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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Poor (Person), Weak (Person)

A. Nouns.

‛Ânı̂y (עָנִי, Strong's #6041), “poor; weak; afflicted; humble.” This word, which also appears in early Aramaic and post-biblical Hebrew, occurs in biblical Hebrew about 76 times and in all periods.

This noun is frequently used in synonymous parallelism with ‘ebyon (“needy”) and/or dal (“poor”). It differs from both in emphasizing some kind of disability or distress. A hired servant as one who is in a lower (oppressive) social and material condition is described both as an ‘ebyon and ‘ani: “Thou shalt not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee” (Deut. 24:14-15). If wrongly oppressed, he can call on God for defense. Financially, the ‘ani lives from day to day and is socially defenseless, being subject to oppression. In its first biblical occurrence the ‘ani is guaranteed (if men obey God’s law) his outer garment for warmth at night even though that garment might be held as collateral during the day: “If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shall not be to him as a usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury” (Exod. 22:25). The godly protect and deliver the “afflicted” (Isa. 10:2; Ezek. 18:17), while the ungodly take advantage of them, increasing their oppressed condition (Isa. 58:7). The king is especially charged to protect the ‘ani: “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9).

’Ani can refer to one who is physically oppressed: “Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine” (Isa. 51:21).

Physical oppression is sometimes related to spiritual oppression as in Ps. 22:24: “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him.…” Outward affliction frequently leads to inner spiritual affliction and results in an outcry to God: “Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16). Even apart from outward affliction, the pious are frequently described as the “afflicted” or “poor” for whom God provides: “Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor” (Ps. 68:10). In such cases spiritual poverty and want are clearly in view. Sometimes the word means “humble” or “lowly,” as it does in Zech. 9:9, where it describes the Messiah: “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass …” (cf. Ps. 18:27; Prov. 3:34; Isa. 66:2).

Related to ’ani is the noun ‘oni, “affliction.” It appears about 36 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew. ‘Oni represents the state of pain and/or punishment resulting from affliction. In Deut. 16:3 the shewbread is termed the bread of “affliction” because it is a physical reminder of sin, the cause of “affliction” (Ps. 25:18), the hardship involved in sin (especially the Egyptian bondage), and divine deliverance from sin (Ps. 119:50).

‘Ani is also related to the word ‘anawah, “humility, gentleness.” This word occurs only 5 times, setting forth the two characteristics gained from affliction. Applied to God, it represents His submission to His own nature (Ps. 45:4).

Dal (דַּל, 1800), “one who is low, poor, reduced, helpless, weak.” This noun also appears in Ugaritic. It occurs in biblical Hebrew about 47 times and in all periods.

Dal is related to, but differs from, ‘ani (which suggests affliction of some kind), ‘ebyon (which emphasizes need), and rash (which suggests destitution). The dallim constituted the middle class of Israel—those who were physically deprived (in the ancient world the majority of people were poor). For example, the dallim may be viewed as the opposite of the rich (Exod. 30:15; cf. Ruth 3:10; Prov. 10:15).

In addition, the word may connote social poverty or lowliness. As such, dal describes those who are the counterparts of the great: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15; cf. Amos 2:7).

When Gideon challenged the Lord’s summoning him to deliver Israel, he emphasized that his clan was too weak to do the job: “And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh …” (Judg. 6:15; cf. 2 Sam. 3:1). God commands that society protect the poor, the lowly, and the weak: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause” (Exod. 23:2- 3; cf. Lev. 14:21; Isa. 10:2). He also warns that if men fail to provide justice, He will do so (Isa. 11:4).

A fourth emphasis appears in Gen. 41:19 (the first biblical appearance of the word), where dal is contrasted to “healthy” or “fat”: “And behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favored and leanfleshed.…” Thus, dal indicates a physical condition and appearance of sickliness. It is used in this sense to describe Amnon’s appearance as he longed for Tamar (2 Sam. 13:4).

Dal is used (very infrequently) of spiritual poverty (in such cases it is sometimes paralleled to ‘ebyon): “Therefore I said, Surely these are poor; they are foolish: for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God” (Jer. 5:4). Some scholars argue that here the word means “ignorance,” and as the context shows, this is ignorance in the knowledge of God’s word.

Another noun, dallah, is related to dal. Dallah, which appears about 8 times, means “poverty; dishevelled hair.” The word appears in 2 Kings 24:14: “… none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land,” where dallah emphasizes the social lowliness and “poverty” of those people whom it describes. In Song of Sol. 7:5 the word refers to “dishevelled hair” in the sense of something that hangs down.

B. Verbs.

Dâlal (דָּלַל, Strong's #1809), “to be low, hang down.” This verb appears only 8 times in the Bible and always in poetical passages. It has cognates or near cognates in Arabic, Ethiopic, Akkadian, and extra-biblical Hebrew. The word appears in Ps. 79:8: “O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are brought very low.”

Ânâh (עָנָה, Strong's #6031), “to afflict, oppress, humble.” This verb, which also appears in Arabic, occurs about 74 times in biblical Hebrew and in every period. The first occurrence is in Gen. 15:13: “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.”

C. Adjective.

‛Ânâv (עָנָיו, Strong's #6035), “humble; poor; meek.” This adjective, which appears about 21 times in biblical Hebrew, is closely related to ‘ani and derived from the same verb. Sometimes this word is synonymous with ‘ani. Perhaps this is due to the well-known waw-yodh interchange. ‘Anaw appears almost exclusively in poetical passages and describes the intended outcome of affliction from God, namely “humility.” In its first appearance the word depicts the objective condition as well as the subjective stance of Moses. He was entirely dependent on God and saw that he was: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Poor (Person), Weak (Person)'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/p/poor-person-weak-person.html. 1940.

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