I do find the original Bible languages fascinating.  Sometimes when you dig around in Strong’s or similar, you find out all sorts of extra insights that don’t always easily translate into our English Bibles.

A great example is to check out all the Hebrew words for child or youth.  Every season of childhood seems to have its own word, and when you look at their meanings what emerges becomes a really useful take on child development.  So here is a little meditation on the meanings of some of those Hebrew words.

Age of Learning

Up to around 13 years was known as the ‘Age of Learning’, when our hearts are poured into.  It is not just parents and teachers who take responsibility to pour into the hearts of our children, it should be all of us. A really good growth question to ask ourselves is, what am I pouring into the hearts of others, especially children and youth?

Taph referred to a child around the ages of 8-11, and literally it means, child clinging to his mother.  That makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  That a child that age has a dependence on his or her mother.  There is no hard and fast rule about whether mothers should go out to work when they have young children, it is the choice of that family and lets not interfere.  However I do think that we should be thinking long and hard about the best ways in which we, in our churches, can offer our support to mums of young children at this very important time in their lives.  It’s all part of that pouring into their hearts.

Around the age of 11-14, the Hebrew words celebrate something different happening.  Elem or its female equivalent Almah means ‘a child becoming firm’.  This is the age at which our children begin to assert their own individuality and independence from their parents.  It is followed from about 14-17 by naar, youth, literally ‘shaking free’.  In our modern age we sometimes call it ‘teenage rebellion’!  That’s what David’s brothers thought he was doing when he met them at the battle front with food from their father, being rebellious.  Goliath probably wished he had stayed at home, too.  in that story, 1Samuel 16v18 refers to him as naar.

Jewish youths of this age were sometimes thought of as warriors in training, and that maybe should give us a clue about what is going on with our teenagers.  What if, instead of calling it rebellion, we were to accept that they are becoming firm in their own identity, and that entails learning to deal with some of the battles that they are beginning to face in life.  What better place to practice being a warrior (metaphorically of course) than in the safe environment of a loving family who will still love them unconditionally?  Who knows, we may even have a move or two that we can teach them!  Just a thought.

Age of Living

What they are becoming is a bachur, a ripened one, the Hebrew term for a young warrior aged 17-21.  By this time they have entered what was called the Age of Living, where we begin to live out what has been previously been poured out into our hearts.

Age of Giving

It wasn’t until they were aged 30 that a Jewish man was thought of as finally becoming a mature adult.  This was, of course, the age at which Jesus began his public ministry. Once a mature adult, we enter the Age of Giving, where we both take responsibility to pour into our own hearts, and to pour into the hearts of others.

Those are some of my thoughts, taken from my perspective as a mother of a 19 year old ‘warrior in training’.  What are your thoughts – whose heart are you pouring into, and are you pouring into your own heart?

The Hebrew

zehrah: seed; practitioner of righteousness (Isaiah 44:3)

bakar: first born (Jeremiah 4:31)

yanek: suckling (Isaiah 11:8)

gamul: weaned child (Isaiah 28:9)

taph: child clinging to his mother (Esther 3:13)  

‘owlel: child; boy (Psalm 8:2)

elem: child becoming firm (Isaiah 7:14)

naar: youth; servant (I Samuel 16:18; Proverbs 1:4; 7:7; 20:11)

yathowm: fatherless child (Psalm 10:14; 82:3; 146:9)

yeled: son, young man (Isaiah 9:6)

bachur: the ripened one; a young warrior (Isaiah 31:9)