My soul delights in reading the word of the Lord in the original,” wrote Joseph Smith about his study of Hebrew. Donald W. Parry (BA ’85, MA ’86), professor of Hebrew, agrees. Using a few Old Testament terms, Parry shows how Hebrew can increase scriptural understanding.
Jehovah Elohim, “Lord God”
“Lord God” in Hebrew is YHWH Elohim or Jehovah Elohim. The –im at the end of Elohim indicates a plural word (see also the Hebrew cherubim, seraphim, urim, and thummim). Elohim literally means “gods.” Some non-LDS biblical scholars maintain that Jehovah originates from the Hebrew “to be” verb (but a causative form); thus Jehovah Elohim, some scholars assert, may be translated “He will cause to be Elohim,” meaning, “He will cause gods to be.” For Latter-day Saints, this literal translation of “Lord God” is significant because of our doctrine; the translation signifies that the Lord is a creator of gods or the idea that females and males in mortality can become like God in eternity. “Lord God” is found hundreds of times in the Old Testament.
Go’el haddam, “redeemer of blood”
Numbers 35, regarding the six cities of refuge, contains a number of foreshadowings that point to Jesus Christ and His Atonement. One foreshadowing is the Hebrew go’el haddam, which literally translates as “redeemer of blood” (see Num. 35:19, 21, 24, 25, 27; but the KJV reads “revenger of blood”). Go’el is the same word for “redeemer” found elsewhere (for example, Isa. 41:14; Jer. 50:34; Ps. 19:14), which refers to the Lord. A careful study of the role of the “redeemer of blood” in Numbers 35 reveals much regarding Jesus Christ, our divine Redeemer.
Dagah, “female fish”
Jesus spoke of “the sign of the prophet Jonah” and then compared Himself to Jonah (see Matt. 12:38–41); there are several Hebrew terms in Jonah 1–2 that put forward types and shadows of Jesus. One type that is often overlooked, perhaps because it is lost in the translation, pertains to the great fish that swallowed Jonah. The word for fish here is feminine—dagah—rather than the oft-used masculine (see Jonah 2:1). In the scriptures there are many females and female animals that typify Jesus Christ, in part because of their life-giving qualities. The female fish in the Jonah narrative, too, had such a quality when she gave Jonah life after he existed in her belly for three days and three nights (see Jonah 1:17; 2:1, 10).