Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The complicated verb נטה (nata) is variably translated as to spread or stretch out (a tent, Genesis 12:8; an expanse, Ezekiel 1:22), extend (hands, Exodus 9:22; a spear, Joshua 8:18; a measuring line, 2 Kings 21:13), incline or bend (a wadi, Numbers 21:15; a donkey from its path, Numbers 22:23; human followers, 1 Kings 2:28, one's heart, Psalm 119:112) — and all these meanings are summarized by to leverage, with the understanding that a lever is used to manipulate one's environment beyond one's natural abilities, and that a lever multiplies force but diminishes range, or extends range but loses force.
This verb stems from a time when the average person had very little intuitive understanding of mechanics, and any mechanical device that went beyond a stick and a single pulley seemed magical. But all technology is in fact leverage, and all engineers ponder the challenge of how to concentrate energy (the hotter the fire, the purer the metals, the stronger the tools and the stronger the people; hence texts like Deuteronomy 4:24, Daniel 3:19, Hebrews 12:29), and how to leverage these concentrations of energy.
All technology, including information technology, aims to increase strength, but must pay for this increase in strength in a proportional decrease somewhere else — perhaps in accuracy or quality, in scope or diversity; leverage always comes with a price: for every splendid fruit-bearing branch there must be a pale root toiling in darkness, for every day of work there must be a night of sleep. If this price is not paid, the whole installation will succumb to a net-negative decline.
Depending on the context, our verb may describe the increase, or the decrease, the gain or the loss. Or it describes the extending, bending, or otherwise manipulating of reality by means of a mechanical device — and this includes written text and any subsequent information technology, but also law and codes of conduct, and even fashion and artistic expressions.
Our verb is used a few hundred times, and from it derive:
- The adverb מטה (matta), meaning downwards (Deuteronomy 28:43, Isaiah 37:31, Ezra 9:13).
- The masculine noun מטה (matteh), meaning staff: a traveler's staff (Genesis 28:18), a shepherd's staff (Exodus 4:2), God's staff (Exodus 4:20), a magician's staff (Exodus 7:9-12). The staff, being an attribute of shepherds, became a symbol of authority, carried by the shepherds of men: prophets, priests and governors. But the staff also came to represent the people who were governed by it (or whoever bore it). Hence our noun could also mean tribe, but, crucially, a tribe as a political entity rather than one of biological descend (Exodus 31:2, Joshua 7:1, 1 Kings 7:14). In popular culture, this word morphed into the magician's wand. Other words for staff or rod are: משענת (mish'enet), from the verb שען (sha'an), to lean on or trust in, and שבט (shebet), from the verb שבט (shabat), to smite or beat. The Greek equivalent of all these words is ραβδος (rabdos), which looks suspiciously akin the familiar noun ραββι (rabbi), Rabbi.
- The feminine noun מטה (mitta), meaning bed, but mostly as "seat" of government (Genesis 47:31, Exodus 8:3, Song of Solomon 3:7). This noun is comparable to the Greek noun κοιτη (koite).
- The curious feminine noun מטה (mutta), usually translated with outspreading. It occurs only in Isaiah 8:8, which speaks of the outspreading of Assyria's wings, which obviously speaks of the application of military and governmental leverage.
- The masculine noun מטה (mutteh), meaning that which is bent or leveraged. This noun occurs in Ezekiel 9:9 only.