This semester I am taking a class in West Semitic Inscriptions. It is an interesting class in that I am learning how Hebrew grammar developed into the form that is found in the Hebrew Bible. Originally, the Hebrew text did not have any vowels. Some vowels were indicated by certain consonantal letters [or "mater" letters], but these were most always at the end. Then, later on, they were inserted into the middle of words. Hence, the Hebrew Bible that we have today is the result of some editing that has been done to make it easier to read as the language developed. Of course, the insertion of mater letters into the middle of the text does not in any way change the meaning of the text. However, if we are going to understand the Hebrew Bible, we must be able to understand how the Hebrew language developed over time.
It is also interesting to see that the ancient Jews, while they certainly experienced some of the greatest of God's mighty deeds, were people just like us. For instance, one inscription that I read was from a pre-exilic tomb:
bhzw @sk hp !ya tybh l[ rXa why trbq taz
rXa ~dah rwra hta htma tmc[w wtmc[ ~a yk
taz ta xtpy
Uriah the rich cut it. Uriah was blessed by the Lord, and he [the Lord] delivered him from his enemies by his Asherah...by Aniah...by his Asherah...
Now, let us think about this as Christians. We know that around a hundred years after this inscription [which was written around 701 B.C.], Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians [586-587 B.C.]. In Jeremiah, and the other prophets, it specifically mentions warnings against Jerusalem if they do not repent of their idolatry. One of these warnings is the destruction of Jerusalem. This was a sobering reminder to me that God will punish our idolatry. Worshipping the same God along side of the one true God will not help either, as God has said that we should have no other gods in his presence [Exodus 20:3]. God takes his worship very seriously, and if he is blasphemed by our sinful worship, he is not afraid to even have people killed. You might say, "This is just an Old Testament thing, right?" No, I am afraid it is not. Look at Acts 5:1-10. We must be careful how we worship. As I said, God takes his worship very seriously.