Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The masculine noun קדם (qedem) refers to whatever comes first and may describe times that had come first (the past or antiquity; Psalm 44:1, Isaiah 37:26, Micah 5:2), or the place where the sun rises (the east; Genesis 10:30, Isaiah 2:6, Zechariah 14:4), and obviously these two are often used poetically to signify each other (looking toward the east means reviewing the past). Still, a western reader should be very careful when interpreting these patterns since the Hebrews had a wholly other sense of time and space.
The Hebrews understood that time is not linear and also not two dimensional. A person's sense of present reality sits entirely in her own personal head and every element of her sense of reality made its way into her head when a signal containing a piece of information reached her and was absorbed by her senses and processed and incorporated into her mind by her brain. That means that the past, and thus the east, is all around her and is signified by a state of dispersal. The observer functions as a point upon which all lines of the past converge. Should the observer in turn desire a greater state of unity with whatever she cannot observe through signals from the past, she would have to shuffle "backwards" into the future. Hence to go west is to unify, to go east of to disperse. Going westward is forging bonds or simplifying observations into general statements, going eastward is dissolving bonds and making things more complicated.
The opposite of coming first is coming last: the verb אחר ('ahar) means to come behind or after or to be late. The word for west, where the sun sets, is באה (bi'a), which also means entrance and comes from the common verb בוא (bo') to come, or rather to go from a primitive condition of dispersal toward a sophisticated condition of unity. Since the sea was to Israel's west, the word ים (yam), meaning sea, was used synonymous with west. The word ים (yam) in plural, namely ימים (yamim) is identical to the plural of the word יום (yom), meaning day.
The future, and thus the west, is not in any direction on the earth's surface (because that's all east) but straight upward (in a figurative sense; upward into the mind, not upward into space). That means that we reach the future by ascending into the heavens (1 Thessalonians 4:17) and the future reaches us by descending from the heavens (Revelation 21:2). That is because the "future" doesn't start at a point in time but rather at a point on an axis of complexity. Said simpler: a society that has a greater level of complexity and thus diversity and thus technology, comes [as if] from the future and thus from the west and thus from the heavens. To an agricultural third-world society somewhere, modern western soldiers and their unimaginable technology, are indistinguishable from bionic aliens in flying saucers and death rays. Hence the popularity of the genre.
The link between past and east also means that in the Hebrew mind there is a correlation between front, first, east and past, and thus also between back, last, west and future. In Hebrew, the future is behind us and the past is in front of us, and the normal position of an average observer is facing east, toward the past, with the right hand holding the sword of offense toward the south (hence the correlation demonstrated in the root ימן, ymn, which also combines with individual strength) and the left hand holding the shield of defense toward the north (צפון, sapon means north, and is also associated with gathering, accumulation, storage and vigilance). See our article on the Greek equivalent, δεξιος (dexios), meaning right, for a closer look at the difference between right and left.
From this noun קדם (qedem) derive the following words:
- The denominative verb קדם (qadam), meaning to be or do earlier than someone or something else (Psalm 119:47, Jonah 4:2), to anticipate someone or something (Job 4:3) or be in front of someone or something (Psalm 68:25). Our verb may also be used in the sense of to come or meet, but in the subtle sense of getting in someone's way with the intent or effect of altering someone's intended progression (Amos 9:10, Job 30:27).
- The adverb קדם (qedem), meaning eastward or toward a condition of greater dispersal (Numbers 34:3, Joshua 19:12, 1 Kings 17:3). In Genesis 25:6 Abraham sends his secondary sons "eastward" and thus into a state of dispersal, away from a national unity. In Leviticus 1:16 the priest is told to throw a part of a slaughtered bird "eastward," quite literally signifying the dispersal of the bird's body parts.
- The feminine noun קדמה (qadma), meaning antiquity or former, the state that was more dispersed, less harmonious, of a lesser interconnected network (Isaiah 23:7, Ezekiel 16:55, Psalm 129:6).
- The identical (or simply the same) noun קדמה (qadma), meaning front or east (Genesis 2:14, Ezekiel 39:11).
- The noun קדים (qadim), meaning easter or eastern. This word most commonly refers to a particularly wind: the easter [wind], which was a wind that blew toward the east (in modern convention, an easter wind would blow from the east), and which was known for its destructive and scorching qualities (Genesis 41:6, Exodus 14:21, Job 15:2, Psalm 48:7, Isaiah 27:8). This word is frequently combined with the noun רוח (ruah), wind or spirit (Exodus 10:13, Jeremiah 18:17, Ezekiel 17:10, Hosea 13:15). The Greek name of this wind is Euroclydon. Only the prophet Ezekiel uses this word to describe something other than the notorious eastern wind, or so it seems, as he incorporates it a few dozen times in his description of the temple (chapters 40 through 48).
- The curious plural noun קדומים (qadumim), which occurs only in Judges 5:21, in Deborah's description of the brook Kishon. Since in the Bible rivers always refer to the cultures that arose on their banks, this word may refer to a natural confederation of stone and bronze age cultures, their wisdoms and legal systems.
- The adjective קדמון (qadmon), meaning eastern (Ezekiel 47:8 only).
- The adjective קדמני (qadmoni), meaning former (Ezekiel 38:17, Malachi 3:4) or eastern (Ezekiel 10:19, Zechariah 14:8).