Sounds like: ga’dohl (adjective) and ga’dahl (verb)
Well, we’ve hit a milestone. Gadol will be the 100th Hebrew word that I’ve attempted to unravel… that’s 100 Sundays of posting! I have 116 wonderfully devoted and kind-hearted people who have graciously allowed me to bombard their email with each new posting every week. Also there are 126 different countries that have, at one time or another, taken a peek at hebrewwordlessons.com, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. I realize this is small potatoes in the big blogging world, but I also believe that there can be great mightiness in tiny things… and so I carry on!
For interest’s sake, here is a countdown of the top 5 most popular Hebrew Word postings:
And the most popular posting (by more than double):
1. Satan: Adversary is not a Name, which (at the time of writing) had 666 views (I kid you not) since its initial posting in June.
Although I’m happy people have responded well to the posting on Satan/the Adversary, I really wish people were equally (or more) interested in the words Messiah or Salvation, or my personal favourite, Carry/Bear/Lift.
And it appears that very few people are interested in the Biblical Hebrew words sweet (matowq), sand (chol), and snow (sheleg)… but I suppose they aren’t high on the list of theological buzz words (although maybe they should be!).
And so that takes us to this week’s word: GADOL! In Israel, today, this has become almost a slang word… tossed around there just as much as we say “awesome, eh?” here in Canada. If an Israeli teen saw a movie that they loved they would likely say it was gadol… it was awesome, epic, larger than life, super impressive, stunning, and so very cool.
And honestly, that’s pretty much what it meant in Biblical times. Gadol meant epically “GREAT”. There was also a more literal word for awesome, derived from the word to fear or to be in awe (yareh), but today we’re going to focus in on gadol. You will, however, see both words in Deuteronomy 10 where we read that YHWH was (and is) great, mighty and awesome:
“For YHWH your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great [ha-gadol], the mighty, and the awesome [w’ha-nowra] God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear YHWH your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great [ha-g’dolot] and awesome [ha-nowraot] things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now YHWH your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
Of course the word great is all over the Bible… and to go over every instance where the word shows up would be almost like reading the whole Bible itself! But if we break the Bible down to its simplest elements you can see where the word gadol really shines.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… and the first thing described as great was the lights in the sky (Gen.1:16) and, later, the great sea creatures (Gen.1:21). Interesting that the creation of humans was never described as great. Of course, they were particularly not great when they chose to become gods themselves, rather than follow God’s single commandment (“do not eat of the tree…”). This decision that Eve and Adam made, meant that the world was thrown out of order and YHWH had to make a plan to put things back in order.
YHWH: “I have made the earth, the men, and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power [b’kokhi ha-gadol] and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight.”
Through His great power, God chose a set of people to become a great nation. From that one nation YHWH would put the world back in order and save all the nations of the earth.
Genesis 12:1-3 (See also Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
Now YHWH said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation [l’goh gadol], and I will bless you, and make your name great [wa’a’gadalah sh’meka]; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
God’s plan to re-order the earth would come through the family of Abraham and the line of the great Jewish king, David.
God made a Covenant with David, announcing that his throne would endure forever and his name would be great:
2 Samuel 7:8-9, 12-16
“Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name [shem gadol], like the names of the great [ha-g’dolim] men who are on the earth…
…When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a Father to him and he will be a Son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.’”
And so through the line of Abraham and David, salvation would come. But this great nation of Hebrew people were also great sinners. Over and over they turned against the God who saved them from slavery in Egypt, who saved them from Philistine domination, who saved them from Assyrian annihilation, and on and on it goes. Eventually, YHWH had enough:
Great Sin & Great Anger
“All the nations will say, ‘Why has YHWH done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’“ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of YHWH, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them. Therefore, the anger of YHWH burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and YHWH uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great [gadol] wrath, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.’
This was not surprising. The nations could clearly see why God was so angry with His covenant people. When you’re disrespectful to your God, you should expect the worse. God didn’t owe anyone anything, but Ezekiel, who lived during the time of the Babylonian invasion, hoped for more from His God:
As they were striking the people and I alone was left, I fell on my face and cried out saying, “Alas, Lord YHWH! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?”
Then He said to me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great [gadol bim’od m’od], and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘YHWH has forsaken the land, and YHWH does not see!’ But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads.”
Later Ezekiel cried to God in despair:
Then I fell on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Alas, Lord YHWH! Will You bring the remnant of Israel to a complete end?”
And God responded:
“I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord YHWH.
Great Guilt and Great Compassion
Thankfully YHWH was, and is, a God of great compassion and lovingkindness. After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and dragged the people into exile, God had compassion on His people and they were able to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, now in ruins, and the city walls. Ezra admitted their great guilt and praised God for His grace:
“Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt [b’ash’mah gadolah], and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day. But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from YHWH our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.”
Isaiah also shared this good news in his writings. Here YHWH recalled another time where He showed great compassion:
Isaiah 54:7-10 (see also Zechariah 1:12-17)
YHWH: “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion [u-v’rakh’amim gadolim] I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” says YHWH your Redeemer.
“For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says YHWH who has compassion on you.
So the Hebrew people walked a long dusty road of slavery and redemption (from Egypt to the Promised Land), exile and freedom (to Babylon and back to Jerusalem) and invasion and subjugation (Greek and Roman domination). Alexander the Great had pushed his way into Israel and the Jews became culturally saturated with Greek ideas and lifestyle. The Greek influence shook up Jewish culture, religion, language and land. There was a great division between the Judeo-Greek elite (Hasmonean dynasty) with their Temple-controlling Sadducees, and the Torah scholars/teachers of the common people, known as the Pharisees. These two groups were sworn enemies, and in an attempt to defeat each other, they weakened the territory, allowing the Romans to, essentially, storm right in.
