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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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A. Verb.

Dâbar (דָּבַר, Strong's #1696), “to speak, say.” This verb occurs in all periods of Hebrew, in Phoenician (starting from around 900 B.C.), and in imperial Aramaic (starting from about 500 B.C.). In Old Testament Hebrew it occurs about 1,125 times.

This verb focuses not only on the content of spoken verbal communication but also and especially on the time and circumstances of what is said. Unlike ‘amar, “to say,” dâbar often appears without any specification of what was communicated. Those who “speak” are primarily persons (God or men) or organs of speech. In Gen. 8:15 (the first occurrence of this verb) God “spoke” to Noah, while in Gen. 18:5 one of the three men “spoke” to Abraham. Exceptions to this generalization occur, for example in Job 32:7, where Elihu personifies “days” (a person’s age) as that which has the right “to speak” first. In 2 Sam. 23:2 David says that the Spirit of the Lord “spoke” to him; contrary to many (especially liberal) scholars, this is probably a reference to the Holy Spirit (cf. NASB).

Among the special meanings of this verb are “to say” (Dan. 9:21), “to command” (2 Kings 1:9), “to promise” (Deut. 6:3), “to commission” (Exod. 1:17), “to announce” (Jer. 36:31), “to order or command” (Deut. 1:14), and “to utter a song” (Judg. 5:12). Such secondary meanings are, however, quite infrequent.

B. Nouns.

Dâbâr (דָּבָר, Strong's #1697), “word, matter; something.” This noun occurs 1,440 times. The noun dâbâr refers, first, to what is said, to the actual “word” itself; whereas ‘emer is essentially oral communication (the act of speaking). Before the dispersion from the tower of Babel all men spoke the same “words” or language (Gen. 11:1). This noun can also be used of the content of speaking. When God “did according to the word of Moses” (Exod. 8:13), He granted his request. The noun can connote “matter” or “affair,” as in Gen. 12:17, where it is reported that God struck Pharaoh’s household with plagues because of the “matter of Sarah” (KJV, “because of Sarai”). A rather specialized occurrence of this sense appears in references to records of the “events of a period” (cf. 1 Kings 14:19) or the activities of a particular person (1 Kings 11:41; cf. Gen. 15:1). Dâbâr can be used as a more general term in the sense of “something”—so in Gen. 24:66 the “everything” (KJV, “all things”) is literally “all of something(s)”; it is an indefinite generalized concept rather than a reference to everything in particular. This noun also appears to have had almost a technical status in Israel’s law procedures. Anyone who had a “matter” before Moses had a law case (Exod. 18:16).

As a biblical phrase “the word of the Lord” is quite important; it occurs about 242 times. Against the background just presented it is important to note that “word” here may focus on the content (meaning) of what was said, but it also carries overtones of the actual “words” themselves. It was the “word of the Lord” that came to Abram in a vision after his victory over the kings who had captured Lot (Gen. 15:1). In most cases this is a technical phrase referring expressly to prophetic revelation (about 225 times). It has been suggested that this phrase has judicial overtones although there are only 7 passages where this is certain (cf. Num. 15:31). This noun is used twice of God’s “affairs” in the sense of the care of the temple (1 Chron. 26:32).

The “word” of God indicates God’s thoughts and will. This should be contrasted with His name, which indicates His person and presence. Therefore, God’s “word” is called “holy” only once (cf. Ps. 105:42), while His name is frequently called “holy.”

There is much discussion regarding the “word” as a hypostatization of divine reality and attributes as seen, for example, in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” This theme is rooted in such Old Testament passages as Isa. 9:8: “The Lord sent a word into Jacob …” (cf. 55:10-11; Ps. 107:20; 147:15). Some scholars argue that this is no more than the poetical device of personification and does not foreshadow John’s usage. Their evidence is that human attributes are frequently separated from a man and objectivized as if they had a separate existence (cf. Ps. 85:11-12).

The Septuagint translates the noun dâbâr with two words respectively carrying overtones of the (1) content and (2) form of speaking: (1) logos and (2) rema.

Several other nouns related to the verb dabar occur infrequently. Dibrah, which occurs 5 times, means “cause, manner” (Job 5:8). Dabberet means “word” once (Deut. 33:3). Deborah appears 5 times and refers to “honey bee” (Deut. 1:44; Ps. 118:12). Midbar refers to “speaking” once (Song of Sol. 4:3).

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

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