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Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav

Topics Hebrew Word Studies

Hebrew Words Meaning "Work"

By Jeff A. Benner

The King James Version of the Bible translates twelve different Hebrew words (listed below) with the word "work," but each one of these Hebrew words have a specific meaning that means more than just "work."

מלאכה (m'la'khah, Strong's #4399)
עבד (Ah.B.D, Strong's #5647)
עבודה (avodah, Strong's #5656)
עשה (Ah.S.H, Strong's #6213)
מעשה (ma'a'seh, Strong's #4639)
פעל (P.Ah.L, Strong's #6466)
פועל (po'al, Strong's #6467)
פעולה (p'ul'lah, Strong's #6468)
דבר (davar, Strong's #1697)
יגיע (y'gi'a, Strong's #3018)
יד (yad, Strong's #3027)
עליליה (a'li'li'yah, Strong's #5950)

מלאכה (m'la'khah, Strong's #4399)

This Hebrew word is used about 160 times in the Hebrew bible and is translated in the King James Version of the Bible with the following English words; work (141), business (12), goods (2), cattle (1), stuff (1), thing (1), labour (1) and occupation (1).

The word מלאכה is a feminine noun that is derived from the masculine noun מלאך (m'lakh, Strong's #4397), which means "messenger" or "ambassador," one who represents another. מלאכה then is the "occupation" of the מלאך and by extension it can be the occupation or business of anyone, even God, as can be seen in the following passage.

and Elohiym finished in the seventh day his business which he did, and he ceased in the seventh day from all his business which he did (Revised Mechanical Translation, Genesis 2:2)

In the following issues we will discuss the other Hebrew words translated as "work."

עבד (Ah.B.D, Strong's #5647) / עבודה (avodah, Strong's #5656)

The verb עבד (Ah.B.D, Strong's #5647) is used about 290 times in the Hebrew bible and is translated in the King James Version of the Bible with the following English words; serve (227), do (15), till (10), servant (5), work (5), worshipper (5), service (4), dress (2), labour (2), ear (2), bondage (1), bondmen (1), bondservice (1), wrought (1) and several other ways when in combination with other Hebrew words.

The word עבד is a verb meaning "to serve." This may be the service from one person (a slave, servant or steward) to another (the master), but it may also be a service to the land, which is the first use of the word in the Hebrew Bible.

and all the shrubs of the field before existing in the land, and all the herbs of the field before springing up, given that Yhwh the Elohiym did not make it precipitate upon the land and it was without a human to serve the ground, (Revised Mechanical Translation, Genesis 2:5)

The word עבודה (avodah, Strong's #5656) is used about 141 times in the Hebrew bible and is translated in the King James Version of the Bible with the following English words; service (96), servile (12), work (10), bondage (8), act (2), serve (2), servitude (2), tillage (2), effect (1), labour (1) and several other ways when in combination with other Hebrew words.

The word עבודה is a feminine noun derived from עבד (Ah.B.D, Strong's #5647) and means "service," the work of a slave, servant or steward. Both עבודה and עבד are found in the following passage.

and their lives were very bitter with the hard service (עבודה), with mortar and with bricks and with all the service (עבודה) in the field, all their service (עבודה) which they served (עבד) in them with the whip, (Revised Mechanical Translation, Exodus 1:14)

עשה (Ah.S.H, Strong's #6213) / מעשה (ma'a'seh, Strong's #4639)

The first use of the verb עשה (Ah.S.H, Strong's #6213) is in the first chapter of Genesis.

And God made the firmament… (KJV, Genesis 1:7)

This verb is used over 2,500 times in the Hebrew Bible and of these; it is translated as "make" or "made" about 650 times. But it is also translated as "do" or "did," about 1300 times.

