Raphah: RELAX, and Let Go

RELAX: Raphah, verb, (Strong’s 7503).

Root: רפה

Sounds like: Rah-fah

A friend asked me a question last week: 

Hi Sarah- I recently read an Instagram post about the Bible text “Be still and know that I am God”. They said that the original Hebrew word that is often translated as ‘rest’ or ‘be still’ actually means something like ‘let go of’ something. “Let go of your worries, cares, and fears. Let go of your control, and rest in Me”. Does that make sense to you?

The verse my friend was referring to was this:

Psalm 46:10-11

[YHWH:] Be still [ha-r’pu] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted over the earth.”

YHWH of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

I responded to the question as best as I could, in a short amount of time, but I felt that there was more to the Hebrew word translated as “be still”

Raphah, I suggest, would be better translated as “relax”: 

“Relax and know that I am God”.

Why “relax” instead of “be still”? Those are actually very different actions.

To be still is to stop, but to relax means something entirely different. In Judges (19:9) we read, “Behold now, the day has drawn [raphah] to a close…” Literally the phrase is “the day is relaxing into evening”. The day didn’t stop; it relaxed into darkness.

Pharaoh accused the Israelite slaves of being too relaxed. They didn’t stop their work, they were (in his opinion) just slow and lazy:

Exodus 5:17-18 (See also Exodus 5:8, Proverbs 18:9)

But he (Pharaoh) said, “You are lazy, very lazy [ni-r’pim attem ni-r’pim]; for that reason you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to YHWH.’ So go now and work; for you will be given no straw, but you must deliver the quota of bricks.”

Pharaoh held a tight grip on His Hebrew slaves. He accused them of being lazy and then he heaped more burdens upon them. This was not the way to keep them in his grasp. Overburdened, they rebelled against Egypt and their leader, Moses, demanded Pharaoh to, Let my people go!

Pharaoh would not relax his grip, until the ten plagues culminated in the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son. It was a devastating end for the hard-hearted Pharaoh.

A few decades later, Joshua also accused his fellow brothers and sisters of being too relaxed (lazy):

Joshua 18:3

…Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “How long will you put off [be lazy about: mi-t-rapim] entering to take possession of the land which YHWH, the God of your fathers, has given you?”

This wasn’t a full stop; they were just taking a slow time moving forward to where God wanted them to go. Joshua merely wanted them to stop relaxing and get a move-on!

Relaxed Hands

Biblical Hebrew was a very conceptual language. It often used sense imagery. For example, imagine someone with clenched fists; when they relaxed, their hands would go limp. In the Bible, raphah was often associated with the Hebrew word for hands, yad, but that frequently gets lost in translation:

Joshua 10:6-8

Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua at the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not abandon [do not relax your hand to: al te-rep yadeka] your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us.” So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the valiant warriors. And YHWH said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you; not one of them will stand against you.” 

The Joshua 10 passage expressed the conceptual idea of a relaxed grip of a hand, but most translations have dropped the word hand (yad) and changed relaxed to abandoned. In the passage the men of Gibeon were fearful because the Amorites were about to attack them, so they sent word to Joshua saying  ‘do not relax (te-rep) your hand (yadeka) towards your servants’… In other words, they called out to Joshua to come to their rescue.

So Joshua went to the men of Gibeon’s camp at Gilgal and there YHWH spoke to Joshua. It was YHWH, not Joshua, who would hold onto the people and save them. YHWH would relax His hands on the Amorites and send them into Joshua’s grip. Literally, “into your hands [v-yadeka] I have delivered them (your enemies) [n-tatim]”.  With His hands YHWH hugged His people; and with His hands He delivered them from evil. 

Do Not Relax Your Grip on Me

Relaxing your hands was synonymous with letting go. There are times to let go and times to hold on tightly. Love was a great motivator for holding on tight and not letting go:

Songs 3:3-4a

“The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, and I said, ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’

Hardly had I left them when I found him whom my soul loves; I held on to him and would not let him go [would not relax my grip: w-lo a-r’pennu]….”

Love, of course, would be the same motivator for YHWH. He loved His people and promised to never let them go:

Joshua 1:5-6

No one will be able to oppose you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not desert you [not relax the grip: lo ah-r’p’ka] nor abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

This was a strong belief about the character of YHWH- He would not relax His grip on those He loved:

Deuteronomy 4:31 (See also Deut. 31:6, Deut. 31:8)

For YHWH your God is a compassionate God; He will not abandon you [relax His grip on you: lo ya-r’p’ka] nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

YHWH loved those who loved Him in return. But those who turned against YHWH and disobeyed Him would have to pay the consequences. 

