Word for the Day: “yakah”
Verbal boldness has a rich history. In Part 1, we saw how the ancient Greek word elencho was used in the New Testament to expose great moments in the history of verbal boldness and bravery (see Part 1).
Now let us go back even further in time to reflect on the ancient Hebrew verb yakah. No, it does not refer to a desert plant in Central and North America. It shows up 59 times in the Old Testament and, like elencho in the NT, it mainly means reproof or correction. It can also indicate an argument, a dispute or a word of discipline. When a bold and brave word was needed, the verb yakah often came in handy for the OT writers.
Flawed people need yakah. King David likened yakah (from a righteous man) with an anointing of oil on the head (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon compared it with fine gold earrings and ornaments (Proverbs 25:12). He wisely observed, “Whom the Lord loves, he rebukes [yakah]” (Proverbs 3:12).
Yakahcan have great value, but it is not fun. It was an unpopular function of the Hebrew prophets who were not noted for having fun! Was Samuel seeking popularity when he confronted King Saul for his disobedience? Nope. Was it fun to listen to Saul’s lame excuses? No.
Nevertheless, sometimes it worked. Consider the courage it took for Nathan to call King David on the carpet! The king could have ignored Nathan, accused him of being a verbal bully, punished him or even rid himself of this pesky prophet. Nathan didn’t care. He had a job to do and he did it, speaking truth to power. David, convicted by a hard truth he tried to cover up, realized what a brutal bully he actually was and he repented! Okay, “bully” understates it. David engaged in adultery, deception, abuse of power, and to cover it up, he added conspiracy to murder. He might have gotten away with it were it not for Nathan.
Centuries later, Ezekiel was appointed to be a “watchman” to warn the wicked. Amos understood the risk in his prophetic role, observing, “They hate him who reproves [yakah] in the gate.” (Amos 5:10). All the Hebrew prophets faced such hatred one way or another.
The word yakah does not literally appear in every prophet’s writings or every story where bold and brave words are used. What matters most are not particular words but the wisdom, courage and timing needed to make those words so mighty.
Caution: If you use yakah to push your own selfish agenda, maybe you are just a bully, not a prophet. Using God’s name to bash others falsely or selfishly breaks the third commandment. Still, courageous confrontation is vital and often necessary in a coldly sinful world. We cannot correct the abuse of yakah by calling for its non-use.
There is a huge difference between being a brave and honest whistleblower and a partisan tattle-tale. We know that countless government officials knew for a long time about the IRS intimidation tactics used to suppress conservative groups, voices and activities during the Obama administration and through two election cycles. Still, for years, no one had the integrity to come forward and blow the whistle. That would take moral courage. Indeed, cowardly silence in the face of corruption and indecency has had its day. It’s time to call spades what they are, in love. It’s time to let sane voices be heard, including yours. Would you be willing to expose a family member you knew was hiding from justice? They won’t like it. Yakah involves risk.
Don’t try this on others without serious care and prayer. And if someone loves you enough to try it on you, remember David’s humble comparison of yakah with an anointing of precious oil on the head.
Light Conquers Darkness
As the self-professed Light of the World, Jesus knew what was in store for him for boldly confronting the forces of darkness. Still, he pulled no punches exposing the corruption and hypocrisy around him even as his opponents plotted for his death. They pursued his blood until they got it, not understanding its power to defeat the forces of evil forever.
If no one is after your blood, maybe you live in a perfect world far from the dark side. If not, maybe you need to be a little more like the prophets and Jesus and boldly expose evil where you see it, including in yourself when necessary.