short period of time he had a dispute with the shepherds and quit his job as the head of the pasture:

Zechariah 11:10-14

Zechariah: I took my staff Favour and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of YHWH. I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!” 

So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then YHWH said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued [yaqar’ti] by them.” So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of YHWH. Then I cut in pieces my second staff Union, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

This is a strange story, but it makes an interesting point. Thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32) and the payment given to Judas for betraying Jesus (Matthew 26:15, Matthew 27:3,9). In Zechariah’s vision YHWH announced that thirty pieces of silver was the magnificent price of which humans valued Him. In other words, it was how precious the flock considered YHWH to be. To them, He was equivalent to a slave; and although many would consider that an insult, to Yeshua it’s exactly what he was meant to be.

Matthew 23:10-12

Jesus: “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Yeshua, King of all the Earth, humbled himself like a servant, and would be exalted up onto the cross. He knew what he was walking into when he entered Jerusalem for the Passover… he was walking into his own execution. Before he even arrived, he was anointed and prepared for burial by a woman who understood his worth:

John 12:1-8

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly [precious] perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 

But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Judas, who associated preciousness with wealth, did not understand the weight of what was occurring in front of him. The preciousness of the perfume wasn’t in the monetary cost of it (which was all that Judas desired), it was the heaviness of its symbolism. This was symbolic of Yeshua’s funerary burial rites. Mary anointed, with oil, Yeshua as the King who would die for humanity. His blood and death was precious and the weight that he bore was heavier than anyone could imagine. His sacrifice was for love.

There is one thing that we should consider precious, and it is not gold, or jewels, the arkenstone or wealth… it is the love that YHWH has for you and me! There is nothing more precious in the universe than God’s love:

Psalm 36:5-7a

Your lovingkindness, O YHWH, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O YHWH, You preserve man and beast. How precious [yaqar] is Your lovingkindness, O God! 

Next week: clean/pure