As we finished our farewell dinner at a nice table along the banks of the muddy Mekong, somewhere, through the din of multiple conversations (all in the Vietnamese language), I heard “KJV,” and then “Near,” and then “Nigh.” I leaned forward and tuned into a discussion between two men: a Vietnamese teacher and a Vietnamese pastor. The teacher (Thầy) was teaching the pastor about something he had recently learned.
Then the teacher illustrated the lesson for the pastor by using three tabletop items: a small bowl containing coarse salt, a single chopstick, and another small bowl of fish sauce. The teacher, all the while explaining in the Vietnamese tongue, deliberately moved the bowl of salt very close to the other bowl. He then purposely laid the chop stick as a fence between the bowls. “Near,” he declared, as a judge would render a verdict from the bench. The bowls were close to each other; they were near. And yet something was between them (in this case, a chopstick).
Next, he adroitly removed the chopstick without touching the bowls or changing their proximity one to another. As a result, there was no chopstick; there was nothing between the bowls, the partition was gone. After pausing and surveying the new situation, he emphatically stated, “Nigh”. The lesson was sinking in. Then James 4:8 was mentioned:
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.”
Near isn’t good enough — we can be near and yet something may be as a partition between us. We need nigh. My heart was cheered — the Vietnamese are very good students.
Nigh: close in proximity to time, or space, or relationship (as is near); however the emphasis of nigh goes beyond near and stresses nothing between.
“And they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof…”(Mark 2:4).
The man sick of the palsy and the four that borne him were already near. They were at the very house where Jesus was. But they were not nigh, for there was a multitude between. They took action, lowering the sick man through the roof, to get him nigh.
Boaz was exactly right when he told Ruth he was near kinsman (not nigh), for there was one man closer, nearer. Boaz settles that, essentially removing the chopstick (the other man’s responsibility) so he and Ruth could draw nigh.
When the Philistine giant drew nigh unto David (1 Samuel 17:48), there was nothing between them. A stone could make a direct hit.
And again, in prophecy, “…When the branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh…” (Matthew 24:32). The very next time frame is summer. And, it’s so interesting the very next verse uses near and a proximity expression of at the doors to explain: “…when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” When this occurs, then this will be the very next thing.
When we read, “And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives…” (Matthew 21:1), we understand there are no other towns between them and Jerusalem. Bethphage stretched from the Mount of Olives unto the city boundary. According to Acts 1:12, it’s a mere sabbath day’s journey. In this case, as in all 98 Bible verses that contain nigh, this supposed archaic word paints a more accurate picture than near. It’s so frustrating to look up nigh in most dictionaries, only to read “Archaic: See NEAR.” Tut tut, we can do better than that!
Let us learn the lesson from the Mekong delta. Let us who seek specific revelation, no matter the nation or locale, seek to understand both the words and the grammar of God’s holy word. Let us enjoy these wonderful nuances.