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Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner


The Hebrew word for “heaven” is שמים shamayim. There is some debate over the origins and meanings of this word but, there are a few common theories.

1. Derived from the unused root שמה shamah possibly meaning lofty. The plural form of this word would be שמים shamayim.

2. Derived from the root שמם shamam meaning Desolate, in the sense of a dry wind blowing over the land drying it out. The plural form of this word would also be שמים shamayim.

3. The word shamayim may be the Hebrew word מים mayim, meaning water, and the prefix ש sh meaning like. Combined, the word שמים shamayim would mean “like water.”

Aside from the debate over the origins of the word it is clear that the word is commonly used in the Biblical text for “sky.” It is frequently used in conjunction with the word ארץ erets, meaning land (see Gen 1:1, 2:1 and 14:19), representing the whole of creation and the domain of God.

In the New Testament this word was used as a Euphemism (one word used in place of another) for God. This can be seen in some of the parables where the book of Luke (written for Gentiles) uses the phrase “Kingdom of God” whereas Matthew (written to Jews) uses “Kingdom of Heaven.” In this context, heaven is meant to represent God, not a place.

Ancient Hebrew Alphabet and Language

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