Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb אסר ('asar) generally means to bind. It's used in the sense of securing animals to something to prevent them from wandering off (Genesis 49:11, 2 Kings 7:10), or hitching them to a cart in order to pull it (1 Samuel 6:7, Exodus 14:6). It's frequently used to describe the binding of people, either with fetters (Genesis 42:24, Judges 15:10), or with prison walls (Genesis 39:20, Isaiah 49:9; and note that in the ancient world incarceration was not a punishment itself; a prison was a holding pen where someone under review was kept) or even with oaths (Numbers 30:3). This verb may in rare cases also be used to describe a girding of swords to loins (Job 12:18, Hosea 4:18), or a commencement of fighting (as in Dutch and German: de strijd aanbinden/anbinden; 1 Kings 20:14, 2 Chronicles 13:3).
The derivations of this verb are:
- The masculine noun אסור ('esur) meaning band or bond (Judges 15:15, Ecclesiastes 7:26). In Jeremiah 37:15 occurs the phrase בית האסור, literally meaning house of the bond or rather: house of bonds.
- The masculine noun אסיר ('asir), meaning prisoner or bound one (Genesis 39:22, Isaiah 14:17, Zechariah 9:11).
- The masculine noun אסיר ('assir), which appears to be a collective word meaning prisoners (the imprisoned group). This word occurs up to four times in the Bible (Isaiah 24:22, 42:7) but two passages are disputed. Some scholars see in Isaiah 10:4 a reference to the Egyptian deity Osiris, and many classical translations of the Bible, including the Vulgate and Septuagint, read the personal name Assir instead of "the prisoner" in 1 Chronicles 3:17.
- The masculine noun אסר ('issar), meaning bond or obligation (Numbers 30:3).
- The feminine noun מסרת (masoret), meaning bond and particularly the bond of the covenant (Ezekiel 20:37 only).
- The masculine noun מוסר (moser), meaning band or bond (Job 39:5, Isaiah 52:2, Nahum 1:13).
Strikingly similar to the previous two words, the verb מסר (masar) occurs only in one scene in the Bible. In order to kill the Midianites (and Balaam the prophet), Moses acquired or perhaps bound/ contracted a thousand men from every tribe (Numbers 31:5). When they take female captives, Moses reminds them that via Balaam's words, these women bound the Israelites to the deceit at Peor, and orders them killed (Numbers 31:16).
Why scholars insist that this verb is separate from the previous root אסר ('asar) is not clear to us here at Abarim Publications. This verb appears to also exist in other languages in which it means to deliver, offer, and even to denounce or betray, which brings this verb in the vicinity of the roots סרר (sarar), meaning to be rebellious and סור (sur), meaning to turn aside.