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Biblical vocabulary: אמת (truth and faithfulness)

In the Hebrew Bible there are words that have multiple meanings, of which in certain cases one meaning does not exclude the other. This is also the case with the word “emet” which has as its basic meanings truth and trust, but also means true, faithful/faithfulness, trustworthy/trustworthiness, firm/firmness, assurance, steady/steadiness.

This term “emet” (truth, trust, trustworthiness) occurs regularly with regard to people. Jethro advised Moses to appoint “men of emet” (faithful, trustworthy men) to assist in his great task (Exodus 18:21). Nehemiah’s trusted help was Hananiah, a “man of emet” (Nehemiah 7:2).

“Emet” as a value/standard must be present in man. The prophets insistently pointed to a lack of “emet” among God’s people. Hosea complains that there is no “emet” in the land (4:1c); compare Isaiah 59:14. More often this prophets’ complaint (Zechariah 8:16; Isaiah 48:1 at the end) sounds with the exhortation to love the truth/reliability (Zechariah 8:19).

In Proverbs we find “emet” described as something precious. Hear the call: “Let not emet(truth/faithfulness) forsake you …” (Proverbs 3:3) and “Buy emet” (truth/firmness /assurance) and do not sell it …” (Proverbs 23:23). Grace (Hebrew: chesed) and “emet” are often combined in the Scriptures; they build what is good (Proverbs 14:22). By “emet” sin is atoned for (Proverbs 16:6a).

This brings us to God Himself, the Source of all “emet” (truth/faithfulness). Moses described God as “… great in emet(truth/faithfulness) and grace …” (Exodus 34:6). People fail, but God is infallible, never-ending “emet” (true/faithful). David also knew and confessed this (2 Samuel 7:28).

Divine “emet” (faithfulness/truth) is mainly sung in the Psalms. His faithfulness and truth are constant, continuous and unchanging. It is clear, that God’s “emet” (faithfulness/truth) is the foundation of all truth. “Emet” belongs to God: “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your emet”/faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 57:10), and like Himself, His Word is also: “Thy Torah is emet” (truth/reliable)…”. (Psalm 119:142b; compare John 17:17). His truth, faithfulness is a steady, continuous shield to us (Psalm 91:4; 40:11).

We may walk in His “emet” (truth/ faithfulness) (Psalm 25:5; 26:3; 86:11), “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and emet/faithfulness …”. (Psalm 25:10).

Let our prayer be: “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your emet/ (truth/faithfulness).” (Psalm 86:11).

How does this Bible teaching speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read: about the Biblical concept of “rest”

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Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk

© Copyright dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk
Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk studied Semitic languages and Cultures in Leiden and Judaism and archaeology in Jerusalem. Her specialism is Hebrew and the Old Testament. She worked for many years as a teacher in various theological colleges and co-authored the (Dutch) Study Bible of the CvB
and the HSV bible translation. She works as a teacher, author and speaker.

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