My current Masters program is heavy on languages. It has over five semesters of Biblical Hebrew along with classes in Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Modern Hebrew, and other comparative Semitic languages.
People assume that I must be naturally gifted in languages in order to take on such a load. In my pride, I don’t mind the assumption all that much. Truth be told, languages don’t come “naturally” for me as I witness in my friends, Jamie Naramore and Johnny Raines. Languages seem to come naturally as breathing.
Now, I am able to admit that God has given me enough of an ability with languages to be “competent” but I understand very clearly that languages are difficult. I remember when I was in Peru. I had been there for months yet had made no progress according to my bosses. It certainly wasn’t without effort on my part making this was one of the most discouraging times in my life. There I was in South America to see people come to the LORD, to see churches planted, to see His Name be glorified, and the most essential tool to sharing the Gospel was out of my grasp. I sat down against this tree in one of the two shirts I had been wearing for over two months and I cried out to the LORD. My prayer was simple and direct, confessing that if I was going to learn this language in order to do His work it would have to come from His hand. I was desperate for Him and He was gracious to my request. Closer to the end of my term, my Colombian partner, Efrain, and I were in the village where Spanish was a second language. I had just finished speaking with a man in a village and Efrain took me aside and said, “Miguel, you are speaking too fast to him.” In that rebuke, I couldn’t have been more encouraged. Who would have thought a punk kid from Alabama would be rebuked for speaking Spanish too fast?
The best part of that experience was that God showed me that languages were from His hand and his hand alone. On my own effort there is no way I could do any of this. People used to say, “If Graham can learn Spanish then anyone can!” There was no way I could give credit to myself. I am so thankful for this.
When I came to Southeastern I had an interest in learning Greek and Hebrew because I wanted to know Scripture better. I was intimidated, however by my previous struggles but also fully aware of God’s grace. The most surprising development was how much I loved to study language. It started with Greek and I couldn’t get enough of it. Then when this new Masters of Old Testament Studies came up I decided I would take Hebrew before I would make a decision to switch to this program. Everyone had told me that you either like Greek or Hebrew. No one likes both! In fact, when I tell people I like languages they look at me like I am a freak. And this is where I see the gift from God come in. He has given me such great delight in studying languages. I found that I love Hebrew as much as I love Greek.
It does help that a motivating factor in all of this is that I might know Scripture better. This is what motivates me to learn Greek and Hebrew. But, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to learn a language if there was no delight in it. God hasn’t gifted me with a “natural” ability but I believe He has given me the delight in learning languages and the experience to depend upon His strength to do so.
So, why do I study languages? It is simply because when I study languages I feel His pleasure. It gives me great joy and I believe that gives Him great honor.