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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

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'Âb (אָב, Strong's #1), “father; grandfather; forefather; ancestor.” Cognates of this word occur in Ugaritic, Akkadian, Phoenician, and other Semitic languages. Biblical Hebrew attests it about 1,120 times and in all periods.

Basically, 'âb relates to the familial relationship represented by the word “father.” This is the word’s significance in its first biblical appearance: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife …” (Gen. 2:24). In poetical passages, the word is sometimes paralleled to 'âb, “mother”: “I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister” (Job 17:14). The word is also used in conjunction with “mother” to represent one’s parents (Lev. 19:3). But unlike the word ’em, 'âb is never used of animals.

'Âb also means “grandfather” and/or “greatgrandfather,” as in Gen. 28:13: “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy [grand]father, and the God of Isaac.…” Such progenitors on one’s mother’s side were called “thy mother’s father” (Gen. 28:2). This noun may be used of any one of the entire line of men from whom a given individual is descended: “But he [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). In such use, the word may refer to the first man, a “forefather,” a clan (Jer. 35:6), a tribe (Josh. 19:47), a group with a special calling (1 Chron. 24:19), a dynasty (1 Kings 15:3), or a nation (Josh. 24:3). Thus, “father” does not necessarily mean the man who directly sired a given individual.

This noun sometimes describes the adoptive relationship, especially when it is used of the “founder of a class or station,” such as a trade: “And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle” (Gen. 4:20).

'Âb can be a title of respect, usually applied to an older person, as when David said to Saul: “Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand …” (1 Sam. 24:11). The word is also applied to teachers: “And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof …” (2 Kings 2:12). In 2 Kings 6:21, the word is applied to the prophet Elisha and in Judg. 17:10, to a priest; this word is also a title of respect when used of “one’s husband”: “Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?” (Jer. 3:4). In Gen. 45:8, the noun is used of an “advisor”: “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father [advisor] to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” In each case, the one described as “father” occupied a position or status and received the honor due to a “father.”

In conjunction with bayit (“house”), the word 'âb may mean “family”: “In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers …” (Exod. 12:3). Sometimes the plural of the word used by itself can represent “family”: “… These are the heads of the fathers [households] of the Levites according to their families” (Exod. 6:25).

God is described as the “father” of Israel (Deut. 32:6). He is the One who begot and protected them, the One they should revere and obey. Mal. 2:10 tells us that God is the “father” of all people. He is especially the “protector” or “father” of the fatherless: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5). As the “father” of a king, God especially aligns Himself to that man and his kingdom: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men” (2 Sam. 7:14). Not every king was a son of God—only those whom He adopted. In a special sense, the perfect King was God’s adopted Son: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7). The extent, power, and duration of His kingdom are guaranteed by the Father’s sovereignty (cf. Ps. 2:8-9). On the other hand, one of the Messiah’s enthronement names is “Eternal Father”: “… And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Father'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​vot/​f/father.html. 1940.
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