Biblical vocabulary: עבד (Servant)

Last updated on March 3, 2022


Servant of the Lord

Our previous article was about the Hebrew verb “abad” which has the general meaning of to work, to process, to perform, to labor, to serve (as a servant or slave). We saw that “abad” also has a special meaning and theological use: to serve, worship, honor (the Lord God).

The aforementioned meanings and special use also occur with the word “ébed” (pronunciation: ‘éved’, Hebrew עבד)[1], which is derived from “abad”. The word “ébed” means: slave, assistant, servant. In addition to these basic meanings, this word “ébed” can also be translated as: official, officer, envoy, subject.

The word “ébed”/servant occurs 800 times in the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the basic meaning (slave/servant), the specific meaning of the word is determined by the context, word combination and purpose of a particular Bible text.

The term “ébed”

This word can be defined as a person who is subject to someone else. That submission is expressed and concretized in various ways: being a slave, assistant, servant, confidant. In many cases, this also involves a certain relationship of master-“ébed”. The meaning and content of the term “ébed”/servant depends on the relationship of trust between the parties involved and/or the position that the “ébed” occupies. When there is only submission, it differs fundamentally from a situation of submission accompanied by a certain relationship between master-“ébed”.

General use of “ébed”

This word may indicate a slave owned by a master (Deuteronomy 15:17). Israel was “ébed”/slave in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15; 6:21; 13:5; cf. Exodus 1:13; 5:18; 6:5).[2] In the history that took place between Abraham, Sarah and Abimelech, the word “ébed” occurs in the plural meaning “subject” (Genesis 20:8). A king could also send his “ébed”/slave/servant to let him work elsewhere (1 Kings 9:27; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:10).

An “ébed”/servant of the king could have a special status and be sent as such as his representative or envoy (2 Samuel 10:2; 1 Kings 5:1).[3]

Position and task of “ébed”

Israel as a people was “ébed” of the Lord, He says: “For it is to Me that the people of Israel are servants. They are My servants […] I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 25:55).

Prophets are also referred to as “ébed”/servant of God. The Lord constantly called His people to return to Him and the Torah through the ministry of “My ‘ébed’/servants the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13). We also read this in Jeremiah 7:25; 26:5; Ezekiel 38:17. They were “ébed” of the Most High, but were not heard, but were rejected.

Unfortunately, that has always been the case, to date… God’s Word and call to repentance is despised by many and not heard. Yet an “ébed” of the Lord should remain loyal to the Master’s message! So did Joshua, the “ébed” of the Lord (Joshua 24:29). He had seen it that way in the life of his (earthly) master Moses, also “ébed” of God (Exodus 14:31).

“Ébed” in Psalm 119

It is striking that in this Psalm the word “ébed” occurs 14 times. This relates to someone who is in a relationship of trust with the Lord, serves Him and expects everything from Him in dependence. Under all circumstances, this “ébed” embraces God’s Word to draw courage, strength and guidance from it. It is instructive to learn this from this “ébed”!

He calls on God (Psalm 119:49) and calls himself God’s “ébed” who wants to keep his Word (Psalm 119:17). Under difficult circumstances he maintains God’s Word (Psalm 119:23). He confesses how God delivered his “ébed” according to his Word (Psalm 119:65).

We too may and can live as “ébed” of the Lord in this relationship with His Word!

The believer as “ébed”/servant of the Lord God

As the “ébed of God” we should serve, honor, worship Him. After all, we belong to Him! Moreover, in that position of submission to Him, we may be in a relationship of trust with Him, our Master, hidden in the shadow of the Almighty (read Psalm 91 and 96).

That exalted position also carries great responsibility. He expects from his “ébed”/servant an attitude of loving devotion to His service and a life to His glory. As “ébed”/servant of God, we are also an envoy of the King of kings … An exalted position in Him, which determines us in our great task as “ébed” of God.
That is a lot for us little people. But He makes us capable!


[1]The initial letter of this verb is the “áyin” which is not displayed in the Hebrew transcription provided here.

[2]In Exodus the verb “Abad”/to serve and conjugated forms occur instead of “ébed”/slave.

[3]In the Hebrew Bible 1 Kings 5:15.

Share post