On נְאֻ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת “Saith the Lord”
I am not ready to resign myself to the idea that the Hebrew term נְאֻ֖ם for a prophetic utterance used primarily in the prophetic books but found sparingly elsewhere is just a synonym for “speaking” and that it is equal to the term אָמַ֖ר, “says.” In Haggai 2:9 in the New International Version [NIV] I believe there is a distinction lost in translation in the use of these words, נְאֻ֖ם, “declares” and אָמַ֖ר “says” the Lord. Give me a few minutes of your time to explain.
‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
For me, there is a difference that is more than a literary style—a difference that speaks to the very reason our Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was written in this language. God did not just “say” I will grant peace. To use the NIV’s word, God declared it so! But this reveals an emphasis not available in our language. If I had written a translation of this text and our Old Testament, I would be drawn to the idea of not translating the word [NIV “declared”] but maybe transliterating it only to introduce its true emphasis: Ni-ÚM.
[Ni-ÚM is a later word in our Bible not found in the first five books.]
The word originates from “to whisper,” an idea that has gotten lost in use—except for the NLT (New Living Translation) of Psalms 36:1- “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts.” The problem with this translation from the NLT is not in the word “whisper” but the phrase “within their hearts.” The Hebrew reads “within my heart.” So, the NIV tries this: I have a message from God in my heart… It might still be a whisper (according to the NIV) from God but note: it resonates deep within the heart of David. We need not limit this word: Ni-ÚM could be a literal voice and does not need to be whispered but the word seems to suggest that this is a private message and a personal moment, a heart to heart thing.
Used by the prophets, it is a public echo from the prophet’s mouth or writings of something the Lord spoke to them in the heart and in secret. In the only verse in Proverbs where our word is used [Proverbs 30:1] it is translated “inspired utterances” in the NIV.
Ni-ÚM would be the perfect word-idea for a few scriptures that expound on this divine method of conversing with His servants.
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan [Hebrew: secret council; familiar converse, intimacy (with God)] to his servants the prophets. Amos 3:7
He says, “Be still [be quiet], and know that I am God Psalms 46:10
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. I Kings 19:12
This personal conversation is implied in the the Lord’s response to Josiah who wept to find the “Book of the Law” in the temple and who came humbly before God, penitent and vowing to read and follow it. Notice our word translated “declared” in the NIV.
Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares [Ni-ÚM] the LORD. 2 Kings 22:18-19
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares [Ni-ÚM] the LORD. 2 Chronicles 34:27
This is a very personal moment and message for the king of Judah from the King of Kings.
The only place in which the NIV breaks form but not meaning is Psalms 110:1 where in this prophetic reference is recorded a very personal conversation, one on one, heart to heart, between the Father and the Son:
The LORD says [Ni-ÚM] to my lord…
So, is there a difference in Haggai’s prophecy between “says” and “declared” in 2:9? I believe there is. God said publicly, to all who had ears to hear that ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…’ But He declared [Ni-ÚM] peace. Is not the word “peace” a word spoken to the human heart of the listeners? When I tell my family I love them, even if in a public forum, it is a private word to their hearts and is said in a soft tone, not yelled. But the concept of a glorious house is something shouted from the roof tops—is it not!?
The Old Testament language is built on this personal level of conversation between two persons in relationship and that is why it works to express the deepest feelings and the ongoing dialog that reveals those feelings between God and His servant, or God and His people. He is a personal Lord!
Has He Ni-ÚM’d a word to your heart, lately?
Especially when my circumstance challenges faith and hope, I need Him to Ni-ÚM to me. And through Prayer, conversing with Him, and reading His Word He most assuredly does!