Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NASB).
This is a familiar verse. We beat a well-worn path to it because we’re such constantly needy people.
We need strength to keep going when we’re up all night with a colicky infant.
We need love to listen one more time to the repetitive comments of an Alzheimer’s patient.
We need wisdom to decide whether to take on a new project at church.
I return to this verse almost every morning as part of my daily routine because I know that the Lord is my only source of strength, love and wisdom.
But one day I decided to look more closely at the Greek word for “help.” Exactly what is it that we find when we come to the throne of grace?
God gives us boētheia, a word that occurs only twice in the New Testament. And when you look up the other reference, you find something totally unexpected!
The only other appearance of boētheia is in Acts 27:17, where the apostle Paul is aboard a ship trapped by a hurricane-force storm. The ship taking him to Rome was caught in an enormous blast of wind that battered the boat and sent it skittering off course. The waves pounded the craft for days, and the sailors took desperate measures to stay afloat. Verse 17 describes their efforts:
“. . . they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship . . .”
Literally, they used boētheia to hold the hull together. It was a technical term for a technique that ancient sailors would use when a storm was so violent that there was danger that the hull might crack apart. They would run cables under the ship in a technique called “frapping,” providing the stability that would enable them to make it safely through the storm.
Hebrews 4:16 is not in a nautical context, and the Lord doesn’t pass out ropes when you come to Him in prayer. But I can’t help but think that it’s a marvelous picture of what He does provide. We arrive at the throne with our lives falling apart under the pressure of our own storms, and He graciously gives the help we need to hold everything together!
When you feel that you’re ready to fall apart, come to the throne for some frapping!
For more on boētheia:
This post takes a single fact about the word boētheia and reflects on that fact. But there are several ways in which you can explore the word yourself.
1. Look at the Septuagint.
When a word only appears once or twice in the New Testament, it’s time to look farther afield. How is it used in other Greek literature?
One of the most useful places to look is the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament that was in use in the first century.
Boētheia is used fairly often in this Greek Old Testament, usually to translate the Hebrew words ‘ezer and ‘ezrah, both meaning “help.” Here is a list of references you can study to learn more about the kind of help that God offers.
Psalm 121:1-2 “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
2 Chronicles 28:21
2. Examine the etymology.
We can often add extra insight by looking at the history of a word, and Vine’s Expository Dictionary explains that boētheia is derived from two Greek words:
Boē = a shout
Theō = to run
Doesn’t that sound like a rescuer running to the aid of someone who is shouting “Help”?
3. Review related words.
Greek words often comes in clusters. You might find a verb and noun with the same base, both providing useful data for further study. In this case, you can find related words in the Strong’s Concordance or the Blue Letter Bible.
Boētheō (verb) – “to help” – occurs 8 times in NT
Boēthos (adjective) – “helper” – occurs only in Hebrews 13:6
4. Compare synonyms.
What are the other Greek words that mean “help”? It’s always interesting to compare the different words that the writer of Hebrews could have chosen to express his idea.
Vine’s Dictionary lists two verbs for “help”:
Antilēmpsis – “helps” – 1 Corinthians 12:28
Epikouria – “help” – Acts 26:22