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Meaning and etymology of the name Dabar YHWH

Dabar YHWHDabar YHWH

Dabar-Yahweh means roughly 'Word of God.' See below for a discussion of Dabar. See YHWH for an article on the name Yahweh. Dabar-Yahweh is one of the few dominant Hebrew names or titles of God in the Bible, although not often enough recognized as such.

Dabar-Yahweh is introduced as late as Genesis 15:1 where the Word of God is in a vision to Abraham and speaks to him (compare: Elohim occurs in Genesis 1:1, YHWH Elohim in 2:4, and Elyon in 14:18).

God speaks often to people and in many different ways. The Word of God, however, typically conveys formal messages and mostly to prophets. The Word of God gains a pivotal status in the New Testament when He "becomes flesh" in Jesus Christ, now known by the Greek translation Logos.

Where some names of God come uniquely from rare roots, the names Elyon and Dabar come from roots that have truly vast domains of application. The word dabar, however, outdoes even elyon and is a universe of meaning in itself. The root, its many derivations and the many meaning of each derivation occur over 2,500 times in the Old Testament; the first occurrence happens in Genesis 12:4, where Abram 'went forth as the Lord had spoken to him.
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament reports that the King James Bible uses more than 110 different English words and expressions to translate this one Hebrew word dabar.

Besides its enormous significance in the phrase Word of God, the root is used to indicate the "order" of Melchizedek, the "inner sanctuary" of the Holy of Holies, the Ten "Commandments" and to supply two out of five books of Moses with their titles: the original title of Numbers is Wayedaber (And He spoke) but is also known as Bemidbar (In the wilderness). The original title of Deuteronomy is Hadabarim (The Words).

Scholars generally have the root dabar break apart into two distinct groups of meanings:
  1. a group of words that pertain to speech and specifically intelligent discourse.
  2. a group that pertains to being behind or coming later or as a consequence.
But such a division is not required when we recognize that speech and reason are highly personal and strongly defining attributes which are obtained long after the person begins to exist, so actually (A) is a sub-group of (B) and the two aren't groups at all. Still, the distinction persists in its English reflection and may help us to reach some understanding of the height and depth of this marvelous word.

We'll have a look at the derivations of the root dabar and mark each with an (A) or (B), depending on which group of meanings the word belongs to. We stress again that no such distinction exists in Hebrew; to the Hebrews all words that follow are closely related in essence, and all variations of the same theme.

Abarim Publication postulates that this theme, of which speech and reason is also an expression, in its most fundamental sense is fruitfulness, fruitage; the bringing forth of things, or the bringing about of things. In fact, since the Hebrew language is not as lavish in its use of the verb 'to be' as English, we see a large overlap of both the verb and the noun dabar with the idea of the being or coming about of predominantly conceptual entities; things, anything that can be named, and tapping into the creation theme, anything that God spoke (or could have spoken) into being.

