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The Hundred-Eleventh (Miracles)

What is a miracle to you? This word is thrown around quite a bit in not just the world, but also among the children of Yehovah. Is it a miracle when someone doesn't get seriously injured in a major car crash? Or for you, is the term miracle reserved for events like a life-long paralytic suddenly being able to walk? The world at least, uses the word miracle to describe even every day things like a football team achieving a come-from-behind victory.

It may be helpful to take a look at where this word came from, at least scripturally, in order to figure out its intended use. Starting in the Old Testament, the word "miracle" occurs in Exodus 7:9 and it's translated from the Hebrew mopheth. Taking a look at the concordance, this word is also translated to wonders, signs, and in some translations marvels, tokens and symbols. When you look at where this Hebrew word is used, the earliest occurrence is actually when God is telling Moses to go do wonders, or miracles, in front of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21).

When I read this, my bible has a reference to an even earlier verse for the word "wonder" (Exodus 3:20). Taking a look at that one, it actually has a different Hebrew word translated to wonder: pala. Strong's tells us this means "to be surpassing or extraordinary." I find it interesting that this is the word used when YHVH was telling Moses what He would do to Egypt to free His chosen.

The reason I find that interesting is because to me, "surpassing" or "extraordinary" is not as strong of a word as "miracle" or "wonder." For example, if there is a river that is normally at a certain level and flows at a certain speed, and it rises twenty feet and flows fifteen miles per hour faster, those conditions are extraordinary for that river. The conditions are beyond what is usual, regular, or customary (if you use the Merriam-Webster definition).

In fact, based on God saying what He would do was going to be extraordinary, it makes me lean towards mopheth being more appropriate to be translated to "sign," at least for Exodus 4:21. Of course, doing this assumes your view of the word miracle is that it is something even more than extraordinary...maybe extra-extraordinary! But, let's take a look at a few more occurrences of mopheth before we settle on that being the appropriate translation.

Looking at the next occurrence of this word, it turns out the verse actually contains both signs and wonders (Exodus 7:3). Signs, in this verse, is translated from oth, which very plainly means "a sign." This is the word used for signs given by the lights of the firmament (Genesis 1:14), signs given to mark a murderer (Genesis 4:15), signs of covenants (Genesis 9:12) and signs for protection (Exodus 12:13).

So clearly, a miracle, or wonder, is different from a sign since it seems that signs are indications of things (events, designations, agreements, etc.) while miracles seem to be an indication of God's supernatural power. Or are they that specific? We also see this word being used to describe outworkings of supernatural power from false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:12-13). So, mopheth is used to describe outworkings of supernatural powers in general, not just specific to YHVH's powers.

Let's take a minute to review the accounts of some of these outworkings to see what they were and get an idea of what we should be calling a miracle. I won't recount all of the plagues of Egypt, but as we saw, these were called mopheth, and they certainly were an outworking of God's supernatural power (Exodus 7-11). Definitely not in the same category as a well-executed football play to win the game!

The only other account in the Old Testament of an event specifically called a mopheth is when the altar was split in the time of King Jeroboam. A man of YHVH comes and prophesies against the king about his evil ways and spoke a wonder would be done (presumably an indication to show this man was speaking truth). The altar would be split and ashes spilled (1 Kings 13:3) and that's exactly what happened. This is a place taken care of by the people, so this event would not have occurred except by an act of God.

There are some references to miracles in the New Testament as well. In the Greek, the word used is dynamin which means "miraculous power or strength" (Mark 9:39). However, this looks to be more of a word to describe the impetus behind a miracle, rather than the miracle itself. Another word translated to miracle is semeion, which means "a sign" (Luke 23:8). Again, this is not quite a miracle, since it really just means a sign.

So, let's look at wonders to see what the Greek word is behind that. Turns out this word is teras, which means "a wonder, marvel" (Acts 2:22). That is the word we're looking for, and it looks like it's in sixteen verses in the New Testament. Unfortunately, there are no specific events where this word is used, but it is used to reference some of the things that Yeshua did during His ministry on earth.

This reference also confirms the fact that this is a supernatural work as it specifies that YHVH did those wonders through Jesus. Now, the statement doesn't distinguish between the healings, deliverance, semi-neverending food, or water into wine to align with which ones were signs, wonders or miracles. However, we can use our review of the Old Testament to inform the review of the New Testament.

Using the Old Testament, we know at a minimum the accounts involving what I'll call environmental events were definitely called wonders, or miracles. This would cover Yeshua's turning water into wine, feeding the multitudes using a small amount of food and the overabundance of fish caught during one of Peter's previously disappointing fishing trips. It doesn't seem that there are any connections between healings of the Old Testament and the use of the word mopheth though.

Don't get me wrong, I personally would categorize His healings as miracles because it was clear that something supernatural occurred at that moment. I just don't think we can definitively say they were considered miracles according to scripture. Regardless, I think today it's significantly less clear to determine what healings were truly miracles because you don't have the Son of God present to make it incontrovertible. The medical profession makes an exhorbitant amount of mistakes, so what may seem like a miracle could quite possibly have simply been an incorrect diagnosis.

So why go through all this? Why take a look at this word? Well, I think we can definitely confirm that miracles have nothing to do with sports teams at a minimum! But really, I think the takeaway is we need to guard the use of the word miracle and use it sparingly for things that are the most likely to have been the outworkings of the supernatural power of YHVH. This gives the word more credibility since it's used only for events that are less disputable as actually being human error or easily explained when analyzed. It doesn't dilute it when you're trying to share testimony with non-believers and you reach the barrier of skepticism.

The point is not to second guess and be worried about using this word incorrectly. The point is to use this topic as an opportunity to re-familiarize with events like the plagues of Egypt to remind of the awesome power of God and prepare us for some of the things that are coming in the future!

Shabbat shalom and God bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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