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Topics Definition of Hebrew Words

By Jeff A. Benner


You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. (RSV, Deuteronomy 13:4)

The Hebrew word behind the English word “obey” is the verb שמע (Sh.M.A, Strong's #8085). In reality, there is no Hebrew word that means “obey,” in the same sense as it does in English. While I do not believe it is necessary to learn Hebrew to be able to understand the Bible from an Hebraic perspective, it is important that we learn to read the Bible from an Hebraic perspective. In other words, our definition of Biblical words should not come from an English dictionary, but rather from a Hebrew dictionary.

When we hear the word “obey,” we assume the English definition “to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instruction of another.” While this definition may very well apply in this passage, it would not in the following passage where I will translate the Hebrew verb שמע as “obey.”

And YHWH obeyed your words… (Deuteronomy 1:34)

Just as there is no Hebrew word meaning “obey,” there also is no English word for שמע. While this Hebrew verb is often translated as “hear,” it means much more than just a hearing or listening, it more means to “hear and respond appropriately.” When the Bible says that Moses “heard” YHWH, it means that he heard him and then he acted upon what he heard. When the Bible says that YHWH heard the people, it means that he heard them and then he acted upon what he heard.

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