SIGN: owt. Feminine Noun. (Strong’s 226).
Sounds like: oht/oat
When I was in my early twenties, one of the biggest hits of the day was a song called “The Sign” by the Swedish Europop band Ace of Base. That song went to number 1 across Europe and throughout the world, including Canada, US, and Israel. I never really thought about the lyrics much, but with this week’s Hebrew word being SIGNS (owt) I thought I’d take a peak at what the words of the song actually were. I was pleasantly surprised to find a significantly thoughtful question within the lyrics. The catchy chorus reads:
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign.
No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…
But where do you belong?
The Bible, as an epic narrative outlining the story of humanity, asked this very question: Where do you belong?
They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs [meh-owtowteka]; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy. You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; the stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth.
It turns out we belong exactly where we are… God’s beautiful, created, earth. But creation took a left turn (or right turn if you prefer) off the path that we were meant to travel. Eve and Adam made the choice to know and taste good and evil; essentially they wanted to become all knowing… like a god. For the most part, humanity has tried to be gods ever since. We want to be at the top, in control, untouchable, and knowing everything. In our drive for epic success, we have only succeeded in becoming epic failures.
But YHWH did not give up on His people and He made a plan to save us. He also peppered the entire Biblical story with signs that pointed the way.
The Passover as a Sign
There are an awful lot of signs in the Bible (more than I’m able to address in one posting), but the most dramatic story, filled with signs, happened in Egypt:
YHWH: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders [et owtowtay w-et mowp’tay] in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am YHWH, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”
The ten plagues, were all signs that this was the God of all gods… and He was a Champion for His people. He would not let them remain in Egypt as slaves; He had greater plans for them:
Then YHWH said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine [owtowtay] among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs [w-et owtowtay] among them, that you may know that I am YHWH.”
These ten signs (blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock disease, boils on humans & animals, thunder/hail/lightning, locusts to destroy crops, three days of darkness, and death of the firstborn) stood as a lasting testament for all who would come afterwards. These signs were a continual reminder that YHWH was the Forever King who would always stand up for His people.
The final sign (death to the firstborn) was the most devastating and significant of all the ten signs. Blood and sacrifice put an end to the whole, horrific, event. But God did not abandon His people in that final, terrifying, evening. Following God’s instruction they placed a sign on their door frames… a sign which would allow them to be spared.
The people were to take an unblemished male lamb or goat, sacrifice it at twilight, and put some of the blood on the door frame of their homes.
‘For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am YHWH. ‘The blood shall be a sign [l-owt] for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
It was the final sign of the ten plagues that convinced Pharaoh that he could no longer deny YHWH’s demands. He had to let the Hebrew people go. The death of his own son broke him (Exodus 12:29-33), and he knew he could not defeat this God of the Hebrews.
An annual remembrance of this day would come to be known as the Passover. The Tanakh outlined how this annual celebration was to be remembered:
And it shall serve as a sign [l-owt] to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of YHWH may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand YHWH brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.”
The 10 plagues and the march out of Egypt would be the most talked about event in the Tanakh. Over and over the Biblical writers recalled the signs that paved the way for them to leave Egypt:
Deuteronomy 6:22, Deuteronomy 7:17-19, Deuteronomy 11:3, Deuteronomy 26:8, Deuteronomy 29:2-3, Deuteronomy 34:11, Joshua 24:17, Nehemiah 9:10, Psalm 78:43, Psalm 105:27, Psalm 135:9, Jeremiah 32:17-22
I’m not positive that list is complete, but it does make the point: the Jewish people were never to forget the signs that paved the way for them to escape bondage and live in freedom.
The Exodus also set the stage for the rest of the Biblical narrative. They may not have been in bondage to Egypt anymore, but they were chained up with sin. Like Egypt, it would take a sacrifice to save the people. They had gotten out of Egypt by way of a sacrifice, now they would have to deal with their sin through sacrifice… and signs would lead the way!
Covenants and Signs
Each Covenant that God made with His people had a primary sign:
In the Noahic Covenant, God promised the sign of the rainbow as a reminder that He would never fully flood, and wipe out, the earth again (Genesis 9:11-17).
