Do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. (Exodus 23:3, NIV)
The rarely used and thus difficult to translate verb הָדַר hâdhar (Strong’s #1921, x7) occurs just 7 times. Its first use in Exodus 23:3 is translated variously by “favouritism, partiality, countenance, honour, adorn, embellish”. It can be hard to see how the translators arrived at those translations except contextually, rather than literally.
The root idea of the verb seems to be “to enlarge, make large, swell” – and by application “to be proud, raised, honoured”. How this applies to the verse above seems to be in the sense of “magnify”, i.e., not bigging up someone’s legal case, to the point of exaggeration, just because they are poor, in other words, right or wrong in court means neither favouring the privileged nor the poor if it means exaggerating or magnifying the truth. That is not to say that injustices to the poor are ignored as there are plenty of balancing verses to show God’s backing of the poor and needy – but not to the point of bearing false or exaggerated witness.
The next instance of the verb is in Leviticus 19:15 saying essentially the same thing, to not act unjustly in judgement, except this time it is applied to the rich and great, rather than the poor. It is paralleled to the verb נָשַׂא nâsa’ (Strong’s #5375, x654) “to lift up” applied to the poor and translated by “respect, be partial to”. The use of נָשַׂא nâsa’ in parallel helps to confirm הָדַרhâdhar‘s translation as “enlarge, puff up”.
Similarly, Proverbs 25:6 speaks of not boasting or bigging oneself up (הָדַר hâdhar) in the presence of the king, also paralleled with not standing (נָשַׂא nâsa’) in the place of the great.
Leviticus 19:32 speaks of honouring the presence of the elderly using הָדַר hâdhar and “rising or standing up” קוּם qûwm(Strong’s #6965, x628) before the greyheaded, a traditional show of respect towards the elderly shown to this day. CompareLamentations 5:12.
In Isaiah 45:2 יָשַׁר yâshar (Strong’s #3474, x27) is used as the qualifying verb to “flatten, smooth, make low or level” the הָדוּרִיםhâdhûrîym (plural of הָדַר hâdhar) “crooked places” (JPS, NKJ), “mountains” (LXX), “rough places” (NAS). In the context of the verses and uses above, “mountains” or “raised places” would seem most suitable.
Isaiah 63:1 describes one coming from Edom or Bozrah arrayed in regal crimson garments “glorious in their apparel”, i.e., wearing status clothing.
The similar sounding verb אָדַר ’âdhar (Strong’s #142, x3) to הָדַר hâdhar occurs even more rarely but is usually translated by “glorious, majestic” which Genenius sees as “swelled up” based on comparison to equivalent Arabic roots. Derivatives of הָדַרhâdhar such as הָדָר hâdhâr (Strong’s #1926, x30) are translated as “glorious, majesty, honour”.
KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. The “Biblical Hebrew made easy” course can be found at www.biblicalhebrew.com.
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