Jots and Tittles: Beth

Bethlehem, Bethany, Bethel, Bethesda, Bethsaida, Bethphage and Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan—so many places in Scripture start with ‘beth’. And there’s lots more than just those seven just mentioned. They are just the common ones you might be likely to recognise. There’s also Beth Shean, Beth Shemesh, Beth Lebaoth, Beth Meon, Beth Ma’acah, Beth Peor, Beth Aven, Beth Horon, Beth Anath, Beth Barah, Beth Nimrah, Beth Jeshimoth and, well, you get the idea. There’s lots and lots and lots and more lots of them.

So just what does beth mean? Very simply it means house or tent or place. It’s a bit like ‘–ton’, meaning town, on the ends of names like Boston, Dayton, Kingston, Edmonton, Houston, Wellington, Washington and Southampton. Or like ‘–ville’, meaning town or city, in Nashville, Townsville, Jacksonville, Hicksville, Bourneville and dozens of others.

Bethlehem means house of bread or house of warfare. Bethany means house of dates or house of sorrow. Bethel means house of God. Bethesda means house of mercy. Bethsaida means house of fish or house of the hunter. Bethphage means house of figs.

‘Beth’ isn’t just a word meaning house or place. It actually comes from a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first letter is ‘aleph’ and the second is ‘beth’—and if you run them together, you’ll actually see where our English word alphabet comes from.

Way back, these letters weren’t just random scribbles or shapes. They stood for things: ‘aleph’ stood for an ox and ‘beth’ stood for a tent. Now the shape of the letter beth might not look much like any modern tent but it represented the floor plan of an ancient dwelling. These were set up very carefully with the women protected in the inmost part of the tent and the men’s quarters closer to the door. There was a communal space as well.

It should be no surprise then that ‘beth’ also came to mean family. The ‘house of David’ meant the family descended from David, though most often it was used to mean the line of kings. The ‘house of Jacob’ meant the family descended from Jacob, which of course was all of the people of Israel.

In the letter to the Hebrews, God’s house is mentioned:

‘Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.’ (Hebrews 3:6 NIV)

And God’s house here means God’s family. We’re all part of His ‘beth’, if we’ve put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

No Fear: 1

‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ Psalm 118:6 NKJV

Nearly 100 years ago, during the Great Depression, unemployment skyrocketed across the world. There was no dole. People lost houses and land to repossession, and many had trouble just feeding their families. During this dark time the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation in these words: ‘Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’

What most people didn’t realise is that the president himself had experienced some dark hours of paralysing fear. He had a privileged upbringing and was educated at prestigious colleges in Europe, at Harvard, and at Columbia Law School. But at 39, he was stricken with a case of polio that left him severely disabled. During his recovery he developed an extreme fear of fire. He worried he wouldn’t be able to escape because of his disability. But in time he overcame his fear, regained the use of his hands, and even learned to walk again with the aid of braces. He re-entered the political arena—fearlessly campaigning to become the governor of New York in 1929. He then went on to become one of America’s greatest presidents and guided the nation to victory in World War II. In his memoirs Roosevelt recalls how when he turned to God for help, courage, and guidance, he received them.

Are you afraid today? If you are, stand on this promise: ‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’

SoulFood: Jonah 1:10–2:10, Matt 12:38–42

word4today an adaptation of The Word For Today is authored by Bob and Debby Gass and published under licence from UCB International Copyright © 2021

Today’s Readings

Jonah 1:10–2:10

10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
  out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
  For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
  all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
  Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
  yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’
  The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
  weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
  I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
  yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O LORD my God.
  When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the LORD,
  and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
  Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
  But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
  what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Matthew 12:38–42

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Sun 12 September, 2021


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