Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
נשא נשה משה
There are one root משה (mshh), two roots נשׁא (nsh'), one root נשׂא (ns') and two or three roots נשׁה (nsh) used in the Bible. Although these roots are technically unrelated, they are obviously similar in form and their meanings overlap more or less; qualities that neither the Bible authors nor anyone in a Hebrew audience would have disregarded.
And when the Bible was written, both the verbs נשׁא (nsh') were still indistinguishable from the verb נשׂא (ns'), as all three were written נשא (ns'). The difference in spelling (the dot either on the left or the right finger of the w-shaped letter) was invented about half a dozen of centuries after Christ, by the Masoretes.
The recognition of the similarities of these Hebrew verbs produces some wonderful insights in the symbolic structure in which the redemptive act of Jesus Christ is presented in the Greek New Testament.
Note the striking similarity between these roots and the verb נשם (nasham), meaning to breathe.
Also note that while this cluster of words is spelled with the letter ש (shin/sin), there is another cluster of words that are similar except that these words are spelled with a ס (samekh): נסה מסה (nsh, msh) etcetera. The ש-words have to do with rising and removing, whereas the ס-words have to do with smelting and purifying.
The verb now known as נשׂא (nasa') denotes a motion upward and usually away. It occurs more than six-hundred times in Biblical Scriptures and its meanings can be generally grouped into three categories:
- To lift or lift up: from the Ark of Noah (Genesis 7:17) to YHWH's banner (Isaiah 5:26). Very often this verb occurs in expressions such as the "lifting" of one's feet when one departs (Genesis 29:1), one's hands when one prays (Deuteronomy 32:10), one's head in independence or pride (Judges 8:28), one's face in gladness (2 Kings 9:32), one's eyes in observation (Isaiah 37:23), the Lord's name in supplication (Exodus 20:7), and the list goes on.
- To bear or carry: from literally carrying a load (Genesis 37:25), to carrying a responsibility (Deuteronomy 1:9) or guilt (Genesis 4:13). Wings carry (Exodus 19:4), folks endure (Jeremiah 15:15), trees bear fruit (Haggai 2:19).
- To take or take away: from a donkey (Numbers 16:15), to someone's head (Genesis 40:19) to guilt (Genesis 50:17). One may take a wife (Ezra 9:2), ransom (Exodus 30:12), or favor (Esther 2:9).
This enormous verb comes with an impressive list of derivations:
- The feminine noun נשואה (nesu'a), meaning what is carried about (Isaiah 46:1 only).
- The masculine noun נשיא (nasi'), meaning a lifted-up one, that is: a captain or chief prince. This fairly common noun is used for general congregational rulers (Exodus 16:2, Numbers 1:16, Ezra 1:8) and for specific rulers such as Solomon (1 Kings 11:34) and Abraham (Genesis 23:6).
- The exact same masculine noun נשיא (nasi'), but now meaning mist or vapor. This word occurs in the Bible only in the plural form — נשׂאים (nasi'im) — and only in Jeremiah 10:13, 51:16, Psalm 135:7 and Proverbs 25:14.
- The masculine noun משא (massa'), meaning a load or burden (Exodus 23:5, Hosea 8:10).
- The exactly identical noun משא (massa'), now meaning utterance or oracle (Isaiah 14:28, Ezekiel 12:10). One may wonder if the ancient Hebrews viewed these two identical nouns indeed as separate.
- The slightly dissimilar masculine noun משא (mass'), meaning a lifting up (1 Chronicles 19:7 only).
- The feminine noun משאה (massa'a), literally: the uplifted, used for clouds in Isaiah 30:27 only. Note that without the Masoretic symbols, this word is spelled the same as the noun משאה (mashsha'a), meaning a loan (see under the root נשׁא, nasha' I), and the noun משאה (mesho'a), meaning ruin or desolation, from the root שוא (shw' II).
- The feminine noun משאת (mas'et), which is a noun that seems to reflect all nuances of the parent verb: uprising (smoke - Judges 20:38), uplifting (of hands - Psalm 141:2), utterance or oracle (Lamentations 2:14), burden (Zephaniah 3:18), that what's carried (Genesis 43:34).
- The masculine noun שיא (si'), meaning loftiness or pride (Job 20:6 only).
