HEBREW WORD STUDY: RADA
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INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL LANGUAGES
MASTER OF DIVINITY
The biblical text provides varying claims about God and humanity. Among those is the claim that humanity is created in the image of God, which is found in Gen 1:26-28.These verses lay the groundwork for the entire biblical narrative. They reveal the character of God, and God’s intention for creation. In the process of creating humans, God also places the responsibility of the caring for creation on humankind. The fact that humans are made in the divine image reveals that God has entrusted them with the royal task of ruling, inhabiting, and cultivating the earth. By doing this, God is precisely granting humans “dominion” over all creation. The root rdh is Common Semitic. It appears in Akkadian, Syriac, Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew. The Hebrew term rada is used some twenty-two times in Old Testament. The most common use, which is used to describe a noun as having “rule” or “dominion” over a particular person, place, or thing, is found nineteen times. The root rdd is thought to be related; it occurs in Jewish Aramaic and modern Hebrew as well as biblical Hebrew. Other common meanings, however, can be used to describe the term. Some scholars have translated rada as to “have dominion, rule, and dominate.” Kohler Bomgartner, in the Hebrew Aramaic Lexicon, describes rada as meaning “to become powerful; to flog; to be lord over; to rule.” Bomgartner goes even farther by associating the action “to rule” with the meaning of oppression. Multiple translations reveal a different interpretation of rada. As a result, context is important for gaining understanding of the Hebrew term and its possible meanings within the biblical text.
In different contexts rada refers to something or someone having “rule” or “dominion” over something or someone else. It may refer to the rule of a master over a hired servant (Lev 25:43,46,53), the rule of chief officers over laborers (1 Kgs 5:30; 9:23; 2 Chr 8:10), of one nation over another (Lev 26:17; Num 24:19; Isa 14:2, 6; Ezek 29:15; Ps 68:28; Neh 9:28), or of a king over his people (1 Kgs 5:4; Ezek 34:4; Ps 72:8; Ps 110:2). Where the characteristics of the rule are given, humane treatment is mentioned; the master is charged not to rule “with harshness” (Lev 25:43,46, 53). Only in Gen 1:26 and 28 does the verb specify rule over an object rather than people.
Most of the occurrences of rada are in political contexts, having to do with the rule of a king or the rule of one nation over another, which would be exercised through a king. Solomon “had dominion” over the west Euphrates territory and the results of his rule were peace and safety for those ruled (1 Kgs 4:24-25; Heb 5:4-5). In fact, Ps 72 prays that the king in Israel “have dominion from sea to sea” (v. 8). The prayer asks that his rule be accompanied by prosperity (v. 3) and that righteousness and peace (v. 7) abound. The king is to have special concern for the poor and needy and disadvantaged (vv. 2-4; 12-14).
The biblical text also provides indication about political rule through the use of the shepherd metaphor. Ezekiel's word in chapter 34 is directed against the kings (called “shepherds”) of Israel. These politicians have been taking care of themselves, but the prophet says, “with force and harshness you have ruled”(v. 2-4). These kings are like shepherds who “have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep” (v. 8). In contrast to this prophetic accusation of the faithless kings or “shepherds” of the nation is a picture of Yahweh the good shepherd. Yahweh will seek out the lost, care for the injured and weak, and bring them home, where they will live in peace and security (vv. 11-31).
Thus, when Genesis 1 speaks of human beings exercising “rule” or “dominion”...