Arming Our Children

January 23, 2024

Alert: Too many translations!

Whenever we find a word that is translated differently by various Bible translations there is a good chance that the Hebrew word in question is worthy of study. This makes sense. If a word is straightforward and easy to translate in context, all Bible translations will be similar. A variety of translations tells us that we must stop and dig deeper.

The first word of our verse is a perfect example of a word that is translated in numerous ways. Here are some of the translations that I found:

You shall repeat them

You shall teach them diligently

You shall impress them

You shall rehearse them

Recite them

You shall inculcate them

What does the word really mean?

The Hebrew word here is veshinantam. We have translated this word as “And you shall teach them.” It should not be surprising to find a single Hebrew word translated into five English words since Hebrew uses many prefixes and suffixes that become entire words in English. Here is a breakdown of the word:

ve – And

shinan – teach

ta – you

m – them

The verb root of the word is ShNN. This verb appears only nine times in the entire Bible. The problem with our verse is that this is the only time that this verb means “teach,” “recite,” “repeat” or anything else we find in the translations of our verse. Everywhere else this verb appears it means “to sharpen.”

Here are a few examples:

Hide me from the counsel of the wicked, from the tumult of evildoers, who sharpen [shanenu] their tongues like a sword, aiming their arrows with venomous words. – Psalm 64:3-4

Whose arrows are sharpened, [shenunim] and all their bows bent; – Isaiah 5:28

Not the word for “teach”

There is no ambiguity regarding the meaning of the root ShNN. It means “to sharpen.” If the intent of our verse is only to say “you shall teach them,” the Bible would have used the verb for “teach,” as it does in a similar verse in Deuteronomy:

You shall teach them to your children to speak of them while you are sitting in your house, while you are walking on the way, while you are lying, and while you are arising. – Deuteronomy 11:19

In that verse, the verb root is LMD. This is the Hebrew root meaning teach or learn. It appears over 80 times in the Bible and has this meaning in all of them.

To sum up this point: LMD is the verb for “teach.” Why didn’t the Bible use this word in Deuteronomy 6? Why did it choose a word that means “sharpen” instead?

ShNN = Sharpen a weapon

I mentioned that the root ShNN – sharpen – appears in the Bible eight times in addition to our verse. In seven of these eight verses, what is being sharpened is a weapon, either a sword, an arrow, or the sharpness of the tongue of a snake, an obvious metaphor based on the sharpening of an actual weapon. The last of the eight uses of the root ShNN to refer to a person pierced by a sword or knife (Psalm 73:21).

To sum up: our verse here in Deuteronomy 6 instructs us to teach God’s word to our children. Instead of using the Hebrew word for “teach” or “instruct,” the Bible uses the word for “sharpen.” The Bible specifically chose a word that implies the sharpening of a weapon. In fact, an etymologically accurate translation of this verse could be:

And you shall sharpen them like a weapon to your children, and you shall speak of them while you are sitting in your house, and while you are walking on the way, and while you are lying down, and while you are rising.

Arm your children with faith

This peculiar choice of word must draw our attention to a deeper lesson that lies beneath the surface.

I would like to suggest that the Bible is telling us not only that we must educate our children towards faith in God, but what the goal and purpose of that education ought to be. Our goal in educating our children is not only to give them information but to arm them. They must be able to go out into the world with sharp weapons that can be used to defend their faith and attack falsehood and evil wherever they encounter it.

This passage began with the words “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Now the Bible is telling us that these words must be sharpened. They must become a weapon that can be skillfully employed as needed by our children as they face the inevitable challenges to their faith. Practically speaking, this verse instructs us to give our children the tools they need to respond.

Challenges to faith may be encountered either in the home or in the outside world. Our children must be armed to meet these challenges and defeat them. They must be sharpened.

This article was taken from Rabbi Pesach Wolicki’s new book, Verses for ZionVerses for Zion offers a profound exploration of devotional Bible teachings, intricately woven around the land, people, and God of Israel. Each page is a journey through history and faith, illuminating biblical narratives with insightful interpretations and spiritual wisdom. Click here to order your copy of Verses for Zion now.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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