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Word Study Wednesdays

God bless you and greetings in the name of Jesus Christ the promised seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15).

The usage of words may vary over time. Some words in the KJV don’t make sense when we read them because they mean something different than they did when the King James Version was written. Joshua 9:5 talks about clouted shoes. Today you might hear about someone with clout meaning someone with power or influence. However, when the KJV was written “clout” meant “patch.” How do I know? I looked it up in Webster’s New World Dictionary which gives an “archaic” usage meaning “to patch or mend coarsely.” Besides “archaic,” your dictionary may use “dialectal” (which means any form of speech considered as deviating from a standard speech) or “obs.” for obsolete, meaning it is no longer in use or outdated.

I Thessalonians 4:15 uses “prevent.” Today “prevent” means “to stop from happening.” Back when the King James Version was written it meant “to precede.” In my dictionary it does not say “archaic” or “dialectal” or “obsolete.” It simply says “formerly” followed by “precede.” Hebrews 13:5 has “conversation.” Today “conversation” means “talking together.” In 1611 it meant “manner of life” or “behaviour.”

However, we may also find words which have fallen out of use today, words that are no longer popular, words that are no longer used in conversation today. We may have a general idea of what they mean and how they were used, but our lack of familiarity with them causes vagueness. Today we will look at “woe,” the Hebrew oy and “alas,” the Hebrew hoy. In the Bible, oy and hoy are interjections: onomatopoetic,1 impassioned, expressions of grief and despair. They are cries of the profound loss and separation created by death. Jeremiah uses it when telling King Zedekiah about his com­ing death.

Jeremiah 34:4-5: [NLT]
But listen to this promise from the LORD, O Zedekiah, king of Judah. This is what the LORD says: You will not be killed in war 5 but will die peacefully. People will burn incense in your memory, just as they did for your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will mourn for you, crying, “Alas [hoy], our master is dead!” This I have decreed, says the LORD.” (See also I Kings 13:30; Jeremiah 22:18.)

Although hoy and oy have connections with burying the dead, they also show up in other contexts. In Isaiah 6, after pronouncing woes in chapter 5, Isaiah himself says in 6:5, “Woe is me!” It’s a scream of fright: Oy! Isaiah is staring death in the face, wondering if he is about to die. The New Living Translation perhaps comes the closest to approximating Isaiah’s words: “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

As Isaiah anticipates his death, one of the seraphim grabs a burning coal and touches it to his lips. Transformation! Isaiah is purified; he’s cleansed. He can now do God’s work. He responds to the voice of the Lord which asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” saying, “Here am I; send me.”

Hoy and oy are found predominately (68 out of 78 times) in the Prophetic Books. One of the prophets’ main functions was to call people back God. Therefore, they frequently forecasted impending doom to motivate the wicked to change their ways. Let’s be sure we don’t gloss over words like “alas” and “woe.” Because they have gone out of our everyday vocabulary and are no longer commonly used, they may lack the impact that they originally had when the prophets of old spoke them to God’s people. These onomatopoetic interjections were used to capture attention and focused it on disturbing events. Let’s focus ours on them as we read them.

1. Onomatopoeia is the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it. It is another example of the first tip we handled where the translation communicated the meaning, but neglected to communicate the impact that the original sound provided.