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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Turn

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A. Verbs.

Hâphak (הָפַךְ, Strong's #2015), “to turn, overturn, change, transform, turn back.” A common word throughout the various periods of Hebrew, this term occurs in other Semitic languages, including ancient Akkadian. It is found almost 100 times in biblical Hebrew. Used for the first time in the biblical text in Gen. 3:24, the Hebrew verb form there indicates reflexive action: “… A flaming sword which turned every way [NAB, “revolving”; NEB, “whirling”] …”

In its simplest meaning, hâphak expresses the turning from one side to another, such as “turning” one’s back (Josh. 7:8), or “as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down” (2 Kings 21:13). Similarly, Hosea refers to Israel as being “a cake not turned” (Hos. 7:8). The meaning of “transformation” or “change” is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul would “be changed into another man” (1 Sam. 10:6, JB), and when the Spirit came on him, “God changed his heart” (1 Sam. 10:9, JB). Other examples of change are the “changing” of Pharaoh’s mind (Exod. 14:5; literally, “the heart of Pharaoh … was turned”); the “turning” of Aaron’s rod into a serpent (Exod. 7:15); dancing “turned” to mourning (Lam. 5:14); water “turned” into blood (Exod. 7:17); and the sun “turned” to darkness and the moon to blood (Joel 2:31). Ps. 41:3 presents a difficult translation problem in its use of hâphak. Literally, it reads: “All his bed you [Yahweh] change in his sickness.” In view of the poetic parallelism involved, restoration of health must be meant. Thus, the RSV translates: “In his sickness thou healest all his infirmities.” Perhaps only a refreshing of the bed is meant, so the NEB translates: “He turns his bed when he is ill.”

The KJV rendering of Isa. 60:5 sounds strange to our modern ears: “The abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee.…” A slight improvement is given by the RSV, which reads: “The abundance of the sea shall be turned to you.” The meaning is best captured by the JB: “The riches of the sea shall be lavished upon you.”

Sâbab (סָבַב, Strong's #5437), “to turn, go around, turn around (change direction).” This verb occurs only in Hebrew (including post-biblical Hebrew) and Ugaritic. Nouns using these radicals appear in Arabic and Akkadian. Biblical Hebrew attests the word in all periods and about 160 times.

Basically this verb represents a circular movement—“to take a turning.” First, it refers to such movement in general. The first occurrence of sâbab having this emphasis is in Gen. 42:24, where Joseph “turned himself about” from his brothers and wept. Here the verb does not tell the precise direction of his departure, only that he left their presence. Similarly, when Samuel was told that Saul went to Carmel and “is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal” (1 Sam. 15:12), we are not told that he reversed direction in order to get from his origin to Carmel and Gilgal. God led Israel out of the way (by an out-of-the-way route) when He took them into the Promised Land. He wanted to avoid having them face war with the Philistines, an event that was unavoidable if they proceeded directly north from Egypt to Palestine. Therefore, He led them through the wilderness—a back route into the land: “But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea …” (Exod. 13:18). Perhaps one of the passages where this meaning is clearest is Prov. 26:14, which speaks of the “turning” of a door on its hinges. An extension of this meaning occurs in 1 Sam. 5:8-9, “to remove, to take away”: “And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about [taken away] unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither” (cf. 2 Kings 16:18).

A second emphasis of sâbab is “to go around,” in the sense of to proceed or be arranged in a circle. Joseph tells his family: “… Lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf” (Gen. 37:7). They moved so as to surround his sheaf. This is the action pictured when Israel besieged Jericho, except with the further nuance of encircling in a processional and religious march: “And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once” (Josh. 6:3). “To travel” and “to return” are used together to represent traveling a circuit. It is said of Samuel that he used to go annually “in circuit” (1 Sam. 7:16). Another variation of this emphasis is “to go around” a territory in order to avoid crossing through it: “And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass [go around] the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (Num. 21:4).

Sâbab is also used of the completion of this movement, the state of literally or figuratively surrounding something or someone. The very first biblical occurrence of the word carries this force (according to many scholars): “The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth [flows around] the whole land of Havilah …” (Gen. 2:11). Judg. 16:2, where the Gazites “compassed [Samson] in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city,” represents another occurrence of this nuance. When David spoke of the cords (as a trap) of Sheol “surrounding” him (2 Sam. 22:6), he meant that they actually touched him and held him fast. Sâbab can be used of sitting down around a table. So Samuel told Jesse to fetch David, “for we will not sit down till he come hither” (1 Sam. 16:11). A third use of this verb is “to change direction.” This can be a change of direction |toward:“Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe …” (Num. 36:9); the usual direction of passing on an inheritance is down family lines, and God’s commandment that the daughters of Zelophehad marry within their father’s families would make certain that this movement of things not be interrupted. This emphasis appears more clearly in 1 Sam. 18:11: “And David [escaped] out of his presence twice”; it is certain that David is putting as much space between himself and Saul as possible. He is “running away or turning away” (cf. 1 Sam. 22:17). Sâbab may also refer to a change of direction, as in Num. 34:4: “And your border shall turn.…”

There are three special nuances under this emphasis. First, the verb may mean “to roam through” as a scout looking for water: “… And they fetched a compass [made a circuit] of seven days’ journey: and there was no water for the host, and for the cattle that followed them” (2 Kings 3:9). Some scholars suggest that this is the idea expressed in Gen. 2:11 that the Pison meandered through Havilah rather than flowed around it. Second, sâbab may be used of “turning something over” to someone. So Adonijah said of Solomon: “… The kingdom was mine, … howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother’s …” (1 Kings 2:15). Third, sâbab may be used of “changing or turning one thing into another”: “And the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem …” (Zech. 14:10).

B. Nouns.

Sâbı̂yb (סְבִיבָה, Strong's #5439), “area round about; circuit.” This word appears about 336 times in biblical Hebrew. The word can be used as a noun, but it usually occurs as an adverb or preposition. In 1 Chron. 11:8 sâbı̂yb refers to the “parts round about”: “And he built the city round about, even from Millo round about.…” The word may also be used for “circuits”: “… And the wind returneth again according to his circuits” (Eccl. 1:6). The first biblical appearance of the word is in Gen. 23:17, and it refers to “within the circuit of.”

Other nouns are related to the verb sâbı̂yb. Cibbah and necibbah both refer to “turn of affairs”; cibbah is found in 1 Kings 12:15 and necibbah in 2 Chron. 10:15. Mucab occurs once with the meaning of “circular passage”: “… For the winding about of the house went still upward round about the house …” (Ezek. 41:7). Mecab occurs 4 times, and it refers to “that which surrounds or is round.” Mecab refers to a “round table” (Song of Sol. 1:12) and to “places round about” Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:5).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Turn'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/t/turn.html. 1940.

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