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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner

רפא rapha

The parent root רף raph is the root to several Biblical Hebrew words related to health and sickness. The original pictographs for this word are the , representing man and , representing the mouth with the meaning open. Combined, the word means an “open man” and is exactly what happens when one is cut or wounded. A common ancient medicine is the use of a poultice which is placed on an open wound. Hyssop was most likely used as a poultice because of its antibacterial properties. The Hebrew verb רוף ruph (Strong's #7322), derived from רף, means “to pulverize,” what is done to plants being used as a poultice. From רוף comes the noun רופה ruphah (Strong's #8644) meaning “medicine.” Another verb derived from רף is רפא rapha (Strong's #7495) meaning “to heal.” This verb is first used when Avraham intercedes on Avimelekh’s behalf to heal him and his family from their illness (Genesis 20:17). When this verb is used in its participle form it can mean “healing” or “healer” (physician). One other verb derived from רף is רפה raphah (Strong's #7503) meaning weak or feeble as when someone is sick.

Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep: and Rachel stole the teraphim that were her father's. Genesis 31:19 (ASV)

The word “teraphim” is a transliteration of the Hebrew תרפים teraphim (Strong's #8655) in the verse above and is the plural form of the word תרף tereph. Until recently the meaning of this word was completely unknown, this is why the older translations of the Bible simply transliterate it as teraphim. Ancient inscriptions discovered in Babylon assisted in defining this word as household gods and newer translations such as the RSV now translate it as household gods. It is also possible that the ancient people believed these household gods provided healing since the root of this is most likely רף.

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