All this lead right up to the time of Yeshua ben Nazareth (Jesus of Nazareth) in the first century. With such intense political turmoil the hope for the Messiah may have been stronger than ever. We know, from the reaction that Yeshua (Jesus) received, that people were keenly aware of the prophetic references to the Messiah found throughout the Tanakh.
Great Light of the Great Messiah
The first time the word gadol (great) was used in the Bible it was in reference to the sun and the moon, the great lights in the sky. Interesting that Yeshua took the first great found in the Torah and announced that he was “the Light” of the world:
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
Seven hundred years earlier Isaiah announced the coming of the Great Light:
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light [ore gadol]; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them…
…For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will accomplish this.
The Messiah would be the Great Light, He would also be the Great Priest.
In Hebrew culture the Temple was the centre of Jewish life. The top Priest, often referred to as the “High Priest” literally meant the “Great Priest” (ha-cohen ha-gadol):
“Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua [YHWH is Salvation] the son of Jehozadak [YHWH is Righteous], the high priest [ha-cohen ha-gadol]. Then say to him, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of YHWH. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of YHWH, and He who will bear the honour and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’
The counsel of peace would be under the authority of a Priest/King… a crowned priest, sitting on His throne. In Psalm 2 YHWH spoke of His Anointed Son, installed as King upon the holy mountain of Zion:
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against YHWH and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of YHWH.”
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship YHWH with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Although we could read this as David being the son, this also lines up with countless examples of prophetic poetry found in the Bible… YHWH’s Son is from the line of David, and although David stands as king, it would be through his seed that the prophetic Priest-King would redeem and rule over all the earth.
YHWH anointed His Son to be king in Zion, but YHWH, Himself, was often referred to as a great God and a great King:
Psalm 95:1-6 (see also Psalm 47:1-2)
O come, let us sing for joy to YHWH, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For YHWH is a great God [ki el gadol YHWH] and a great King [u-melek gadol] above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before YHWH our Maker.
The Messiah was to be YHWH’s Anointed One, anointed as King on the earth. When the claim was made that Jesus was King of the Jews, the people knelt down, not in reverence, but in mockery:
Matthew 27:11, 27-31, 35-37
Now Jesus stood before the governor [Pilate], and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.”
…Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.
…And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
The author of the letter to the Hebrews clearly placed Yeshua (Jesus) as the foretold, Messianic, enthroned priest:
Therefore, since we have a great [Greek: megan] high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The Great Plot Twist
Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) was not exactly what the people were expecting. Drowning under the oppression of the Romans, the Jewish people were waiting for their conquering Messianic Priest-King. Their Messiah would judge Rome, wipe them out and return the glory to Israel and to the Temple. But this was not the plan. He wasn’t there to save the people from the Romans or glorify the Temple… He was there to save them from the finality of death. Rome was a small snippet in history; conquering them wasn’t all that important. Conquering death was epic… awesome… and GREAT!
Yeshua: “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
Yeshua was the Great Priest and YHWH’s Anointed Great King, and He showed His Priesthood and Kingship by being nothing like the kings and priests of earth. His definition of greatness explained it all:
Matthew 20:20-28 (see also Mark 10:35-45, Luke 22:24-27)
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men [Greek: megaloi] exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great [Greek: megas] among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Greatness, according to Yeshau, was lowliness and humility. This was not the human definition of greatness, but the Yeshua’s definition. To be a great human was serve other humans in love and humility.
Later in Matthew’s gospel account, Yeshua broke down the hypocrisy of human leadership (those who thought they were great) and redirected the purpose of authority from power and prestige, to servanthood and humility.
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honour at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest [Greek: meizon] among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
This was the GREAT Biblical plot twist: YHWH’s Anointed Priest-King was to be a Servant King and a Priest living in humility… and all who followed Him would walk the same path. Yeshua said, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). Was this really redemption? Was this what it meant to be saved?
Our GREAT God
Throughout the Scriptures the word GREAT was most commonly attributed to God. Over and over we read that YHWH’s name was great (1 Samuel 12:22, 1 Kings 8:41-43, Psalm 99:1-3, Jeremiah 10:6, Ezekiel 36:23, Malachi 1:11) and that He was, and is, The Great YHWH, greatly to be praised:
Psalm 96:1-6 (See also: 1 Chronicles 16:23-27)
Sing to YHWH a new song; sing to YHWH, all the earth. Sing to YHWH, bless His name; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is YHWH and greatly to be praised [ki gadol YHWH, um’halal m’od]; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but YHWH made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Yeshua was the good tidings of Salvation that the Psalmist spoke about; His very name meant Salvation. Through YHWH’s lovingkindness, He would save humanity and re-order the earth which spiralled out of control the moment Eve and Adam took a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Yeshua’s sacrifice on the cross crushed chaos and death, and put life and order back on track.
There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.
For You are great [ki gadol ata] and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O YHWH; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name. I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify Your name forever. For Your lovingkindness toward me is great [gadol], and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Yeshua didn’t conquer Rome, He conquered Death. He hung on the cross but He was not defeated by it, and because of His sacrifice we cannot be defeated by it either. Sheol (the grave) cannot hold us down.
Lately I’ve been listening to Molly Skaggs version of the song “Ain’t No Grave” a lot, and these lyrics drive the point home:
Oh, there was a battle
A war between death and life
And there on a tree
The Lamb of God was crucified
And He went on down to hell
He took back every key
He rose up as a lion and He set all captives free!
Yeshua walked out of the grave and we can follow. God is Great and you are free!
Next week: Teach