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Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The Hebrew word: מלך

Source: http://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/m/m-l-kfin.html

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

מלך

The noun מלך (melek) is usually translated as king but is in fact "the most common word for chief magistrate," as HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament puts it. Israel's monarchy was predicted long before it was established (Deuteronomy 17:15) but Israel's king was by no means to be an almighty tyrant. What makes the Hebrew royalty unique among the nations is that Israel's monarchy was far removed from the priesthood (1 Samuel 13:12-14), preceding the West's creed of church and state separation by over three millennia.

The word מלך (melek) is such an important word in the Bible that it, its plural (מלכים) and its pseudo-genitive plural (מלכי, meaning kings of) together occur more than 2,500 times. Our word additionally comes with several distinct derivations, most notably:

  • The verb מלך (malak), to be or become king.

Other derivations are:

  • מלכה (malka), meaning queen, which occurs 35 times in Scriptures. HAW notes that the overwhelming majority of these occurrences denote foreigners, sometimes heads of state (1 Kings 10:1) but often ladies associated to a foreign monarchy but without formal authority themselves (Esther 1:9, Daniel 5:10). The plural of this word is מלכות (Song of Solomon 6:8).
  • מלכת (meleket), also meaning queen, and probably the same as the previous word but in an old fashioned spelling (even for Biblical times). It occurs only one time in the Bible, in Jeremiah 7:18, where it denotes some "queen of heaven". Perhaps Meleketh was her name or perhaps Jeremiah is facetiously speaking of her in a lofty old tongue.
  • מלוכה (meluka), meaning kingship or royalty.
  • מלכות (malkut), meaning sovereign power.
  • ממלכה (mamlaka), meaning sovereignty, or literally "that in which kingship is manifested".
  • ממלכות (mamlakut), also meaning sovereignty.

However, in Nehemiah 5:7, occurs an alternate (Aramaic?) usage of the root מלך (malak), now with the meaning of to consult, or rather intense introspection. Experts state that this particular word comes from an entirely separate root, but these same experts can't really explain how the verbal idea of royalty was formed, or that of intense introspection for that matter.

Note that the Torah includes rules and restrictions specifically for the king, which in itself is highly unusual if not wholly without precedent in the old world. A king had to be chosen by YHWH and not by the people (Deuteronomy 17:15). He couldn't be a foreigner (17:15), he couldn't "multiply horses" (in order to lean on military might? 17:16), he couldn't sport a harem (to prevent distraction, but perhaps also to not unfairly flood the gene pool) or otherwise enrich himself (17:17). The one and only thing the king of Israel was supposed to do was to create a copy of the Law with his own hands, and meditate on his copy all the days of his life (17:18-19).

Perhaps these two concepts of to be a king and to consult are not all that far removed, or were in Biblical times, and these similar words are similar because they mean similar things.


Associated Biblical names