In the Abrahamic Covenant, God asked His people to provide a sign of commitment to the Covenant through circumcision (Genesis 17:6-11).
In the Mosaic Covenant God asked His people to keep the Sabbath as a sign of their commitment to the Covenant (Exodus 20:8-11, Exodus 31:12-17, Ezekiel 20:12, and) Ezekiel 20:20: ‘Sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign [l-owt] between Me and you, that you may know that I am YHWH your God.’
In the Davidic Covenant God made a promise that God’s Anointed One would come from David’s line (2 Samuel 7 & Psalm 132). The Messiah would come as the ultimate sign: He would be the final sacrifice to save the people. He would dwell among humanity and they would call him, “God with us”:
Then YHWH spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign [owt] for yourself from YHWH your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test YHWH!” Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign [owt]: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
Matthew account of Yeshua’s birth verified Isaiah’s prophecy:
…An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus [Yeshua- from verb “to save”], for He will save His people from their sins.”
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” which translated means, “God with us.”
Signs of the heavens
It is interesting to note that the word owt (signs) shows up very early in the Hebrew scriptures:
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs [l’owtowt] and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.
These great lights had important jobs to do for the planet (separate day from night, mark out the seasons, and provide light for people), but they were also called to be for signs. Certainly the sun, moon, and stars have had the most dramatic impact as signs:
Hear the word which YHWH speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says YHWH, “Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens [u-meh-owtowt ha-shamyim] although the nations are terrified by them.
Within the very first few lines in the Bible, we we have been taught to look to the heavens for signs, so it should come as no surprise that YHWH chose a star, as a sign, to point to His Anointed One.
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and learned from them the exact time the star had appeared. And sending them to Bethlehem, he said: “Go and search carefully for the Child, and when you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great delight. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
However, in Luke’s account, it wasn’t the star that shone as the ultimate sign, but a baby in a manger. Yeshua was the sign:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Messiah the Lord. This will be a sign [Greek: semeion] for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
Throughout Yeshua’s ministry as an adult, he performed all sorts of signs. These signs (synonymous with miracles) were what drew people to Yeshua in the first place. But to Yeshau, the most important sign was his own impending death and resurrection:
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs [semeia], but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign [semeion], so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.”
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
There was no greater sign that Yeshua could give… He would die, and live again, and all those who believed in Him, He would raise up on the last day.
Show me a Sign
People wanted signs. They loved signs. It was dramatic and exciting, and when they got a taste of it, they wanted more. But they were enjoying the signs without understanding the message.
In the Tanakh (Old Testament), Gideon faced war, and God was on his side! But lacking faith, Gideon asked the following: “If now I have found favour in Your sight, then show me a sign [owt] that it is You who speak with me.” (Judges 6:17)
In fact, three times Gideon asked for a sign from God… proof that it was really God and that He would do as he promised… and three times God gave him a sign. But testing God was a dangerous game.
Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah) was constantly bombarded with demands for signs. The Pharisees and Sadducees asked Him for signs, but not to be amazed. They wanted to test Him:
Matthew 16:1-4 (See also Matthew 12:38-40, Luke 12)
The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign [semeion] from heaven. But He replied to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs [semeia] of the times? An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign [semeion]; and a sign [semeion] will not be given it, except the sign [semeion] of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.
What was the sign of Jonah that He spoke of? According to Matthew 12:40 Yeshua said, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
For three days and three nights Jonah was in the belly of the fish. After being swallowed Jonah prayed:
Jonah 2:2-6, 9-10
“I called out of my distress to YHWH, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O YHWH my God…
…But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from YHWH.” Then YHWH commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
Yeshua paralleled His upcoming death and resurrection to Jonah’s descension into the deep and his rising up from the pit. In a similar fashion, Yeshua would not remain in Sheol but he would rise up and be the Salvation He was named to be.
Many Signs. One Man.
