Restoring Israel, Restoring God

February 25, 2024

It is impossible to read these verses at our time in history without reflecting on the events that have occurred in Israel over the last century. The Jews have literally returned to ruined cities, rebuilt and inhabited them; planted wine-producing vineyards, and created a flourishing agricultural industry in the modern State of Israel. 

Fortunes or Captives

The opening words of this passage, ve’shavti et shevut – “I will restore My people,” are difficult to translate precisely. In fact, a look at dozens of translations of this verse reveals that there is an almost even split among translators between two options:

Option #1: I will restore the fortunes

Option #2 I will return the exiles/captives

At issue is the meaning of the second word, shevut. The first word, ve’shavti, means “I will return” or “I will restore.” We will deal with this word soon.

I believe the translation of shevut as “captives” or “returning exiles” is imprecise, if not incorrect. Allow me to explain. The word shevut appears in 26 verses in the Bible. 20 of these refer to the restoration of the nation of Israel. Now certainly the restoration of Israel involves large numbers returning from “captivity” and “exile.” But consider the following use of shevut:

“The Lord restored the fortunes – shav et shevut – of Job when he prayed for his friends. And the Lord added to Job double of all that he had before.” – Job 42:10

This verse describes God restoring Job’s possessions and family situation at the end of the book, after his great suffering. The phrase shav et shevut is identical to the phrase here in our verse in Amos 9. Clearly, there were neither captives nor exiles returning to Job. 

In another use of shevut, Ezekiel describes the destruction and future restoration of the cities of Sodom and Samaria. The descriptions of the destruction of these cities make no mention of any exile. And yet he says:

“I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes – [shevut] of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them.” – Ezekiel 16:53

The word “daughters” here does not refer to people. This Hebrew word banot also refers to suburbs or secondary towns that surround a larger city. The subject is the future restoration of the destroyed cities of Samaria and Sodom in the redemptive era. While it is true that the inhabitants of Samaria were sent into exile along with the rest of Israel, Sodom was never sent into exile. The people of Sodom, as we know from the story in Genesis 19, were wiped out due to their wicked, sinful behavior. Ezekiel is using the restoration of Sodom as a paradigm of God’s full forgiveness of Israel and humanity in the future. To translate shevut as “captives” or “exiles” here would make the Sodom imagery incoherent.

The Hebrew word for “captive” is shavui; “captivity” is shevi. On the other hand, the verb root ShOV means “return” or “restore.” This is the basis for the disagreement about the meaning of shevut. Without getting too far into the weeds of Hebrew grammar, the word shevut, as a form of the root ShOV would translate best as, “the state of being fully restored.” 

To sum this up, the opening phrase of our verses in Amos 9, ve’shavti et shevut ami, is most accurately translated as “I will fully restore my people to their original state.”

God’s promise here, and elsewhere in the Bible, is not only to redeem Israel from exile, but to fully restore them. Why does this matter? Think about it. Full restoration means that there is no lasting damage, no permanent blemish in that which has been restored. The pain and suffering of the exile are completely erased. That is what God promises in these verses.

Who is being restored?

This brings us to the second issue with the opening phrase of our verses, the first word in the verse, Veshavti – I will restore / return.

I mentioned earlier that the word shevut appears 26 times in the Bible. Every single time shevut appears in the Bible, God is mentioned as the one who does the “restoring/returning.” The words “I will restore/return” or “He will restore/return” always accompany the word shevut. However, the Hebrew word that means “I will restore/return” is not always the same. And the difference is quite significant in the original Hebrew, while completely undetectable in the English. Allow me to explain.

In Hebrew grammar, there is a causative form of verb conjugation that does not exist in English. Take the following two sentences:

I will return home this evening.

I will return the book that I borrowed.

The word “return” has two different meanings. In the first sentence, the person who is speaking is returning. In the second sentence, the book is being returned by the person who is speaking. The second sentence uses the word “return” as a causative verb. The person speaking is causing the book to be returned. “Return” is something being done to the book. But in the first sentence, it is the person who is speaking who is returning.

In Hebrew, these are not the same word even though they share a root. There are innumerable examples of this phenomenon in Hebrew to English translation.

But here’s where things get interesting. In 17 of the 26 instances when shevut is used in the Bible, including here in Amos, the verb used to describe what God will do is “restore/return” in the non-causative form. In the other 9 appearances of shevut, the verb is, in fact, causative. Consider these two verses:

I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and I will build them as at first.Jeremiah 33:7

For behold days are coming – the utterance of the Lord – and I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will restore them to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they will take possession of it.Jeremiah 30:3

The word for “I will restore” in Jeremiah 33 is ve’hashivoti. This is the causative conjugation, meaning that the fortunes of Judah and of Israel are being restored by God. He is restoring them. This makes sense.

But in Jeremiah 30:3, the first “I will restore” is ve’shavti – the non-causative. The second “I will restore” in this verse is then back to the causative, ve’hashivoti. The key here is to understand the two Hebrew words that are both translated as “I will restore.”

Ve’shavti = I will restore (myself), “direct” conjugation

Ve’hashivoti = I will restore (something else), causative conjugation

Are you confused? Let’s sum this up. Across the 26 instances of “fortunes” being “restored” by God in the Bible, there are two words that are translated as “I will restore.” The direct conjugation is used for 17 of these. In the other 9, the causative conjugation is used.

Now, let’s be clear. In all 26 instances, we should expect the causative conjugation. After all, in all these verses God is restoring something to its original full state. The non-causative conjugation, implying that God is restoring Himself, appears incorrect. God Himself is not returning or being restored.

But perhaps this is exactly the point.

Only God fully restores

I mentioned that in every one of the 26 times that shevut appears, God is restoring something to its full, complete state. Think about that. In not a single verse in the entire Bible is there an example of a human being restoring something to its original full state. There is a powerful message here. God, and only God, can fully restore something that has been lost or broken. Shevut – the state of being fully restored, can only be accomplished by God.

The second point is that the direct, non-causative conjugation seems to imply that God Himself is being returned or restored as He restores others. There is an important theological idea here. When God restores something – Job’s life, the nation of Israel, the other nations mentioned in some of these verses, etc – God Himself is “restored” as well. 

God is perfect. He is perfection. All imperfections and brokenness in the world are the result of human iniquity and error. And yet, the flaws in the world that we yearn to fix are flaws in God’s world. God Himself, as it were, appears flawed or imperfect when the world itself is flawed and imperfect. When the broken parts of the world are restored, God, so to speak, is restored as well.

Let me put this another way. Many people lose faith because they look at the world and see all that is broken. They see the wicked succeeding, Israel in exile, disease and suffering, and a host of other problems and say, “Where is God?” They don’t see God because of the imperfections in God’s world. The more perfect the world becomes, the more visible God is to us. The restoration of all that is lost or broken does not only restore those nations or people, it restores God as well.

Only God has the ability to fully restore Israel and the world. And as He restores us, we see Him more clearly. His restoration of our world restores our awareness of Him.

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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 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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