Revisiting Courage: AMATS (Strong’s 553)
It is wonderful to be able to study Hebrew words and get a greater understanding about the message behind the text. When you look at the Hebrew, in depth, it often gives a fuller picture than our modern English translations can give us. Understanding Hebrew really gives us a fuller picture of the beauty and complexities of the Tanakh (Old Testament).
But Hebrew words are often not as tidy as we’d like. We can’t always translate a Hebrew word into one, all encompassing, English word.
Take for example, amats, most commonly translated as courage… but in Hebrew amats is so much more than our English understanding of the word.
In English courage is always a positive thing. We never describe people as having “bad courage” but instead we may think of people as recklessness or being a “daredevil”.
Whereas courage, in English, is always such a positive word, in Hebrew amats can go either way. For example:
But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for YHWH your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate [w-immetz], in order to hand him over to you, as he is today. And YHWH said to me, ‘See, I have begun to turn Sihon and his land over to you. Begin taking possession, so that you may possess his land.’
Amats is like putting on your courage-armour and going for it… knowing full well there is great risk involved. In this case, YHWH armoured up the king of Heshbon’s heart, in order for the Hebrew people to conquer the land and not merely walk through it. It’s the same concept as when YHWH hardened the heart of Pharaoh in Exodus 4:21, (although the word amats wasn’t used in that instance).
YHWH allowed the enemies to put on their courage and march forth against the Hebrew people in order to show His dominion over them. They stubbornly attacked with courage, and YHWH courageously defended His people. It was a showdown, and YHWH was always the victor.
Shielding yourself in order to step forward for YHWH is right and good, and it’s what is expected of us, as followers of YHWH and bearers of His image. But behaving like the king of Heshbon and Pharaoh was not what courage under YHWH should ever look like. Hardening ourselves in order to reject or tear down others is wrong.
“If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which YHWH your God is giving you, you shall not harden [lo t-ametz] your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall fully open your hand to him, and generously lend him enough for his need in whatever he lacks.
Gaining courage to hurt others is a twisted way to armour up! God intended us to be courageous in order to bring about His Kingdom to earth. We are to bear His image courageously and help those in need. We are to put on the armour of God to do God’s will, not our own.
Strength vs Courage
In many Old Testament passages the translators drop the word courage and use strength instead. This occurs the very first time (and only time in Genesis) that we see the word amats:
Isaac prayed to YHWH on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children; and YHWH answered him, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?”
So she went to inquire of YHWH. And YHWH said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people will be
stronger more courageous [yeh-emats] than the other; and the older will serve the younger.”
When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob (heal-grabber); and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
What did it mean for Jacob to have more “amats” than Esau? Was he more physically fit than Esau?… No, that wasn’t the point. Instead, YHWH was explaining to Rebekah that one of her sons would be more likely than the other to armour up under God’s direction and march forward.
Be Strong and Courageous
Under YHWH’s direction, we should always be courageous! Over and over YHWH’s people are told to “Be strong and courageous” [hiz’qu w-im’tsu]:
- Deuteronomy 31:6–7
- Deuteronomy 31:23
- Joshua 1:7, 9, 18
- 1 Chronicles 22:13
- 1 Chronicles 28:20
- 2 Chronicles 32:7
Although there were two different words used to denote strength and courage in these passages, amats has still been frequently translated as strength. For example:
[YHWH:] ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God.
strengthen encourage you [immats’tika], I will also help you, I will also uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Being strong is one thing, but taking that strength and pushing it forward is the Biblical understanding of amats (courage). In Isaiah 41 YHWH promised to give us the courage to take our strength and move forward with it, to bring forth His Kingdom to this broken world.
Let’s look at how Isaiah 41 continues:
[YHWH:] “Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonoured; those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish.
You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them, those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent.
For I am YHWH your God who takes hold of your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”
YHWH is the Great Encourager, because with Him we will not fail… He will always help us. Whatever comes our way can be overcome, because even if we die we still get to go home to YHWH; we still get to enter His Kingdom and live in peace and joy. The world may judge us as a failure for not being rich, successful, powerful, and physically dominant, but that is not what success looks like to YHWH.
In a world that celebrates wealth, power and physical perfection, we need courage to live outside the box of “worldly success”. Being “strong and courageous” in YHWH’s eyes is to be champions of compassion to the poor and the weak and down-trodden.
Those against YHWH can be courageous; they can harden themselves and step forward, but they will fall and they will shatter.
Nahum 2:1-2, 10
[To Ninevah:] The one who scatters [God] has come up against you.
Keep watch over the fortress, watch the road; bind up your waist, summon all your *strength* courage [ammetz].
For YHWH will restore the splendour of Jacob like the splendour of Israel, even though destroyers have laid waste to them and ruined their vines…
…She is emptied! Yes, she is desolate and waste! Hearts are melting and knees wobbling! Also trembling is in the entire body, and all their faces have become pale!
In other words: Go ahead Ninevah, summon all your courage, but it’s not going to matter. In the end, they stood against YHWH and their courage abandoned them; their armour was shattered and they were left pale and trembling.
When we feel shattered with doubt, remember that YHWH is the Great Encourager. He can bind you with courage, like protective armour around your broken heart. Only with His help can you truly move forward. Take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, and walk. YHWH has your back!
To read the original posting on Courage, click below:
Next week: HOWL/WAIL