Serve (To) - Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words
Usage Number: 1
Part Of Speech: Verb
Strong's Number: H8334
Original Word: sharat
Usage Notes: "to serve, minister." This word occurs less than 100 times in the Old Testament. In the vast majority of instances, sharat appears in the form of an infinitive or participle. When the participle is translated as a verbal noun, such as "servant" or "minister," it loses the connotation of duration or repetition. Another grammatical feature of sharat is its usage exclusively in the intensive form.
The reader of a modern English version can no longer be aware of the distinctive meaning of sharat because it and its synonym, ‘abad (or ‘ebed), are both rendered "serve" or "servant."
Sharat often denotes "service" rendered in connection with Israel's worship; about 60 of its 97 occurrences have this meaning. When Samuel was still a boy, he "…did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest" (1 Sam. 2:11), and the Lord called to him while he "…ministered unto the Lord before Eli" (1 Sam. 3:1). This kind of "service" was to honor only the Lord, for Israel was not to be "as the heathen, as the families of the countries; to serve wood and stone" (Ezek. 20:32). In the temple of Ezekiel's vision, those Levites who had "…ministered unto them [the people] before their idols…" were forbidden by the Lord to serve as priests (Ezek. 44:12). Furthermore, "…the Lord separated the tribe of Levi…to minister unto him, and to bless in his name…" (Deut. 10:8). From the tribe of Levi, Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them, that they may "minister" as priests (Exod. 29:30). Those not of the family of Aaron, though chosen "to minister unto him forever," acted as assistants to the priests, performing such physical tasks as keeping the gates, slaughtering the burnt offering, caring for the altars and the utensils of the sanctuary (1 Chron. 15:2; Ezek. 44:11). But Isaiah forsees the time when "…the sons of strangers…shall minister unto thee" (Isa. 60:10). In a number of situations, the word is used to denote "service" rendered to a fellow human being. Though the person "served" usually is of a higher rank or station in life, this word never describes a slave's servitude to his master. Moses was instructed: "Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron, the priest, that they may minister [nasb, "serve"] unto him" (Num. 3:6; cf. Num. 8:26). Elisha "ministered" to Elijah (1 Kings 19:21). Abishag is said to have "ministered" unto David (1 Kings 1:15). Various kinds of officials "ministered" to David (1 Chron. 28:1). David's son Amnon had a "servant that ministered unto him" (2 Sam. 13:17). There were seven eunuchs that "served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king…" (Esth. 1:10). He also had "servants that ministered unto him…" (Esth. 2:2).
Usage Number: 2
Strong's Number: H5647
Original Word: ‘abad
Usage Notes: "to serve, cultivate, enslave, work." This root is used widely in Semitic and Canaanite languages. This verb appears about 290 times in all parts of the Old Testament. The verb is first used in Gen. 2:5: "…And there was not a man to till the ground." God gave to man the task "to dress [the ground]" (Gen. 2:15; Gen. 3:23; cf. Gen. 1:28, nasb). In Gen. 14:4 "they served Chedorlaomer…" means that they were his vassals. God told Abraham that his descendants would "serve" the people of a strange land 400 years (Gen. 15:13), meaning, as in the niv "to be enslaved by."
‘Abad is often used toward God: "…Ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exod. 3:12), meaning "to worship" as in the nasb and the niv. The word is frequently used with another verb: "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him…" (Deut. 6:13), or "…hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him…" (Deut. 11:13). All nations are commanded: "Serve the Lord with gladness …" (Psa. 100:2). In the reign of Messiah, "all nations shall serve him" (Psa. 72:11). The verb and the noun may be used together as in Num. 8:11: "And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord … that they may execute the service of the Lord."
Usage Number: 3
Part Of Speech: Noun
Strong's Number: H5656
Original Word: ‘abodâ
Usage Notes: "work; labors; service." This noun appears 145 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and the occurrences are concentrated in Numbers and Chronicles. ‘abodâ is first used in Gen. 29:27: "… We will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me…."
The more general meaning of ‘abodâ is close to our English word for "work." "Labor" in the field (1 Chron. 27:26), daily "work" from morning till evening (Psa. 104:23), and "work" in the linen industry (1 Chron. 4:21) indicate a use with which we are familiar. To this, it must be added that ‘abodâ may also be "hard labor," such as that of a slave (Lev. 25:39) or of Israel while in Egypt: "Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not aught of your work shall be diminished" (Exod. 5:11).
