Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The forms ירה (yrh) and ירא (yr') are officially unrelated but their basic mechanisms appear to overlap somewhat. Both reflect an exchange of energy from a higher, dispensing level to a lower, receiving level. It appears that the form ירה (yrh) mostly describes the sending of the energy; either the exchange viewed from the perspective of the dispensing side, or else the shock-free absorption of the energy on the receiving side. The form ירא (yr') appears to deal mostly with the receiving of the energy; the exchange viewed from the perspective of the receiving side, and that usually with the anticipation of intense alteration.
Note that one of the two verbs ירא (yara') is a by-form of ירה (yara), and also note the similarity between these forms and the verb ראה (ra'a), meaning to see or look at:
The verb ירה (yara) means to throw, cast or shoot. It's is used when arrows are shot (1 Chronicles 10:3), stones are stacked (Genesis 31:51) and even when lots are cast (Joshua 18:6). This verb is also connected to the act of raining (Hosea 6:3) and to teaching or instructing (Exodus 35:34, Proverbs 4:4).
Basically, the verb and its nouns have to do with many little impulses that cause a larger and unified event, or serve to obtain a larger and unified objective (also see our article on the noun יין, yayan, meaning wine).
Israel's agricultural lifestyle lead to the extended symbolical system in which many of her theology is expressed: mankind's most fundamental identity comes from our common ancestor Adam, whose name is related to the word for arable land. We the people are designed to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3), while the time for harvest is near (Matthew 13:37-42).
This verb's derivatives are:
- The masculine noun יורה (yoreh), meaning early rain, which is the rain that falls from October to December, at the beginning of the agricultural year (Deuteronomy 11:14, Jeremiah 5:24).
- The wonderful masculine noun מורה (moreh), which may either also mean early rain (Joshua 2:23, Psalm 84:7) or it means teacher (Judges 7:1, Job 36:22). Note that a teacher is needed when someone is too young or inexperienced to know how comprehension and research work. Students bear no fruit when they still require a teacher.
- Most striking is the feminine noun תורה (tora), which is the familiar word Torah. BDB Theological Dictionary proposes that this word may have originated in the casting of lots, but here at Abarim Publications we find the connection to the above mentioned symbolic structure more compelling. The meanings of our noun fall into three categories:
- Instruction, of humans by humans (Proverbs 1:8, Psalm 78:1), or of humans by God (Isaiah 30:9 Jeremiah 9:12).
- Law and legislation (Exodus 16:28, Joshua 24:26).
- Customs or manners (2 Samuel 7:19).
Note that the form רבב (rabab) reflects a similar structure. It yields the verb רבב (rabab I), meaning to be or become many, and its derivative רביבים (rebibim), meaning copious showers, and the verb רבב (rabab II), meaning to shoot.
The verb ירא (yara' I) is customarily translated with either to fear, to be afraid (Genesis 3:10, Judges 7:3, Isaiah 54:14) or to revere, to stand in awe of (Exodus 34:30, 1 Kings 3:28, Psalm 33:8), but these sentiments are really quite far apart and can hardly be reconciled if we don't recognize that the more fundamental meaning of this verb has to do with the observing of an external force, which is about to change the observer to the core.
It so happens that this verb is spelled the same as the imperfect third person singular form of the verb ראה (ra'a), which is the common verb meaning to see (all the instances of "and God saw..." which occur in Genesis 1 uses this form ירא).
If the observer feels aversion to this change, the observation will lead to fear, but if the observer trusts the force, he will feel awe. This distinction may seem rather trifle but it really isn't. When the Word of the Lord appeared to Abram and said: "Do not fear (אל־תירא); I am a shield to you," he basically said that Abram should neither fear nor revere him. The command אל־תירא is the single most repeated command in the Bible (more than fifty times in the Old Testament alone), and it doesn't only state that we should have no fear, it also states that we should not revere.
A careful footnote is in order: blindly turning off one's fear does not erase the danger ahead. Fear has the function of telling the observer that whatever is out there is incompatible with him. Fear doesn't lead to the dark side, as the saying goes, but it leads to a change in the observer. For instance: if the observer has a rightful fear of bears, he will arm himself and surround himself with other men. That means that the command "have no fear" does not lead to him foolishly running out to hug the bear, but is obeyed by developing defenses and being wise about his goings about. Likewise, someone who rightly fears the Lord and hears the command to not fear, will not try to believe in a six-foot new-age elf who is nothing but love, but will work to be as perfect as God is himself (Matthew 5:48, 1 John 4:18). Not fear but confidence without wisdom leads to the dark side (namely a very dark grave).
Likewise standing in awe. Standing in awe is generally considered to be virtuous but in fact, awe says nothing about the greatness of what is observed and everything about the smallness of the observer. We either hate or love what we are familiar with but either fear or stand in awe of what we don't know (John 15:15).
This verb's derivatives are:
- The feminine noun יראה (yir'a), meaning a fear or terror (Isaiah 7:25, Ezekiel 30:13), or a terrifying thing (Ezekiel 1:18), or reverence (Genesis 20:11, Isaiah 11:3, Psalm 19:9).
- The masculine noun מורא (mora'), meaning fear (Genesis 9:2, Deuteronomy 11:25), reverence (Malachi 1:6, Isaiah 8:12), or something awe-inspiring (Deuteronomy 4:34, Jeremiah 32:21).
- The masculine noun מורה (mora), meaning terror or something awe-inspiring. This noun occurs only in Hosea 6:11, and note that it is spelled the same as the noun מורה (moreh), meaning either early rain or teacher (see above).
The verb ירא (yara' II) is a Aramaic-style by-form of the verb ירה (yara), and has the same meaning: to shoot (2 Samuel 11:24, 2 Chronicles 26:15) or to water (Proverbs 11:25).