Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are two distinct roots of the form שבע (sb') in the Bible. However, when the Masoretes began to mark the text of the Bible with vowel notations (and they started doing this about a thousand years after the Bible was written in its final form), they made one group of שבע (sb')-words sound like sh-words, and the other group like s-words.
The result is one group of words that are related to the verb שׁבע (shaba'; dot to the right), and one group of words that are related to the verb שׂבע (sabea'; dot to the left). But remember that to the people who wrote the Bible, and for the first thousand years of its existence, there was no difference between the two:
The marvelous root שבע (sb'; now spelled as שׁבע, shb', and pronounced with a sh) splits two ways in meaning, or rather: lends its numerical meaning curiously to the act of taking an oath:
This root's primary derivative is the feminine noun שבעה (shib'a), denoting the ordinal seven. Our word is used as a number, in combination with other numbers, and in combination with the words מאה (me'a meaning hundred) and אלף ('elep meaning thousand) to form the numbers 700 and 7000 respectively. The common plural שבעים means 70. In Job 42:13 occurs the variant שבענה (shiba'na), which has an unexplained inserted letter nun.
This feminine noun's masculine counterpart is the noun שבע (sheba'). The masculine version also means seven but isn't really used unbound. In stead, it occurs mostly in one-word combinations and constructions (and names):
- The masculine version of seven, שבע (sheba'), in plural: שבעים (shib'im) means 70 (Genesis 5:12, Exodus 24:1).
- The feminine version of seven, שבעה (shib'ah), in the dual form: שבעתים (shib'atayim), means sevenfold, or seven times. This word occurs seven times in the Bible, from Genesis 4:15 to Isaiah 30:26.
- The feminine adjective שביעית (shebi'it) and the masculine adjective שביעי (shebi'i), both meaning seventh (Exodus 21:2, Joshua 6:16).
- The masculine noun שבוע (shabbua'), indicating a period of seven. This seven can be days (Genesis 29:27, Deuteronomy 16:9) or years (Ezekiel 21:28).
At some point, the masculine noun שבע (sheba') turned into the verb שבע (shaba'), meaning to swear or take an oath. It occurs 184 times in the Bible, most notably in the Beersheba incident, where Abraham and Abimelech swear peace and Abraham marks this by surrendering seven ewes to his friend (Genesis 21:28).
BDB Theological Dictionary explains the connection between these two separate meanings by explaining the act of swearing with seven oneself, or bind oneself by seven things. Of course, the most predominant usage of the number seven is in the creation week. It's always been a mystery where the Jewish week came from — the day, the month and the year are all references to cosmological phenomena, but the week appears to be a strictly theological expression. By creating everything in seven days, God takes an oath (also read our studies on the creation week.)
The verb שבע (shaba'), meaning to swear, yields two derivatives, although these are probably the same word spelled slightly different: the feminine nouns שבועה (shebu'a) and שבעה (shebu'a - which is spelled identical to the feminine version of 7, but pronounced slightly different), both meaning an oath (Exodus 22:10, Deuteronomy 7:8), and once a curse (Isaiah 65:15).
The root-verb שבע (sb'; now spelled as שׂבע (sb') and pronounced with an s) means to be sated or satisfied with food. It's used literally for people who have (or don't have) enough to eat (Hosea 4:10) or drink (Amos 4:8), but also for the earth sated with rain (Proverbs 30:16), a sword drinking its fill with blood (Jeremiah 46:10). Our verb is also used for fillers other than food: Harlotry (Ezekiel 16:28), plunder (Job 50:10), an observation (Isaiah 53:10), the goodness of God's house (Psalm 65:4), sons (Psalm 17:14). And also it may denote an excess: of honey (Proverbs 25:16), tossing (Job 7:4), poverty (Proverbs 28:19), shame (Habakkuk 2:16), and the list goes on.
The derivatives of this verb are:
- The masculine noun שבע (soba'), meaning satiety (Ruth 2:18, Proverbs 13:25) or abundance (Psalm 16:11).
- The feminine counterpart of the previous noun שבעה (sab'a or sib'a), also meaning satiety (Isaiah 55:2, Ezekiel 16:28).
- The masculine noun שבע (saba'), also meaning sated or satisfied (Genesis 35:29, 1 Samuel 2:5, Job 14:1).