David blatantly and grievously disobeyed YHWH by siding with Satan; even after David’s advisor, Joab, begged him not to bring this guilt upon their heads, David over-ruled him and followed Satan’s lead. This could not go unpunished. YHWH had to express the consequences of what following Satan would do to His people. But YHWH would not act like a vengeful god; He gave David a choice. He could chose three years of famine, three months of losing in battle, or three days of plague at the hand of YHWH. David, wisely chose the third option, perhaps banking on YHWH’s mercy:

1 Chronicles 21:14-15a (see also 2 Samuel 24:16)

So YHWH sent a plague on Israel; seventy thousand men of Israel fell. And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, YHWH saw and was sorry about the catastrophe, and said to the destroying angel, “It is enough; now relax your hand [hey-rep yadeka].” 

Regardless of David’s grave failing, God forgave him. He learned the lesson; there are dire consequences when you side with the Adversary. He remembered the message from the Torah and he shared it with his son and heir, Solomon:

1 Chronicles 28:20

Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for YHWH God, my God, is with you. He will not relax [ya-r’p’ka] nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of YHWH is finished.” 

YHWH’s default always was (and always is) to forgive. No matter how far away we stray He always is ready to bring us back, into His open arms, and not let go.

Let Me Go!

But sometimes we think we want to be let go. Job, who suffered probably more than anyone else in the Bible, felt that YHWH had gripped him too harshly:

Job 7:19-21

“Will You never turn Your gaze away from me, nor leave me alone [nor relax your grasp on me: ta-r’peni] until I swallow my spittle?

Have I sinned? What have I done to You, Watcher of mankind? Why have You made me Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?

Why then do You not forgive my wrongdoing  and take away my guilt? For now I will lie down in the dust; and You will search for me, but I will no longer exist.”

Job did not understand YHWH’s character, and accused Him of being unforgiving. No wonder Job wanted God to relax His grip and let him go. Job’s friends tried to tell him that these disasters were his fault, and that was a heavy weight to carry.

Job knew that he was innocent. He had done nothing wrong to deserve the terrible things that had happened to him. And although his friends did everything they could to convince him of his guilt, he did not relax his grip on his declaration of righteousness and innocence:  

Job 27:5b-6

[Job:] “Until I die, I will not give up my integrity. I have kept hold of my righteousness and will not let it go [w-lo ah-r’peyha]. My heart does not rebuke any of my days.”

Job had no idea that it was the Adversary who had attacked him and caused him grief, not YHWH. He wanted YHWH to relax his hand and let him go, so he would suffer no more, but he would not let go of his claim of innocence. YHWH would not let go of Job. Instead, YHWH held tightly onto Job, raised him up and rewarded him with double of what he lost.

Image by Ümit  Bulut (Unsplash.com)

Going Limp; Losing Courage

Raphah meant to relax. The Bible tells us to relax and trust in God (Psalm 46), and the Bible also tells us that God will not relax when it comes to His followers. He will hold on tightly onto them and not let go.

But raphah also meant going limp or slack, as a way to describe someone who had lost their courage:

2 Samuel 4:1

Now when Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died in Hebron, his courage failed [went slack: wai-yi-r’pu], and all Israel was horrified.

Proverbs 24:10

If you show yourself lacking courage [If you go limp: hi-t-rapita] on the day of distress, your strength is meager.

Limp hands cannot hold onto anything; they cannot fight back, they just let go. The metaphorical concept of the word raphah, as limp hands representing lack of courage, lent itself well to prophetic poetry:

Isaiah 13:6-8, 11

Wail, for the day of YHWH is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Therefore all hands will fall limp [yadayim ti-r’penah], and every human heart will melt.

They will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labour, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame…

…So I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their wrongdoing; I will also put an end to the audacity of the proud and humiliate the arrogance of the tyrants.

Azariah was a prophet during the reign of King Asa, who had inherited his father’s kingdom of Judah, which had been corrupted with idol worship. Azariah encouraged King Asa to reap the rewards of turning the kingdom back towards YHWH:

2 Chronicles 15:1-8

Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: YHWH is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you abandon Him, He will abandon you. For many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without the Law. But in their distress they turned to YHWH God of Israel, and they sought Him, and He let them find Him. In those times there was no peace for him who went out or him who came in, because many disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every kind of distress. But you, be strong and do not lose courage [do not let your hands go limp: w-al yi-r’pu y’dekem], for there is a reward for your work.”

Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke, he took courage and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and from the cities which he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He then restored the altar of YHWH which was in front of the porch of YHWH.

