Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
נסס נוס נוש נסה מסס מסה מאס
Dictionaries list a small cluster of words that are obviously related in form but apparently not in meaning. Yet at second glance, these words all appear to be derived from the art of metallurgy. They all have to do with melting or dissolving, or figuratively, with the loss of a previously enjoyed consistency followed by a collective retreat to a safer, purer situation.
Note that where this cluster of words is spelled with the letter ס (samekh), there is another cluster of words that are similar except that these words are spelled with a ש (shin/sin): נשה משה (nsh, msh). The ס-words have to do with smelting and purifying, and the ש-words have to do with rising and removing.
Dictionaries commonly list two different verbs of the form נסס (nasas), but these two may very well be the same:
The verb נסס (nasas I) occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Isaiah 10:18, and appears to mean to be sick. Here at Abarim Publications we guess that this word essentially denotes someone who is literally in-firm and convalescing; that is, trying to sweat out contaminations and emerge purified. Note the similarity with the verb נוש (nush), see below. And note that this verb is used in construct with the verb מסס (masas), meaning to melt or dissolve; see below.
The verb נסס (nasas II) is listed to denote a being elevated or conspicuous, but here at Abarim Publications we guess it means to solidify and especially in some kind of form: to cast. It occurs only twice: Psalm 60:4 observes that YHWH has given his people a banner (נס) in order to נסס (nasas). Most translations think this banner has to be "raised," but we think this banner denotes the command to dissolve battle formations and commence a rapid retreat towards the banner. Zechariah 9:16 speaks of precious stones that are in some way related to a crown. Tradition thinks these stones are elevated or conspicuous, but we think they were smelted into the metal of the crown; flush with its surface.
This verb's only derivative is the masculine noun נס (nes), denoting a symbol of some sort; a rallying banner or flag (Isaiah 30:17, Jeremiah 4:6).
The central idea behind these flags was not that they were elevated, but that they provided stationary anchors for swarms of people to gather around, either literally or figuratively around their message (Jeremiah 50:2). The bronze serpent which Moses made was placed upon such a נס (nes; Numbers 21:8).
The verb נוש (nush) is used only once, namely in Psalm 69:20, and like נסס (nasas I) it is thought to mean to be sick (or rather: trying to sweat out an infection).
The verb נוס (nus) means to flee (Genesis 39:12, Numbers 16:34. 2 Kings 7:7), escape (Amos 9:1), retreat (Song of Solomon 2:17), abate (Deuteronomy 34:7, Isaiah 35:10), or cause to disappear (Judges 6:11). It comes with two derivatives:
- The masculine noun מנוס (manos), literally denoting an agent or place of fleeing to: a refuge (2 Samuel 22:3, Job 11:20, Amos 2:14). In Jeremiah this noun is used to denote the act of fleeing: flight.
- The feminine equivalent מנוסה (menusa), meaning flight (Leviticus 26:36 and Isaiah 52:12 only).
The verb נסה (nasa) means to try or test or put to the test; to subject something to activities which will demonstrate its range of abilities. Commonly, a certain minimum expectation is set, and when the subject reaches that minimum, the subject is said to have passed the test.
Thus David declined the use of Saul's harness because he hadn't tested it and was therefore unfamiliar with it (1 Samuel 17:39). In order to see whether God had spoken to Gideon, and the latter was not suffering from a delusion, Gideon devised the test with the fleece (Judges 6:39). And to investigate the meaning of life, Qoheleth subjected himself to tests by means of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1).
Likewise, God tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Israel (Exodus 15:25, Deuteronomy 8:2), the tribe of Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:31) and the psalmist (Psalm 26:2). But in turn, Israel tested God (Exodus 17:2, Numbers 14:22, Psalm 78:18).
The sole derivation of this verb is the feminine noun מסה (massah), meaning test, trial or proving (Deuteronomy 4:34, Job 9:23). Note that this word is identical to the noun derived from the verb מסס (masas), meaning to melt; see next.
