Atonement ~ kaphar
The Hebrew word kaphar means “to cover over” such as a lid and is the word for the lid of the ark of the covenant (though many translations translate this as mercy seat for no etymological reason). This word is translated as pitch which was spread over the ark in order to make it water tight (Genesis 6:14) This same word is also translated as a atonement. The word atonement is an abstract but in order to understand the true Hebrew meaning of a word we must look to the concrete meaning. If an offense has been made the one that has been offended can act as though the offense is covered over and unseen. We express this idea through the word of forgiveness. Atonement is an outward action that covers over the error.
Bless ~ barak
Every word in the Ancient Hebrew language was related to an image of action, something that could be sensed (as observed by the five senses – seen, heard, smelled, touched or felt) and in motion. The word bless, found numerous times in English translations of the Bible, is a purely abstract word that cannot be sensed, nor is it in motion. In order to interpret this word correctly we must find its original concrete meaning. In Genesis 24:11 we read, “And he made the camels “kneel down” outside the city.” The phrase “kneel down” is the Hebrew verb ברך (B.R.K), the very same word translated as “bless.” The concrete meaning of ברך is to kneel down. The extended meaning of this word is to do or give something of value to another. God “blesses” us by providing for our needs and we in turn “bless” God by giving him of ourselves as his servants.
Break ~ parar
While the word keep, as in “keep the commands of God” does not mean obedience but guarding and protecting, the meaning of “break the commands of God” does not mean disobedience. The Hebrew word parar, translated as break, is the treading of grain on the threshing floor by oxen to open up the hulls to remove the seeds. To the Ancient Hebrews, breaking the commands of God was equated with throwing it on the ground and trampling on it. In both cases, keeping and breaking are related to ones attitude toward the commands. A child who disobeys his parents and is genuinely apologetic shows honor and respect to his parents. But a child who willfully disobeys with no sign of remorse has trampled on his parents teachings and deserves punishment.
Command ~ mitsvah
The word command, as well as commandment, is used to translate the Hebrew word mits’vah but does not properly convey the meaning of mits’vah. The word command implies words of force or power as a General commands his troops. The word mits’vah is better understood as a directive. To see the picture painted by this word it is helpful to look at a related word, tsiyon meaning a desert or a landmark. The Ancient Hebrews were a nomadic people who traveled the deserts in search of green pastures for their flocks. A nomad uses the various rivers, mountains, rock outcroppings, etc as landmarks to give them their direction. The verb form of mits’vah is tsavah meaning to direct one on a journey. The mits’vah of the Bible are not commands, or rules and regulations, they are directives or landmarks that we look for to guide us. The word tsiyon meaning landmark is also the word translated as Zion, the mountain of God but, not just a mountain, it is the landmark.
Covenant ~ beriyt
While the Hebrew word beriyt means “covenant” the cultural background of the word is helpful in understanding its full meaning. Beriyt comes from the parent root word bar meaning grain. Grains were fed to livestock to fatten them up to prepare them for the slaughter. Two other Hebrew words related to beriyt and also derived from the parent root bar can help understand the meaning of beriyt. The word beriy means fat and barut means meat. Notice the common theme with bar, beriy and barut, they all have to do with the slaughtering of livestock. The word beriyt is literally the animal that is slaughtered for the covenant ceremony. The phrase “make a covenant” is found thirteen times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew text this phrase is “karat beriyt”. The word karat literally means “to cut”. When a covenant is made a fattened animal is cut into pieces and laid out on the ground. Each party of the covenant then passes through the pieces signifying that if one of the parties fails to meet the agreement then the other has the right to do to the other what they did to the animal (see Genesis 15:10 and Jeremiah 34:18-20).
