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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

River; Wadi

A. Nouns.

Nachal (נַחְלָה, Strong's #5158), “wadi (or wady); torrentvalley; torrent; river; shaft.” This root also occurs in Akkadian, post-biblical Hebrew, and Syriac. In Arabic these same radicals mean “palm tree.” Nachal occurs about 139 times in biblical Hebrew and in all periods.

This noun represents a dry valley in which water runs during the rainy season: “And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there” (Gen. 26:17— the first biblical appearance). The word can signify the “wady” when it is full of rushing water. Indeed, it appears to describe the rushing water itself: “And he took them, and sent them over the brook …” (Gen. 32:23). Sometimes nachal means a permanent stream or “river”: “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat” (Lev. 11:9). Finally, the word represents a miner’s shaft (only once in the Scripture): “They open shafts in a valley away from where men live” (Job 28:4, RSV).

The Pentateuch consistently distinguishes between extra-Egyptian waterways (calling them nachal, 13 times, and nahar 13 times) and interEgyptian waterways (calling them ye’or). This distinction demonstrates the kind of firsthand knowledge and historical concern expected from a mature eyewitness.

Nachal is used figuratively of many things that emerge and disappear suddenly or that have extreme onrushing power such as the pride of nations (Isa. 66:12), the strength of the invader (Jer. 47:2), and the power of the foe (Ps. 18:4). Torrents of oil do not please God if the offerer’s heart is wrongly disposed (Mic. 6:7). God overfloods the godly with torrents of His good pleasure (Ps. 36:8). The eschaton is typified by streams, or torrents, in the desert (Ezek. 47:5-19; cf. Exod. 17:3ff.).

Nâhâr (נָהָר, Strong's #5104), “river; stream; canal; current.” Cognates of this word are attested in Ugaritic, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Arabic. The word appears about 120 times in biblical Hebrew and in all periods.

First, this word mually refers to permanent natural watercourses. In its first biblical appearance nâhâr represents the primeval “rivers” of Eden: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads” (Gen. 2:10).

In some passages nâhâr may represent a “canal(s)”: “Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams [the branches of the Nile], upon their rivers [canals], and upon their ponds …” (Exod. 7:19; cf. Ezek. 1:1).

Third, this word is used of “ocean currents”: “For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me” (Jonah 2:3).

Fourth, nâhâr is used of underground streams: “For he hath founded it [the earth] upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Ps. 24:2). This passage appears to be a literary allusion to the pagan concept of the creation and structure of the world—the next verse is “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” (Ps. 24:3).

This word plays a prominent role in the figure of divine blessing set forth in Ps. 46:4: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.…” This may be an allusion to the primeval “river” in Eden whose water gave life to the garden. In Isa. 33:21 the same Jerusalem is depicted as having “rivers” of blessing: “… A place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby” (cf. Isa. 48:18). In other passages a “river” is a figure of trouble and difficulty: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee …” (Isa. 43:2). This is in marked contrast to the use of the same idea in Isa. 66:12, where an “overflowing stream” depicts respectively the onrush of God’s glory and divine peace.

B. Verb.

Nâhar (נָהַר, Strong's #5102), “to flow.” This verb, derived from the noun nâhar, occurs 3 times in biblical Hebrew. The first occurrence is in Isa. 2:2: “And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'River; Wadi'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/r/river-wadi.html. 1940.

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