WORD STUDY – THE CHASM – (Aramaic) הותא
Luke 16:26: “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that [would come] from thence.”
This chasm business must really be important as Jesus devoted a whole verse to it and it is included in the Gospels. In Semitic storytelling, even with true stories there is a dominate theme. I am sure we are familiar with this story of the Rich man and Lazarus. The Lazarus dies and goes to Abraham’s Bosom which is a Jewish expression of heaven and the rich man dies and goes to hell where he is tormented in flames of fire.
I have been reading stories from the Semitic culture for over forty years and I find the Western world is putting the emphasis of this story on the wrong thought. We emphasize the torment of the fire and flames. But as I read this trying to hear what the disciples heard, I am hearing something much different than we in the Western world hears. To us in the Western world an eternity if fiery flames is the worst thing that can happen. If I were that guy in those flames I would not be asking for a drop of water, I would be screaming, “Get me out of here.” At least to me to say the rich man was asking for one drop of water tends to take this out of reality and put it into a metaphor and as such I don’t blame our Jehovah Witness friends for saying this is just a parable. I mean there are problems like how can a spirit feel physical pain and the flames of a fire? If he does have a physical body why is it not immediately consumed by the fire? Ok, I know all things are possible with God and He can create a body that a fire cannot consume for eternity. I am not here to argue whether or not hell is a place of fires. What I am trying to say is that Jesus was teaching that hell is a place that is worse than eternal fires.
So what can be worse than an eternity in fires? That is hard for us to imagine but I have discovered that as I continue on my now eighth year of seeking the heart of God I am coming to realize that there is something far worse than eternity in a fiery hell. I believe the emphasis of this story is not on the fires but on the chasm. The real torment is a separation from God.
What brought me to this passage was when I was tracing the use of the Aramaic word lehav which is a word for a whirlwind. It also has the idea of a flame in the sense of the whirlwind motion. If you stand by a large fire you can feel what is almost like a whirlwind of heat emanating from the flame. The Semitic idea is not so much the flame as it is the winds of the flame like a whirlwind which is going around in a circle repeating itself.
I found it fascinating that the Hebrew equivalent for lehav is levah which is built on the same root as lev or heart. A levah can be translated as a flame but I cannot help but think the disciples did not noticed the word play by their Rabbi Jesus. Not only was he speaking of a flame but the real torment was the continual replaying of guilt in one’s heart.
Yesterday, my dispatcher and I got into a serious heated discussion over the fact that it would take me over an hour to an hour and a half to get to a location and my dispatcher insisted I could do it in just a half hour. I got angry and accused my dispatcher of calling me a liar and not believing me. Today I am wrecked with guilt. I keep thinking about the incident, playing it over and over in my mind. I pray for forgiveness but I am still kicking myself for having a melt down. Give me a few hours and day or two and the chance to apologize and I will accept the fact that God’s forgiven me and will not be experiencing that levah.
It is interesting that the rich man asks for Lazarus to bring him the water. In a way it is like humbling himself to this man that he scorned and looked down upon in life, but he has a funny way of doing it. He does not ask Lazarus to forgive him, he makes no apology, he only ask that Lazarus comes down and gives him some water, like he expects Lazarus to serve him. He shows no sign of repentance, he seems to be just as arrogant as ever. While at the same time he shows concern for his family.
Abraham then says that there is a great chasm that can’t be crossed. This word chasm is a very interesting in Aramaic, it is the word hathah which is a word for self-existence and self absorption. In other words this chasm between God and man is man’s heart filled with himself. This rich man is so self absorb that he cannot even see his own sinfulness. This chasm or self existence is sima which means fixed, locked into place, there is no changing them in this life or the next. I had an elderly person ride my disability bus yesterday and the whole trip she was talking about how everyone is so bad, the government is bad, the town is bad, the people are bad and McDonald’s uses fake meat. But she thinks she is just a fine, Godly woman who loves everyone. She cannot see her own prejudice and hate.
God does not send people to hell, they send themselves, they chose that life. They allow their hearts to be so hardened that they will not seek God to give them a new heart which is what Jesus died on the cross to accomplish. They are so filled with poor me or I am so wonderful they do not see their own sinfulness and need of a Savior. It may be that Jesus was making a real play on words with levah flames and lehav repeating, repetition (of sins).
Oh and one other little play on words I believe Jesus was making is that lehav repeating, repetition (of sins) lacks only one letter to move from being a repetition of sins to something else. If you add an Aleph to the lehav making it le’hav it becomes to love. The Aleph represents God. You take God our of to love and you have a repetition of sin which is a hardened heart.
I believe the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a true story told by a master story teller. However, to really understand this story you have to realize that hell is far worse that just flames of fire, it is spending eternity repeating over and over your sins and living with the guilt of your sins. Once you die your self absorption becomes fixed and not even God can cross over that