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Hebrew Thoughts

bânâh - בָּנָה (Strong's #1129)
To build

bânâh 'to build' בָּנָה (Strong's #1129)

"And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made He a woman" (Genesis 2:22, JPS)

The first three uses of בָּנָה bânâh "to build" (Strong's #1129, x376) are indicative of its range of application. Genesis 2:22 describes God's "building" of a woman out of Adam's "rib" or "side", צֵלָע tsêlâ‘ (Strong's #6763, x41). Next, Genesis 4:17 tells of the offspring of Cain and his wife, Enoch, and his "building" a city. Genesis 8:20 continues with the idea of construction - this time of an altar, by Noah, after the Flood.

Curiously, the word is not used of any other act of Creation, other than that of woman, nor of any other part of the Flood narrative. The Ark was not built it was "fashioned" using עָשָׂה ’âsâh "to make, do" (Strong's #6213, x2633). Although, Ezekiel 27:5 describes a ship's decking being "made" from fir trees, but using בָּנָה bânâh. Is there a semantic or significant difference, or are the words synonyms?

Meanwhile, the more often than not ex-nihilo - "from nothing", בָּרָא bârâ’ (Strong's #1154, x54) is used 11x in Genesis concerning the creation of heaven and earth, and of mankind, and 21x in Isaiah, among its barely 50+ uses. Amos 9:6, however, uses בָּנָה bânâh of God "building his heights in the heavens".

So, of the three main words for constructing, making, and creating, what marks out בָּנָה bânâh for its uses?

Interestingly, etymologically at least, בָּנָה bânâh begins with the Hebrew letter ב bêth and pictogram of a house, for which the Hebrew word is בַּיַת bayith (Strong's #1004, x2055). This just serves to affirm the core idea of construction, combining, building out of materials, at the heart of בָּנָה bânâh.

Whether the product was a building or a family seems irrelevant with no distinction between offspring or object. The words for "son" בּנה bên (Strong's #1121, x4906) and "daughter" בָּת bath (Strong's #1323, x588), also derive from בָּנָה bânâh. To build a house could mean constructing a dwelling or raising up a generation of children and grandchildren, thus building a dynastic house.

Indeed, Sarai in Genesis 16:2 goes as far as to say that she would be "built up" by Abram going into Hagar and siring children with her. The JPS translation is "builded up", whilst the KJV and NAS interpret as "obtain children". The same idea and phraseology is used of Rachel being "built" by Jacob going in to her maid Bilhah (Genesis 30:3).

King David, of course, offered to build God a house to dwell which God pointed out that he didn't need, only to let Solomon build it anyway. But in a play on the meaning of both "build" and "house", God essentially promised to build a dynasty for David instead (I Chronicles 17:4-12).

   
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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 www.biblicalhebrew.com.

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