Language Studies

Hebrew Thoughts


‘ebhedh - עֶבֶד (Strong's #5650)
Slave, servant

‘ebhedh 'slave, servant' עֶבֶד (Strong's #5650)

"By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11, NKJ)

עֶבֶד ‘ebhedh (Strong's #5650, x800) is a simple and yet broad word taking in all kinds of servitude from service to slavery, from high ranking military or ministerial duty to the lowest bonded servant. It includes the worshipper and the worker, the prophet (Amos 3:7, Zech 1:6) and the priest, right up to princes, kings and the messianic ambassador of God.

The root idea behind עֶבֶד ‘ebhedh is that of עָבַד ‘âbhadh (Strong's #5647, x290) "to labour, work" especially in the service of another. Whether this be the six days of the "working" week (Exodus 20:9-10), servitude to another nation, or the serive/worship of God or idols. It is both a generic for work and yet on many occasions, if not a majority, carries with it the sense of obedience, labour, and service, not in one's own interest, but for another. Some 236 of its 290 uses are translated by "serve" or "service".

עֶבֶד ‘ebhedh, therefore, sits somewhere between work and slavery, as a servant to another - it wouldn't seem to cover self-employment or work entirely in one's own interest.

Its first use is significant in Genesis 9:25-27, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers" - the lowest ranking, a servant to servants. Abraham described his head of house, or chief servant by the term, who "had charge over all that he had" (Genesis 24:2). The word could be used as a self-deprecating term of politeness before another, in terms of hospitality or respect (Genesis 18:3).

Exodus 20:9-10 describes the working week and Sabbath rest, "Six days you shall labour (עֶבֶד ‘âbhadh) and do all your work, but the seventh shall not do any work, nor your son, daughter, nor servant (עֶבֶד ‘ebhedh)...". "Work", here, is מְלָאכָה melâ’khâh (Strong's #4399, x167) which again usually means deputised work for another.

Some 10-11 times עֶבֶד ‘ebhedh is translated "bondage" in the sense of a bondservant or slave. Exodus 20:2: "I am the Lord they God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage". This is translated as "slavery" by the NAS but either way it always occurs like this in the phrase "house of bondage" relating to Egypt (e.g., Micah 6:4).

In Egypt, Pharaoh's own servants included chief butlers and chief bakers (Genesis 40:20), those same who ended up in prison and Joseph's dream.

The word is perhaps most familar in the suffering servant passages of Isaiah describing a messianic messenger of God to the nations. These passages at times describe Israel the nation (Isaiah 41:8-9) and at others a more singular figure (Isaiah 52:13, 53:11) or Isaiah 42:10 written in the singular yet seeming to describe the same subjects as Isaiah 43:10 and 44:1 which are clearly plural and relating to Israel. Zechariah 3:8 also refers to the "Branch" as God's prophetic messianic servant.

Ezekiel 34:23-24 and 37:24-25 describes a prophetic figure, like David, who is both prince among the restored scattered Israel and yet also God's servant, so that even a king and ruler is servant to God.

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