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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 106





I. Syntax of the Verb.

A. Use of the Tenses and Moods.[2]
§106. Use of the Perfect.

The perfect serves to express actions, events, or states, which the speaker wishes to represent from the point of view of completion, whether they belong to a determinate past time, or extend into the present, or while still future, are pictured as in their completed state.

The definition formerly given here (‘the perfect serves to express completed actions’) applies, strictly speaking, only to some of the varieties of the perfect discussed under b–p: hence the above modification based on the arguments of Knudtzon (for the title see note 2, and cf. further §107a).

More particularly the uses of the perfect may be distinguished as follows:—

1. To represent actions, events, or states, which, after a shorter or longer duration, were terminated in the past, and hence are finally concluded, viz.:

(a) Corresponding to the perfect proper in Latin and the English perfect definite, in assertions, negations, confirmations, interrogations, &c., e.g. Genesis 18:15 then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not (צָחַ֫קְתִּי לֹא‎)......; and he said, Nay, but thou didst laugh (צָחָקְתְּ‎); Genesis 3:11 מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ‎ who told thee....? Cf. Genesis 3:13141722. Also pointing to some undefined time in the past, e.g. Isaiah 66:8 מִֽי־שָׁמַע כָּזֹאת‎ who hath (ever yet) heard such a thing?

Rem. In opposition to this express use of the perfect to emphasize the completion of an event, the imperfect is not infrequently used to emphasize that which is still future, e.g. Joshua 1:5 as I was (הָיִיתִי‎) with Moses, so will I be (אֶֽהְיֶה‎) with thee; Joshua 1:17, Exodus 10:14, Deuteronomy 32:21, 1 Kings 2:38, Isaiah 46:411, Joel 2:2, Ecclesiastes 1:9.

(b) As a simple tempus historicum (corresponding to the Greek aorist) in narrating past events, e.g. Genesis 4:4 and Abel, he also brought (הֵבִיא‎), &c.; Genesis 7:19 the waters did prevail (גָּֽבְרוּ‎), &c.; Job 1:1 there was a man (אִישׁ הָיֶה‎) in the land of Uz, &c.; even in relating repeated actions, 1 Samuel 18:30.

Rem. As the above examples indicate, the perfect of narration occurs especially at the head of an entire narrative (Job 1:1; cf. Daniel 2:1) or an independent sentence (e.g. Genesis 7:1113), but in co-ordinate sentences, as a rule, only when the verb is separated from the copulative ו‎ by one or more words (cf. above Genesis 4:4 and Genesis 7:19). In other cases, the narrative is continued in the imperfect consecutive, according to §111a. The direct connexion of the narrative perfect with ו‎ copulative (not to be confounded with the perfect consecutive proper, § 112) agrees rather with Aramaic syntax (cf. Kautzsch, Gramm. des Biblisch-Aram., § 71, 1 b). On the examples (which are in many respects doubtful) in the earlier texts, see §112pp–uu.

(c) To represent actions, &c., which were already completed in the past, at the time when other actions or conditions took place (pluperfect),[3] e.g. 1 Samuel 28:3 now Samuel was (long since) dead[4]... and Saul had put away (הֵסִיר‎) those that had familiar spirits... out of the land. Both these statements, being as it were in parentheses, merely assign a reason for the narrative beginning at verse 6. Cf. 1 Samuel 9:15, 1 Samuel 25:21, 2 Samuel 18:18.—Genesis 20:18 (for the Lord had fast closed up, &c.); Genesis 27:30, Genesis 31:1934, Deuteronomy 2:10; and in a negative statement, Genesis 2:5 for the Lord God had not (up to that time) caused it to rain, &c. This is especially frequent, from the nature of the case, in relative, causal, and temporal clauses, when the main clause contains a tense referring to the past, e.g. Genesis 2:2 and he rested... from all his work which he had made (עָשָׂה‎); Genesis 7:9, 19:27, &c.; 29:10 now when Jacob had seen Rachel (בַּֽאֲשֶׁר רָאָה‎)..., Jacob went near, &c.; so also in clauses which express the completion or incompleteness of one action, &c., on the occurrence of another, as in Genesis 24:15, Genesis 27:30, &c.; cf. §164b, with the note, and c.

