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Word Study of SAHAQ (By Ted Weis)

1. Basic meaning, “to laugh.” Do we get any clue as to what kind of humor?

2. Appears in OT 13 times. 12 of 13 times are in Pentateuch. 11 occurrences are in Genesis. Then one in Exodus 32:6, and one in Judges 16:25.

3. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, where this word occurs 5 times, the laughter is one of disbelief. Because the possibility of having a child so late in life was beyond hope or expectation—especially after a lifetime of no success, the laughter revealed the comedy of the absurd.

4. Age 9 daughter driving backwards for the entire race on Mario Cart Wii illustrates the comedy of absurdity. It’s not something one normally sees or expects.

5. In Genesis 19:14, the narrator uses this word to describe the response of Lot’s family to the angel’s warning to flea the city. The thought that an entire city will be destroyed seemed absurd, that is, beyond imagination.

6. In Genesis 21:6, there’s a wordplay—Sarah testifies, “God has made LAUGHTER for me; everyone who hears will LAUGH over me.” Now, the absurd impossibility of having a child late in life has incredibly come to pass. The humor of what could never happen is now the humor of what actually occurred.

7. In Genesis 21:9, the narrator reports what appears is the laughter of mockery—that such a big deal is being made out of the fact that Isaac has stopped nursing. Who is one teasing? Is it the mother Hagar, or is it the boy Ishmael?

8. “Laughing” in Genesis 26:8—and the suggestion of interpreters that this word is suggesting an intimate relationship—is the reason for this word study. What exactly does this word mean here?
A. Was it considered culturally inappropriate for a man and woman to laugh in public? Was that considered flirting?
B. Wordplay—Isaac means “laughter.” Maybe we could translate, “...saw laughter laughing with Rebekah his wife.”
C. Context of Genesis 26:8
1. vs. 7 Rebekah is “attractive in appearance.”
2. Early on in Egypt, Isaac was concerned that is true relationship to Rebekah would be discovered. But much later (vs. 8a), in this incident, Isaac was not being careful in his public behavior toward Rebekah.
3. Imagine that you are married to your wife, but circumstances won’t allow you to have intimate relations with her—that’s frustrating!
4. After World War II, many couples kept their marriage a secret because a spouse was under 18 or didn’t want family to know.
5. Whatever behavior Isaac was exhibiting toward Rebekah, Abimelech interpreted this behavior as something that husbands and wives do (vs. 9).
6. Text of 26:8 says, “Isaac laughing with Rebekah” and not “Isaac and Rebekah laughing.” The focus is on Isaac’s behavior. Would this not be untypical in a male focused society?
D. Grammar of Genesis 26:8 (this section by Vincent Setterholm) “...there is an important grammatical clue as well. In Hebrew (and English and I’d imagine most if not all human languages) some verbs generally take a direct object (e.g. I hit the ball) and some generally do not (e.g. ‘He died’, or ‘I slept’) and some verbs can occur with or without a direct object (sometimes with a change in meaning depending on which state you find them in). Verbs with a direct object we call ‘transitive’ and verbs without a direct object we call ‘intransitive’. Some verbs that are intransitive in English might be transitive in their closest Hebrew equivalent, so you can’t always reason just from the standpoint of English grammar, but in the case of ‘laugh’ and צחק, these verbs are generally intransitive. We can laugh ‘with’, ‘at’, or ‘near’ someone (that is, this verb regularly occurs with various prepositional phrases) but we don’t generally ‘laugh someone’ or ‘laugh something’. In the case of Genesis 26:8, צחק takes a direct object (Rebekah). That’s unusual and a pretty good grammatical indication that something euphemistic is going on.”
E. Tentative conclusion—context of 26:8 suggests that when Abemilech saw how Issac was acting toward Rebekah, he viewed it as behavior typical between husband and wife. Most likely, Isaac was engaging in flirtatious foreplay with Rebekah. Literal translation: “Abemilech saw laughter laughing Rebekah his wife.”

9. Genesis 39:14 and Genesis 39:17—the story where Joseph flees from the advances of Potiphar’s lying wife—provides strong evidence that SAHAQ has a sexual component in its range of meaning.
A. Genesis 39:14 there’s a parallel between “laugh” and “lie.” The NIV offers a good translation, “to make sport of us!” implying that Joseph was there for the challenge of sexual conquest.
B. At vs. 17, the verb “came” is followed by purpose statement—“came in to me to laugh at me”

10. In Exodus 32:6, SAHAQ is translated “to play” by ESV and “indulge in revelry” by NIV.
A. Their evil behavior was all encompassing, for the idolatrous Israelites “sat down” to eat and drink and then “rose up” to SAHAQ.
B. The general nature of laughter is festive and light-hearted.
C. Whether the word here has sexual connotations is possible, but not entirely clear. In ANE, idolatrous worship was often linked with sexual immorality.

11. In Judges 16:25, the captured and humiliated Samson is summoned before the lords of the Philistines, “that he may entertain us” and so Samson “SAHAQ them.”
A. The first “entertainment” word is different than the second “entertainment” word
B. Just how did Samson “entertain” them? Context doesn’t give us many clues. But in the other places where SAHAQ appears, there are sexual connotations.

12. Interesting to note—There are sexual connotations wherever the use of word SAHAQ appears. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, it concerns the inability to sexually conceive a child. In the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, the sexual immorality of the city. In the story of Issac and Rebekah, behavior indicates a husband-wife relationship. In the story of Joseph and Potiphor’s wife, it concerns adultery. In the story of the Golden Calf, immoral revelry. In the story of Samson, it’s not clear how he “entertains,” but seeing how SAHAQ is used in other places, it has to remain a possibility.

13. Initial Conclusions—SAHAQ, “to laugh”
A. Humor of absurdity. The response by Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 17-21 to God’s promise of bearing a child late in life. The promise seemed so ridiculous, so improbable, so absurd, it brought about the laughter of doubt and unbelief.
B. Euphemism for engaging in sexual behavior. SAHAQ is one of the words Potifar’s wife uses in accusing Joseph of sexual impropriety in Genesis 39.

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