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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner

The Biblical Hebrew word for "breath" is נשמה (neshema, Strong's #5397). This word literally means the inhalation and exhalation of air in our bodies such as we see in the following passage.

All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; (KJV, Job 27:3)

Also in this passage is the word "spirit," which is the Hebrew word רוח (ru'ahh, Strong's #7307). The word ru'ahh literally means "wind," but it is also used for "breath."

The word neshemah can also be used figuratively, such as we see in the following passage.

By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed. (KJV, Job 4:9)

In this passage the word "blast" is the word neshemah, and the word "breath" is the word ru'ahh. Anyone who has been following my teachings for any length of time has heard me say time and again that a translation of the Bible should be consistent. There is no reason to translate neshemah as "breath" in one place and then "blast" in another. Or translate the word ru'ahh as "wind" in one place and "breath" in another. In order for the reader of the Bible to read the Bible correctly, they should be given a consistent translation of the Bible, not a translators' opinion of what the text is saying. Enough of me on my "soap box," in this passage the words neshemah and ru'ahh are not God's literal "breath," but is being used figuratively for his "power."

The word neshemah is also used for anyone or anything that has "life."

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (KJV, Genesis 2:7)

Neshemah is also used for a "person," or "one who has "breath."

And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword (KJV, Joshua 11:11)

Here the word neshemah is translated as "souls," but in the Hebrew it is written as haneshemah. The prefix ha means "the," so this literally means "the ones who have breath."

Derived from the word neshemah is the Hebrew word שם (shem, Strong's #8034), which means "name." The Hebrew people gave "names" to people and places based on their character. For instance, the name Jerusalem means "they will teach peace." The Hebrew word shem can also mean "character," and in the Hebrew mind your "breath" is figuratively your "character."

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