Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb כסף (kasap) is commonly reported to mean to long, but we here at Abarim Publications will currently challenge that. With the exception of Zephaniah 2:1 (see below), our verb is consistently followed by the object for which one "longs", prefixed with the particle ל (le), meaning on or onto.
Like the proverbial twenty Eskimo words for snow, Hebrew has several huge roots that express desire and longing — חמד (hamad), to covet (this is the famous one, used in "you shall not covet"), אוה ('wh II), to desire, wish or covet, פער (pa'ar), to desire or lust — and since our verb כסף (kasap) occurs a mere few times, it evidently expresses a specific and rather reserved sensation. In Arabic this verb means to be colorless, obscure or even to eclipsed (of a heavenly body) or to be depressed in appearance. In Aramaic (and subsequently modern Hebrew) it means to become pale or deteriorate, and is often used in the sense of to put to shame or frighten. Its five Biblical contexts are:
- You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made (Job 14:15).
- He is like a lion that is eager to tear (Psalm 17:12).
- Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father's house (Genesis 31:30).
- My soul longed and even yearned (כלה, kaleh) for the courts of YHWH (Psalm 84:2).
- Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame/desire (Zephaniah 2:1).
How the element of paleness fits in isn't obvious, but the single derivation of this verb — and the reason why we examine it in such detail — is the noun כסף (kesep), meaning silver, and by extension, money. The Greek word for silver (and money) is αργυρος (arguros), which comes from the word αργος (argos), which likewise means white. How or why whiteness became attached to silver isn't clear, but in nature whiteness is relatively rare until snow falls and covers (obscure, depresses) all other colors at once.
It takes an advanced sense of optics, but an object has a color because it reflects light of a wavelength that corresponds to that color. A red object absorbs all non-red light and reflects red light, which is the light an observer sees coming off the object and why it looks red to her. A perfectly black object absorbs light of all wavelengths, which is why black objects heat up (and why living cells, in effect, are transfinitively black; see John 1:5). A white object, on the other hand, reflects light of all wavelengths and absorbs none (which is why, since deep antiquity, houses in hot countries are painted white). And that means that a metallic, silvery mirror is indeed perfectly white.
White, as the ancients appear to have understood, is also not a color but rather the sum of all colors (H2O is always translucent, and snow is white because of countless little rainbows all blended together). This in turn suggests that our verb כסף (kasap) doesn't really mean to long, but rather to reflect, like a mirror: the Creator is reflected by his creatures (Job 14:15; see Romans 1:20); the lion's nature is reflected by his assault (Psalm 17:12, see Psalm 22:13, Proverbs 28:15, Ezekiel 22:25, 1 Peter 5:8), and the heart of a searcher is reflected in their search (Genesis 31:30, Psalm 84:2).
In every commercial transaction, goods and services go one way and money goes the other. That means that the movement of money is a precise mirror image of the movement of goods and services. Exactly like goods and services, words don't simply drop onto the stage fully formed, but are honed very slowly over time, when countless groups of people interact and observe each other and imitate each other and gauge each other's concerns and desires and try to meet them. When millions of pre-speech humans are left to interact for eons and eons, over time they will settle on a set of perfectly crafted words that generally mean the same things to everybody. Psalm 12:6 reads: "The words (אמר, 'amar) of YHWH are pure words; silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times." And although that's often explained to be about God speaking, it is just as much about speech in general: human speech and its creative economy.
The Word of God has existed with God since before the beginning (John 1:1), but the Word could only come into human flesh when humanity had developed language, and particularly writing: without the written word there is no complex thought and no complex society based on a legal code (see our article on ελευθερια, eleutheria, societal freedom). Christ is present where two or more gather in his name (Matthew 18:20). A language forms when a great many people imitate each other. This ties the double-claused great command — (1) love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and (2) your neighbor as yourself — to instructions like "be imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1) and "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, also see 1 Corinthians 4:16, Philippians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:6).
In the Bible, gold represents eternal natural laws, the study and industrial application of which is for an elite few (see our article on χρυσος, chrusos, processed gold). Silver is common and represents the creative economy of the whole of human interaction. Bronze is a profane form of gold, and corresponds to artistic intuition and soothsaying (see χαλκος, chalkos, copper). And iron is a profane form of silver, and corresponds to human legal codes (and their enforcement by police and military) that derive from a centralized human authority rather than either God's gold or humanity's silver.