Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Hebrew noun נהר (nāhār) is the word for "river." The word נהר (nāhār) is used to refer to the major rivers described in the Hebrew Bible like the river that fed the garden in Genesis 2:10: "A riverנהר) flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches." When God describes the extent of the land promised to Abram's descendants in Genesis 15:18, the Euphrates River serves as one of the topographical landmarks which will mark the boundaries: "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the riverנהר) of Egypt to the great river נהר), the river (נהר) Euphrates." Interestingly, the Euphrates, whose proper name is פרת (pǝrāt), is often referred to simply as "The נהר (nāhār)," or "The River" in Hebrew, with translators filling in the name "Euphrates" for English readers. For example, Exodus 23:31 states: "I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines (i.e., the Mediterranean), and from the wilderness to the Euphrates" (lit.: הנהר, or simply "the river"). Another famous occurrence of the word נהר (nāhār) is found in Psalm 137:1 as the psalmist laments the exile: "By the rivers (נהרות) of Babylon - there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion."

The noun נהר (nāhār) has a rare verbal form associated with it that occurs only four times in the Hebrew Bible. The verb is נהר (nāhar) which means "to stream" or "to flow." Interestingly, it is not used to describe the flowing of rivers but occurs figuratively to describe the streaming of the nations to the temple as seen in Isaiah 2:2: "In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall streamנהרו) to it.