Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
צרה יצר צרר צור
Scholars identify five different roots צור (sur), three to five different roots צרר (sarar), one root יצר (yasar), and one root צרה (srh). These forms are linguistically closely related, and the meanings of these various roots are obviously so alike that they often are considered each other's by-forms.
The assumed root צור (swr I) is not used as verb in the Bible but perhaps it has to do with an Arabic verb meaning to lean or incline. It has two derivations:
- The masculine noun צואר (sawwa'r), meaning neck. Apart from denoting the actual body-part, the neck also features in many expressions, usually having to do with either being subdued (Joshua 10:24), heavily burdened (Nehemiah 3:5), visited by calamity (Micah 2:3), or being arrogant (Job 15:26) or stubborn (Psalm 75:5).
- The masculine plural noun צורון (sawwaron), meaning necklace. This noun occurs only in the Song of Solomon 4:9.
The root-verb צור (sur II) means to confine or secure (Deuteronomy 14:25, 2 Kings 12:11), or to shut in or besiege (2 Samuel 11:1, Jeremiah 32:2), or to shut up or enclose (Song of Solomon 8:9).
This verb yields the following derivations:
- The masculine noun מצור (masor), meaning siege (Micah 4:14) or entrenchment (Deuteronomy 20:20).
- The feminine noun מצורה (mesura), meaning stronghold (Isaiah 29:3, Nahum 2:2).
This verb is obviously related to צרר (sarar I); see below.
The verb צור (sur III) means to be an adversary or show hostility, or in the eloquent words of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: "This root describes the act of inciting someone into an outward conflict or battle". This verb occurs only in Exodus 23:22, Deuteronomy 2:9 and Esther 8:11. It's a by-form of the verb צרר (sarar II); see below.
The root-verb צור (sur IV) means to form or fashion, usually of metal in some kind of shape (1 Kings 7:15, Exodus 32:4). This verb yields two derivations:
- The feminine noun צורה (sura), meaning form (Ezekiel 43:11).
- The masculine noun ציר (sir), meaning image (Isaiah 45:16).
This verb is obviously related to the verb יצר (yasar), see below.
The root צור (swr V) isn't used in the Bible, and it's probably related to root צרר (sarar III), see below. Its sole derivation is the masculine noun צור (sur), meaning rock. This word occurs about seventy-five times in the Bible; half of these denote actual rocks and boulders (Job 14:18, Psalm 81:16, Isaiah 2:19), and the other half feature in figurative sayings and metaphors (Isaiah 17:10, Psalm 78:35).
Besides the literal value of the word, rocks serve in the Bible as symbol for impenetrability and strength (Jeremiah 21:13). Sometimes idols are called rocks (Deuteronomy 32:37) in derogatory contrast to the true Rock of the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:31; 1 Samuel 2:2). Some scholars insist that the word sur was even used as a personal name for gods.
Rocks may yield honey (Psalm 81:16), precious stones (Job 28:10), and even water (Exodus 17:6). The Messiah is often compared to a rock, either a water-giving one (1 Corinthians 10:4), or one to stumble over (Isaiah 8:14).
Depending on the source we consult, there are three to five roots of the form צרר (srr). We'll follow the outline of HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, which identifies three:
The root צרר (sarar I) means to bind (Exodus 12:34, Proverbs 26:8), or be in distress (Genesis 32:8, Jeremiah 10:18). Its counterpart is the verb ישע (yasha), meaning to be spacious and comfortable, and it's obviously kindred to the verb צור (sur II), see above. This verb's derivatives are:
- The adjective צר (sar), meaning narrow or tight (Numbers 22:26, Isaiah 49:20).
- The identical masculine noun צר (sar), meaning straights or distress (Isaiah 5:30, Psalm 66:14).
- The feminine equivalent of the previous noun: צרה (sara), also meaning straights or distress (1 Samuel 26:24, Jeremiah 49:24).
- The denominative verb צרר (sarar), meaning to suffer distress (Jeremiah 48:41 and 49:22 only).
- The masculine noun צרור (seror), meaning bundle or parcel (Genesis 42:35, Amos 9:9).
- The masculine noun מצר (mesar), meaning straights or distress (Psalm 116:3, Psalm 118:5 and Lamentations 1:3 only).
The root צרר (sarar II) means to show hostility towards (Numbers 33:55, Isaiah 11:13), and is a by-form of the verb צור (sur III), see above. Its derivations are:
- The masculine noun צר (sar), meaning adversary or foe (Amos 3:11, Jeremiah 48:5). Note that this word is identical to the two mentioned earlier.
- The feminine noun צרה (sara), meaning vexer or rival-wife (1 Samuel 1:6 only). Note that this word is identical to צרה (sara), meaning straights or distress, mentioned above.
- The denominative verb צרר (sarar), meaning to create or produce a rival wife (Leviticus 18:18 only).
The root צרר (sarar III) isn't used in the Bible but in cognate languages it means to be sharp. In the Bible the following derivations occur (and note that these nouns all describe sharp rocks — see צור (sur IV):
- The masculine noun צר (sar), meaning flint or pebble (Isaiah 5:28 only).
- The similar masculine noun צר (sor), also meaning flint (Exodus 4:25, Ezekiel 3:9).
- The masculine noun צרור (seror), meaning pebble (2 Samuel 17:13, Amos 9:9).
The verb יצר (yasar) means to fashion, form or frame, and is obviously related to the verb צור (sur IV), see above. This verb seems to be distinguished from other creative verbs in that יצר (yasar) denotes the forming of something out of something else, or else the forming of something from some malleable material: a potter (Isaiah 29:16), a carver (Isaiah 44:9). Very often the Creator is the subject of this verb: like a potter, God forms Adam from earth (Genesis 2:7), gives Israel its distinctive shape (Isaiah 27:11), and forms man in the womb (Isaiah 44:2). Notable is the usage of this verb in the sense of making a plan or frame of mind (Isaiah 22:11, Jeremiah 18:11). This verb's derivatives are:
- The masculine noun יצר (yeser), denoting that what is formed, or rather its form or shape (Genesis 6:5, Isaiah 29:16, Psalm 103:14).
- The plural masculine noun יצרים (yesurim), meaning forms or members. This word is used only in Job 17:7.
The root צרה (srh) does not occur as verb in the Bible but in Arabic it denotes the bleeding of a vein, and a comparable noun denotes an odoriferous tree. In the Bible only one derivative of the Hebrew root remains: the masculine noun צרי (sari), denoting a kind of costly balsam (Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 8:22).