Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb גדל (gadel) basically means to become strong or great. This verb had equivalents in cognate languages where there seems to be an emphasis on the joining of forces or elements of construction. The Arabic equivalent means to twist a cord, make firm.
In the Bible our verb is used to indicate the growing up of a child (Genesis 21:8, Exodus 2:10), or the growing of hair (Numbers 6:5) or plants (Jonah 4:10). Our verb is also used in the meaning of becoming great or wealthy (Genesis 26:13) or important (1 Kings 10:23), or magnified (Zechariah 12:7, Psalm 35:27), or doing deeds of greatness (Psalm 126:2, Joshua 2:21).
Two nouns that are derived from this verb are the masculine מגדל (migdal) and מגדול (migdol), both meaning tower. Where a tower in modern times is not so big a deal, in Old Testament times it was. One would need to build a tower if one had the need to see in a far distance, and that was only necessary if one had something to defend. Or one would want to show of one's wealth, or mark out a center of commerce and put up an enormous 'billboard.' Secondly, one would only build a tower if one had enough funding to pull it off. And when one did, a tower subsequently stood as a witness to the builder's great wealth.
In the Bible the tower became symbol for any earthly treasure of power that a person can foolishly put his trust in. Hence the tower of Babel was not just a building, it was also a statement (Genesis 11). When the menfolk of Penuel refuse to help out Gideon, he promises them to tear down their 'tower' (Judges 8:9). In Luke 13:4, Jesus talks about the tower of Siloam, which had collapsed and killed eighteen people, who were 'no worse culprits' than the men of Jerusalem. And in Luke 14:28 He even compares the total surrender to Him to the building of a tower.
King David says it like this: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe" (Psalm 18:10).
Other derivations are:
- The masculine participle or adjective גדל (gadel), meaning a becoming great or growing up (Genesis 26:13, Ezekiel 16:26).
- The masculine noun גדל (godel), meaning greatness (Psalm 79:11) or pride (Isaiah 9:8).
- The masculine plural noun גדלים (gedilim), meaning twisted threads: tassels (Deuteronomy 22:12) or festoons (1 Kings 7:17).
- The very common adjective גדול (gadol, masculine) or גדולה (gadola, feminine), meaning great (Genesis 4:13, Exodus 11:6, Psalm 111:2). It's used to distinguish the elder (greater) son from his brothers (Genesis 10:21, 1 Kings 2:22), to indicate a 'loud' voice (1 Samuel 28:12, Proverbs 27:14), and represents the 'high-' part of the term 'high priest' (Joshua 20:6, 2 Kings 12:10).
- The feminine noun גדולה (gedulla), meaning greatness or the great one (Psalm 71:21, 1 Chronicles 29:11).