dabar dabar (A); as a verb, this word generally denotes the producing of whatever the same word means as noun, hence: to speak, declare, warn, threaten, command, promise, sing...etc. The noun always denotes a message or at least a verbal unit that came from contemplative thought, or (according to HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ) "most matters pertaining to moral and ideal values."
The verb dabar should be distinguished from amar (amar), to say or talk, or rather the activity that brings about strings of these: amar (omer) 'word,' such as those found in dictionaries. The verb amar brings the focus on what is spoken, but dabar brings the focus on the actual speaking. Amar always comes with what was said (i.e.:and then he said, "fine morning, ain't it?"), while dabar may occur without content (i.e.: and, after clearing his throat, he spoke.)
Dabar occurs in Psalm 18:47b: "And subdues people under me [NAS]," but in the 2 Samuel 22:48 parallel the verb yarad (yarad, bring down; see Jordan) is used. Finally it should be noted that 400 out of 1100 occurrences of the verb dabar are in the formula 'and God said/promised/commanded/etc.'
dabar dabar (A); as a noun, this word denotes a unit that was made to come about. It can be a single word, but it can also be a whole sentence or statement like the ten Words (a.k.a. the ten Commandments) which by sheer fact of their decree brought about people who didn't steel and murder etc (read our article on Romans 7).
Dabar can be an 'act' such as the acts of King David (1 Chronicles 29:29; we suggest: the things that David 'made to come about'), and it can be a whole literary corpus (a book as a physical object or a general account is called sapar seper) such as the book of Samuel the Seer who recorded the acts of David, or Chronicles, which was originally titled: Dibere-hayamim, "Events of the Days / Times."
Dabar may be as general as to mean 'thing.' Together with kol (kol, all) it becomes 'everything,' and with certain negations (such as lo, lo, not or no) it means 'nothing.' Note how this relates to Matthew 4:4, "Man shall not live by bread alone by by every word that comes from the mouth (Hebrew: midbar, see next) of the Lord."
In conjunction with YHWH, the word dabar denotes either any word spoken by God, or a specific Person of the Godhead who is talking. In the inaugurate usage (Genesis 15:1), the Word of the Lord comes to Abram in a vision (mahazeh; mahazeh from the verb haza; haza, look, see) indicating that he was seeing the Word of God. Where the Word of the Lord actually addresses Abram to say His first recorded words ever, namely, No Fear (don't be afraid), the verb amar (to say) is used. In the New Testament the Word of the Lord is recognized as Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven to bring about the will of God (John 6:38). And there's that theme again.
dabar deber (B), meaning pestilence, a very common word but nearly always in the sense of punishment sent by God as a result of sin. Deber denotes any kind of pestilence that results in death.
dabar dober (B), meaning pasture/ fold. A mere two times does dabar mean pasture: Micah 2:12 and Isaiah 5:17, both as feeding ground for lambs (Isaiah) and a flock of sheep (Micah). Possibly the idea of a pasture is related to that of the midbar (see next), but maybe the two prophets placed the sheep utopically in their 'element,' (lambs grazing in their thing) a concept so difficult to translate that later, translated texts speak of pasture (because that's how Scripture Theorists figure that the same word dbr means something else this time). Contemporary generations may want to translate these instances of dabar with groove. Perhaps not.
dobrot dobrot (B), meaning floats. Once the dbr root shows up as something that's made out of logs in order to transport them over water, like a floating raft (1 Kings 5:9). Most likely these floaters were towed by regular vessels.
dibra dibra (A&B depending on context), meaning cause, reason, order, matter. Dibra occurs seven times: Job 5:8: NAS, NIV: cause; Ps 110:4: NAS, NIV: order [of Melchizedek], NEB: succession [of Melchizedek]; Eccl 7:14: NAS, NIV: anything; Dan 2:30: NAS: for the purpose of; NIV: so that may; Dan 4:17: NAS: in order that; NIV: so that may.
dibra in Ecclesiastes 3:18 and 8:2 results in an obstructing redundancy in English and is generally omitted. But 3:18 reads something like, "I said in my heart concerning the matter of the sons of man." Surely most translators seek to reflect some sphere of archaicism, or else (since dabar = logos) the most apt translation of the phrase "the matter of the sons of man" would be: anthropology.
debora deborah (via B to A), meaning bee. Some commentators imagine that the bee was called "a speaker" because of its buzzing. But that can not be true for two reasons. First of all, the bee is not the only animal that makes sound. And secondly, because the bee doesn't speak with its buzzing.
We suggest that the bee was named by means of the dbr root because it produces honey. Honey was the chief sweetener in the olden days, and although God's words are sweater than honey (Psalm 119:103), Ezekiel reports that the scroll full of lamentations that God gave him tasted after it. Manna tasted like honey-wafers; manna also showed the glory of the Lord (Exodus 16:7) and Jesus compares himself to it (John 6:31-35). The promised land was a land of milk and honey (and Paul compares early learning to milk).
Ergo, the bee brings forth the honey which in turn has a lot to do with the Word of God.
debora = The name Deborah; identical to the previous word deborah, bee.
debir debir (A, no B, no A!), meaning hindmost chamber (BDB Theological Dictionary), inner sanctuary (NAS & NIV), oracle (KJV). This word, when it doesn't mean the town Debir (see next), is reserved as an alternative name of the Holy of Holies in Solomon's temple and, because of the connection to dabar, was translated 'oracle' by the King James and others. Younger translations tend to lean towards group B and seek meaning in the location of the Holy of Holies; in the back. Most notably is its usage in Psalm 28:2, "...onto the debir of your holiness."
Abarim Publications likes to suggest that since in the Holy of Holies the ark was kept, and in the ark the Law, which in turn is intimately related to the Word of God, a better translation of the word debir is 'place of the Word.' Also see next.
debir = the name Debir; identical to the previous word. Debir is the name of a king of Eglon (Joshua 10:3) and also the name of a few towns. One of those towns was also known as Kiriath-sepher. Kiriath means town, and sepher (sapar), we saw earlier, means book. Some translators render this name 'oracle' and perhaps for the king's name this may be. But the town whose name was first Town Of The Book, may certainly have become known as Place Of The Word.
midbar midbar (A&B), meaning mouth. Just once the dbr root denotes mouth (your mouth is lovely - Song of Solomon 4:3), we may assume as source of speech. An apt translation would be 'your yap' if that hadn't had the negative connotation. Better is: 'You say nice things.' The other, more regular word for mouth (nearly 500 occurences) is peh. Since the words of God are often reported to come out of His mouth, it should be obvious at once that the Hebrews did not see the mouth as part of what we call a face (God doesn't have one) but rather as origin or well of words going one way and receptacle of food going the other.
In its article on peh, HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament even states, "The mouth is the external manifestation of one's character and disposition."
midbar midbar (?); usually translated with 'wilderness' but that doesn't seem to do justice.
Midbar is the only word from the dbr stock that doesn't immediately obviously fall into one of the two categories. But still it must be noted that where our English word 'wilderness' brings to mind something wild; something untamed, uncultivated, or unregulated, the word midbar brings to mind the word dabar; word, entity, thing. Like words 'live' in the mouth, so do things live in a midbar. A midbar is an ecosystem where entities exists in a larger system, just like words exists in speech.
The word midbar does not denote a specific kind of terrain, and even the subdivision that some scholars list does not satisfy. Sometimes the word denotes lush stretches that are good for grazing (Psalm 65:12, Jeremiah 23:10) but sometimes a midbar is deserted and empty. Job 38:26 speaks of a land (eretz) without people (ish) and a wilderness (midbar) without men (adam), and just like a land is not typically without people, so is a midbar also not typically without men. Sometimes the midbar even holds towns and peoples (Isaiah 42:11, Joshua 15:61).
Twice, however, the word is used metaphorically and typically negative: Hosea 2:5 and Jeremiah 2:31, possibly validated by its ultimate association to wildernesses such as the deserts of Negev and Sinai.
Daberath = Daberath, a town on the border of Zebulun (Joshua 19:12)
Dibri = Dibri, a Danite whose grandson blasphemed and was executed (Leviticus 24:11).
= Lo-Debar; Town in Gilead, in Manasseh mentioned in 2 Samuel 9:4 and 17:27. Lo is a common particle of negation: No Word.
Lidebir = Lidebir (Joshua 13:26), a town that may or may not have something to do with Lo-Debar. The way it is spelled here it means For The Word. But, the lamed may also be due to the structure of the sentence and the town's name is plainly Debir.



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