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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Perish

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A. Verb.

'Âbad (אָבַד, Strong's #6), “to perish, die, be lost, go astray, go to ruin, succumb, be carried off, fail.” The word occurs in all the branches of the Semitic languages including biblical Aramaic. Biblical Hebrew attests this verb at every time period and about 120 times.

Basically 'âbad represents the disappearance of someone or something. In its strongest sense the word means “to die or to cease to exist.” The Lord warned Israel that disobedience and godlessness would be punished by their removal from the Promised Land and death in a foreign land: “And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up” (Lev. 26:38). This sense may be further heightened by the use of the intensive stem so that the verb comes to mean “utterly destroy.” The stem also changes the force of the verb from intransitive to transitive. So God told Israel “to utterly destroy” (“bring to non-existence”) the false gods of Canaan: “… [Utterly] destroy all their pictures and [utterly] destroy all their molten images …” (Num. 33:52). The force of this command was further heightened when He said: “Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods … and destroy the names of them out of that place” (Deut. 12:2-3). This intensified sense is used of the destruction of peoples (armies), too; as for Pharaoh’s army, “the Lord hath destroyed them unto this day” (Deut. 11:4).

A somewhat different emphasis of 'âbad is “to go to ruin” or “to be ruined.” After the second plague Pharaoh’s counsellors told him to grant Israel’s request to leave because the nation was in ruins: “… knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed [ruined]?” (Exod. 10:7—the first biblical occurrence). In a similar sense Moab is said “to be ruined” or laid waste: “Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone [NASB, “ruined”], O people of Chemosh … We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah …” (Num. 21:29-30).

Closely related to the immediately preceding emphasis is that of “to succumb.” This use of 'âbad focuses on the process rather than the conclusion. The sons of Israel spoke to Moses about the disastrous effects of everyone drawing near to God. They needed some mediators (priests) who could focus on keeping ritualistically prepared so they would not die when they approached God. They used the verb, therefore, in the sense of the nation gradually perishing, or “succumbing” to death: “Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?” (Num. 17:12-13). God responds by establishing the priesthood so “that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel” (Num. 18:5).

'Âbad can also speak of being carried off to death or destruction by some means. The leaders of the rebellion against the Aaronic priesthood (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) and their families were swallowed up by the ground: “… and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation” (Num. 16:33). This same nuance appears when God says the people will “perish” from off the land if they do not keep the covenant: “… Ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed” (Deut. 4:26). As a nation they will be destroyed as far as the land is concerned.

The verb may mean to disappear but not be destroyed, in other words “to be lost.” God instructs Israel concerning lost possessions: “In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost things of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself” (Deut. 22:3). Israel is called “lost sheep” whose “shepherds have caused them to go astray” (Jer. 50:6).

Another nuance of the verb is “to go astray” in the sense of wandering. At the dedication of the first fruits Israel is to recognize God’s rights to the land, that He is the landowner and they are the temporary tenants, by confessing “a Syrian ready to perish was my father” (Deut. 26:5; NASB, “my father was a wandering Aramean”).

Finally, 'âbad can be applied to human qualities which are lessening or have lessened: “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them” (Deut. 32:28). The word can also be used of the failure of human wisdom as in Ps. 146:4: as for men “his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

B. Nouns.

There are four nouns related to the verb. ‘Abedah, which is found 4 times, refers to a “thing which has been lost” (Exod. 22:9). The noun ‘abaddon occurs 6 times and means “the place of destruction” (Job 26:6). ‘Abdan occurs once with the meaning “destruction” (Esth. 9:5). A variant spelling ‘abdan also occurs twice with the meaning “destruction” (Esth. 8:6; 9:5).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Perish'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/p/perish.html. 1940.

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