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Hebrew Thoughts

bîyn - בִּין (Strong's #995)
Distinguish, discern, understand

bîyn "distinguish, discern, understand" בִּין (Strong's #995)

"Who is the wise man that may understand this..." (Jeremiah 9:12, KJV)

בִּין bîyn s a root verb meaning "to distinguish" (Strong's #995, x170) in the sense of gaining understanding by being able to discern, separate, or decide between. A derivative construct noun is בַּין bayn that translates as "between", "within" or "difference" (Strong's #996, x32).

It is first used in Genesis 41:33,39 of Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, and then in Deuteronomy 1:13 of a required characteristic of leaders over the tribes of Israel, alongside "wisdom" חָכָם châkhâm (Strong's #2450, x137) and "knowing" יָדַע yâdha‘ (Strong's #3045, x947).

Indeed, בִּין bîyn is regularly paired (20x) with חָכָם châkhâm as "wisdom and discernment/understanding" and several times with יָדַע yâdha‘ as "knowledge and understanding".

It is not surprising, therefore, that it occurs most frequently in the Wisdom literature of Proverbs (x30), Psalms (x26) and Job (x23), nearly half of its uses. The book of Daniel, like its first use in Joseph's dream interpretations, also gets wide usage (x19) after the prophet Isaiah (x20).

בִּין bîyn is not just prophetic or interpretation though, it is used of perception and discernment via all the senses. Whether of the eyes (Proverbs 7:7; Job 31:1; Isaiah 5:21), ears (Proverbs 29:19), taste (Job 6:30), or touch (Psalm 58:10).

Understanding of the heart - for which read "mind" as Hebrew had no word for mind/mental at the time, also uses בִּין bîyn as in Isaiah 6:9-10.

Wisdom, skill, and perhaps eloquence, of speech are suggested by its use with דָּבָר dâbhâr (Strong's #1697, x1439) "word, speech" to describe a young David, before he was king, in 1 Samuel 16:18.

In Solomon's famous prayer for wisdom he asks for an "understanding" heart, using shâma‘ (Strong's #8085, x1159) rather than בִּין bîyn but goes on "that I may discern between good and evil" using בִּין בֵּין bîyn bêyn together.

In the Hiphil causative form of the Hebrew verb it gains the meaning of "bringing wisdom, understanding, knowledge" through teaching, instruction, declaration, explanation, or interpretation, as in Nehemiah 8:7-9.


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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. Their "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at

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