Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: Word Study… “ervah”

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.

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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9 Responses to Nakedness as a Metaphor in Scripture: Word Study… “ervah”

  1. pipermac5 says:

    There are several things which come to mind about your story. There was nothing “wrong” with lying on your bed naked after your shower, and you knew it. You were in your own space, your bedroom, and even if nudity wasn’t allowed in the common-areas of your home, your bedroom is “private” space. You also have the right to expect privacy in your own space, just as your parents and your sister had the right to expect privacy in theirs. You wouldn’t go strolling into their bedrooms if their door was closed, and they shouldn’t be strolling into your bedroom unannounced either. Since you were in your teens, the latter goes-double for your sister.

    Feeling that you might be “disgraced” if you were “discovered” naked in your bedroom was your perception, even though you weren’t doing anything “disgraceful”. “Disgraceful” is in the eyes of the beholder but that doesn’t make it so.

    The general public probably wonders what is going on behind the walls of where I minister, but it would surprise them if they only knew, because there is nothing “disgraceful” going on there either. I could go farther with this, but I will refrain for now.

    Blessings!

    Steve

  2. Thanks for that illustration. I think you’ve left a permanent imprint on my mind. Arowm, eyrom or ervah? 😀

  3. DGHDelgado says:

    Oh, how I relate to the days of no air conditioning. My family and I spent some time overseas, living in a desert. Cold showers were a blessing and our youngest daughter would often escape the towel to run naked–arowm. Which, of course, our oldest son couldn’t handle watching. For him it was… ervah? Anyway, that wet slapping of little feet hurrying away still makes me laugh 🙂

  4. paulfg says:

    Don, thank you. The 14 year old you explains the differences wonderfully!

  5. paulfg says:

    Reblogged this on Just me being curious and commented:
    I read this post form Don and was taken to the place where the hot wind blows … tumbleweed rolls slowly past … the swinging signs creaks asthmatically …

    Nakedness is a sin. Nakedness tempts me to sinful thoughts. So we must never be naked – you must never be naked – I must never be seen naked – you must never let me see you naked. That is sin. Yeuccch!!!

    Now read’s Don’s post. And then be taken to the same pace I was. And consider how much of what we class as sin and put it out (or put “them” (real people) out) is actually much closer to home. So close that it might be “a sin” to miss what is really going on – in so many areas of the “sin stuff” (so many view as a virus to be insulated from).

    Thank you Don!!

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