Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
מלל אמל מול מהל מלא
The five forms מלל (mll), אמל ('ml), מול (mwl), מהל (mhl) and מלא (ml') yield nine separate verbs, which are obviously related in form and surprisingly connected in meaning.
The verbs of the form מלל (malal) all obviously have to do with separating or severing something from what it's normally connected to:
The verb מלל (malal I) means to utter or say. It's used as verb only four times in the Bible (Genesis 21:7, Job 8:2, 33:3, Psalm 106:2). The more common verbs of verbal expression are אמר ('amar), meaning to say, and דבר (dabar), to proclaim or forward a formal message, and it's not clear how our verb מלל (malal) is distinguished. Perhaps it's used in a sense of "the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Matthew 12:34). Below we will discuss the verb מלא (male'), meaning to be full or to fill.
The sole derivation of this verb is the feminine noun מלה (milla'), which denotes that what is produced by means of the verb מלל (malal): a word or uttering. It occurs frequently but mostly in the poetic texts of the Bible (2 Samuel 23:2, Job 30:9, Psalm 139:4).
The verb מלל (malal II) means to scrape or rub. It occurs only once, in Proverbs 6:13, where someone "scrapes" with his feet. Some commentators suggest that this may be an occurrence of מלל (malal I) and that this person is "speaking" with his feet, i.e. is making signs or perhaps shuffling sounds.
The sole derivation of this verb is the feminine noun מלילה (melila), which denotes a head or ear of wheat (perhaps as rubbed or scraped, suggests BDB Theological Dictionary). This noun occurs only in Deuteronomy 23:25, in plural.
The verb מלל (malal III) means to languish, wither or fade, like grass that's been cut or a flower that's been picked (Job 14:2). It's used for grass that withers (Psalm 37:2), of the wicked whose roots are dried below and his branch is cut off above (Job 18:16). This verb appears to be a secondary root of the verb אמל ('amal), see below.
The verb מלל (malal IV) means to circumcise and is a by-form of the verb מול (mul II). In this form it's used only in Genesis 17:11, Joshua 5:2 and Psalm 58:7. In the latter text, this verb is applied to a shaft or arrows. NAS speaks of a headless shaft, NIV and Darby have blunted arrows, KJV has arrows that are cut in pieces, JSP, and Young and ASV speak of arrows that are cut off.
The verb אמל ('amal) is connected to the verb מלל (malal III) and it expresses exhaustion and the succumbing there to. It's used for a woman whose fertility wanes (1 Samuel 2:5), for the pining away of a fisherman whose river dries up (Isaiah 19:8), but mostly for the inhabitants whose lands are smitten (Hosea 4:3, Isaiah 24:4, Joel 1:10).
This verb yields two similar adjectives: אמלל ('amelal) and אמלל (''umlal), both meaning feeble (Nehemiah 4:2 and Psalm 6:2 respectively).
The substantive and preposition מול (mul I; or once, in Nehemiah 12:38, spelled מואל (mu'al) means front or in front of. It been suggested that this word might be related to the root אול ('wl II), meaning to protrude or stick out. As a substantive it occurs only once, in 1 Kings 7:5, where it describes the front of a window. The rest of the three dozen occurrences of this word describe the position of one person or object relative to another: Israel stood opposite Ammon (Deuteronomy 2:19); Moses stood before God (Exodus 18:19); the boundary of Benjamin went in front of the Arabah (Joshua 18:18).
Identical to the previous word is the verb מול (mul II) meaning to circumcise. It's apparently a mystery why these two words would be identical although some observers may notice that the organ specified to undergo the action of this verb sits decisively in front of the bearer and does at times protrude. The verb מלל (malal IV) is a by-form of מול (mul II).
Why the Lord wanted Abraham and his posterity to separate from their ערל ('orel, foreskin; Genesis 17:10) is not very well understood, although there is no shortage of hypotheses. Some say it's an outward sign of an inward change, namely the circumcision of one's heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, Romans 2:29). What then the circumcision of the heart might entail is evenly a mystery, but it appears to have to do with no longer being stubborn.