And it didn’t take long for the high Jewish authorities to want to kill him. He put their security at risk. The signs/miracles that Yeshua performed were drawing large crowds of followers and the Pharisees and Sadducees felt their own power over the people draining away:
Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs [semeia]. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”
Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.
In their plot to kill Him, they hired one of His own disciples to give a sign which would identify and betray Yeshua. It was the kiss of death:
Then He (Jesus) came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”
While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign [semeion], saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.
Seeing is Believing… sometimes
Signs were often the way that people connected to God. Seeing signs would help them believe:
…Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which YHWH had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs [ha-owtowt] in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that YHWH was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.
People may have believed because of the signs, but they did not worship YHWH until they understood that YHWH cared for them and wanted to help them. It was the personal connection that caused them to really worship God. It’s not really worship if you don’t feel a personal connection to YHWH, your Creator. Worship without connection is merely ritual.
Signs also helped you remember an event! And when individuals were given signs undoubtedly they never forgot them!
Aaron was given a sign (sprouting staff) that he was to be the head priest to the people (Numbers 17); Saul was given signs (a succession of chance meetings) when he was chosen for kingship (1 Samuel 10); Hezekiah was given a sign (a reversing shadow) that YHWH would heal him (2 Kings 20, Isaiah 38). Although, undoubtedly, Aaron, Saul and Hezekiah would never forget these amazing miracles and encounters, the truth was that the Hebrew people, as a group, often forgot YHWH’s promises and the signs that accompanied them.
At one point, yearly in Yeshua’s ministry, He lamented: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” (John 4:48). But sometimes people were blind to even the most amazing signs. YHWH, at one point, said to Moses: “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” (Numbers 14:11).
The Hebrew people were yearning for the Messiah and when Yeshua came they were torn. Was this the Messiah? He certainly stunned them with signs/miracles. When He boldly proclaimed that He had been sent by God, many believed Him, based on the signs that he had publicly displayed:
But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, “When the Messiah comes, He will not perform more signs [semeia] than those which this man has… will He?”
Yeshua was the sign that fulfilled of the Davidic Covenant… He was the Messiah from the line of David who came to take the sins of humanity upon Himself on the cross. He died, and was buried and on the third day He left the sins behind in the grave and rose up to go back to his Father. Because of that sacrifice, we can all face YHWH at the end of our days, free from all the chains and junk that we bear.
Signs of the End
But the story didn’t end there. This may have been the pinnacle of the story, but there’s an afterward that warrants attention. Often when people think of signs, they are looking for hints to the End of Time. What would be God’s great and final plan for this planet? What would the end look like?
You do get hints in the Bible; Yeshua spoke of it in Luke 21:5-36 and the book of John’s Revelation is filled with end time symbolism. But it’s not the point of the story. The point is, death was defeated, and we are no longer slaves to its icy grip. We are saved. Whatever comes in the future, all we need to know is that it will be a good and triumphant ending. YHWH is in control and YHWH will prevail.
The final Covenant of the Tanakh identified that we would be fully redeemed:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares YHWH, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares YHWH. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares YHWH, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbour and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares YHWH, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Redemption and freedom meant that we could come face to face with our Creator, and at the very end of days all mankind would bow before YHWH!
Isaiah 66:18-19a, 22-23
“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign [owt] among them…
…For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares YHWH, “So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says YHWH.
We can live in comfort knowing we are redeemed and saved… all the signs have pointed to it. Now we must live, learn, worship, give thanks and unite our hearts together. And it’s okay to continue to watch for signs, but only in knowing that the greatest sign has been accomplished.
All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name. For You are great 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, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol…
…Turn to me, and be gracious to me; oh grant Your strength to Your servant, and save the son of Your handmaid. Show me a sign [owt] for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, O YHWH, have helped me and comforted me.
Yeshua is the sign. He is our help and He is our comfort; He is the light and the way out of the depths of death. Yeshua said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12). Ace of Base told us on the dance floor, in the ’90s, that no was going to drag us up into the light where we belonged. We have to pick ourselves up and walk in the Light. We’ve read about the signs: we can choose to go to the grave or live in the presence of YHWH. Where do you belong?
Next week: Shepherd