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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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Mishpâchâh (מִשְׁפָּחָה, Strong's #4940), “family; clan.” A form of this Hebrew word occurs in Ugaritic and Punic, also with the meaning of “family” or “clan.” The word is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as in Mishnaic and modern Hebrew. Mishpâchâh occurs 300 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. The word is first used in Gen. 8:19: “Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.”

The word is related to the verbal root shipchah but the verbal form is absent from the Old Testament. Another noun form pechah (“maidservant”), as in Gen. 16:2: “And Sarai said unto Abram … I pray thee, go in unto my maid.…”

The noun mishpachah is used predominantly in the Pentateuch (as many as 154 times in Numbers) and in the historical books, but rarely in the poetical literature (5 times) and the prophetical writings.

All members of a group who were related by blood and who still felt a sense of consanguinity belonged to the “clan” or “the extended family.” Saul argued that since he belonged to the least of the “clans,” he had no right to the kingship (1 Sam. 9:21). This meaning determined the extent of Rahab’s family that was spared from Jericho: “… And they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel” (Josh. 6:23). So the “clan” was an important division within the “tribe.” The Book of Numbers gives a census of the leaders and the numbers of the tribes according to the “families” (Num. 1-4; 26). In capital cases, where revenge was desired, the entire clan might be taken: “And, behold, the whole family is risen against thine handmaid, and they said, Deliver him that smote his brother, that we may kill him, for the life of his brother whom he slew; and we will destroy the heir also: and so they shall quench my coal which is left, and shall not leave to my husband neither name nor remainder upon the earth” (2 Sam. 14:7).

A further extension of the meaning “division” or “clan” is the idiomatic usage of “class” or “group,” such as “the families” of the animals that left the ark (Gen. 8:19) or the “families” of the nations (Ps. 22:28; 96:7; cf. Gen. 10:5). Even God’s promise to Abraham had reference to all the nations: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

The narrow meaning of mishpâchâh is similar to our usage of “family” and similar to the meaning of the word in modern Hebrew. Abraham sent his servant to his relatives in Padanaram to seek a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:38). The law of redemption applied to the “close relatives in a family”: “After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself” (Lev. 25:48-49).

In the Septuagint, several words are given as a translation: demos (“people; populace; crowd”), phule (“tribe; nation; people”), and patria (“family; clan”). The KJV translates mishpâchâh with “family; kindred; kind.” Most versions keep the translation “family”; but instead of “kindred” and “kind,” some read “relative” (NASB) or “clan.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Family'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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