Topics Biblical Interpretation
The Hebrew Concept of Order
By Jeff A. Benner
The Hebrew word דור (dor, Strong's #1755) is used 167 times in the Hebrew Bible and usually translated as "generation." While the Hebrew word דור (dor) and the English word "generation" are similar in meaning, it is important to understand the differences in order to have a clearer picture of the authors understanding of the word which may impact how a particular passage is understood.
A generation is the time from one birth to the birth of the next generation. While the word דור (dor) has this meaning, there some differences between the Hebrew understanding of this word and our own. In our Greco-Roman culture we see time as a line with a beginning and an end while the Eastern mind sees time as a continuous circle. While we may see a generation as a time line with a beginning and an end, the Hebrews saw a generation as one circle with the next generation as a continuation of the circle. There is no beginning and no end.
The word דור (dor) is a child root derived from the parent root דר (dar), which in the ancient pictographic script was written as . The first letter is a picture of a tent door and has the meaning of an in and out or back and forth movement. The second letter is the head of a man meaning man. When combined these mean "the movement of man," a generation is the movement through the circle of one man while the next generation is the movement of man through the following circle.
In the ancient Hebrew mind a circle represents "order" and notice that the Hebrew word דור (dor) is in the English word orDER. This circular order can also be seen in the creation/destruction of the world. In our Greco-Roman mind we see the creation as the beginning of a time line and its destruction as the end of that timeline. But remember the ancient Hebrews saw time as a circle. Genesis 1:1 says "in a beginning" (The Hebrew word bereshiyt means in "a" beginning, not "the" beginning). This world was destroyed at the fall of man (a full circle). The world begins a-new with the new order of things and is destroyed again at the flood, another circle. The world begins a-new and will be destroyed again (as prophesied by the prophets). Were there circles of time prior to Genesis 1:1 and circles of time after the destruction to come?
I previously introduced the Biblical Hebrew word "dor" and the concept of "order." Now we will examine the Hebrew root דבר (D.B.R, Strong's #1696). Notice that the parent root דר (dar) is found within this three-letter root word.
The word דבר (D.B.R) is commonly found in the Biblical text and means to "speak," as in the phrase vayiDaBeR YHWH el moshe l'mor (and YHWH spoke to Moses saying). The ancient Hebrew understanding of "speaking," or a "speech," is an ordered arrangement of words, so the verb דבר (D.B.R) may better be translated as "order," as in "And YHWH gave orders to Moses saying." A commanding officer does not "speak" to his troops; instead he formulates his action plans and determined the best means to have these plans carried out. Once all of this is determined, he gives his "orders," an ordered arrangement of ideas."
Derived from this verb is the noun דבר (davar, Strong's #1697) and means a "word" or "an order." The plural form is דברים (devariym) and means "words" or "orders." The phrase "Ten Commandments" does not actually appear in the Hebrew Bible; instead it is the Hebrew phrase דברים עשרת הדברים (aseret hadevariym) and literally means "ten orders." The "Ten Commandments" are our orders (the troops) from God (the general). They are an ordered arrangement of ideas that if followed will bring about peace and harmony within the community.
Another noun derived from the root דבר (D.B.R) is the word דברה (devorah, Strong's #1682), which means "bee." A bee hive is a colony of insects that live in a perfectly ordered society. The word דברה (devorah) is also the personal name Deborah (Strong's #1683), which of course means "bee."
Another common word derived from the root דבר (D.B.R) is מדבר (mid'bar, Strong's #4057) meaning a "wilderness." In the ancient Hebrew mind the wilderness, in contrast to the cities, is a place of order. Many people today live in the cities, a place of high crime and a place of hurrying, rushing and busying one's self with all the day-to-day tasks. The city can easily be seen as a place of chaos.
On the other hand, when we want to "get away from it all" and slow down and really rest, we go out to the "wilderness." We take walks out into the woods or sit by a lake and feel the peace in these places. These are places of order where all of nature is in a perfect balance of harmony.
Continuing the Hebraic view of "order" we will examine the Hebrew root סדר (S.D.R, Strong's #5468), which again has the root דר (dar) within it. The verb סדר (S.D.R) is found in Job 10:22; A land of darkness is like a darkness of death and without order, and the light is like darkness. This imagery is reminiscent of Genesis 1 where the heavens and the earth were in total darkness, a state of chaos. The creative power of God then "ordered" the world into a state of "order."
A Hebrew noun derived from this root is שדרה (sederah, Strong's #7713), which means a "row," an ordered arrangement, such as the boards of a fence or warriors of an army. Again we see this work in the creation narrative where all of the plants, animals, water, sky, sun, moon, etc. are placed in their proper arrangement.
There are a couple of common Modern Hebrew words that are derived from the root סדר (S.D.R). The first is the Passover Seder. A Seder is the meal served on Passover and literally means an "ordered arrangement." The entire Passover meal is like a symphony of many parts making one harmonious sound. The second word is the Sidur, which is usually translated as "prayer book," but is literally an "ordered arrangement" of prayers.
Continuing the Hebraic view of "order" we will examine the Hebrew verb עדר (Ah.D.R, Strong's #5737). Again we see the parent root דר (dar), meaning order, in this word.
In Isaiah 7:25 is the phrase "to be hoed," which is the Hebrew verb עדר (Ah.D.R), which means to "hoe," "rake" or "dig. The concept behind this word is the cultivating of a field, the removal of the weeds so that a crop can grow. This action is seen as bringing the field into order. The noun מעדר (m'ader, Strong's #4576) is a tool, such as a hoe, rake or shovel that is used to hoe, rake or dig.
Removing what is unnecessary brings about order. In the case of a field it is the removal of the weeds, briers and thorns. In the case of a battle it is the removal of fear (see 1 Chronicles 12:33).
This concept of removing what is unnecessary in order to bring about order is also seen in the Flood account. The world was full of sin and to bring about order once again, the flood came to "weed out" the bad and begin again with a new crop, Noah and his family.
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