And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done?… (KJV, Genesis 3:13)

As you can see, "made" is a very good translation of עשה according to the context of Genesis 1:7, but "made" is not a good translation of עשה according to the context of Genesis 3:13. I am of the opinion that each Hebrew word has only one meaning (but different forms of a word, or when used in combination with other words, can change the meaning). Therefore, the best translation of עשה is to "do" something. A very literal translation of Genesis 1:7 would be "And God 'did' the firmament."

The word מעשה (ma'a'seh, Strong's #4639) is a noun derived from the verb עשה (Ah.S.H, Strong's #6213) by adding the letter mem (מ) to the root. The letter mem (מ) usually means "what," (from the Hebrew word מה (mah) meaning "what") when it is added to the root. So if the verb עשה means "do," then מעשה means "what is done," and is usually translated as doing, work, act or deed, things that are "done."

And Joseph said unto them, What deed (מעשה) is this that ye have done (עשה)? (KJV, Genesis 44:15)

פעל (P.Ah.L, Strong's #6466)

This verb means "to perform a task of physical labor to produce something." The first time this word is used is in Exodus 15:17.

...O LORD, which thou hast made for thy abode, the sanctuary, LORD, which thy hands have established. (RSV)

The word פעולה (p'ul'lah, Strong's #6468) is the passive participle of the verb פעל (P.Ah.L, Strong's #6466) and means "something that is made from a task of physical labor." The first time this word is used is in Leviticus 19:13, where it is translated as "wages," which is what is produced from the task of a hired servant.

...The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. (RSV)

The noun פועל (po'al, Strong's #6467) is also derived from פעל (P.Ah.L, Strong's #6466) and is the task that is performed in order to produce something. This word first appears in Deuteronomy 32:4.

The Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice... (RSV)

דבר (davar, Strong's #1697)

In the King James Version this Hebrew word is usually translated as "word," which is the literal meaning of the word. But only once is it translated as work.

So he left there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD Asaph and his brethren, to minister before the ark continually, as every day's work required. (KJV, 1 Chronicles 16:37)

The literal translation of the phrase "every day's work required" from the Hebrew is "to the word of the day in his day," which is similar to the Young's Literal Translation that has "according to the matter of a day in its day." The word דבר (davar, Strong's #1697) is also frequently translated as "matter," such as in the following passage.

When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. (KJV, Exodus 18:16)

יגיע (y'gi'a, Strong's #3018)

This Hebrew word appears 16 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is translated as "labour" 15 times in the King James Version and as "work" only once.

Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked? (KJV, Job 10:3)

The noun יגיע (y'gi'a, Strong's #3018) is derived from the verbal root יגע (Y.G.Ah, Strong's #3021), which means to "be weary," to be exhausted from vigorous labor. Also derived from this verbal root is the noun יגע (ya'gey'a, Strong's #3023), meaning "weary," the state of being exhausted from vigorous work. Related in meaning to these words is the noun of this article, יגיע (y'gi'a, Strong's #3018), and means "toil," the act of working one's self to exhaustion.

יד (yad, Strong's #3027)

This Hebrew word appears over 1,600 times in the Hebrew Bible and means “hand.” This Hebrew word is translated once in the King James Version as “work.”

And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses. (KJV, Exodus 14:31)

This is one of the issues that I have with modern translations of the Bible; they take a lot of liberties when translating the text and will often remove the more concrete meaning of a Hebrew word and replace it with a more abstract word in order to make the text flow better in English.

עליליה (a'li'li'yah, Strong's #5950)

This word only appears once in the Hebrew Bible.

Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings: (KJV, Jeremiah 32:19)

This noun is derived from the noun עלילה (a'li'lah, Strong's #5949), which is translated in the KJV as: doing, works, deeds, occasions, actions, acts and inventions. This noun is derived from the verbal root עלל (Ah.L.L, Strong's #5953), which means to "carefully and thoroughly perform a task such as gleaning a field." In my Mechanical Translation of the Torah I translate this verb as "work-over," the noun עלילה (a'li'lah, Strong's #5949) as "workings" and עליליה (a'li'li'yah, Strong's #5950) as "works."

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