Unfortunately, the turning back to YHWH, during the reign of king Asa, did not last forever. Eventually Judah became so corrupt that YHWH would not hold back the inevitable Babylonian invasion. Ezekiel prophesied that the Israelites would lose their courage (go limp) at the oncoming attack:

Ezekiel 7:17-19 (See also Ezekiel 21:1-7)

All hands will hang limp [Kal hai-yadayim ti-r’penah], and all knees will drip with water. They will put on sackcloth and shuddering will overwhelm them; and shame will be on all faces, and a bald patch on all their heads. They will fling their silver into the streets, and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to save them on the day of the wrath of YHWH. They cannot satisfy their appetite, nor can they fill their stomachs, because their wrongdoing has become a cause of stumbling.”

Jeremiah also prophesied that the Babylonians were coming to destroy them, and it caused the hands of the people to go limp; they lost their courage:

Jeremiah 6:22-25

This is what YHWH says:

“Behold, there is a people coming from the north land, and a great nation will be stirred up from the remote parts of the earth. They seize bow and spear; they are cruel and have no mercy; their voice roars like the sea; and they ride on horses, lined up as a man for the battle against you, daughter of Zion!

We have heard the report of it; our hands are limp [raphu yadenu]. Anguish has seized us, pain like that of a woman in childbirth.

Do not go out into the field, and do not walk on the road; for the enemy has a sword, terror is on every side.”

Eventually Babylon would experience the fear they had bestowed upon others. They made the hands of the Israelites go limp with terror, but now a kingdom was coming to destroy Babylon and now it was the king of Babylon’s turn to go limp with terror:

Jeremiah 50:41-43 (See also Jeremiah 49:24)

“Behold, a people is coming from the north, and a great nation and many kings will be roused from the remote parts of the earth.

They seize their bow and javelin; they are cruel and have no mercy. Their voice roars like the sea; and they ride on horses, drawn up like a man for the battle against you, daughter of Babylon.

The king of Babylon has heard the report about them, and his hands hang limp [w-raphu yadaw]; distress has gripped him, agony like a woman in childbirth.”

YHWH promised to hold tightly onto His people; He would not let go of them. The prophet Zephaniah announced the good news… YHWH would take away His judgement and they would be fully rescued; their hands would no longer go limp in fear:

Zephaniah 3:14-17

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, Israel! Rejoice and triumph with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!

YHWH has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, YHWH, is in your midst; You will no longer fear disaster.

On that day it will be said to Jerusalem: “Do not be afraid, Zion; do not let your hands fall limp [al yi-r’pu yada’yik]. YHWH your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.

He will rejoice over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

Hold Tightly to the Word!

YHWH holds onto us and we are to cling to Him… and one of the best ways to do that is to hold onto His Word through the Scripture:

Proverbs 4:13-15

Take hold of instruction; do not let go [te-rep]. Guard her, for she is your life.

Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil people. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.

In Proverbs 4:13 we’re told to “take hold of instruction; do NOT let go!” In other words, do not relax your grip on the Word of God, but DO relax, knowing that YHWH is the King of the Universe.

Yeshua: Relax and Let Go. I’ve Got You Covered.

The word raphah makes a powerful statement when you consider Yeshua’s (Jesus’) march to Golgotha. His hands did not go limp, but they were nailed rigidly to a cross. He let go and laid down His life. The imagery here is rich, and worth exploring.

Yeshua’s hands were nailed to the cross; He could not embrace His followers while He suffered in death and they could not embrace Him in return. Undoubtedly His followers went limp with fear as they watched Him be captured, tried, and executed. They lost their courage because the man they thought would save them, died. Where was their redemption? Where was their freedom? Where was their Messiah?

Little did they know that after Yeshua died He would go to the grave, but He would not stay there. He rose up, and with his Hands, He unlocked the gate to Heaven so that all could enter in. YHWH never relaxed His grip on His people; He always held them close, waiting to bring them home, and Yeshua was the Messiah, YHWH’s Anointed One, to lead them there.

Psalm 138:7-8

[David:] Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will reach out with Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.

YHWH will accomplish what concerns me; Your faithfulness, YHWH, is everlasting; do not abandon [do not relax: al terep] the works of Your hands.

We are the work of His hands. We are His image bearers and now it’s our turn to remind the world of YHWH’s words:

Psalm 46:10-11

[YHWH:] Relax [ha-r’pu] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted over the earth.”

Relax and let go of your worries, He’s got us covered!

Next week: Learning Jeremiah 10:10a

2 thoughts on “Raphah: RELAX, and Let Go”

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