In the last post on nakedness as a Biblical metaphor, we reviewed the Hebrew words arowm and eyrom. We found that both of these words mean nakedness, a state being in the absence of clothing. Both words we found to be neutral, describing neither a bad state nor a good state, just a state. Yet there was a slight difference between the two, for eryom carried with it a sense of vulnerability or danger; it is a bit uncomfortable, while arowm had no such connotation. In this post, we will take a brief look at the third Hebrew word that means “nakedness”:
ervah (H6172) nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish):—nakedness, shame, unclean (-ness)
Notice first of all that this word has both a literal and a figurative meaning that the others did not have. On the one hand it means unclothed, but it carries an implication of impropriety, as though something untoward was going on. The first two words are not used in a manner or with the implication that God is looking upon something shameful, but with ervah, something is going on that God doesn’t care much for.
Ervah appears 54 times in 40 verses in the Old Testament, yet not all of them actually refer to nakedness per se; here’s an example:
Then Saul’s anger burned against Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? (1 Sam. 20:30 NASB)
Everything makes perfect sense until the end: What does Jonathon’s mother’s nakedness have to with anything? What is really intended here is her shame for the way Jonathon was behaving by showing kindness to David, as the NIV translates the verse. In Deut. 24:1, the NASB translators saw the difference in meaning and made an adjustment:
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house
“Indecency” is ervah in the original text, and the NASB, noted for being a very literal translation, used a different word because “nakedness” just doesn’t make any sense; go ahead and read the verse again with “nakedness” in place of “indecency”…
This discussion could go on for a couple thousand more words if we went through all of the verses, but there really isn’t any point in doing so, for added connotation of ervah should be fairly obvious at this point. However, if you would enjoy doing some further study, here is a link to the Blue Letter Bible entry for ervah listing each and every verse in which it appears.
As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of a little story:
I must have been about 14 years old; it was a hot summer afternoon, and my Mom had given me instructions to weed a certain very large flower bed. I had spent two or three hours out in the hot triple digit sun weeding, and when I finally finished the job, I was hot, sweaty and dirty, and I was really looking forward to a shower to clean up and cool off. Nobody was due home for at least a couple of hours, and when I got out of the shower, I was in no hurry to get dressed and be hot and sweaty again (we had no air conditioning in those days). I just lay down on my bed and enjoyed how much cooler I was after being out in the hot summer sun working…
I was arowm.
After ten or fifteen minutes, thoughts began popping into my mind, “what if someone comes home early? What will they think? How will I explain this? If it’s my older sister, will I ever hear the end of it?”
Now I had become eyrom.
“They might think I’m doing something dirty, I might get in trouble… but I’m not doing anything wrong… but they might think I am… my sister will never let it go, I will be humiliated”
Now I was ervah, for I imagined that I would be disgraced.
I quickly got dressed again and resumed sweating…
Naturally I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I’d be surprised if most of you have never had an experience like this at one point or another.
Now that we have an understanding of these three words, we can begin to consider whether or not nakedness has a positive implication in the Old Testament, for we see now that by checking the Hebrew word that is used, we will quickly know if something “dirty” is really going on.