Pictograms in the Hebrew alphabet

Session 5 – God’s Grand Design Seminar

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Transcript of “Introducing Pictograms” (Session 5)

Our last session covered the Hebrew alphabet, and I made the point that the Hebrew word for a miraculous sign from God is an “ot”. And the word for a letter of the Hebrew alphabet is also an “ot”. Aleph, Vav, Tav ... the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet with a vav in between.

Vav is a connecting letter. At the start of a word it usually means “and” in Hebrew.

I also made the point in the last session that I believe that every letter of the Hebrew alphabet points to Jesus. And it is Jesus who “connects us” to heaven. He is the connection between heaven and earth ... between spiritual and material. And in this word “ot” He connects from first to last, from beginning to end.

And that introduces the idea of pictograms ... the symbols behind each of the Hebrew letters. A pictogram is an icon ... it is a symbol that conveys its meaning through a stylized resemblance to an object. It represents something.

We are familiar with the idea through road-signs. For example, a stop sign may have a hand raised, palm open, to indicate “stop”. It is a universal sign. It is recognised, no matter what language you may speak.

This idea in the characters of an alphabet is fairly common in ancient languages. I don’t know anything about the Chinese languages, but I understand that about 4% of the characters in their writing are pictograms, representing for example, sun, moon, trees, etc.

Hebrew has these pictographic ideas behind each of their letters. I'll cover a few of them.

Here is a second principle to understand. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a name. Alef, Bet, Gimel, Dalet, and so on. Many, but not all, of these names have meaning, that can add to our understanding, or confirm our understanding of the idea contained in the pictogram of the letter. Sometimes, the name of a letter simply “sounds like” a word that adds meaning. Let me illustrate this from the Bible.

In the Book of Jeremiah, in the first chapter, we read: The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

That makes little sense to us in English but, if we understand Hebrew, we realise that the Hebrew word for an almond, almond tree, is “shaqed”, and the Hebrew for watch over is “shoqed”. In both cases, spelled Shin, Kuf, Dalet, but with different pronunciations. One word “sounds like” another. It is a play on words.

We get the same idea in the Book of Amos, chapter 8: Thus the LORD God showed me and behold, a basket of summer fruit. He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel, I will spare them no longer.”

It makes no sense to us in English, but when we realise that the Hebrew words there are “Keitz” for summer, summer fruit ... Kuf, Yud, Tzadi. And the word for “end” in Hebrew is “ketz” ... Kuf, Tzadi. To the Hebrew ear, these are very similar sounds. Once again, there is a play on words.

Now, when we come to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the pictogram behind this letter is an ox-head, with horns. Horns in the Bible are a symbol of strength. The name of the letter is Alef. And Alef sounds like “aloof”, which is the Hebrew word for a chief, or leader. Combining these two ideas, the pictogram and the name of the letter, we see that it symbolizes the leader, the main person.

Now let us look at the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet ... Bet. The pictogram is a tent.

If you were to visit Israel today, and made a tour to the Negev desert, you would likely be taken to a Bedouin encampment. And you would see there tents, open tents, with their backs to the wind. These are the sort of tents that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in ... and the Israelites in the wilderness. And of course that was their house ... where their household gathered. And the word Bet, the name of this letter of the alphabet, means a house or household.

Now we get the first example of a word that is formed out of these two letters. The letters on the screen are Alef, Bet. Alef is a leader, Bet symbolizes a house. The word spells “av”, father. The leader in the house is the father.

Let us look at another Hebrew letter, the fifth letter, Heh. The pictogram idea behind this is a mouth, breathing, breath. The idea behind it is spirit, or revelation.

The name for this letter is Heh. Like the Hebrew word “Hineh”, Heh indicates “Behold! See. Revelation.”

Now let us look at a word that is formed out of the three letters we have covered.

The word on the screen is “ahav”. Alef. Heh. Bet. The first letter indicates a leader. The last letter indicates a house or household. Alef, Bet means “father” in Hebrew. The letter in between is Heh, indicating spirit. The spirit of the leader of the house ... the spirit of the father ... and the word spells “loved”. I am reminded of the Scripture where God tells us that He so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that all who believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

The word on the screen now spells “ahavah”. Alef, Heh, Bet, Heh. It means “love”. The spirit of the leader of the house ... the spirit of the father ... is revealed. And that revelation is “love”.

The love of God, and His expression of love, is the giving of His Son as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins.

The next letter of the Hebrew alphabet that we will look at is Vav. It is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the pictogram is a nail. The nail is indicative of the character of this letter of the alphabet. It is a connecting word.

The next letter we will look at is the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Zayin. The pictogram is a sceptre, the sceptre of a king, a symbol of his authority. It would be a small baton, or a staff held in the hand. A royal symbol, a symbol of authority.

The word on the screen now is “zahav”. Zayin, Heh, Bet. Zahav in Hebrew means “gold”. Gold is a “type” of faith. The spirit of the king over the household of God ... is trust, faith.

And the last pictogram we will look at here is the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Yud. The pictogram is of a hand, and the word “yud” sounds like the Hebrew “yad”, meaning hand.

Interestingly, the next letter is a Kaf. And Kaf means the palm, the open palm of a hand. And so we have two words for “hand” side by side, but the right-hand one is the Yud. Often in Scripture we see the reference to “the right hand of God”.

I will give you one more word to consider. It is the Hebrew word for “hyssop”.

Hyssop is a weed, a lowly plant that grows in Israel. It has spongy leaves and a woody stem. The first Bible reference to hyssop is in Exodus 12, where hyssop was to be used to dip into the blood of the sacrificed lamb, to apply the blood to the doorposts and the lintel of the houses of the Israelites, so that the angel of death would pass over them.

Another reference to hyssop is found in Psalm 51, which is King David’s prayer of repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba. He prayed “Cleanse me with hyssop ...”.

In the New Testament we have a reference to hyssop at the cross. In the gospel of John we learn that Jesus on the cross was given sour wine in a sponge on a stalk of hyssop.

Hyssop, a lowly plant, is a picture of humility. Hyssop in Hebrew is “ezov”. Alef, Zayin, Vav, Bet.

Once again we see the letters Alef and Bet on the outside. And inside, the letters Zayin, Vav. Zayin is a sceptre, and vav is a nail.

It's a picture of the Father, with the symbols of our King ... the Lord Jesus ... The King who humbled Himself to death n a cross. The sceptre in His hand is a nail.