Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb חיה (haya) means to live or have life, to give or restore life; to quicken or revive, nourish or refresh.
Life and death are notoriously hard to define but the Bible emphasizes the social or collective quality of life and the lack thereof in death. Living things are basically colonies of lesser complex entities working very closely, even in resonance, together and death occurs when that cooperation stops:
A living cell consists of molecules working in resonance. A living organism consists of living cells working in resonance. A living nation consists of living humans working in resonance. A nation enters death when its people fall apart. An organism enters death when its cells fall apart. A cell enters death when its molecules fall apart.
This very important verb obviously occurs all over the Bible. Its derivations are:
- The adjective חי (hay), meaning living (Genesis 25:6, Joshua 3:10), lively (2 Samuel 23:20) and reviving (Genesis 18:10, 2 Kings 4:16).
- The identical masculine noun חי (hay), meaning kinsfolk. This word occurs only once, in 1 Samuel 18:18.
- The feminine noun חיה (hayya) meaning living thing. It may denote a living, active animal (Genesis 8:17), an angelic animal-like creature (Ezekiel 1:5), or it may denote life in general (Psalm 143:3), and even appetite in an active sense (Job 38:39) or revival or renewal (Isaiah 57:10).
- The identical feminine noun חיה (hayya), meaning community. This word occurs once or twice in the Bible (2 Samuel 23:13 = 1 Chronicles 11:15, and perhaps Psalm 68:10). Note that in Hebrew reality, a community was the same kind of thing as one living creature.
- The adjective חיה (hayeh), meaning lively or having the vigor of life. This word occurs only once, in Exodus 1:19.
- The masculine plural noun חיים (hayyim), meaning life, or rather 'living[s]'. Why this word comes in a plural form is open for debate but it might be to indicate that to the Hebrews, 'life' was not some abstract concept but rather the effect of a whole array of goings on; the common term 'living water' for running water uses this word (Genesis 26:19). The nuances of this word fall in three categories:
- Life as a period: the life of Sarah — Genesis 23:1.
- Welfare and happiness; earthly felicity combined with spiritual blessing (as beautifully put by BDB Theological Dictionary — Proverbs 16:15, Deuteronomy 30:6).
- Sustenance, maintenance (Proverbs 27:27).
- The feminine noun חיות (hayyut), which occurs in the phrase אלמנות חיות ('almanot hayyut), literally meaning widowhood of livingness. By this phrase were known women who weren't living with their husbands; widows whose husbands hadn't died; divorcees (2 Samuel 20:3).
- The feminine noun מחיה (mihya), denoting the preservation of life (Genesis 45:5), sustenance (Judges 6:4), restoration of flesh (Leviticus 13:10).