Hebrew Highlights 116 – Skillfully


PSA 33, “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright.  Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.  Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.  For the word of the Lord is upright; And all His work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.  By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.”

This is one of those short Psalms which is just packed full of Praise.  I’d like to look at one word mentioned in verse 3, “skillfully”.  No less than 6 completely different root words in Hebrew, not to mention a number of variations on those roots, are translated in our poor English bibles as either “skillful”, or “skillfully”.  It seems to have been an easy word to grab off the shelf for translators.  However, there is so much more depth behind some of the original Hebrew ideas.

For instance, in Psalm 33, the word used is “hetivu”.  It can mean “with quality”, or “excellence”.  So, why not say, “Play excellently with a shout of joy.”  Actually, any Israeli reading it would think “Play to the best of your ability with a shout of joy.”  In other words, “do a good job” when you are singing to the Lord.

Our next “skillful” word comes from 1SA 16:16, "Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well."

In this case, the word used is “yeda”, or “knowledge”.  So, we could say, “seek a man who is knowledgeable on the harp”, not just some guy who picked up the instrument in his spare time, but someone who has studied it.

The following verse gives us yet another angle to “skillfulness”.  EXO 26:1 "Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.”

Not surprisingly to anyone who has studied the intricate instructions for making the tabernacle, the phrase chosen here is “ma’asei choshev”, or, the “work of a thinker”.

You may have marveled at some or other portable device, such as a conference display, a large plasma screen, or even a traveling medical clinic.  These are nothing compared to the moveable tent of worship carried around in the wilderness by the children of Israel.  It was both beautiful, and foldable.  It must have taken quite a “thinker” to design its parts without a slide-rule, or a computer.






The next combination of words is particularly wonderful to me.  EXO 28:3 "And you shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me.”  In this case, our insufficient “skillful” replaces the magnificent phrase, “Chachamei-lev”, or ‘wise ones of the heart’.  This is another one of many examples I’ve often spoken of where a word communicating “head knowledge” is used in English, where the Hebrew actually verbalizes a condition of the heart.

I thought of a good example to emphasize this, since we are talking in this passage of a garment used in a spiritual service.  What bride would want her wedding dress designed by an architect?   Rather, she wants someone who appreciates the tenderness, beauty, and lasting meaning of the ceremony.

Jumping right ahead in our study, let’s read 1CH 5:18, “The sons of Reuben and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, consisting of valiant men, men who bore shield and sword and shot with bow, and were skillful in battle, were 44,760, who went to war.”  This army, who were “skillful in battle”, were, in Hebrew, “Lomdei-milchama”, or “students of war”.  They were “skillful” because someone had taught them to be so.

In the following example, we again leave the studies, and refer to a more inborn approach to the idea.  1CH 15:22, “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful.”  Here in Hebrew, it actually says, “he gave instruction in singing because he understood”, based on the word “mavin”.  Whether Chenaniah simply had years of experience in singing, or a natural gift, we don’t know.  But he definitely knew what he was talking about.

I’ll end this treatise with another reference to singing, which I propose does NOT necessarily apply to all of today’s Christian music scene.

PSA 47:6-8, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises.  For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful psalm.  God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.”  Here the word replaced with “skillfully” is “maskil”.  The translation here is very simple.  It should say, “Sing praises with an INTELLIGENT psalm.”

After saying, “God is the King of all the earth”, and following with “God sits on His holy throne,” how could we possibly include anything silly, worthless, or self-indulging in our lyrics.

Whether we are composing music, doing work in God’s house, or preparing for war, we need to be “skillful”, or in other words, excellent, knowledgeable, thinking, understanding of heart, studied, and finally, intelligent.


May God grant that we fulfill these definitions.  Amen.


          Shalom, Shalom from Jerusalem