How being stubborn has to do with being physically uncircumcised has never been properly explained but some say it has to do with the loss of sensitivity of the glans, which would then lead to longer copulation and more variation, which would lead to greater satisfaction of the woman, happier marriages, much more copulation and consequently more offspring. But if that were true we would have seen clear commandments of that same order, and critics may offer that an increase in copulation depends on more factors than just a desensitized glans.
It's not even wholly certain that circumcision as dictated in the Bible is what we think it is. It's certainly done with a knife or a sharp flint (Exodus 4:25), it produces a lot of blood (ibid), and leaves a grown man incapacitated for a few days (Genesis 34:25). Also read our special on circumcision.
The verb מהל (mahal) is thought to be a by-form of מול (mul II), as it means to circumcise in Aramaic. In Hebrew, however, it appears to have assumed the meaning of to weaken, which is of course the immediate result of the procedure of circumcision but it also demonstrates the more fundamental meaning of this whole word group. In the Bible this verb appears only once, namely in Isaiah 1:22, where YHWH exclaims, "your silver has become dross; your drink diluted with water," and the word used for drink is סבא (sobe), denoting a strong alcoholic beverage. Also because this verb may be the source of an otherwise difficult to explain name Bimhal, here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the verb מהל (mahal) may be a colloquial term for getting drunk, on something of a par with our "to get lame / hammered / wasted".
The verb מלא (male') means to be full, and perhaps — in a broad and difficult way — it ties the meanings of מלל (malal I) and מול (mul II) together.
Our verb occurs close to 250 times in the Bible, with applications ranging from a storage facility that's filled with accumulated material (Exodus 8:17, Joel 2:24, 1 Kings 18:34), to the earth being full of violence (Genesis 6:13), sin (Jeremiah 16:18), but also loving-kindness (Psalm 33:5) or knowledge (Isaiah 11:9), and of course creatures (Genesis 1:22) and people (Exodus 1:7). Desire may be filled, i.e. gratified (Exodus 15:9, Job 38:39). A man may be full of judgment (Job 36:17) or spirit (Exodus 28:3), or fully following YHWH (Numbers 14:24). A specified period of time may be full(filled) (Genesis 25:24, Exodus 7:25, Job 15:32). A hand may be filled to the Lord, which is said to mean that one may dedicate himself to the Lord (Exodus 32:29, see Exodus 28:41).
Our verb may describe the filling of a river's banks, which means that the river overflows (Joshua 3:15), filling (lay in) gold with jewels (Song of Solomon 5:14), and it may describe the filling of shields (along with purifying arrows) (Jeremiah 51:11), which possibly is the same as filling oneself with iron and the shaft of a spear, namely getting armed (2 Samuel 23:7).
The 'filling of one's hand' appears to denote an investment of authority into someone (Exodus 29:29, Numbers 3:3).
The derivations of this verb are:
- The masculine noun מלא (male'), meaning fullness (Exodus 16:33, Ecclesiastes 4:6, Isaiah 6:3).
- The feminine noun מלאה (mele'a), meaning fullness in the sense of the yield or a field or a winepress (Exodus 22:8, Numbers 18:27).
- The feminine noun מלאה (millu'a), denoting the setting of a jewel (Exodus 28:17, 28:20, 39:13).
- The masculine noun מלא (millu') or מלוא (millu'), meaning a setting or installing of stones (Exodus 25:7, 35:9) or priests (Leviticus 7:37, 8:33). Note that in our modern language we use the same verb for erecting stone monuments and to describe penile tumescence. The ancients may have made the same connection.
- The feminine noun מלאת (mille't), which is a word of unknown meaning. It occurs only once, and describes a quality of lover's eyes (Song of Solomon 5:12). It seems to be of the same order of the noun מלאה (millu'a), which describes the setting of jewels in base material.