Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The form שכר (skr) is one of those forms that were forcibly split in two when the Masoretes added their vowel points to the Hebrew text in the Middle ages. Prior to the invention of the letters שׂ and שׁ, the following two word groups were all the same:
The verb שכר (sakar) means to hire; to acquire the services of a person or persons for money (Genesis 30:16, Judges 9:4, 2 Samuel 10:8). This verb's derivatives are:
- The masculine noun שכר (seker), meaning a wage or recompense (Isaiah 19:10 and Proverbs 11:18 only).
- The similar masculine noun שכר (sakar), meaning wage (Genesis 30:28, Exodus 2:9) or reward (Genesis 15:1, Numbers 18:31).
- The adjective שכיר (sakir), meaning hired (of men: Exodus 12:45, Deuteronomy 15:18; of an animal: Exodus 22:14; of a figurative razor: Isaiah 7:20).
- The feminine noun משכרת (maskoret), meaning wages (Genesis 31:7, Ruth 2:12).
The verb שכר (shakar I) means to be or become drunk, which is not all that far removed from the previous verb when one realizes that prior to the invention of money, workers were paid in essentials, which were food and drink. The consumption of water was ill advised in urban settings, and ancient civilizations took to drinking beer; young and old, three meals a day. It's probably in that same context that death was deemed the "wage" of sin (Romans 6:23), and the kings of the earth were "drunk" with the wine of immorality (Revelation 17:2).
Drunkenness in the Bible is mostly achieved by the consumption of wine, and please see our article on the noun יין (yayan), meaning wine, for a lengthy look at the literary usages of wine and drunkenness.
The first recorded instance of drunkenness in the Bible is curiously by the same man who is also responsible for the first shipwreck: Noah (Genesis 9:21), although his vineyard (כרם, kerem) probably represents human culture (see our article on the name Noah). Noah became so drunk that he passed out, but our verb שכר (shakar) also covers a less forceful, recreational and social drinking. The eleven brothers of Joseph feasted and "drank" (Genesis 43:34) and so did the lovers of the Song of Solomon (5:1; obviously neither context suggests intense intoxication).
Still, drunkenness is not only an image of plenty and merriment, it also denotes weakness and disgrace (1 Samuel 1:14, Jeremiah 51:57, Nahum 3:11).
Our verb yields the following derivatives:
- The masculine noun שכר (shekar), which denotes a drink that makes drunk (Deuteronomy 14:26, Isaiah 29:9, Micah 2:11). Some translations (NIV) translate this word with "beer", while others use "strong drink," but in the end it's simply unclear whether this word is a proper noun or the name of a particular beverage.
- The adjective שכר or שכור (shikkor), meaning drunken (1 Samuel 25:36, 1 Kings 16:9) or drunken one (Isaiah 28:1, Joel 1:5).
- The masculine noun שכרון (shikkaron), meaning drunkenness. This word occurs only in Jeremiah 13:13 and Ezekiel 23:33, both times denoting a decidedly unpleasant state of distress and perplexity brought about by God.
The root שכר (shakar II) isn't used as verb in the Bible, so we don't know what it might have meant, or even whether it actually existed. Its sole derivative is the masculine noun אשכר ('eshkar), thought to mean gift, which occurs only twice in the Bible (Psalm 72:10 and Ezekiel 27:15), and both times could be construed to come from שׁכר (sakar), meaning to hire.