Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The root verb בצר (basar) describes the act of separating something from its maternal environment, with the purpose of letting that something mature in peace until the final result can be extracted. This act is usually achieved by building a strong wall around the something (some scholars suggest that our English word bazaar derives from this root).
Our verb most often describes the arranging of a wall around a city (Numbers 13:28, Joshua 14:12), but it is obviously also associated with vineyards (Leviticus 25:5, Deuteronomy 24:21), and even with mysteries (Jeremiah 33:3).
It's not clear how many separate Semitic roots are encapsulated in this one Hebrew root, but estimates run up to four. Scholars appear to either believe that this verb was also used as a harvest term (to cut off grapes from their branches), or this cutting off of grapes came from a whole other but similar root that meant just that.
Here at Abarim Publications we disagree with both these positions. We feel that the wall around a vineyard achieved the same thing as a wall around a city, and essentially does not simply convey a static separation from the world at large but in effect the securing of a maturation chamber for whatever is in there. People inside a fortified city were expected to mature into something that they couldn't have evolved into without their separation, just like grapes grow into mature, juice and seeds bearing creatures in secluded vineyards. All this obviously underscores the themes of the world as a vineyard (Isaiah 5) and the final city of Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
Most strikingly our verb appears, prefixed with the particle of negation לא (lo'), in Genesis 11:6, where it commonly is translated as restrained: "now will not be restrained from them what they plan to do". This controversial story of the Tower of Babel has always been explained in terms of the Lord becoming nervous about people getting too close, but that is obviously nonsense. The use of this verb in this story seems to further suggest that YHWH saw his plans to incubate humanity and lead her to maturity thwarted by the global proto-language of the tower builders. We know now that this proto-language of Shinar is the syntax upon which all languages of the world rest.
Our verb comes with the following derivatives:
- The masculine noun בצר (beser), probably meaning precious ore (Job 22:24 only).
- The feminine noun בצרה (bosra), meaning enclosure (Micah 2:12 only, according to some translations; see our article on the name Bozrah).
- The masculine noun בצרון (bissaron), meaning stronghold (Zechariah 9:12 only).
- The feminine noun בצרה (bassara), meaning destitution or scarcity; possibly a term that captured the barrenness of a land after the harvest (Psalm 9:9, Proverbs 14:28, Jeremiah 14:1). Once this noun is spelled בצרת (bassoret), namely in Jeremiah 17:8
- The masculine noun בציר (basir), meaning vintage; the product of the vine (Leviticus 26:5, Judges 8:2, Isaiah 32:10, Micah 7:1).
- The masculine noun מבצר (mibsar), meaning fortification (Numbers 13:19, Joshua 19:29, Daniel 11:24, Hosea 10:14).