Eternity ~ olam
In the ancient Hebrew words that are used to described distance and direction are also used to describe time. The Hebrew word for east is qedem and literally means “the direction of the rising sun”. We use north as our major orientation such as in maps which are always oriented to the north. While we use the north as our major direction the Hebrews used the east and all directions are oriented to this direction. For example one of the words for south is teyman from the root yaman meaning “to the right”. The word qedem is also the word for the past. In the ancient Hebrew mind the past is in front of you while the future is behind you, the opposite way we think of the past and future. The Hebrew word olam means in the far distance. When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive. This word is frequently translated as eternity or forever but in the English language it is misunderstood to mean a continual span of time that never ends. In the Hebrew mind it is simply what is at or beyond the horizon, a very distant time. A common phrase in the Hebrew is “l’olam va’ed” and is usually translated as “forever and ever” but in the Hebrew it means “to the distant horizon and again” meaning “a very distant time and even further” and is used to express the idea of a very ancient or future time.
Face ~ Paniym
The Hebrew word פנים (paniym) is a plural noun meaning “face.” As the Hebrew language expresses the idea of motion in most words, this plural noun conveys the ideas of mood, emotions and thoughts, the different motions reflected in the face. This Hebrew word more precisely means the “presence” or the “wholeness of being” of an individual.
Faith ~ Emunah
The Hebrew root aman means firm, something that is supported or secure. This word is used in Isaiah 22:23 for a nail that is fastened to a “secure” place. Derived from this root is the word emun meaning a craftsman. A craftsman is one who is firm and secure in his talent. Also derived from aman is the word emunah meaning firmness, something or someone that is firm in their actions. When the Hebrew word emunah is translated as faith misconceptions of its meaning occur. Faith is usually perceived as a knowing while the Hebrew emunah is a firm action. To have faith in God is not knowing that God exists or knowing that he will act, rather it is that the one with emunah will act with firmness toward God’s will.
Fear ~ yara
The root meaning of the word yara is “to flow” and is related to words meaning rain or stream as a flowing of water. In Hebrew thought fear can be what is felt when in danger or what is felt when in the presence of an awesome sight or person of great authority. These feelings flow out of the person in such as actions as shaking when in fear or bowing down in awe of one in authority.
Firmament ~ raqiya
The word raqiya comes from the root word raqa which can be found in several passages including Isaiah 40:19 – “The idol! a workman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold, and casts for it silver chains.” The word “overlay” is the verb root raqa. Raqa is the process of hammering out a piece of gold or other metal into thin plates which was then applied to a carved or molten image. Numbers 16:39 reads “So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered; and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar.” Here, the phrase “were hammered out” is again the verb root raqa. The gold was hammered into thin sheets then laid over the surface of the alter. The word raqiya is the noun form of the verb raqa and is literally a “hammered out sheet”. There are some scientists who have speculated that before the flood there was a thick sheet of water surrounding the earth up in the atmosphere. It is then possible that the “floodgates of heaven were opened,” at the beginning of the flood, is the collapse of this “hammered out sheet” of water. It is estimated that the sheet of water would have filtered out harmful sun rays and contributed to the longevity of life on earth before the flood.
Fringe ~ tsiytsiyt
In Numbers 15:38-40 God commands Israel to put fringes (tsiytsiy in Hebrew) on the corner of their clothes so that they will remember to do the commands of the torah. As the Hebrew mind focuses on the concrete, God uses physical things as reminders and associations for non-physical things. In this case the fringes are reminders of the commands. The word tsiytsiyt is derived from the root tsiyts meaning a blossom. A blossom is a flower that grows on a tree and is the beginning of the fruit. Just as the blossom turns into a fruit, the fringes on the Hebrews garments are also there to bring about fruit in the sense of doing the commands.
Glory ~ Kavod
In Exodus 16:7 we read “and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD” (RSV). What is the “glory” of YHWH? First we must recognize that the “glory” is something that will be seen. Secondly, the word “glory” is an abstract word. If we look at how this word is paralleled with other words in poetical passages of the Bible, we can discover the original concrete meaning of this word. In Psalm 3:3 the kavod of God is paralleled with his shield and in Job 29:20 Job’s kavod is paralleled with his bow. In Psalm 24:8 we read “who is this king of the kavod, YHWH is strong and mighty, YHWH is mighty in battle.” The original concrete meaning of kavod is battle armaments. This meaning of “armament” fits with the literal meaning of the root of kavod which is “heavy” as armaments are the heavy weapons and defenses of battle. In the Exodus 16:7, Israel will “see” the “armament” of YHWH, who is the one who has done battle for them with the Egyptians.
