Yesterday I heard a preacher say Immanuel [Isa 7:14] means "God with you." My antennae stood straight up because I think the Bible says “with us.” In my opinion, the concept of “personal relationship with Jesus” is a western misnomer. The way I see it, as soon as the woman at the well [John 4], Lydia [Acts 16] and the eunuch [Acts 8] had their “personal encounters,” they were quickly introduced to the community and this is where they experienced the full “God is with us.” Am I on the right track? — B.M.

You are definitely on track! The preacher was mistaken. Of course even if it were “with-you God,” the pronoun would need to be understood as singular or plural. Singular: the Lord is speaking to one person; plural: he's talking to a group. We, however, is always plural. No room for rank individualism here. 'Immānû = with us, 'Ēl= God.

This is not to say that God's commands apply only to groups (not to you and me), or that we should not view ourselves as loved individually by God. This isn't a case of either/or, but both/and. And yet westerners tend to swing heavily toward "me." The Bible is full of passages emphasizing the opposite. Consider, for example, Phil 2, much of 1 John and 1 Cor 13:4-8. And of course the Samaritan woman, Lydia, and the Nubian official came to saving faith not on their own, but through the agency of others.

Anyway, that preacher seems to have poor (or non-existent) Hebrew skills, since these are basic words. I wish speakers would keep a more respectful distance from Hebrew and Greek — unless they've invested the time to develop competence in these ancient languages. They do have potential to shed much light on God's Word, and are certainly worth studying. But not merely dabbling in.

Good catch!