Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The broadly nuanced verb נכה (naka) is often translated with "smite" or "strike" but it should be remembered that Hebrew is much more dynamic than English (English describes things for what they look like; Hebrew describes things for how they behave). Our English verbs emphasize violent encounters (one may imagine a static picture of a man striking another man), but the Hebrew verb most basically describes the active dissipation of a force by a greater, counterforce.
This action includes both the immobilizing of the first party, and the fanning out and bleeding off of the force that drove it or allowed it to move about (predominantly on feet: רגל, regel). Our verb נכה (naka) is the opposite of the familiar idea of becoming strong and mobile by bundling forces, and describes a becoming weak and stationary by shattering and dissipating a singular force. Hence the mighty unified river Euphrates that grew great from absorbing its countless tributaries is "smitten" to branch into seven separate and far less imposing streams (Isaiah 11:15).
Our verb may describe something as simple as a man smiting another man, either lethally (Joshua 10:26), non-lethally (Job 16:10) or to be determined (Exodus 21:18). Our verb may describe a man hitting an obstinate domesticated animal (Numbers 22:23), or a murderous feral beast (1 Samuel 17:35). A man may strike a rock (Exodus 17:6), the ground (2 Kings 13:18), or the whole earth (Isaiah 11:4). A worm may smite a plant (Jonah 4:7) and God may smite people with plagues (Exodus 3:20, Genesis 19:11).
From our verb derive the following nouns:
- The adjective נכה (nakeh), meaning smitten or stricken. This adjective occurs only three times, twice to describe the "stricken" of feet Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 4:4, 9:3) and once the "stricken" of spirit (Isaiah 66:2).
- The similar adjective נכה (nekeh), which is used only in plural and as a substantive: the stricken ones or perhaps rather the strikers. This word occurs in Psalm 35:15 only, where the נכים assemble upon the narrator. Perhaps this word literally means "lamo", or its plural reflects what Jonathan Swift famously called a confederacy of dunces.
- The noun נכון (nakon), perhaps meaning blow or a striking. It occurs only in Job 12:5, and indeed in a context with the word for feet, which suggests connections with the previous words that describe lameness. But the context seems to suggest rather something opposite, namely the provision of strength, and many scholars prefer to think of this word as a Niphal form of the verb כון (kun), to be firm or fixed; a very common form in the Bible. This overlap in turn suggests that the verb נכה (naka) does not essentially speak of what happens to the vanquished (namely to be undone) but rather of what happens to the victor (namely to be established over the vanquished).
- The noun מכה (makka), literally a striking or a smiting. This is the catch-all word for a beat (Deuteronomy 25:3), wound (1 Kings 22:35, Proverbs 20:30), slaughter (1 Samuel 4:10), plague (1 Samuel 4:8), and so on.
The verb נכא (naka') is an Aramaic equivalent of the previous, but for untold reasons it doesn't appear in the Aramaic parts of the Bible but in Hebrew (perhaps to covertly refer to Arameans, the way a critical Texan would reflect on frictions with his Mexican amigos). The verb is used only in Job 30:8. From it derives:
- The adjective נכא (naka'), meaning stricken (Isaiah 16:7 only).
- The adjective נכא (nake'), also meaning stricken (Proverbs 15:13).
- The noun נכאת (neko't), which describes a kind of spice or aromatic gum that came in on trade roots from the east (Genesis 37:25, 43:11 only).