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Whistle—Sharak

April 2, 2013

by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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As is true with many Hebrew words, sharak can be translated to have a positive or a negative meaning. The translator must rely on context to determine which connotation is correct for the passage. In most of its uses, sharak is rendered hiss or hissing and strongly indicates scorn, derision, and even a component of judgment. In Isaiah chapter 5, the Lord expresses His anger with His people because they have become vain, lazy, and have walked away from His instructions for life given in the Torah. He will judge them, He says, by hissing to the nations and calling them to come quickly forth and execute judgment against His people.

In Jeremiah 19:8, the Lord says of Jerusalem, “I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues.” In Lamentations 2:15, He again speaks of judgment against His beloved city: “All who pass by clap their hands at you; they hiss and shake their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: ‘Is this the city that is called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?’”

But God doesn’t speak only of chastising His chosen people because of their sin. In Jeremiah 50:13, He says of Babylon: “Because of the wrath of the Lord, she shall not be inhabited. But she shall be wholly desolate. Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified and hiss at all her plagues.”

In each of these verses, the Lord is clearly using sharak in what we would consider a negative sense. His anger will spill forth and desolation will be the result. The destruction will be so complete that all who pass by will look with contempt on the object of his fury; they will ridicule Jerusalem and look with scorn on Babylon.

The Lord Whistles for His People

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In Zechariah 10, however, the Lord speaks of His love for His people and their promised restoration. Here, He uses sharak in a very positive sense. In the NKJV and several other well-recognized translations, Zechariah 10:8 says, “I will whistle for them and gather them, for I will redeem them.” Other versions translate sharak as signal, call, and some even hiss, but God’s intent is clear. The time of judgment has passed and He will gather His redeemed from the four corners of the earth, calling them back to the land He gave their forefathers as an everlasting possession.

Some commentators believe that the use of the word whistle in this verse indicates that the Lord will call His people with a sound only they can hear, similar to the high-pitched whistle that dogs can hear and people can’t. Others have suggested its use because a whistle makes a loud, piercing sound that cannot be ignored and so He will call His people. Still others have suggested that a whistle can be heard over very great distances, indicating that no matter where His people are, or how far from Him they may have strayed, they will hear His whistle and come home.

The Lord Will Be Their Shepherd

There is one other definition of sharak, however, that may well fit this verse perfectly, and that is to pipe. The Bible in Basic English renders this verse, “With the sound of the pipe, I will gather them together” (Zech. 10:8).

In ancient Israel, there was no profession more difficult than that of shepherd. It was a demanding, lonely, perilous, and arduous life. Shepherds spent much of their time outside in cold, wind, rain, heat, or drought. They encountered thieves and wild animals. Their sheep were helpless, and depended on them for pasture, water and shelter. The shepherd bound their wounds, helped them give birth, carried the lame, and waited for the weary. A good shepherd was willing to die for his flock.

And each shepherd had a pipe. These pipes were made of reed and were of various sizes. But each one made a unique sound, recognized only by his sheep. It was not uncommon for several shepherds to bring their flocks to one watering place at evening time. The sheep drank and the men chatted, laughed, and shared their stories. When it was time to go their separate ways, there was no concern about sorting the sheep, because each shepherd blew on his pipe and his sheep followed only the familiar sound that meant safety and security to each one.

In Zechariah 10 beginning in verse 3, the Lord says He is angry at the shepherds of Israel because they did not care for their sheep. They led them astray, failed to care for their needs, and allowed them to become weak. Finally, He says, His people are in trouble because they have no shepherd at all. But He promises that the Lord of Hosts Himself will be their shepherd; He will visit His flock, have mercy on them, and save them. He will protect them and they will rejoice in His care.

Other shepherds have failed them, He says, so I will whistle for them; with the sound of My pipe, I will gather them. His chosen ones will hear the unique sound that means safety and security, peace and redemption to them. And with their children, He says, they will return.

“‘And so I will strengthen them…and they shall walk up and down, in His name,’ says the Lord” (Zech. 10:12)

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