God ~ el/elo’ah
There are two Hebrew words commonly translated as God, el and elo’ah. When reading the Bible it is better to have an Ancient Hebrew perception of God rather than our modern western view. The word el was originally written with two pictographic letters, one being an ox head and the other a shepherd staff. The ox represented strength and the staff of the shepherd represented authority. First, the Ancient Hebrews saw God as the strong one of authority. The shepherd staff was also understood as a staff on the shoulders, a yoke. Secondly, the Ancient Hebrews saw God as the ox in the yoke. When plowing a field two oxen were placed in a yoke, one was the older and more experienced and the other the younger and less experienced and the younger would learn from the older. The Hebrews saw God as the older experienced ox and they as the younger who learns from him. The plural form of elo’ah is elohiym and is often translated as God. While English plurals only identify quantity, as in more than one, the Hebrew plural can identify quantity as well as quality. Something that is of great size or stature can be written in the plural form and in this case, God, as the great strength and authority is frequently written in the plural form elohiym. The two letters in these Hebrew words are the ox head representing strength and the shepherd staff representing authority. Combined they mean “the strong authority” as well as “the ox with a staff” (a yoke is understood as a staff on the shoulders).
Good ~ tov
What does “good” mean? The first use of this word is in Genesis chapter one where calls his handiwork “good”. It should always be remembered that the Hebrews often relate descriptions to functionality. The word tov would best be translated with the word “functional”. When looked at his handiwork he did not see that it was “good”, he saw that it was functional, kind of like a well oiled and tuned machine. In contrast to this word is the Hebrew word “ra”. These two words, tov and ra are used for the tree of the knowledge of “good” and “evil”. While “ra” is often translated as evil it is best translated as “dysfunctional”.
Good News ~ basar
The Hebrew word for Good news, or gospel, is basar. This word actually has two meanings, good news and flesh. What does good news and flesh have in common? Flesh, or meat, was only eaten on very special occasions, a feast, the arrival of guests or whenever an event occurs that requires a celebration. As you can see these times of good news were associated with the slaughter of an animal and a meal of flesh.
Gracious ~ Hhanan
The verb חנן (Hh.N.N) is often translated as “to be gracious” or “have mercy,” however these are abstract terms and do not help us understand the meaning of this verb from an Hebraic perspective, which always relates words to something concrete. One of the best tools to use to find the more concrete meaning of a word is to look at how that word is paralleled with other words in poetical passages. In the book of Psalms the word חנן is paralleled with “heal,” “help,” “raise up,” “refuge” and “give strength.” From a concrete Hebraic perspective, חנן means all of this, and no English word can convey the meaning of the Hebrew, but we could sum up its meaning with “providing protection.” Where would a nomadic Hebrew run for protection? The camp, which in the Hebrew language is the word מחנה (mahhaneh, Strong’s # 4264), a noun related to חנן.
Heart ~ lev
Here is an example of our modern western culture still using a concrete object to express an abstract idea. We often associate the heart with emotions such as love and kindness as in “He has a good heart”. This is also true with the Hebrews who saw the heart as the seat of emotion. But unlike us they also saw the heart as the seat of thought whereas we see the brain as the seat of thought. To the ancient Hebrews the heart was the mind including all thoughts including emotions. When we are told to love God with all our heart (Deut 6:5) it is not speaking of an emotional love but to keep our emotions and all our thoughts working for him. The first picture in this Hebrew word is a shepherd staff and represents authority as the shepherd has authority over his flock. The second letter is the picture of the floor plan of the nomadic tent and represents the idea of being inside as the family resides within the tent. When combined they mean “the authority within”.
