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The meaning of Set in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

Few words in the English language have such a rich variety of meaning and are used in so rich a variety of idiomatic expression as the word "set." A glance at any of the great dictionaries will convince anyone of the truth of this statement. The Standard Dictionary devotes three and a half columns to the word. In its primary meaning it there denotes 22 distinct things, in its secondary meaning 17 more, while 18 distinct phrases are given in which it is used, in some cases again in a variety of meanings. It is indeed a word calculated to drive a foreigner to despair. Some 70 Hebrew and about 30 Greek words in the original tongues of the Holy Scriptures have been rendered by the word "set," in the King James Version and also in the Revised Version (British and American). A careful comparative study of the original and of translations in other tongues will at once indicate that a lack of discrimination is evident on the part of the English translators in the frequent use of the word "set."

Thus in Song of Solomon 5:14, "hands are as rings of gold set with beryl," the Hebrew word is male', "to be filled," "full." Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) translates plenae, the Dutch gevuld, the German voll; Proverbs 8:27, "when he set a circle," Hebrew chaqaq, "to describe," "decree," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) vallabat, Dutch beschreef; Ezra 4:10, "set in the city of Samaria," Aramaic yethibh, "to cause to sit down," "to cause to dwell," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) habitare eas fecit, Dutch doen wonen; Psalms 2:6, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill," Hebrew nacakh, "to pour out," "to anoint," Dutch gezalfd; Isaiah 19:2, the King James Version "I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians," Hebrew cakhakh, "to disturb," "to confuse," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) concurrere faciam,, Dutch verwarren, German an einander setzen; Revelation 3:8, "I have, set before thee a door," Greek didomi, "to give," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) dedi coram te, Dutch gegeven, German gegeben; Acts 19:27, the King James Version "Our craft is in danger to be set at nought," Greek erchomai, "to come," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) periclitabitur, Dutch in verachting komen; Luke 4:18, "to set at liberty them," Greek apostello, "to send away," Dutch heen te zenden in vrijheid; Acts 13:9, the King James Version "Saul .... set his eyes on him," Greek atenizo, "to stare fixedly," Vulgate: intuens in eum, Dutch de oogen op hem houdende. These are but a few examples chosen at random where our English translators have rendered Hebrew and Greek words by "set," where a more literal translation, in equally good idiomatic language, was possible. The word "set" is the causative of "sit," and indicates primarily a power of self-support, in opposition to the idea of the word "lay."

(1) In its primary meaning the word "set" is used in our English Bible in many senses: (a) Foundation: Song of Solomon 5:15, "His legs are as pillars of marble set upon." (b) Direction: Ezekiel 21:16, "whithersoever thy face is set." (c) Appointed time: Acts 12:21, "upon a set day." (d) Fixed place: II Chronicles 20:17, "Set yourselves, stand ye still, and see"; II Samuel 6:17; Matthew 4:5. (e) Cause to sit: I Samuel 2:8, the King James Version "to set them among princes"; II Chronicles 23:20; Psalms 68:6. (f.) Appointment: Ezra 7:25, the King James Version "set magistrates and judges"; Genesis 41:41; I Samuel 12:13; Psalms 2:6; Daniel 1:11. (g) To lift up: Genesis 31:17, "set his sons and his wives upon." (h) Appointed place: Genesis 1:17, "God set them in the firmament." (i) Cause to stand: Genesis 47:7, "Joseph brought in Jacob .... and set him before Pharaoh"; Numbers 8:13; II Chronicles 29:25. (j) Sitting: Matthew 5:1, the King James Version "when he was set"; Hebrews 8:1 the King James Version. (k) Location: Matthew 5:14, "a city set on a hill." These by no means exhaust the meaning which the word, in its primary sense, has in our English Bible.

(2) In a secondary or tropical sense it is used with equal frequency, usually with various prepositions. Thus, (a) To attack: Judges 9:33, the King James Version "and set upon the city." (b) To imprint: Genesis 4:15, the King James Version "The Lord set a mark upon Cain." (c) To direct to: I Kings 2:15, "And that all Israel set their faces on me." (d) To place: I Kings 20:12, Ben-hadad shouted one word to his allies: "Set," i.e. set the armies in array, the battering-rams and engines of attack in their place. (e) To incline toward: Ezekiel 40:4, "Set thy heart upon all that I shall show." (f.) To trust in: Psalms 62:10, "If riches increase, set not your heart thereon." (g) To place before: Psalms 90:8, "Thou hast set our iniquities before"; Psalms 141:3, "Set a watch, O Yahweh, before my mouth." (h) To go down: of the setting of the sun (Mark 1:32; Luke 4:40). (i) To be proud: Malachi 3:15, the King James Version "They that work wickedness are set up." (j) To fill in: Exodus 35:9, "stones to be set, for the ephod." (k) To plant: Mark 12:1, "set a hedge about it." (l) To mock: Luke 23:11, "Herod .... set him at nought." (m) To honor: I Samuel 18:30, "so that his name was much set by." (n) To start: Acts 21:2, "We went aboard, and set sail." As may be seen the word is used in an endless variety of meanings.

Henry E. Dosker


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