Exploring God's Word : Old and New Testament

Amen – a word study

It is a word we use as Christians, probably everyday, אָמֵן (amen). It is first used in Numbers 5:22, and appears in duplicate, ‘Amen, Amen’. Amen is also the last word of the Bible found in Revelation 22:21; ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen’ (Ἀμήν) as well as a title for Christ! In its earliest uses in the Old Testament it is used as a declaration of agreement and support; famously at Mount Ebal, in Deuteronomy 27, the Israelites are commanded to respond to the Levitical recitation of the curses of the law with the word; ‘Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”. 

A look at the verbal form of the word אָמַן (aman) helps explain where the word springs from; aman means to confirm, to support, to secure. The term is used in Isaiah 22:23, in a prophecy concerning king Hezekiah’s chief official Eliakim, in which God through Isaiah declares, ‘I will drive him like a peg in a secure (נֶאֱמָן ne-e-eman) place’. The word amen is, therefore, used to indicate that something is secure, sound and agreed upon – and when uttered was the means of an individual binding themselves in agreement with a statement and a consequence. The pronouncement of ‘amen’ is, in that sense, almost contractual and foundational to the building of an individual’s belief system. The foundational nature of aman seems more pronounced by its relationship with the Hebrew for mother, אֵם (am/em), and in Genesis 3:20 it is first used to describe Eve as the ‘mother of all living’. Much as a child’s experience is founded upon those early days of comfort, nourishment and nurture with its mother, a time in which foundational emotional building blocks are fashioned, so in the Hebrew experience, it was the alignment of the individual with the words of God’s law, that formed the belief structure of a person, their foundational beliefs. David draws this comparison between motherhood and the development of trust in Psalm 22:9; ‘Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast.’ This is also, perhaps, why new believers were encouraged by Peter to feast on God’s word; ‘Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation’ (1 Peter 2:2). Alignment with God’s words then, was more than just a mental assent to a truth, it was an inward appropriation of God’s truth into the foundations of one’s life – which when lived by, brought blessing – this was what, in the Hebrew mindset was understood as faith!

The appearance of the verb aman, in Abram’s famous moment of believing proves the point; ‘Abram believed וְהֶאֱמִן (we-he-emin lit. and (we) he (he) believed (emin)) the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.’ (Genesis 15:6). And so, the direct result of Abraham’s inward “amening” of God’s promise, was blessing – Abram’s life, name and future is literally changed as he aligns himself with God’s promise. The relationship between faith and foundations is also born out in Isaiah 7:29 when in the fact of an oncoming invasion, Isaiah delivers a message to king Ahaz warning him; ‘If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’ The English translation hides a sense of linguistic symmetry in the statement, תֵאָמֵֽנוּ לֹא כִּי תַאֲמִ֔ינוּ לֹא אִם (im lo ta-a-minu ki lo te-a-menu lit. if you don’t believe surely you will not be established). Both phrases ta-a-minu and te-a-menu are, as in the cases discussed above, are rooted in the word aman (Isaiah was probably referring to the establishment of the rule of Ahaz who had just come to the throne of Judah - in fact Ahaz ignores Isaiah’s words and ends up as a puppet ruler of the king of Assyria).

With all this in mind, Isaiah’s messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 28, takes on new depth, ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.’ (Isaiah 28:16). The term for ‘relies on’, is translated from הַֽמַּאֲמִין hammaamin – he who believes! And so, for the one who says ‘Amen’ to Christ, a brand new foundation stone is laid in their life, the cornerstone of a brand new belief system, from which a whole new way of seeing the world, and life, is built up. Moreover, Jesus is the Amen (Revelation 3:14), the one who lived a life perfectly aligned with the will and word of his Father. To say 'Amen' to the Amen, then, is the source of new life and the beginning of a brand new faith adventure that results in eternal life.

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