A Detour on Labash
In the previous lesson, we finished with the Job 40:10 “flourish,” which gave us at least four delicious words. The entire lesson today will focus on the “fallout” of that lesson, by focusing first of all on labash (“to clothe”), which appears in Job 40:10, and then seeing where that journey leads us.
In Gen. 27:16 Rebekah wanted to “clothe” (labash) her son Jacob in animal skins so that his flesh would feel like that of his brother Esau to her blind husband Isaac. She was going to clothe (labash) him in skins (עוֹר, or) of the kids (gedi) of goats (ez, both of which we have seen). So she put skins onto (al) his hands (yad) and the smooth part (חֶלְקָה, chelqah) of his neck (tsavvar). The word rendered “smooth” appears 28x other times in the Bible. In the historical and legal books it is rendered “portion” or “plot” of ground, but in the Psalms it is either “flattering” lips or a “smooth” place. Its one appearance in Proverbs (6:24), talks about the “smooth/flattering tongue” (with tongue being lashon) of the adulteress/seductress (nokri, which we have seen, but usually it is translated as “foreigner” or “stranger”).
We have other examples of “clothing” as a verb. In Gen. 38:19 we have Tamar rising (qum) and going away (halak) and laying aside (סוּר, sur, also to “turn aside”) her veil (tsaiph, which we have seen) and putting on (labash) the garments (beged) of widowhood (אַלְמָנוּת, almanuth). A hapax, related to almanuth, is alman (אַלְמָן, “widower”; Jer. 51:5). We can go further on clothing, especially as it relates to the high priests in Ex. 29:5. There Moses is told to take (laqach) the garments (beged) and clothe (labash) Aaron (אַהֲרוֹן). It will be a tunic (kethonah) and a “robe” (מְעִיל, meil, 2 syllables) of the “ephod/vest” (אֵפוֹד, ephod), an ephod and “breastplate” (חשֶׁן, choshen). Moses shall gird him (אָפַד, aphad, to “gird with an ephod”) with the intricately woven band/ingenious work (חֵשֶׁב, chesheb) of the ephod. The verb aphad can is synonymous with the more usual word for “girding” (חָגַר, chagar). In the famous Passover narrative of Ex. 12, the Israelites are told, “Thus (כָּכָה, kakah) you shall eat (akal) it: your waist/loins (מֹתֶן, mothen) girded/belted (chagar) and with sandals (naal, which we have seen) on your feet (regel) and with a staff (מַקֵּל, maqqel) in your hands (yad). Well, this is enough about clothing for now. . . Fifteen words so far.
Let’s return to the “skins” (or) of the animals. An amazing 46/99 appearances of this word are in one chapter of the Bible: Leviticus 13. Guess what that is about? Yep, checking the skin for evidence of leprosy. Skins became the distinguishing mark for identifying Elijah the Tishbite in II Ki. 1:8. He was described as “A man, a lord (בַּעַל, baal; the verb בָּעַל, baal, means “to rule over”), hairy (שֵׂעָר, sear), a belt/waist cloth (אֵזוֹר, ezor) of leather (or), wearing (אָזַר, azar, arguably a third verb meaning “to gird”) around his waist (mothen).” This sufficed for the man to say, “Ah, that’s Elijah!” A much sadder occurrence of or is in Job 7:5 where he complains as he sits in the dust (aphar), “My flesh (basar) is clothed/caked (labash) with worms (רִמָּה, rimmah) and dust. My skin (or) hardens (רָגַע, raga') and reject/despise (מָאַס, ma’as).
I cannot resist talking about the last two verbs of these 22 new words. It isn’t immediately clear what it means that his skin hardens and “rejects/despises.” The NRSV has his skin breaking out again, as if it is an endless process of tortures for him—skin hardening and then breaking out in sores again. That, indeed, would be a heartbreaking picture. But the verb ma’as appears 75 in the Bible and means “to despise/reject” in almost all instances. “He has rejected (ma’as) you from being king” (I Sam. 15:23). And that usage appears in Job (8:20; 9:21). But its appearances in 7:5, 16 have occasioned a lot of discussion because it is hard to see how one might “despise” the skin, especially if it is talking about the process of healing and breaking out again. So, in general, the verb means “to reject/despise,” but we should know that it isn’t as simple as that. Should have expected it, with Job in the picture.
But the story of raga’ is even worse. His skin raga’ (“cracks/hardens” in most versions). Raga’ appears 11x beside Job 7:5, and here are a few of its other translations: “break” or “disturb” or “quiet” (the Lord quiets the sea—Job 26:12); “find” (Deut. 28:65); settle/rest (Is. 34:14); “set” (justice; Is. 51:4); “stir up/divide” (God raga’ the sea); “to do something suddenly” (Jer. 49:19). Just musing on the list we have, you have to admire a verb that can mean both to “quiet” and “stir up” the same body of water! No chance of confusion there. So, if we see its basic meaning as to break or divide, we will probably only be wrong slightly less than half the time which, for the Bible, is no mean feat.
The study of words today both brings out the clarity, ease and fun of vocabulary study as well as the enervating and draining character of it. Sometimes, the words just flow and you say, “Studying Hebrew is SO MUCH FUN!” But then, just when you are feeling somewhat confident, the opposite experience happens, and you want to slink away and never pick up another book in your life. But if you are like me, there is always tomorrow to try again.