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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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A. Verbs.

Śâkal (שָׂכַל, Strong's #7919), “to be prudent, act wisely, give attention to, ponder, prosper.” This word, which is common to both ancient and modern Hebrew, is found approximately 75 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible. Its first use in the text, in Gen. 3:6, contributes to an interesting paradox, for while the forbidden fruit was “to be desired to make one wise,” it was a very unwise thing to take it!

The basic meaning of śâkal seems to be “to look at, to give attention to,” as illustrated in this parallelism: “That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand …” (Isa. 41:20). From this develops the connotation of insight, intellectual comprehension: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom … But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me …” (Jer. 9:23-24). As here, it is frequently used along with and in parallelism to the Hebrew śâkal, “to know” (primarily experientially). As is true of chakam, “to be wise,” śâkal never concerns abstract prudence, but acting prudently: “Therefore the prudent shall keep silence …” (Amos 5:13); “… He hath left off to be wise …” (Ps. 36:3).

Bı̂yn (בִּין, Strong's #995), “to understand, be able, deal wisely, consider, pay attention to, regard, notice, discern, perceive, inquire.” This verb, which occurs 126 times in biblical Hebrew, has cognates in Ugaritic, Arabic, Ethiopic, late Aramaic, and Syriac.

Bı̂yn appears in all periods of biblical Hebrew. Bı̂yn appears in Jer. 9:12 with the meaning “to understand”: “Who is the wise man, that may understand this?” In Job 6:30 the word means “to discern,” and in Deut. 32:7 it means “to consider.”

B. Nouns.

Bı̂ynâh (בִּינָה, Strong's #998), “understanding.” Bı̂ynâh appears 37 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew even though it belongs primarily to the sphere of wisdom and wisdom literature.

This noun represents the “act of understanding”: “And in all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians …” (Dan. 1:20).

Elsewhere bı̂ynâh signifies the faculty “understanding”: “… The spirit of my understanding causeth me to answer” (Job 20:3).

In other passages the object of knowledge, in the sense of what one desires to know, is indicated by bı̂ynâh: “Keep therefore and do them [God’s laws]: for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes …” (Deut. 4:6; cf. 1 Chron. 22:12). God’s law, therefore, is wisdom and “understanding”— what one should know.

This word is sometimes personified: “Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures …” (Prov. 2:3-4).

Tebûnâh (תּוֹבֻנָה, Strong's #8394), “understanding.” This word, which occurs 42 times, is also a wisdom term. Like bı̂ynâh, it represents the act (Job 26:12), faculty (Exod. 31:3), object (Prov. 2:3), and personification of wisdom (Prov. 8:1).

Maśkı̂yl (מַשְׂכִּיל, Strong's #4905), “didactic psalm(?).” This noun form, derived from śâkal, is found in the title of 13 psalms and also in Ps. 47:7. Scholars are not agreed on the significance of this term, but on the basis of the general meaning of śâkal, such psalms must have been considered didactic or teaching psalms.

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

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