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Biblical vocabulary - The Most High

Biblical vocabulary: עָזַר (“Divine help”)

The Hebrew Bible regularly contains concepts that have a ‘common’ general meaning, but that nevertheless is striking because of a special application or function. This category of words includes the Hebrew verb עָזַר (pronounced ‘azar’) which has the basic meaning of ‘to help’.[1] In addition to this general meaning, ‘azar’ also means: to assist, to help out, to rescue, to support. Both this verb and the terms derived from it, have the property that they are mainly used with regard to the Lord God and everything that He is, does, offers and means for man.
The verb ‘azar’ occurs about 80 times in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, Isaiah, and 1, 2 Chronicles.[2]

Divine help

In the Psalms we hear how the Lord assists those in need. He comforts and ‘azar’/helps his people (Psalm 86:17). We may always beg for the help of His hand and His rules (Psalm 119:173, 175). The psalmist sings that the city of God will not move, for “God will ‘azar’/help her when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:5-6). That also applies now!
“‘Azar’/Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name …” (Psalm 79:9).

Kings learned that the Lord helps

King Asa confesses in his prayer that the Lord is the Only One who can ‘azar’/assist and then begs: “’Azar’/Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, …” (2 Chronicles 14:11). So it was with Uzziah too, who experienced “God ‘azar’/helped him against the Philistines …” (2 Chronicles 26:7). Cf. Amaziah’s acting (2 Chronicles 25: 8).
Those who do not expect her/his help from the Lord will be disappointed. That is what happened with Ahaz. With the thought that the gods of Damascus ‘azar’/helped their kings, he sacrificed to these idols hoping to receive help from them, but they became his downfall and the downfall of the people (2 Chronicles 28:23). His bad example had terrible consequences for all!

Proper names

Based on the above, it is not strange that the verb ‘azar’ appears in the name of many biblical persons. This concerns composed names that also contain a name of God.

  • Azaryah and Azaryahu
    This was a common name in ancient Israel. This is understandable because of its special meaning. The name is a composition of the verb ‘azar’/help and ‘YaH’ or ‘YaHu’, both abbreviated forms of the holy name of God: YHWH/LORD.[3] Because the form ‘azar’ can mean past tense with meaning for the present too, ‘Azar-Yah’ as well as ‘Azar-Yahu’ means: The Lord helped/helps.
    We read about ‘Azaryah’ who, led by God’s Spirit, acts for king Asa (2 Chronicles 15:1). One of Jehoshaphat’s sons also bore the name ‘Azaryah’ (2 Chronicles 21:2). Hadn’t Jehoshaphat confessed that “the Lord helps” in his intense emergency prayer to the Lord in front of the people (2 Chronicles 20:6-12)?
    In the difficult times of rebuilding and recovery during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, this name is strikingly common. Also in Ezra’s genealogy the name ‘Azaryah’ appears twice (Ezra 7:1,3).[4]
    Unfortunately, a beautiful name does not mean that its bearer obeys or follows the Lord, according to Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 43:2). You can even act contrary to the meaning of your name!
    It is significant that one of Daniel’s courageous friends listened to this name (Daniel 1:6). Despite the pagan name ‘Abednego’[5] that was forced upon him (Daniel 1:7), he must have clung to the meaning of his original name: ‘Azaryah’: the Lord helps!
  • Azarel
    This name is also a composition of ‘azar’ and ‘El’ (God); Azar-El: God helped/helps. Among the men who assisted David during Saul’s pursuit was an ‘Azarel’ (1 Chronicles 12:6). A hopeful name in tough times! Also one of Heman’s sons, who acted as singers, bore this name (1 Chronicles 25:18). Dan’s tribal chief at the time of David was also called ‘Azarel’ (1 Chronicles 27:22). Centuries later, after returning from exile, this name sounds when in Nehemiah’s time the people settle in and around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 11:13) and later at the solemn inauguration of the wall. Then a musician ‘Azarel’ appears again (Nehemiah 12:36). See also Ezra 10:41.
    The background to the naming of these people is unknown to us. It is possible that this expresses conscious trust in God and dependence on his assistance.

Testimonial name

In the New Testament the name ‘Lazarus’ appears, the Greek form of the Hebrew ‘El-azar’ (God helped/helps). In the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, we are taught that the Lord God lovingly looks after those who expect their help from Him and gives them the comfort and relief of His glorious presence forever (Luke 16:19-31).
Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, lived in Bethany (John 11:1/12:1). This man thoroughly experienced the meaning of his name ‘God helps’ and saw and experienced with all those present that God ‘azar’/helps out with love and compassion. When Lazarus died, the Lord Jesus was deeply moved by the death of his beloved friend (John 11:35) and all showed his divine omnipotence by calling him back to life (John 11:43). Lazarus’ life was an impressive testimony to God’s almighty assistance, and this made his name a special ‘testimonial name.’

Whatever name we bear: Whoever finds out that the Lord God helps and always assists, can witness this!

Notes:

[1]We pronounce the verb ‘azar’ here without the initial letter áyin (this also applies to the words derived from this verb); this omission of the initial áyin is because this is a deep throat letter that Westerners often do not (or cannot) pronounce.

[2]Wherever the verb ‘azar’ occurs in this article, for the concept the not conjugated form (infinitive) is used.

[3]Out of awe the most holy name of God YHWH (LORD) is not pronounced. The abbreviated forms YaH and YaHu do and have the same meaning: LORD.

[4]See Nehemiah 3:23; 7:7; 8:7; 10:3; 12:3. See also 1 Chronicles 2:8,38; 5:35; 6:21; 9:11; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 23:1; 26:7, 20; 28:12 etc. Cf. 1 Kings 4:2,5; 2 Kings 14:21; 2 Chronicles 22:6.

[5]This is probably the same as ‘Abednebo’ (servant of Nebo); Nebo was the Babylonian idol of trade, traffic, art of writing and astrologers.

 

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Read also: What does the Hebrew verb BATACH mean?

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Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk

Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk

© Copyright dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk
Dr. Annechiena Sneller-Vrolijk studied Semitic languages and Cultures in Leiden and Judaism and archaeology in Jerusalem. Her specialism is Hebrew and the Old Testament. She worked for many years as a teacher in various theological colleges and co-authored the (Dutch) Study Bible of the CvB
and the HSV bible translation. She works as a teacher, author and speaker.

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Biblical vocabulary: עָזַר ("Divine help")