The verb מסס (masas) is thought to mean to melt or dissolve, but it's rarely used to describe an actual phase transition between a solid and a liquid state (just once, in Psalm 68:2, wax melts). Instead, it predominantly describes a psychological condition that seems similar to melting if a sound, resolved or courageous mind (or heart) is considered solid (Deuteronomy 20:8, 2 Samuel 17:10, Nahum 2:11). The prophet Isaiah uses this verb in tandem with נסס (nasas I), meaning to be sick, when he states that someone sick wastes away (מסס נסס; Isaiah 10:18). Sometimes our verb describes a general vanishing or loss of consistency, such as that of Manna (Exodus 16:21), Samson's bonds (Judges 15:14), the wicked (Psalm 112:10), or hills and mountains (Psalm 97:7, Isaiah 34:3, Micah 1:4). Our verb comes with three derivatives:
- The adjective מס (mas), literally meaning melting. It occurs only once, namely in Job 6:14, where it applies to a human, and thus probably someone with a "melted" heart. Note that this adjective is identical to the noun מס (mas), denoting a forced work force (see below).
- The feminine noun מסה (massa), also meaning a melting (or a despair) and is also used only once, namely in Job 9:23. Note that this noun is spelled the same as the verb מסה (masa), meaning to melt (see below).
- The masculine noun תמס (temes), which describes the defining quality of a snail's going about. BDB Theological Dictionary thinks this behavior is leaving a slimy trail, but perhaps it describes a certain lack of aim or purpose in a snail's journey, or even a snail's signature ability to retract into its house. Note that this same form תמס is used in Psalm 39:12, as expression of the verb מסה (masa), see below.
The verb מסה (masa) is a by-form of מסס (masas) and means the same: to melt (ice into water: Psalm 147:18), make wet (couch with tears: Psalm 6:7), make to vanish (Psalm 39:12; the form used here is תמס), or be disheartened (Joshua 14:8).
The noun מס (mas) is of unknown origin; BDB says it's probably a loan-word, yet it is identical to the adjective meaning melting or molten (that is: desperate), from the verb מסס (masas). It denotes a forced labor force (Exodus 1:11, 1 Kings 5:14), which usually consisted of conquered peoples (Deuteronomy 20:11, Isaiah 31:8, Esther 10:1).
Even though the two words מס (mas) are technically unrelated, in the opinion of less technically inclined users of the Hebrew language, they might very well be considered the same word. It's obvious that folks who are subjected to forced labor might get desperate, but since this word describes the group and not the individuals, it could be construed to reflect collective pliancy; lacking a collective heart.
The verb מאס (ma'as I) means to reject or despise, and if this verb matches the overbearing metallurgy metaphors of this word group, this rejecting concerns an element of a liquidized material which is considered worthless: slag or dross. In that sense God rejects certain men (out of the whole of humanity: 1 Samuel 15:23, Isaiah 41:9, Hosea 4:6), and in turn, men reject the Living God (out of the whole the religious market has to offer: Numbers 11:20, 1 Samuel 8:7).
Men also reject other men (Job 30:1), idols (Isaiah 31:7), evil (Psalm 36:5), knowledge (Hosea 4:6), and divine Law (Amos 2:4). A few instances of this verb reflect despisal instead of rejection. God despises Israel's festivals. Job observes that even children despise him (Job 19:18) and despises his own life (Job 9:21). And Gaal despised Abimelech and his men (Judges 9:38).
This verb comes with only one derivative, namely the masculine noun מאוס (ma'os), meaning refuse. It's used only once, in Lamentations 3:45.
The identical verb מאס (ma'as II) is thought to be a secondary form of מסס (masas) and means to flow or run. This verb is used only twice. Job complains that his skin has turned hard and runs (presumably with perspiration; Job 7:5). And the Psalmist hopes that the wicked will run off like water (Psalm 58:7).