2. To represent actions, events, or states, which, although completed in the past, nevertheless extend their influence into the present (in English generally rendered by the present):

(a) Expressing facts which were accomplished long before, or conditions and attributes which were acquired long before, but of which the effects still remain in the present (present perfect), e.g. Psalms 10:11 הִסְתִּיר פָּנָיו‎ he hath hidden his face (and still keeps it hidden); Psalms 143:6 פֵּרַ֫שְׂתִּי‎ I have spread forth my hands (and still keep them spread forth). This applies particularly to a large number of perfects (almost exclusively of intransitive[5] verbs, denoting affections or states of the mind) which in English can be rendered only by the present, or, in the case mentioned above under f, by the imperfect.[6] Thus, יָדַ֫עְתִּי‎ I know (prop. I have perceived, have experienced) Job 9:2, Job 10:13, לֹא יָדַ֫עְתִּי‎ I know not Genesis 4:9, &c.; on the other hand, e.g. in Genesis 28:16, Numbers 22:34, the context requires I knew not; זָכַ֫רְנו‎ we remember Numbers 11:5; מֵֽאֲנָה‎ she refuseth Job 6:7; עָלַץ‎ it exulteth; שָׂמַ֫חְתִּי‎ I rejoice 1 Samuel 2:1; בִּקֵּשׁ‎ he requireth Isaiah 1:12; קִוִּ֫יתִי‎ I wait Genesis 49:18, Psalms 130:5 (parallel with הוֹחָֽ֫לְתִּי‎); חָפַ֫צְתִּי‎ I delight Psalms 40:9 (mostly negative, Isaiah 1:11, &c.); אָהַ֫בְתִּי‎ I love Genesis 27:4; שָׂנֵ֫אתִי‎ I hate Psalms 31:7; מָאַ֫סְתּי‎ I despise Amos 5:21; תִּֽעֲב֫וּנִי‎ they abhor me Job 30:10; בָּטַ֫חְתִּי‎ I trust Psalms 25:2; חָסִ֫יתִי‎ I put my trust Psalms 31:2; צָדַ֫קְתִּי‎ I am righteous Job 34:5; פָּקַ֫דְתִּי‎ I have decided to requite 1 Samuel 15:2.—We may further include a number of verbs which express bodily characteristics or states, such as גָּדַ֫לְתָּ‎ thou art great Psalms 104:1; קָטֹ֫נְתִּי‎ I am little Genesis 32:11; גָּֽבְהוּ‎ they are high Isaiah 55:9; רָֽחֲקוּ‎ they stand aloof Job 30:10; טֹ֫בוּ‎ they are goodly Numbers 24:5; נָאווּ‎ they are beautiful Isaiah 52:7; זָקַ֫נְתִּי‎ I am old Genesis 18:13; יָגַ֫עְתִּי‎ I am weary Psalms 6:7; שָׂבַ֫עְתִּי‎ I am full Isaiah 1:11, &c.

Rem. To the same category probably belong also the perfects after עַד־מָתַי‎ Exodus 10:3 how long hast thou already been refusing (and refusest still...? which really amounts to how long wilt thou refuse?), Psalms 80:5, Proverbs 1:22 (co-ordinate with the imperf.), and after עַד־אָ֫נָה‎ Exodus 16:28, Habakkuk 1:2.

(b) In direct narration to express actions which, although really only in process of accomplishment, are nevertheless meant to be repre- sented as already accomplished in the conception of the speaker, e.g. הֲרִמֹ֫תִי‎ I lift up (my hand in ratifying an oath) Genesis 14:22; נִשְׁבַּ֫עְתִּי‎ I swear Jeremiah 22:5; הַֽעִדֹ֫תִי‎ I testify Deuteronomy 8:19; יָעַ֫צְתִּי‎ I counsel 2 Samuel 17:11 (but in a different context in ver. 15, I have counselled); אָמַ֫רְתִּי‎ (prop. I say) I decide (I consider as hereby settled) 2 Samuel 19:30; I declare Job 9:22, Job 32:10.

