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Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts


Dâbhâr - דבר (Strong's #01697)

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My 'word' is My bond
One of the most important words and concepts in Scripture is that of 'the Word' itself. It forms the opening thought of John's Gospel in which he echoes the thought and structure of the opening passage of Genesis. Genesis opens with:

"In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . ." (Genesis 1:1)

Whilst John draws attention to this by writing:

"In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in [the] beginning with God. All things were made by him . . ." (John 1:1)

Thus the Word is closely associated with creative activity. In Isaiah 55:11 the 'word' goes out of God's mouth, just as His breath/Spirit does. In fact both the word for Spirit (Strong's #7307) and the word for mouth (Strong's #6310) derive from verbs meaning to blow, puff or exhale (Strong's #6284, #7306). Both Spirit and Word are associated with creation in Genesis 1:2-3 ("The Spirit of God was brooding . . ."; "And God said, let there be . . . "). The significance of Isaiah 55:11 is that the 'word' never returns void ('empty', a different word but one with similar meaning to 'void' in Genesis 1:2), it always accomplishes (Hebrew: השא ‘âsâh 'to make or create' (Strong's #6213), used in Genesis 1) its purpose. Now these are key meanings of the actual Hebrew word for 'word', but here described in several sentences.

In other words, dâbhâr (Strong's #1697) means both the 'word' itself and its accompanying creative 'act'. It occurs over 1400 times in Scripture and is translated by 85 different English words in the KJV (Its root verb, דבר dâbhar (Strong's #1696), occurs over 1100 times and required 45 different English words). It can also be translated by 'power', 'purpose', 'book', 'provision', 'reason', 'work', 'matter', 'thing', 'cause' or 'commandment' (e.g., the 10 commandments or 10 words, Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4), it could be a written report, single utterance, whole book, or prophetic message. Its first use is in Genesis 11:1 describing the world before the confusion of Babel when everyone had the same dâbhâr or 'speech, dialect'. The root verb occurs many hundreds of times in the Old Testament in the phrases, "the Lord spoke", "the Lord commanded", "the Lord promised" - all acceptable translations based upon context and the force of the original saying. The deeds of the kings of Israel are all written down in a דבר book but in Hebrew decribed as their 'words', e.g.,

"Now the rest of the acts דבר of Manasseh, his prayer to his God, and the words דבר of the seers who spoke דבר to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, indeed they are in the book דבר of the kings of Israel." (2 Chronicles 33:18)

Thus there is no semantic distinction as has sometimes between made in the Greek between logos and rhema words of God when applied to the Old Testament. The Hebrew has a broad definition and no difference between prophetic utterance, actual deed or written record. For instance, in the Greek Old Testament the Word (logos) heals those bitten by the serpent whilst the Word (rhema) preserves those that believe.

The Word was not just spoken it contained the power to fulfil or at the very least the intent to keep one's word. When the prophet heard a Word from the Lord it contained the driving force to impel its delivery. Jeremiah (20:9) could not restrain the Word any longer, but had to let it out. Just as the New Testament describes it the Word is alive and active, creative and explosive. It also was life to its hearers (Deuteronomy 32:46-47 and Jesus' words in John 6:63,68).

In the Old Testament the Word is almost personified, as is Wisdom, this is finally revealed in the New Testament as a description of Jesus, the Word incarnate.

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Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. The "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at

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