- The feminine noun שאת (se'et), meaning dignity (Genesis 49:3), swelling or outburst (Leviticus 13:2), rising-up (Job 41:17). Note that without the Masoretic symbols, this noun is spelled the same as the noun שאת (she't), probably meaning ruin or devastation, from the root שאה (sha'a I), meaning to be noisy or ruinous (follow the link to שוא (shw' II) above for more details).
The first of the two verbs now known as נשׁא (nasha' I) means to lend on interest. This verb occurs only a few times in the Bible, and that usually not in very positive contexts. Apparently, the act of lending on interest caused great injustices, already in Biblical times (1 Samuel 22:2, Psalm 89:22). Note that the verb נשך (nashak) means to bite, while the derived noun נשך (neshek) means interest or usury.
Our verb has two derivatives:
- The masculine noun משא (mashsha), meaning a lending on interest (Nehemiah 5:7 only).
- The feminine noun משאה (mashsha'a), meaning a loan (Deuteronomy 24:10 and Proverbs 22:26 only).
The second of the two verbs now known as נשׁא (nasha' II) means to beguile or deceive. It's used a mere dozen times in the Bible, most famously in Genesis 3:13, where Eve explains to the Lord that the serpent deceived her (Isaiah 19:13, Jeremiah 37:9). This verb yields two derivatives:
- The masculine noun משאון (mashsha'on). It's used only once, in Proverbs 26:26 and is usually translated with guile.
- The plural feminine noun משואות (mashshu'ot). This noun occurs twice, in Psalm 73:18 and 74:3, and may be translated with deceptions or something to that extent.
The first of the two verbs now known as נשׁה (nasha I) seems to be right on a par with נשא (nasha'); it means to lend or become a creditor (Deuteronomy 24:11, Jeremiah 15:10). It comes with two derivatives:
- The masculine noun נשי (neshi), meaning debt. It occurs only once, in 2 Kings 4:7.
- The masculine noun משה (mashshe), meaning loan. This word occurs only once as well, in Deuteronomy 15:2. Note that this word is spelled the same as the verb משה (masha), see below.
The second of the two verbs now known as נשׁה (nasha II) means to forget. However, forgetting something to the Hebrews worked different than for us. We may forget something because it fades from our consciousness; it withers due to lack of attention. To the Hebrews forgetting had to do with an active taking away of something. Something was forgotten because God took that something away. And when God forgets something or someone (obviously impossible when forgetting works the way we know it - God cannot forget the way we do), he actively pushes that someone away (Jeremiah 23:29), or that something (Job 11:6). The antonym of forgetting is remembering, and since God cannot forget the way we do, he also doesn't remember the way we do. When God remembers someone, he pulls that someone close (Genesis 30:22; see our article on the verb זכר, zakar, meaning to remember).
Scholars perhaps see the two verbs נשה (nasha) as separate because they seem to denote such different ideas. Perhaps it's been demonstrated that these two verbs evolved into the same form through different paths. But perhaps these two verbs evolved into the same verb so readily because when we lend to someone, we really push that something away from us. When the person who lends from us then brings it back, we "remember" the item in the Hebrew sense of the word. In our times of banks and interests, we think of lending completely different than the folks in Biblical times did. Possibly because only a needy person would come and ask to borrow something, Jesus insists that we don't ask back what we lend (Luke 6:34-35). Biblical lending is really quite like forgetting.
Our verb comes with one derivative, the feminine noun נשיה (neshiya), meaning forgetfulness or oblivion (Psalm 88:13 only).
Some scholars list נשה (nasha III) as part of נשה (nasha III), while others create a whole separate root for it. It's a mystery word: the noun נשה (nasheh), which occurs in Genesis 32:32 in the even more mysterious passage of Jacob's fight with the angel. Our word is used to indicate which part of the leg became the object of some otherwise unknown dietary stipulation. It's usually translated with sinew or vein.
The verb משה (masha) means to draw. Curiously enough, this verb in cognate languages means to wash or clean, while our verb occurs in the Bible in a mere two contexts, and both contexts revolve about someone being drawn out of water.
In the first instance, baby Moses is drawn out of the Nile, 'and she (the Egyptian princess) named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water"' (Exodus 2:10). In the other instance king David expresses his gratitude to the Lord, who has saved him by drawing him out of many waters (2 Samuel 22:17 = Psalm 18:16).