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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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'Êm (אֵם, Strong's #517), “mother; grandmother; stepmother.” Cognates of this word appear in nearly all Semitic languages including Ugaritic and Aramaic. Biblical Hebrew attests it 220 times and in all periods.

The basic meaning of the word has to do with the physical relationship of the individual called “mother.” This emphasis of the word is in Gen. 2:24 (the first biblical appearance): “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.…” 'Êm sometimes represents an animal “mother”: “Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with its [mother]; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me” (Exod. 22:30). The phrase “father and mother” is the biblical phrase for parents: “And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother [living]” (Esth. 2:7). The “son of one’s mother” is his brother (Gen. 43:29), just as the “daughter of one’s mother” is his sister (Gen. 20:12). These phrases usually emphasize that the persons so represented are whole brothers or sisters, whereas the Hebrew words ’ach, (“brother”) and ‘achot, (“sister”) meaning both whole and half siblings, leave the issue unclear. On the other hand, in Gen. 27:29 this phrase appears to mean peoples more distantly related: “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.”

'Êm can represent blood relatives further removed than one’s mother. In 1 Kings 15:10 the word means “grandmother”: “And forty and one years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his [grand]mother’s name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.” This word can also mean “stepmother.” When Joseph told his dream to his family, “his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy [step]mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” (Gen. 37:10; cf. 35:16ff., where we read that Rachel died). The word can signify a mother-in-law, or the mother of one’s wife: “And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness …” (Lev. 20:14). The woman through whom a nation originated is called its “mother”; she is the first or tribal “mother,” an ancestress: “Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite” (Ezek. 16:3). Even further removed physically is Eve, “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

'Êm can represent all one’s female forebears: “Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out” (Ps. 109:14).

A group of people, a people, or a city may be personified and called a “mother.” Hosea calls the priests (probably) the “mother” of Israel: “… And the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother” (Hos. 4:5). The people of Israel, the northern kingdom, are the “mother” of Judah: “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away” (Isa. 50:1; cf. Hos. 2:4, 7).

An important city may be called a “mother” of its citizens: “… Thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel …” (2 Sam. 20:19).

The title “mother in Israel” was a title of respect in Deborah’s day (Judg. 5:7). “The mother of a way” is the starting point for roads: “For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination …” (Ezek. 21:21).

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Mother'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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