Holy ~ qadosh
When we use the word holy, as in a holy person, we usually associate this with a righteous or pious person. If we use this concept when interpreting the word holy in the Hebrew Bible then we are misreading the text as this is not the meaning of the Hebrew word qadosh. Qadosh literally means “to be set apart for a special purpose”. A related word, qedesh, is one who is also set apart for a special purpose but not in the same way we think of “holy” but is a male prostitute (Deut 23:17). Israel was qadosh because they were separated by the other nations as servants of God. The furnishings in the tabernacle were qadosh as they were not to be used for anything except for the work in the tabernacle. While we may not think of ourselves as “holy” we are in fact set apart from the world to be God’s servants and representatives.
Keep ~ shamar
Many times I have heard it said that no one can keep all of the commands but, this is not true. From an Hebraic perspective of the word shamar behind the English word keep, it is possible to keep all of the commands. The problem lies in our understanding of keep as meaning obedience, but this is not the meaning of shamar. It should first be recognized that not all of the commands of the torah are for all people. Some are only for the priests, some are only for men and some are only for women. Some are only for children and some are for leaders. But, it should also be understood that even if a command is not for you, you can still keep it. The original picture painted by the Hebrew word shamar is a sheepfold. When a shepherd was out in the wilderness with his flock, he would gather thorn bushes to erect a corral to place his flock in at night. The thorns would deter predators and thereby protect and guard the sheep from harm. The word shamiyr derived from this root means a thorn. The word shamar means to guard and protect and can be seen in the Aaronic blessing, May Yahweh bless you and keep (guard and protect) you. One keeps the commands of God by guarding and protecting them.
Law ~ torah
To interpret the Hebrew word torah as law is about the same as interpreting the word father as disciplinarian. While the father is a disciplinarian he is much more and in the same way torah is much more than law. The word torah is derived from the root yarah meaning to throw. This can be any kind of throwing such as a rock or an arrow from the bow or throwing the finger in a direction to point something out. Another word derived from this root is the word moreh which can mean and archer, one who throws the arrow, or a teacher, as one who points the way. The word torah is literally the teachings of the teacher or parent. When a parent is teaching a child a new task and he demonstrates a willingness to learn but fails to grasp the teaching completely the parent does not punish the child but rather encourages and builds on the teaching. In contrast to this a law is a set of rules that if not observed correctly will result in punishment and there is no room for teaching. The torah of God are his teachings to his children which are given in love to encourage and strengthen.
Life ~ hhai
The Hebrew word hhai is usually translated as life. In the Hebrew language all words are related to something concrete or physical, something that can be observed by one of the five senses. Some examples of concrete words would be tree, water, hot, sweet or loud. The western Greek mind frequently uses abstracts or mental words to convey ideas. An abstract word is something that cannot be sensed by the five senses. Some examples would be bless, believe, and the word life. Whenever working with an abstract word in the Biblical text it will help to uncover the concrete background to the word for proper interpretation. How did the ancient Hebrew perceive “life”. A clue can be found in Job 38:39, “Will you hunt prey for the lion and will you fill the stomach of the young lion?”. In this verse the word “stomach” is the Hebrew word hhai. What does the stomach have to do with life? In our culture it is very uncommon for anyone to experience true hunger but this was an all too often experience for the Ancient Hebrews. To the Ancient Hebrews life is seen as a full stomach while an empty stomach is seen as death.
Love ~ ahav
We do not choose our parents or siblings but are instead given to us as a gift from above, a privileged gift. Even in the ancient Hebrew culture ones wife was chosen for you. It is our responsibility to provide and protect that privileged gift. In our modern Western culture love is an abstract thought of emotion, how one feels toward another but the Hebrew meaning goes much deeper. As a verb this word means “to provide and protect what is given as a privilege” as well as ” to have an intimacy of action and emotion”. We are told to love God and our neighbors, not in an emotional sense, but in the sense of our actions.
