There are several Hebrew words which can be translated as "learn" into English. When
we read the English text we will often come across words like learn, teach, instruct,
discipline and chastise, but as we will see, these words do not give us an accurate
meaning of these words from a Hebraic perspective and some of the meaning is "lost in
The Hebrew language is centered around the life of desert dwellers who live their lives as
shepherds and farmers. In order to really understand the Hebrew words for learning, we
will be looking at them as they did 4000 years ago.
Oxen were very important to desert dwellers as a source of power, much as the tractor is
to the modern farmer today. The Hebrew word for an ox is "eleph". A closely related
word is "alaph" meaning; "to yoke together."
When two oxen were placed together in a yoke for plowing, an older more experienced
ox is placed alongside a younger inexperienced ox. The younger would then learn by
association and example from the older. Hence, the word eleph can also mean "to
associate with" or "to learn by example".
A man yoked to another will learn by example from the other. A child will also learn
from his parents only by observing the actions of the parent. This can be either in a
positive or in a negative way.
Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go:
Lest thou learn [alaph] his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.
The lemad is the staff of a shepherd used to direct and control the flock. The verb lamad
means "to direct" or "to learn by showing the direction".
Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said
to me, "Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn [lamad]
to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach [lamad] them to their
The next word we will look at is "yarah" meaning, "to throw" such as a rock or arrow as
in the following passage:
And I will shoot [yarah] three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a
(1 Samuel 20:20)
This can also be a figurative "throwing of the finger" meaning to point as in the following
And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he
cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed [yarah] him a tree, which when he had cast
into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an
ordinance, and there he proved them.
It can also mean "to learn by pointing out the way".
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there:
and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written;
that thou mayest teach [yarah] them.
It is the responsibility of the parent to point the way to the children. This means all
aspects of life, by pointing the way to God, a career, a moral lifestyle, etc. When a rock
is shot from a sling, it is shot at a target. Likewise, the direction which a parent points out
to his child must be at a target. This target is always obedience to God.
The next word which we will look at which is usually translated as learn or teach is
"shanan". This word literally means "to make pointed, or to sharpen" such as a knife or
When I sharpen (shanan) my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I
will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.
A dull knife will not cut. Hence, we take our knife and sharpen it on a stone so that it will
be ready to perform the work it must do properly. This sharpening process is careful and
sometimes time consuming. "Shanan" can also refer to the careful sharpening of your
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And
thou shalt *teach them diligently* (shanan) unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when
thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down,
and when thou risest up.
The word "yasar" literally means "to turn the head" or "to turn to another direction". This
word can be translated as chastise or discipline.
Correct (Yasar) thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto
In summary, the five Hebraic methods of learning are:
||To learn by yoking
||To learn by goading
||To learn by pointing
||To learn by sharpening
||To learn by chastisement