yâ‘tabh 'do well, good' יָטַב (Strong's #3190)
"you shalt do that which is upright and good in the sight of the LORD; that it may be well with you" (Deuteronomy 6:18)
Whilst the seven-fold use of "good" טוֹב tôwbh (Strong's #2896, x559) in the Genesis 1:4-31 Creation narrative is fairly familiar, its parent verb - or perhaps the noun came first, is less well known. יָטַב yâtabh (Strong's #3190, x107) is variously translated, principally by to be or do "well" x35, "good" x21, "please/pleasing/beautiful" x16, and "merry" x6.
It first occurs in the Cain and Abel acceptable offering and ensuing murder story, Genesis 4:7, "if you do well will you not be lifted up/accepted, if you don't do well, sin lies at the door". Interestingly, most older versions translate using "do well", the NET Bible, NIV and NLT have "do what is right". Reading later theology of "sin" into this early Hebrew text is wrong. The context is an offering of the harvest or flock - if one offers that which is "good", of the "best", will it not be accepted, if not, clearly a stingy "sinful" heart withholds the best.
The next usage is Sarai's sojourn in Egypt under the pretence of being Abraham's sister so that it would "go well" for them both (Genesis 12:13) and Pharoah did indeed treat them "well" (v16) giving him livestock and servants. Several times, God's "good dealing" with people results in fertility and multiplication of their family members, e.g., Exodus 1:20 and Deuteronomy 28:63, 30:5.
Jacob too, uses יָטַב yâtabh in describing God's promise to do him "good" (Genesis 32:9), indeed he doubles up the verb in v12 to emphasise the certain surety of it.
The phrase "doing that which is upright and good" using יָשָׁר yâshâr (Strong's #3477, x119) and טוֹב tôwbh "in the sight of God" occurs in Deuteronomy 6:18 and 12:25,28, that it "may go well (יָטַב yâtabh) with you". Three times in Jeremiah (18:11, 26:13, 35:15) the people are called to "make good" or amend their evil ways and doings.
Seven times we see יָטַב yâtabh set in opposition to רָעַע râ‘a‘ (Strong's #7489, x83) as in "do good or do evil", for instance, Isaiah 41:23, Leviticus 5:4 or Jeremiah 4:22, 10:5. The familar expression "Can a leopard change its spots" come from Jeremiah 13:23, in full: "Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." This is rendered quite well by the NIV, rather more confusingly by other versions. For some, it is suggested, being רָעַע râ‘a‘ could be so ingrained that doing יָטַב yâtabh, is nigh on impossible.
Some 16+ times, it is translated as "to be pleasing, find favour" in ones eyes, sight or presence. Some of these could equally be translated as "it seemed good to X to do Y", as in Nehemiah 2:6 "it seemed good to/pleased the king to send me". Similarly, Solomon's famous prayer for wisdom rather than riches "pleased the Lord" (1 Kings 3:10).
Four times יָטַב yâtabh is used in the phrase "let your heart be merry", e.g., Judges 19:6,9; twice שָׂמַחַ sâmêach (Strong's #8056, x23) describes a "merry/happy heart" that "does good" like a medicine (Proverbs 15:13, 17:22).
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