(c) To express facts which have formerly taken place, and are still of constant recurrence, and hence are matters of common experience (the Greek gnomic aorist), e.g. Psalms 9:11 for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken (לֹא־עָזַ֫בְתָּ‎) them that seek thee. Cf. ver. 13, also Psalms 10:3, Psalms 119:40 and Genesis 49:11 (כִּבֵּס‎).

Rem. In almost all the cases discussed in No. 2 (included under the English present) the imperfect can be used instead of the perfect, wherever the action or state in question is regarded, not as already completed, but as still continuing or just taking place (see §107a). Thus, לֹא יָכֹ֫לְתִּי‎ I am not able Psalms 40:13 and לֹא אוּכַל‎ Genesis 31:35 have practically the same meaning. Hence also it very frequently happens that the imperfect corresponds to such perfects in poetic or prophetic parallelism, e.g. Isaiah 5:12, Psalms 2:1 f., Proverbs 1:22, Job 3:17.

3. To express future actions, when the speaker intends by an express assurance to represent them as finished, or as equivalent to accomplished facts:

(a) In contracts or other express stipulations (again corresponding to the English present, and therefore closely related to the instances noted under i), e.g. Genesis 23:11 the field I give (נָתַ֫תִּי‎) thee; cf.ver. 13 and Genesis 48:22, 2 Samuel 14:21, 2 Samuel 24:23, Jeremiah 40:4; in a threat, 1 Samuel 2:16, 2 Samuel 5:6 (unless, with Wellhausen, יְסִירֻ֫ךָ‎ is to be read).—Especially in promises made by God, Genesis 1:29, Genesis 15:18, Genesis 17:20, Judges 1:2.

(b) To express facts which are undoubtedly imminent, and, therefore, in the imagination of the speaker, already accomplished (perfectum confidentiae), e.g. Numbers 17:27 הֵן גָּוַ֫עְנוּ אָבַ֫דְנוּ כֻּלָּ֫נוּ אָבָֽ֫דְנוּ‎ behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Genesis 30:13, Isaiah 6:5 (נִדְמֵ֫יתִי‎ I am undone[7]), Proverbs 4:2. Even in interrogative sentences, Genesis 18:12, Numbers 17:28, Numbers 23:10, Judges 9:911, Zechariah 4:10 (?), Proverbs 22:20.[8] This use of the perfect occurs most frequently in prophetic language (perfectum propheticum). The prophet so trans- ports himself in imagination into the future that he describes the future event as if it had been already seen or heard by him, e.g. Isaiah 5:13 therefore my people are gone into captivity (גָּלָה‎); Isaiah 9:1 ff., Isaiah 10:28, Isaiah 11:9 (after כִּי‎, as frequently elsewhere); Isaiah 19:7, Job 5:20, 2 Chronicles 20:37. Not infrequently the imperfect interchanges with such perfects either in the parallel member or further on in the narrative.

(c) To express actions or facts, which are meant to be indicated as existing in the future in a completed state (futurum exactum), e.g. Isaiah 4:4 אִם רָחַץ‎ when he has washed away=when he shall have washed away (an imperfect follows in the co-ordinate sentence; cf. the conditional sentences in §107x); Isaiah 6:11 (after עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם‎, as in Genesis 28:15, Numbers 32:17; also 2 Samuel 17:13 after עַד אֲשֶׁד‎, Genesis 24:19 after עַד אִם‎ and elsewhere frequently after temporal conjunctions); Micah 5:2 (יָלָ֑דָה‎); Genesis 43:14 כַּֽאֲשֶׁר שָׁכֹ֫לְתִּי שָׁכָֽלְתִּי וַֽאֲנִי‎ and Iif I am bereaved (orbus fuero), I am bereaved, an expression of despairing resignation. Cf. Proverbs 23:15, Esther 4:16.

