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Biblical vocabulary: the verb כבד (“being heavy”)

Honoring the Most High with thanksgiving

In biblical language, regularly words occur which are better understood by us when viewed in their original meaning. Words like these include the verb “to honor” and the substantive “tribute”. In the Hebrew language, these words are related to the concept of “being heavy/weighty”.

Basic meaning of “kabed”

In the Hebrew Bible the verb “kabed” (in Hebrew: כבד) occurs 114 times. The basic meaning of “kabed” is: being heavy, being burdened, having importance. Derived from this, “kabed” also has the meaning of: being weighty, being prestigious, being honored, being glorified (Job 14:21; Isaiah 66:5). In the aforementioned basic meaning we read that old Eli was fat and “kabed”/heavy (1 Samuel 4:18). Also, the hair of Absalom was “kabed”/heavy (2 Samuel 14:26).

A yoke could be “kabed”/heavy and also had the meaning of “burden”. Thus, Rehoboam was begged to remove his father’s heavy yoke (1 Kings 12:4, 10-14).

“Kabed” can also be used when it comes to limbs. We read that during the battle with Amelek Moses’ raised arms became very tired, or “kabed”/heavy (Exodus 17:12). It also says that because of Jacob’s age his eyes had become “kabed”/heavy.

It is striking that especially the human heart can become “kabed”/heavy, which means that it does not respond to God’s call for repentance and admonition. We see this clearly in Pharaoh’s responses to God’s repeated call “Let my people go …” (Exodus 7:14; 8:15; 32; 9:7, 34; 10:1). As a verb, “kabed” occurs in Pharaoh’s command to make the slavery of the Israelites heavier (Exodus 5:9).

Derived meanings of “kabed”

Derived from the basic meaning of “kabed”/to be heavy, this verb also got the derived meanings: to consider important, to honor, to deem high, to deem respectful. Deeming a person weighty means that one thinks that person is important and that “kabed”/esteem is used to express acceptance, respect and/or acknowledgment.

For example, “kabed”/to honor is used in family or social relationships. Within a family context, “kabed”/to honor expresses recognition of parental authority: “‘kabed’/Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; cf. Malachi 1:6).

In a negative sense, “kabed” can also occur, like Eli who “kabed”/honored his sons more than God (1 Samuel 2:29). Honorable recognition of people for certain qualities is expressed by “kabed”/to deem honorable, as David has been honored for his faithfulness (1 Samuel 22:14, closing). A man of God was “kabed”/honored because his words proved to be true and reliable (1 Samuel 9:6).

Honoring God

“Kabed”/honoring God means that He receives reverential recognition for Who and what He is and does for us. To “kabed”/honor God is: to respond appropriately to His great acts of salvation and to esteem Him supreme because of His deliverance. This means that the Lord God is confessed and esteemed extremely high in gratitude and in recognition of His acts of salvation as a Helper in need. To “kabed”/honor Him is to worship and gratefully look up to the Most High.

That is what we see with Asaph: “call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall “kabed”/glorify Me” and “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me” (Psalm 50:15, 23). The Lord urges us here to call especially in every emergency, certainly promising salvation.

But as a result, and fruit He also relates to this that man will then “kabed”/esteem Him high. That tribute is then a sacrifice to God! Asaph recognizes the Lord as the God who speaks supreme above all gods from sunrise to sunset (Psalm 50:1), that is at all times and everywhere!

God alone is honored

God’s omnipotence demands honor and esteem for Himself. A small and insignificant man who is aware of God’s infinite, unspeakable greatness and omnipotence, cannot but acknowledge and confess Him as the Almighty and Supreme, and pay tribute to Him.

For this insight of one’s own insignificance and recognition of God’s indescribable magnificence is needed.

Sadly, pride often prevents man from esteeming the Lord instead of himself! God does not want lip service but recognition of a heart devoted to Him (Isaiah 29:13). With David we pray, “I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will “kabed”/glorify Your name forever” (Psalm 86:12).

God honors who honors Him

To honor God is to confess Him as Savior with thanksgiving, to acknowledge Him and magnify Him as Almighty God.

Honoring God also has a practical, concrete interpretation. With what, who and how we are we can give tribute to God. “Kabed’/Honor the Lord with your wealth …” (Proverbs 3:9). But also: “… he who is generous to the needy ‘kabed’/honors Him” (Proverbs 14:31). How different from the self-directed conduct of Eli and his sons!

But God also says, “… those who “kabed’/honor Me I will honor…” (1 Samuel 2:30). Wonderful that the Most High honors those who serve Him! Psalm 91 says so. Whoever knows His honorable name – that is, have a relationship of faith with the Name bearer! – may, hiding with the Most High (Psalm 91:1), invoke that name with loving awe (Psalm 91:14-15), of Him who promises: “… I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and “kabed”/honor him.

How does this Bible teaching speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read: Biblical vocabulary: divine help

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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: the verb כבד ("being heavy")