Estimated Reading time – 10 to 20 Minutes
God’s chosen people identified themselves as Hebrews both in the Old Testament(Jon 1:9) and in the New(Philip 3:5). Abram was the first person to be called a Hebrew, even though he was from Ur of the Chaldaeans(Gen 11:31). So what does “Hebrew” really mean?
The word Hebrew in its simplest sense means “one from beyond”.
H5680 – עברי – ‛ibrı̂y – Hebrew
Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary Definition:
Hebrew = “one from beyond”
This makes sense, as the first time we see the word “Hebrew” used is when Abram is called a “Abram the Hebrew”. This may have referred to the fact that Abram came from the other side of the Euphrates River and settled in the plains of Mamre. A closely connected word to “Ivri”/”Hebrew” in the Hebrew language is “Eber” which means beyond/across. So one who comes across or comes from beyond is a Hebrew.
H5676 – עבר – ‛êber – Eber
Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary Definition:
region beyond or across, side, opposite side
Another word connected with “Ivri” (Hebrew) is “Avar” which means “pass over”. All of these words are connected as the root (Ayin-Bet-Resh עבר) in Hebrew stays the same.
H5674 – עבר – ‛âbar
Brown-Driver-Briggs Dictionary Definition:
to pass over or by or through, alienate, bring, carry, do away, take, take away, transgress
to pass over, cross, cross over, pass over, march over, overflow, go over, to pass beyond, to pass through, traverse, passers-through, to pass through, to pass along, pass by, overtake and pass, sweep by, passer-by, to be past, be over, to pass on, go on, pass on before, go in advance of, pass along, travel, advance, to pass away, to emigrate, leave (one’s territory), to vanish, to perish, cease to exist, to become invalid, become obsolete (of law, decree), to be alienated, pass into other hands, to be crossed, to impregnate, cause to cross, to cause to pass over, cause to bring over, cause to cross over, make over to, dedicate, devote, to cause to pass through, to cause to pass by or beyond or under, let pass by, to cause to pass away, cause to take away, to pass over
It should be noted that the story of Abraham is connected to the word “Abar” Pass-over, as we see it is one of the first things mentioned about him.
Gen 12:4-6 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through(H5674 – עבר – ‛âbar) the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
So it is now abundantly clear why Abram was called a Hebrew. This characteristic of “passing over” becomes part of the Hebrew experience, and is seen as part and parcel of the journey of God’s people as seen below.
Jos 24:2,3 And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.
Jos 24:6 And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea.
Jos 24:8 And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you.
Jos 24:14,15 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
In the above passage Joshua makes a distinction between Abram before he passes over, to the life he is called to live after he crossed over. Abram served other gods beyond the river, but when he passed over, he was committed to God. This repeats again with Israel as they cross the Red Sea towards freedom and Israel as they cross the Jordan towards the promised land. Passing over was a distinct feature of God’s people. Passing over the waters as much as it is a physical act, it also signifies a symbolic act of leaving the past behind and starting afresh. This is enacted in the Baptism/Mikveh that each of us go through as young believers as well.
When God speaks to Moses about the passover sacrifice, He Himself says that He will Pass Over the land using the same word (H5674 – עבר – ‛âbar) which is connected to “Ivri” Hebrew, as seen below.
Exo 12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
Exo 12:23 For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
We see the same word (H5674 – עבר – ‛âbar) which is connected to “Ivri” Hebrew, used again in the Song of Moses, after the Hebrews cross the Red Sea.
Exo 15:16 Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.
Essentially, the Hebrew is a person who has passed from death to life; from a life of sin to a life of righteousness through God’s Commands; from obeying false gods to obeying the one true Creator of the universe.
Yeshua speaks of this fact, saying that whoever hears Him and puts his/her trust in YHVH, would pass from death to life:
Joh 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
What is the evidence that one has passed from death unto life and become a true Hebrew? John explains it in the following way.
1Jn 3:14-24 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
John explains that the evidence that we have moved from death to life, shines through the love of God which is in our lives. A love that is ready to give even our own life for others. A love that is not in word but in deed, but according to the commandment that Yeshua raised to the next level – “Love one another(Lev 19:18), as I have loved you”(John 15:12). Through God’s love, we show whether we are truly a Hebrew or not. Whether we have truly crossed over from Death to Life. Let us strive to be like the great Hebrews of old such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua and many more ; not forgetting Yeshua – A Hebrew of Hebrews, who gave His life so that we may cross over. Like the patriarchs, we may all have our shortcomings. But we should never forget the most important characteristic of a Hebrew – a willingness to cross over from our lives in slavery and death to a life in Covenant and Loving Obedience to God and Love towards everyone who has crossed over and is in the process of crossing over to God’s camp.