The more limited meaning of the word is "service." Israel was in the "service" of the Lord: "But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the Lord before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the Lord" (Josh. 22:27). Whenever God's people were not fully dependent on Him, they had to choose to serve the Lord God or human kings with their requirements of forced "labor" and tribute: "Nevertheless they shall be his servants; that they may know my service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries" (2 Chron. 12:8). Further specialization of the usage is in association with the tabernacle and the temple. The priests were chosen for the "service" of the Lord: "And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle" (Num. 3:7). The Levites also had many important functions in and around the temple; they sang, played musical instruments, and were secretaries, scribes, and doorkeepers (2 Chron. 34:13; cf. 2 Chron. 8:14). Thus anything, people and objects (1 Chron. 28:13), associated with the temple was considered to be in the "service" of the Lord. Our understanding of "worship," with all its components, comes close to the Hebrew meaning of ‘abodâ as "service"; cf. "So all the service of the Lord was prepared the same day, to keep the passover, and to offer burnt offerings upon the altar of the Lord, according to the commandment of King Josiah" (2 Chron. 35:16). The Septuagint translations are: leitourgia ("service"); doulia ("slavery"); ergon ("work; deed; occupation"); and ergasia ("pursuit; practice; working; profit; gain"). The kjv gives these senses: "service; bondage; work."
Usage Number: 4
Strong's Number: H5650
Original Word: ‘ebed
Usage Notes: "servant." This noun appears over 750 times in the Old Testament. ‘Ebed first appears in Gen. 9:25: "… A servant of servants shall he [Canaan] be unto his brethren," meaning "the lowest of slaves" (niv). A "servant" may be bought with money (Exod. 12:44) or hired (1 Kings 5:6). The often repeated statement of God's redemption of Israel is: "I brought you out of the house of slaves" (Exod. 13:3, Heb. 2:15; kjv, rsv, "bondage"; nasb, niv, "slavery"). ‘Ebed was used as a mark of humility and courtesy, as in Gen. 18:3: "… Pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant" (cf. Gen. 42:10). Moses addressed God: "O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant …" (Exod. 4:10). It is the mark of those called by God, as in Exod. 14:31: "… [They] believed the Lord, and his servant Moses." God claimed: "For unto me the children of Israel are servants …" (Lev. 25:55; cf. Isa. 49:3). "And the Lord spake by his servants the prophets …" (2 Kings 21:10). The psalmist said: "I am thy servant" (Psalm 116:16), indicating the appropriateness of the title to all believers.
Of prime significance is the use of "my servant" for the Messiah in Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; Isa. 49:1-7; Isa. 50:4-10; Isa. 52:13-53:12). Israel was a blind and deaf "servant" (Isa. 42:18-22). So the Lord called "my righteous servant" (Isa. 53:11; cf. Isa. 42:6) "[to bear] the sin of many" (Isa. 53:12), "that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (Isa. 49:6). The "servant" was not a free man. He was subject to the will and command of his master. But one might willingly and lovingly submit to his master (Exod. 21:5), remaining in his service when he was not obliged to do so. Hence it is a very fitting description of the relationship of man to God. The Septuagint translates ‘abad and its nouns by 7 different Greek roots that give more specific meanings to the term. Through these the basic uses of ‘abad come into the New Testament. Notable is Jesus' fulfillment of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah: "That signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus" (Acts 4:30; rsv, nasb, niv, "servant Jesus"); and another important use is Paul's personal use of "a servant of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1; kjv, rsv, niv; but more precisely, "bond servant" in nasb).
Usage Number: 5
Part Of Speech: Participle
Strong's Number: H8334
Original Word: sharat
Usage Notes: "servant; minister." This word is most regularly translated "minister"; Josh. 1:1 is one example: "Now after the death of Moses the servant [‘ebed] of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses' minister [sharat]…." Ezek. 46:24 refers to a place in the temple complex which is reserved for "… the ministers of the house…."
The privilege of serving the Lord is not restricted to human beings: "Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts [angels]; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure" (Psa. 103:21). Fire and wind, conceived poetically as persons, are also God's "ministers" (Psa. 104:3-4).