Word Study: If Good Be Unto You



I Chronicles 13:2: “ And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If [it seem] good unto you, and [that it be] of the LORD our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren everywhere, [that are] left in all the land of Israel, and with them [also] to the priests and Levites [which are] in their cities [and] suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: (3) And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul.”

In I Chronicles 13 David is now made king over all of Israel. Of course Samuel anointed him as king many years earlier, but now the nation has come together and ratified his position. Recently, our nation elected a new President and the nation anxiously sat back awaiting to hear what his new agenda would be. What would he do in the first 100 days of his Presidency? A couple days ago he addressed the joint Congress as 42 million Americans tuned in to listen to his agenda.

I have no doubt that once David ascended to the throne and became king of Israel that the nation sat back waiting to hear and see what would be their new king’s agenda. Would he raise an army, would he tax the people to support this army? People looked to their king with pretty much the same expectations that we look to our President. Ultimately we want him to protect us.
So what was David’s first order of business? To bring the ark into Jerusalem so they could consult God, something that not been with their last king.

You almost sense the hesitation on David’s part. He is not sure just how this was going to go down and how his nation would accept this idea of coming together from every tribe to worship God and to consult Him before any major decision. I am sure we can guess how that would go down in our nation if a president suggested such a thing.

What stands out for me are the words; “If (it seems) good unto you.” Some translations say: “If you approve…” Others will render this as: “If you so desire…” In the Hebrew he said: “’Im ‘alekem tov.” Literally, this means, “If upon you good.” The word tov is key here. Everyone translates it as good, but what is good. From the context it would seem as if David is asking, “If it is favorable to you,” or “If you are in agreement.” But I ask again, what is good. Tov is such a common word in Hebrew. In English grammar we have superlatives, good, better, best, with good being the lessor. I never understood why our translators chose the lowest on the superlative spectrum for tov which is just simply good. “Whosoever finds a wife finds a good thing.” Proverbs 18:20. Sounds like if a man finding a wife is like finding a descent used car. Come on, why not say he finds an excellent thing, or a great thing or the best thing, but a good thing? Again at creation when he created the world he saw that it was good. Well, not the best, not perfect, but acceptable. But our translators doggedly stay with that word good for tov.

Hebrew does not have a comparative or superlative like we do in English. Instead, if it is a verb it would carry a Piel stem to intensify the verb. If a noun the word will be repeated. Many Hebrew scholars believe Hebrew has a paragogic, which is the addition of a Hei or Nun to intensify a word. There is still debate on that issue. Nonetheless I would expect David to say: “If you think this an excellent idea…” rather than just a good idea. If you say good idea there is a tendency for naysayers to say: “I don’t see the value, but it won’t hurt, yeah go ahead.” I think David would have wanted whole hearted support not a grudging support. So he would have asked: “Who thinks this is an excellent idea?” But you know what? I don’t think he even asked that.

My brother and I are collaborating on a book and I am hoping this collaboration will extend to consultation in the future. You see, my brother is a linguist with Wycliffe Bible Translators. So many of our modern English translations seem to lack the input of trained linguist. You see a linguist doesn’t just learn to speak a language, he analysis a language. He pays close attention to the way words are used in order to clarify concepts and to eliminate confusions arising from the mystifying preconceptions about a language. When dealing with a dead ancient language like Hebrew it is not enough to just look a word up in the back of your Strong’s concordance or to see how it is used in other portions of Scripture. You need to consider the culture, the context and the emotion of the era. We read Psalms 23:1 and find the Lord is our Shepherd. Do we really know what a Shepherd is? Most of us are city dwellers and many have never even seen a sheep face to face, let alone met a shepherd. Yet, in ancient times sheep and shepherds were as common as that business man who lives next door to you. We have to take on the mind, heart and emotion of an ancient person to really capture the true meaning of a shepherd.

Tov is a good example of the need for a linguist. I asked a rabbi who was not only a master of the Hebrew language but also a trained linguist about tov. He asked me a question; “What makes an orchestra good?” I answered: “They are all in harmony and in tune with each other.” The rabbi nodded and said, “That is tov, not just good but why it is good.”

So David was not just asking the people if they thought bringing the ark to Jerusalem and consulting God on all issues was a good idea, but he was asking they were in harmony or in tune with him on that idea. If they were of one accord, not just in agreement but in total agreement.

When God created the world He did not see that it was good, acceptable, He saw that it was in harmony with Him. A man finds a wife; he does not find something that is adequate. He finds someone that he is in harmony and/or in tune with who is also in harmony or in tune with God.