Defining words in Biblical Hebrew



I monitor a Facebook group called Hebrew Learn E-Vreet.  It’s always good when members participate.  We had one member talk about the meaning of El-Shaddai.  Well, there have been many discussions on this name of God by many scholars and rabbis for hundreds of years.

But you want to know the best way to define a Hebrew word in Biblical Hebrew?  See how the Hebrew word is used in the Bible.  First, see how it is used in Genesis.  Then, in the Torah, and finally, in the Tanakh.

But the most important thing is to let the whole verse, the whole chapter speak to you.  The reason we learn Biblical Hebrew is to understand what God is trying to tell us in the Bible.  So let’s look at El-Shaddai אל שדי in the first-mention, Genesis 17:1 in the JPS translation:

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine,

the LORD appeared to Abram,

and said unto him:

‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted.

El אל is the short for for Elohim אלהים .  We cover this in our course, Learn Hebrew from the Bible.

The root verb of El-Shaddai is SDD שדד

The verb is not used in Genesis.  It’s not used in the Torah.  We don’t see it until Judges.  It is used in its negative sense–to destroy.  Hebrew verbs can be used negatively or positively.  You can use strength for good or bad.  Obviously, God uses it for good.

There are no easy answers for the meaning of Shaddai.  So let’s focus on what God is trying to tell us in the verse.  He’s talking to Abram, before the name change to Abraham.  He’s directing Abram to follow Him, follow in His ways, His manner.  He asked Abram to be wholehearted.  What does that mean?  The word in Hebrew is תמים T’MIM and it means integrity, not to be of two minds–be fully engaged.

This is just a quick blog to stir your heart.  Read the whole chapter; read the chapters surrounding Genesis 17, giving you context.  And that will give you the meaning of אל שדי

By the way feel free to join our Facebook group.


What does the word Hebrew mean?

In our UDEMY course, Learn Hebrew from the Bible, a student of mine asked this question: what does the word Hebrew mean.  As usual, students inspire teachers.

Interestingly, you won’t find the word “Hebrew” used in the Bible for the Hebrew language. Hebrew comes from the word EVRI עברי. It’s like Eber’s name in Genesis 10:12

For word origin, I always like to go to the verb because that is where the root meaning is. So that takes us to ABAR עבר.

עבר means to pass over, to cross a national border. IVRI people were sort of known as “the people who passed over from the other side.”

The best way to understand a word in Biblical Hebrew is to see how it is used in the Bible. The first time it is used is always significant. Let’s look and see for yourself:

Genesis 8:1

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind TO PASS OVER the earth, and the water subsided.

(This gives you the basic characteristic of the word.)

Genesis 12:6

Abram PASSED THROUGH the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

Genesis 14:3

And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew–now he dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner; and these were confederate with Abram.

(Now you see how people talk about Abram as the “overpasser” or “passerover”. It’s the same root: עבר

E-Vreet goes over this later in the course. By the way, עברית (E-Vreet) is the feminine form of עברי. The feminine form is used in Modern Hebrew to refer to the language. In Biblical Hebrew, עברית is talking about a female Hebrew. See Exodus 1:19.


Why ‘Ebola Czar’ may not be a good term in Hebrew

Obama has named an Ebola Czar for the outbreak of the Ebola virus.  Czar or Tzar in Hebrew means adversary, foe, enemy, or oppressor.  It gives a picture of distress–not exactly the image that Obama may be trying to project.

Tzar is first used in Genesis when Abraham (known as Abram then) wins a battle against warlords of the Middle East in Canaan.  Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine, known as the priest of The High God and blessed Abraham with this blessing:

Blessed be Abram by The High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. And blessed be The High God, who handed your enemies over to you.

The Hebrew word for enemies here is tzar.  Although certainly ebola is our enemy, may we have the same blessing as Abram had from King Melchitzedek and have an end to the distress that this enemy brings.

By the way, Melchizedek means King of Righteousness (Melech=king) (righteousness=tzedek).  Notice that righteousness has that same Tz sound.