Messiah ~ meshi’ahh
The word Messiah is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meshiahh (meh-shee-ahh – the “hh” is pronounced hard like the “ch” in the name Bach). This word comes from the root mashahh meaning “to smear” as in Jeremiah 22:14 where it is usually translated as “painted”. In the ancient world olive oil was a very versatile commodity. It was used in cooking as well as a medicine as it is a disinfectant, no shepherd was without a flask of olive oil which he smeared on his or his sheep’s injuries. The verb mashahh is also translated as “anointed”, as in Exodus 29:7, in the sense of smearing olive oil on the head. This ceremony was performed on anyone becoming a King, Priest or Prophet in the service of Yahweh. From the root mashahh comes the noun meshiahh literally meaning “one who is smeared with olive oil for office of authority” or, as it is usually translated, “anointed”. This word is also used for any “one who holds an office of authority” (such as a king or priest) even if that person was not ceremonially smeared with oil. A good example of this is Cyrus, the King of Persia. While he was not ceremonially smeared with oil, he was one of authority who served Yahweh through his decree allowing Israel to return to Jerusalem.
Name ~ shem
When we see a name such as “King David” we see the word “King” as a title and “David” as a name. In our western mind a title describes a character trait while a name is simply an identifier. In the Hebrew language there is no such distinction between names and titles. Both words, King and David, are descriptions of character traits, King is “one who reigns” while David is “one who is loved”. It is also common to identify the word “Elohiym” (God) as a title and YHWH (Yahweh, the LORD, Jehovah) as a name. What we do not realize is that both of these are character traits, YHWH meaning “the one who exists” and Elohiym is “one who has power and authority”. The Hebrew word “shem” more literally means “character”. When the Bible speaks of taking God’s name to the nations, he is not talking about the name itself but his character. When the command to not take God’s name in vain literally means not to represent his character in a false manner. It is similar to our expression of “having a good name” which is not about the name itself but the character of the one with that name.
Peace ~ shalom
The noun שלומ (shalom), often translated as “peace,” comes from the verb שלמ (Sh.L.M). The verb shalam means to “restore” in the sense of replacing or providing what is needed in order to make someone or something whole and complete. The noun שלומ (shalom) is one who has, or has been provided, what is needed to be whole and complete.
Praise ~ halel
The word praise is an abstract word that has no relationship with the ancient Hebrew’s concrete way of thinking. While the word halel is translated as “praise” it is also translated as “shine” as in Job 29:3. The original meaning of halel is the North Star. This star, unlike all of the other stars, remains motionless and constantly shines in the northern sky and is used as a guide when traveling. In the Ancient Hebrew mind we praise God by looking at him as the guiding star that shines to show us our direction. The first letter in this Hebrew word (from right to left) is a picture of a man with his arms raised up as pointing toward something of greatness. The second two letters are pictures of a shepherd staff which is used by the shepherd to move his flock toward a direction. When these two letters are combined the idea of looking toward something is formed.
Pray ~ palal
In our modern religious culture prayer is a communication between man and God. While this definition could be applied to some passage of the Bible (such as Genesis 20:17) it is not an Hebraic definition of the Hebrew word palal. By looking at the etymology of this word we can better see the Hebraic meaning. The word palal comes from the parent root pal meaning “fall” (The root pal is most likely the root of our word fall which can etymologically be written as phal). Pal is also the root of the Hebrew word naphal also meaning “fall”. The word palal literally means to “fall down to the ground in the presence of one in authority pleading a cause”. This can be seen in Isaiah 45:14 where the Sabeans fall down and make supplication (this is the Hebrew word palal) to Cyrus.
Priest ~ kohen
While the priests of Israel were the religious leaders of the community this is not the meaning of the word kohen. The Hebrew word for the priests of other nations is komer from a root meaning burn and may be in reference to the priests who burn children in the fires of Molech (2 Kings 23:10). The word kohen comes from a root meaning a base such as the base of a column. The koheniym (plural of kohen) are the structure support of the community. It is their responsibility to keep the community standing tall and straight, a sign of righteousness.
