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Hebrew Thoughts

yâshar - יָשַׁר (Strong's #3474)
Be straight, level, upright

yâshar 'be straight, level, upright' יָשַׁר (Strong's #3474)

"I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight" (Isaiah 45:2, JPS)

The root verb יָשַׁר yâshar (Strong's #3474, x27) has the base idea of that which is "level, straight, even, upright". The verb can mean to direct as in the direction of something, be that a water course like a river (2 Chronicles 32:30), to order or send the thunder (Job 37:3), practically of being instricuted and directed (Isaiah 45:13) or morally, to direct one's paths and walk uprightly (Proverbs 15:21).

Numbers 23:27 is the first use of the verb when Balak says to Balaam that perhaps his going to another place would "please" God. Now, "make straight", with God as the subject in either a physical or moral sense, makes little sense and hence versions translate it as "please" (JPS, KJV, NIV) or "be agreeable to" (NAS). Most versions literally ignore the following Hebrew: בְּעֵינֵי הָאֱלהִים be‘êynêy hâ’elôhîym "in the eyes of God", i.e., that which is "right in God's eyes" using the untranslated עַיִן ‘ayin "eye" (Strong's #5869, x887).

The combined "right in the eyes of" phrase most often translated idiomatically as "to please someone" also appears in Judges 14:3,7 of Samson's marriage, and again in 1 Samuel 18:20,26 of something pleasing Saul and David, also of Absalom (2 Samuel 17:4), and of Hiram, in the negative, of something being not pleasing/straight in his eyes (1 Kings 9:12). In fact, it is used some 12x this way. 2 Chronicles 30:4 "the thing was right in the eyes of the king" (JPS, NAS) is a rare example of a Bible translation using the literal phrase rather than using "to please" and not translating the word "in the eyes of".

In a number of messianic passages in Isaiah, יָשַׁר yâshar describes the paths of the Lord being "made straight" (40:3) or of ways being "levelled/directed/made straight" (45:13). In Isaiah 45:2 translations vary from "make the crooked places straight" (JPS, NKJ), "level the mountains" (LXX) or "make the rough places smooth" (NAS). The latter is perhaps closest with the awkward verb הָדַר hâdhar (Strong's #1921, x7) describing something which is "swollen" or "enlarged/raised", so it being levelled or made smooth makes sense.

According to Habakkuk 2:4 a person's soul, if puffed up with pride, is not "upright". One should have a "smooth" or "level" soul if the other uses of the verb are anything to go by!

Psalm 119:128 "Therefore, all precepts I esteem, every false way, I hate" uses יָשַׁר yâshar where translators have "esteem" - "consider right" might be better because of the opposition and contrast to שֶׁקֶר sheqer (Strong's #8267, x113) "false, lie".

The word ישֶׁר yosher (Strong's #3476, x14) "uprightness" and more common word יָשָׁר yâshâr (Strong's #3477, x119) "right, upright" are directly related to יָשַׁר yâshar.

   
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