Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The root גבל (gbl) has to do with to bind or wind, and, as in English, also yields words for boundary (= a thing in which something else is bound). The original root-verb appears to be omitted in the Bible but this root's primary derivative is the noun גבל (gebul), meaning boundary or border. This noun is mostly used similarly to the word boundary in English. The main difference, perhaps, is that the English word "border" brings to mind a theoretical line with a political function, whereas our Hebrew word גבל (gebul) signifies an actual physical limit, which is brought about by actual physical, geographical, cultural, economic or military forces. People within an ancient Hebrew border were much more literally bound together than people living in a modern border.
Our noun גבל (gebul) occurs slightly more than 200 times in the Old Testament and may denote the banks of a stream (Numbers 22:36), the outer walls of a temple (Ezekiel 40:12) or the subsidiary territory of a city (Numbers 35:26). But mostly it is used to describe the boundaries of a people (Genesis 10:19, Deuteronomy 3:14, Joshua 15:1), understanding that in antiquity national borders were different from the political entities they are today. Back then, a people was primarily identified by its culture, and its boundary was wherever the last practitioner of that culture had settled.
Possibly the most striking derivative of our noun גבל (gebul) is the word "Bible" (see our article on the Greek word βιβλος, biblos). Other derivatives are:
- The feminine equivalent גבלה (gebula), also meaning boundary. This noun occurs much less than its male counterpart, and almost always in plural (Numbers 32:33, Joshua 19:49, Isaiah 10:13).
- The feminine noun גבלת (gablut), which describes a quality of a cord. This word occurs twice, in Exodus 28:22 and 39:15, where it describes the same mysterious item. Commentators traditionally translate this word with "winding," i.e. a tightly twisted cord, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect that these cords thus described rather cordoned off an area, or kept certain element bound.
- The feminine plural noun מגבלת (migbalot), like the former, also traditionally suspected to mean twisted but perhaps rather indicative of a rope to bundle or cordon off (Exodus 28:14 only).
- The denominative verb גבל (gabal), meaning to border or border on, to bound, to set bounds. This verb occurs less than half a dozen times (Deuteronomy 19:14, Joshua 18:20, Zechariah 9:2).