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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(Heb. יָם, yam; Chahl. יַמָּא, yamma; θάλασσα ), as opposed to land or earth (אֶרֶצ, erets, Genesis 1:10), in which all the waters of the earth are included, originated by the separation of its waters from those of the air, or the clouds (vet. 6 sq.). The sea is represented as deep (Psalms 68:23; Micah 7:19; Amos 9:3; Job 38:16), wide (11:9), and mighty (Psalms 104:25; Job 7:12; Lamentations 2:13); surrounding the earth at its utmost bounds (Deuteronomy 30:13; Psalms 139:9; comp. the ancient Greek view of oceanus, ὠκέανος, Fubiger, Handb. d. alt. Geogr. i, 4); the earth, indeed, resting on the ocean (Psalms 24:2). The surface (comp. βυθός, the deep, 2 Corinthians 11:25) is roused by winds (Daniel 7:2; comp. Jonah 1:11; Jonah 1:13) into waves (גַּלִּים, Psalms 65:8; Psalms 107:25; Isaiah 66:18; κύματα , Judges 1:13; κλύδων, James 1:6), so that it roars and rages (Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 1, 42; Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 57:20; Psalms 96:11; 1 Chronicles 16:32), and is only subject to God (Job 38:11; Psalms 89:10). The countless inhabitants of the sea (James 3:7, Revelation 8:8 sq.) are given to men for food (Genesis 9:2 sq.),but the people of God may only eat those which are legally clean (Leviticus 11:9 sq.). On the coasts of the sea (Heb. samah', שָׂמָה ) lie great lands; and the sand of the sea (חוֹל; Gr. ἄμμος ) is proverbial for multitude (Genesis 22:17; Joshua 11:4; 2 Samuel 17:11; Job 29:18; Hosea 1:10; 1 Maccabees 11:1; Revelation 20:8, etc.; Homer, Iliad, 9:885; Callim. Dish. p. 252; Ovid, Trist. 4:1, 55; Ars Am. i, 254. Comp. Pindar, Olymp. ii, 178; Calpurn. ii, 72. See also Gesen. Thesaur. p. 598 sq.).

It may be remarked that almost all the figures of speech taken from the sea in Scripture refer either to its power or its danger, and among the woes threatened in punishment of disobedience, one may be remarked as significant of the dread of the sea entertained by a non-seafaring people, the being brought back into Egypt "in ships" (Deuteronomy 28:68). The national feeling on this subject may be contrasted with that of the Greeks in reference to the sea. No mention of the tide is found in Scripture.

The above Heb. word, יָם, yam, is sometimes connected with תְּהוֹן, tehom (ἄβυσσος, abyssus, "the deep," Genesis 1:2; Jonah 2:5). It also means the west (Gesen. Thesaur. p. 360, 598). When used for the sea, it very often, but not always, takes the article. Other words for the sea (in the A.V. "deep") are: מְצוּלָה, metsulah, or מְצוֹלָה, metsolah (only in the plural), or צוּלָה, tsulah simply (ἄβυσσος, βάθος , abyssus, profundum); מַבּוּל, mabbul (κατακλυσμός , diluvium, "water-flood," Psalms 29:10).. Smaller pools were distinguished into אֲגָם, Ogdm, a natural pool or pond (evil, 35; Psalms 114:8; Isaiah 35:7; Isaiah 41:18, etc.), and בְּרֵכָה, berekah, the same as the Arabic birkeh; an artificial pool or reservoir (2 Samuel 2:13; 2 Samuel 4:12; Nahum 2:9).

The following are the applications Of the term yam in Scripture:

1. The "gathering of the waters" (yammin), encore-passing the land, or what we call in a more or less deft-nite sense "the Ocean." In this sense the term is used in Genesis 1:2; Genesis 1:10, and elsewhere, as Deuteronomy 30:13; 1 Kings 10:22; Psalms 24:2; Job 26:8; Job 26:12; Job 38:8; see Homer, Iliad, 14:301, 302; Hesiod, Theog. 107, 109; and 2 Peter 3:5.

2. The word is used, with the article, of some definite part of the great circumambient water, viz.:

(a.) Of the Mediterranean Sea, called the "hinder" (אַחֲרוֹן ), the "western," and the "utmost" sea (Deuteronomy 11:24; Deuteronomy 34:2; Joel 2:20); "sea of the Philistines" (Exodus 23:31); "the great sea" (Numbers 34:6-7; Joshua 15:47); "the sea" (Genesis 49:13; Psalms 80:11; evil, 23; 1 Kings 4:20, etc.). (See MEDITERRANEAN).

(b.) Also frequently of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:4; Joshua 24:6), or one of its gulfs (Numbers 11:31; Isaiah 11:15), and perhaps (1 Kings 10:22) the sea traversed by Solomon's fleet. (See RED SEA).

The place "where two seas met" (τόπος διθάλασσος, Acts 27:41) is explained by Conybeare and Howson as a place where the island Salmonetta, off the coast of Malta, in St. Paurs Bay, so intercepts the passage from the sea without to the bay within as to give the appearance of two seas, just as Strabo represents the appearance of the entrance from the Bosphorus into the Euxine; but it seems quite as likely that by the "place of the double sea" is meant one where two currents, caused by the intervention of the island, met and produced an eddy, which made it desirable at once to ground the ship (Conybeare and Howson, 5, 423; Strabo, ii, 124).

3. The term is also applied to the great internal lakes of Palestine, whether fresh or salt; e.g.

(a.) The Sea of Chinnereth, יַם כִּנֶּרֶת (Numbers 34:11), called in the New Test. "the Sea of Galilee" (Matthew 4:18), the "Sea of Tiberias" (John 21:1), and "the sea (or lake) of Gennesareth" (Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53; Luke 5:17), which last is but a variation of the Hebrew name. (See GALILEE, SEA OF).

(b.) The Dead Sea, called in Scripture the Salt Sea, יָם הָמֶּלַח (Genesis 14:3), the Sea of the Plain, or the Arabah, יָם חָעֲרָבָה (Deuteronomy 4:40), and the Eastern Sea, הַיָּם חַקַּדְמֹנִי (Joel 2:20; Ezekiel 47:18; Zechariah 14:8). It is not named or alluded to in the New Test. It is called by Josephus (War, iii, 10, 7) λίμνη Ασφαλτίτης, by which name, or in the Latin form of Lacus Asphaltites, it was known to the classical writers. (See SALT SEA).

(c.) The Lake Merom is named once only in Scripture, where it is called

מֵי מְרוֹם, waters of Merom (Joshua 11:5; Joshua 11:7). By Josephus it is called Semechonitis (Σεμεχωνίτις, Ant. v, 5, 1), and at present bears the name of Huleh: this is the uppermost and smallest of the three lakes on the Jordan. (See MEROM).

4. The term yam, like the Arabic bahr, is also applied to great rivers, as the Nile (Isaiah 19:5; Amos 8:8, A.V. "flood;" Nahum 3:8; Ezekiel 32:2) and the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:36). See Stanley, Syr. and Pal. App. p. 533; Hackett, Illust. of Script, p. 119.

5. Finally, the great copper (נְחשֶׁת ) or molten (מוּצָק ) laver, which stood in the court of Solomon's Temple, is called a yam (1 Kings 7:23-44; 2 Kings 16:17, etc.). (See BRAZEN SEA); (See LAVER)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sea'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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