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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner


A man's wife comes to him and asks "How do you like the new dress I just made? " He can see from her expression that she loves the dress and is proud of her work but personally does not like it. How does he answer her? Most of us would agree that he is in a catch twenty-two situation. If he says "I don't like it" he will crush her and if he says "I love it" he is lying and guilty of sinning. We have all been faced with such dilemmas and are often unsure on the correct course of action. Believe it or not God himself was faced with the same dilemma as recorded in Genesis 18:12, 13. Let's first take a look at this passage from the Revised Standard Version.

12: So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"

13: The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, `Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?'

From this translation we do not see a problem, Sarah laughed because she admitted that she was "old". When God goes to Abraham he asks him why Sarah laughed and said she was "old". This is again the translators' way of removing what appears to be a problem with the text. In verse 12 the phrase "grown old" is the Hebrew word "balah" (Strong's # 1086) and means to wither away. The word "old" in verses 12 and 13 is zaqen meaning "old".

We now see that Sarah laughed because she admitted she was "withered" and her husband was "old". When God goes to Abraham he asks him why Sarah laughed and said "she" was "old". Sarah never said she was "old". Did God "lie"? It would appear so but, in Numbers 23:19 we read "God is not a man and lied". God cannot lie yet we see him lying in Genesis 18.

The problem is not with the text but with our view of a lie. The Hebrew word for "lied" in Numbers 23:19 is kazav (Strong's # 3576). By looking at another verse using this same word we will see that this word does not literally mean "lie". Isaiah 58:11 says; "you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail". The word "fail" is the same word kazav.

The original meaning of kazav is "Vain words spoken to deceive, cause failure or disappoint. What does not function within its intended capacity" (Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible). A spring that does not flow is a "lying" spring because it does not function properly. One who gives vain words is a "liar" and one who causes disappointment in another through his words is also a "liar".

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