WORD STUDY – FORMED YOU – חול
Deuteronomy 32:18: “Of the Rock [that] begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee.”
This verse comes from the Song of Moses. God gave Moses prophetic instruction at the end of his life and to put it into a song that was to be passed on to Joshua who was to teach it to all the people and to pass it on to all the following generations. God knew the people of Israel would fall into idolatry and sin and this song was given as a reminder of what would happen to them when they did fall into idolatry and sin. He was giving the people of Israel fair warning.
They had no printing presses in those days so anything of real importance was given orally and committed to memory. By putting the message in a poem with a certain rhyme and meter and then to add a melody the message would stand a much better chance of remaining the true message than if it were just committed to memory and then recited. In just pure recitation you tend to add or subtract words where if it were in a certain rhyme and meter it would be difficult to substitute words, add or delete words or even change words. Look at Yankee Doodle, a song that is over 200 years old yet the words pretty much remain intact. The hymns of Isaac Watts such as When I Survey the Wondrous Cross are still sung today almost word for word from that which Isaac Watts wrote them. Had he just spoken the words in non-poetic and musical form the words would be long forgotten. Then again try to recite the words. You most likely can’t but if you sing them, they may suddenly come to memory.
In this Song of Moses God is expressing His heart, he shares His grief over Israel’s worship of other gods. In Deuteronomy 32:18 He shares an interesting thought. “You have forgotten the God that formed you.” Most modern translations say the God who bore you or created you or gave you birth. Yet there are a couple brave translations like the Jubilee Bible that say the God “who travailed for you” and the ISV “that awaited your birth.”
This is a classic example of how Western, technological, mathematical, precise 21st Century man translates the Bible. They seek the technical precise wording with little or no regard to the emotional context. Only the ISV and Jubilee Bible really attempt to offer some emotional context. The ISV shows a sense of anticipation over birthing us. Not the cold, unemotional words: gave birth. There was a sense of anticipation and joy over bringing us into this world. The Jubilee Bible expresses even more by saying God travailed over our birthing, there was both pain and joy in bringing us into the world. There was joy is anticipating our growing and maturing in our relationship with God and there was pain and sorrow over knowing that many would forsake Him and reject Him.
God could have used the words bara’ that he created us or ‘ashah to make us or form us. Instead he uses a strange word chol. Its root meaning does not express the idea of forming or making but it does in a secondary sense. Chol is basically to spin around in a circle. Things are made by spinning in a circle. You make bread dough by spinning it in a circle, you also separate things by spinning them in a circle like a centrifuge used by modern medicine to separate blood. Spinning in a circle has a tendency to make or form things. But that is sort of stretching the word chol to fit the context that the translator already formed in his mind.
This is why it is so important for individual Christians to study the Word of God in the originally languages so you can fit the word to the context that the Holy Spirit has given you and not context that some academic has conjured up in his mind.
Chol is Chawl in Aramaic. Let me share with you some of the usages of this word in the Jewish literature such as the Talmud, the Targum and the Mishnah. It is a word used for dancing, as dancing by spinning in a circle. Such a dance expresses joy. Have you ever seen pictures of a Jewish wedding where everyone is dancing by spinning in a circle. In its feminine form, holah, it represents a chorus of singers and dancers all just singing and dancing out of pure joy.
In this joyful celebration of people singing and dancing together they are binding themselves to each other. Hence chol has the idea of binding together. When something is spun around in centrifuge they are pressed together by the centrifugal force. When you spin in a circle things that are not tightly attached to you will not bind to you but separate from you. Hence chol has the idea of separating. It is used to express the idea of separating that which is bad from the good making something sweet and pure.
So you see there is more to the idea of chol than God just creating us, or forming us. He created us out of joy and celebration with dancing and singing. The day you were born God rejoiced and celebrated like any new parent. You can imagine God’s pain over every life He created that was terminated by abortion, how each abortion of a life that He created with such anticipation would break His heart. You can imagine his pain like that of any parent when their child rebels or destroys his life by foolish behavior. Yet chol also is a word used for forgiveness as spinning around in a circle is casting off all our sins. This is the process of being born again where another idea of chol is once we are free of sin we can bind ourselves to God. God anticipates this binding with much joy and celebration.
Or and there is one other thing about the word chol which is callously rendered as forming us, it is also the word for the Phoenix, the bird that was completely destroyed and then arose again from the ashes. Just as sin has completely destroyed us, God will again raise us up out of the ashes of sin.
There is so much behind this word and many other words in the Hebrew Bible that our modern translations cannot begin to share with us, we have to discover them for ourselves. I vow to God that until I take my last breath that I will tutor anyone who wishes to read the Word of God in the original language. I can do it in just a couple hours for an individual or an entire church, it is that easy and I believe God has made it that easy for He longs for us to see His great love that cannot be seen from just one translation of the Bible.
painting by Janice VanCronkite