4. To express actions and facts, whose accomplishment in the past is to be represented, not as actual, but only as possible (generally corresponding to the Latin imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive), e.g. Genesis 31:42 except the God of my father... had been with me, surely now hadst thou sent me away empty (שִׁלַּחְתָּ֑נִי‎); Genesis 43:10, Exodus 9:15 (שָׁלַ֫חְתִּי‎ I had almost put forth, &c.); Numbers 22:33, Judges 13:23, Judges 14:18, 1 Samuel 13:13 (הֵכִּין‎); 2 Kings 13:19; so frequently after כִּמְעַט‎ easily, almost, Genesis 26:10, Isaiah 1:9 (where כִּמְעַט‎ is probably to be connected with the word after it), Psalms 73:2, Psalms 94:17, Psalms 119:87, Proverbs 5:14. Cf. also Job 3:13, Job 23:10 (בְּחָנַ֫נִי‎), Ruth 1:12 (if I should think, &c.; cf. 2 Kings 7:4); in the apodosis of a conditional sentence, 1 Samuel 25:34.—So also to express an unfulfilled desire, Numbers 14:2 לוּ מַ֫תְנוּ‎ would that we had died...! (לוּ‎ with the imperfect would mean would that we might die! 1 Samuel 14:30). Finally, also in a question indicating astonishment, Genesis 21:7 מִי מִלֵּל‎ who would have said...? quis dixerit? Psalms 73:11.

  1. Recent works on Hebrew syntax are: A. B. Davidson, Introductory Heb. Gram., vol. ii, Heb. Syntax, Edinburgh, 1894; Ed. König. Hist.-compar. Syntax der hebr. Sprache, Lpz. 1897 (see above, §3f). Important contributions to Hebrew syntax are also contained in H. Reckendorf’s work Die syntakt. Verhältnisse des Arab., 2 pts., Leiden, 1895, 1898, of which we have already made use in §97a. Cf. also the same author’s very instructive discussions {{{title}}}, Munich, 1899.
  2. Cf. the sketch of the tenses and moods used in Hebrew in § 40; and on the general characteristics of the perfect and imperfect see the note on §47a; also Driver, A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew (Oxford, 1874; 3rd ed. 1892); Bennett, ‘Notes on the Use of the Hebrew Tenses’ (Hebraica, 1886, vols. ii, iii). A partial modification of the accepted definition of the Semitic perfect and imperfect was proposed by J. A. Knudtzon, Om det saakaldte Perfektum og Imperfektum i Hebraisk, Kristiania, 1890; of which a summary entitled ‘Vom sogenannten Perf. und Imperf. im Hebr.’ appeared in the Transactions of the Oriental Congress at Stockholm, section sémitique b, p. 73 ff. (Leiden, 1893). Cf. also Knudtzon’s articles, ‘Zur assyrischen und allgemein semitischen Grammatik’ in the Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, especially vi. 422 ff. and vii. 33 ff.
  3. Cf. P. Haupt in the Notes on Esther, 9:2.
  4. Incorrectly, e.g. in the Vulgate, Samuel autem mortuus est... et Saul abstulit magos, &c.
  5. With regard to the great but very natural preponderance of intransitive verbs (expressing an existing state), cf. the lists in Knudtzon (see above, p. 309, note 2), pp. 117 and 122 in the Danish text.
  6. Cf. novi, odi, memini; οἶδα, μέμνημαι, ἔοικα, δέδορκα, κέκραγα; in the New Testament, ἤλπικα, ἡγαπηκα.
  7. Cf. the similar use of ὄλωλα (διέφθορας, Il. 15. 128) and perii! On the kindred use of the perfect in conditional sentences, cf. below, p.
  8. In Genesis 40:14 a perf. confidentiae (after כִּי אִם‎; but cf. §163d) appears to be used in the expression of an earnest desire that something may happen (but have me in thy remembrance, &c.). Neither this passage, however, nor the use of the perfect in Arabic to express a wish or imprecation, justifies us in assuming the existence of a precative perfect in Hebrew. In Job 21:16, Job 22:18, also, translate the counsel of the wicked is far from me. Cf. Driver, Tenses3, p. 25 f. In Isaiah 43:9 either נִקְבְּצוּ‎ is imperative (see §51o) or we must read יִקָּֽבְצוּ‎, corresponding to יֵאָֽסְפוּ‎ which follows.
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