As boring as many of them are - the aforementioned, for example, or the awkwardly confusing "exact meaning unknown" or the frustrating "this verse in this translation is actually three chapters ahead in the Hebrew translation" or whatever - there are a handful in which I find tremendous encouragement.
The truth is the most rewarding footnotes, as in any part of the Biblical text, are not those that tell me more about my Bible. They are those that tell me more about my God. And I can't help but smile when I read them.
Meanings of names and old Hebrew words are interesting, and to an extent, they also reveal the heart and the spirit of God. It's in the footnotes that you discover that Isaac is named He Laughs because Abraham and Sarah laughed when God brought the good news of their coming son. It is here in the footnotes that you are told that Emmanuel, the name of the coming Messiah, means God With Us. It is here that you find Jacob's new name, Israel, to mean He Struggled With God, just after Jacob the man struggled with God! There are some more awkward examples. For instance, in Isaiah 29, a footnote in my Bible reads, "Ariel is an unknown Hebrew word which may mean 'lion of God,' 'mountain of God,' or 'fireplace.'" Really? I eagerly dive back into the verse to figure out how they know it didn't mean fireplace this time. All while wondering how they know when they admit they don't know the word. It's crazy!
(I love words.)
But what I appreciate most are the footnotes about God's language. I run across these from time to time, mostly in my footnotes but occasionally in other word studies and so forth, and I'm using the following example from Jeremiah simply because it is the one I ran across a few days ago and started laughing all over again. From Jeremiah 1: 9-12:
Then the Lord stretched out his hand and touched my mouth. The Lord said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth. Today I have put you in charge of nations and kingdoms. You will uproot and tear down. You will destroy and overthrow. You will build and plant.' Again the Lord spoke his word to me and asked, 'Jeremiah, what do you see?' I answered, 'I see a branch of an almond tree.' Then the Lord said to me, 'Right. I am watching to make sure that my words come true.'
On the surface, ok. It's a nice story and you're probably wondering what makes me smile. Here is the footnote on verses 11-12:
There is a play on words here between Hebrew shaked (almond tree) and shoked (watching).
The God of the Universe uses His divine authority to bestow this tremendous blessing and gift on His prophet Jeremiah. Then, He uses His creation to open the prophet's eyes. Then He uses His humor to bring the prophet joy. I can just imagine Jeremiah, who would have known the play on words without a footnote, smiling and shaking his head. This is His God.
I smile because this is also my God. And one of the things I was repeatedly chastised for in more structural journalism classes was my complete inability to pass up a good play on words. It's part of what makes me a good writer...and a terrible journalist. Nearly every paper returned by the professor had the same comment at the top - if you don't control your word play, it's going to control you.
That's ok. I come by it honest. That is to say, I get it from my Father.
(For the record, there were many more English and creative writing professors over the years who couldn't get enough of this very thing, and for them, I am grateful. They encouraged me to continue in the voice given me. Thanks.)
This footnote in Jeremiah, this experience the prophet had, it wasn't a part of the Bible. It wasn't the word of a man. This was the word of God, the interplay of a God who created the play on words and utilized creation to make it work. He's incredible! I mean, what are the odds that the prophet looks up and out of all he sees, chooses to say that he sees an almond branch? God put that branch there, and He opened Jeremiah's eyes to, out of all things, see the branch. All in the name of a good twist of words.
I have to say that sometimes, I have gone to similar lengths.
But I love it! There are some twists of words and plays on words in my upcoming book that still make me smile every time I read them, even though I know just as many will read them and groan. It's fun! And fantastic! And so much my Father that I am even more humbled to share this gift with Him.
And as a point of housekeeping, for those of you that just said "shaked" as in the past tense of "to shake" and "shoked" as in a word nearly rhyming with "choked," please do me a favor and *facepalm*. This is Hebrew. Shaked is pronounced shah-ked and Shoked would then be show-ked. Lesson over.