Righteous ~ tsadiyq
What is a righteous person? The word righteous is an abstract word and in order to understand this word from an Hebraic mindset we must uncover its original concrete meaning. One of the best ways to determine the original concrete meaning of a word is to find it being used in a sentence where its concrete meaning can be seen. For example the word yashar is usually translated as upright or righteous (abstracts) but is also translated as “straight”. From this we can conclude that a “yashar” is one who walks a straight line. The problem with the word tsadiyq, and its verb form tsadaq, is that there are no uses of this word in its concrete meaning. The next method is to compare how the word in question is paralleled with other Hebrew words as commonly found in the poetical passages of the Bible. Sometimes these parallels will be synonyms and other times antonyms. When we look at the word tsadiyq we find that it is commonly paralleled with the word “rasha”. Rasha is usually translated as “wicked” but has a concrete meaning of “to depart from the path and become lost”. From this we can conclude that a tsadiyq is one who remains on the path. The path is the course through life which God has outlined for us in his word.
Shine ~ Or
The word אור (or), as a noun means “light” and as a verb, it means to “give light” or “shine.” It is also related to the idea of bringing order, in the same way that you bring about order in the darkness when you turn on the lights.
Spirit ~ ru’ahh
The Hebrew word ru’ach literally means the wind and is derived from the parent root rach a prescribed path. The word rach is not found in the Biblical text but defined by the various child roots derived from it. The child roots derived from this parent root are arach, rachah and yarach. Arach is a traveler who follows a prescribed path from one place to another. Rachah is a millstone which goes round and round in the sense of following a prescribed path to crush grain into flour. Yarach is the root of yere’ach meaning the moon which follows a prescribed path in the night sky. The child root ru’ach is literally the wind that follows a prescribed path each season. By extension ru’ach means the wind of a man or what is usually translated as spirit. A man’s wind is not just a spiritual entity within a man but is understood by the Ancient Hebrews as his character.
Truth ~ emet
The root of this word is aman, a word often translated as “believe” but more literally means “support” as we see in Isaiah 22:23 where it says “I will drive him like a peg in a place of support…” A belief in God is not a mental exercise of knowing that God exists but rather our responsibility to show him our support. The word “emet” has the similar meaning of firmness, something that is firmly set in place. Psalmes 119:142 says, “the ‘Torah’ (the teachings of God) is ’emet’ (set firmly in place).
Wilderness ~ midvar
For forty years God had Israel wander in the ‘wilderness’. Insights into why God had chosen the wilderness for their wanderings can be found in the roots of this word. The root word is ‘davar’ and is most frequently translated as a thing or a word. The original picture painted by this word to the Hebrews is the arrangement of things to create order. Speech is an ordered arrangement of words. In the ancient Hebrew mind words are ‘things’ and are just as ‘real’ as food or other ‘thing’. When a word is spoken to another it is ‘placed in the ears’ no different than when food is given to another it is ‘placed in the mouth’. The Hebrew name Devorah (Deborah) means ‘bee’ and is the feminine form of the word davar. Bees are a community of insects which live in a perfectly ordered arrangement. The word ‘midvar’ meaning wilderness is actually a place that exists as a perfectly arranged order as its ecosystem is in harmony and balance. By placing Israel in this environment he is teaching them balance, order and harmony.
Worship ~ shahhah
In our modern western culture worship is an action directed toward God and God alone. But this is not the case in the Hebrew Bible. The word shehhah is a common Hebrew word meaning to prostrate oneself before another in respect. We see Moses doing this to his father in law in Exodus 18:7. When the translators translate the word shehhah they will use the word “worship” when the bowing down is directed toward God but as “obeisance” or other equivalent word when directed toward another man. There is no Hebrew word meaning worship in the sense that we are used to using it in our culture today. From an Hebraic perspective worship, or shehhah is the act of getting down on ones knees and placing the face down on the ground before another worthy of respect.