Mashal is it to speak or rule?
Yochanan Ben Emek
Mashal is found in Bereshit/Genesis 3:16 in reference to Adam’s relationship with Chava. In that verse it says to the husband will rule over the wife. Yet, in another verb form of Mashal it is used as utter, speak as in a proverb or saying. So, lets look at these related hebrew verbs.
First lets look at what some of the other Semitic languages say about mashal. The Aramaic matal which is “be like or compare”. The Assyrian is masalu “become like”. So lets look at the first verb stem of the root (Mem-Shin-Lamed).
Mashal (verb 1) from the BDB page 605 and pg. 772 NEHC. It is reference number 4911. It has the general meaning of “being like”.
13 Man does not abide in honor; he is like (nim’shal) the beasts that perish.
21 Man does not understand honor; he is like (nim’shal) the beasts that perish.
10 All speak up and say to you, “So you have been stricken as we were, You have become like us (nim’shal’ta)!
1 Of David. Yehovah, I call to You; my rock, do not disregard me, for if You hold aloof from me, I shall be [or become] like (va nim’shal’ta) those gone down into the Pit.
7 Answer me quickly, Yehovah; my spirit can endure no more. Do not hide Your face from me, or I shall become like (va nim’sha’tiy) those who descend into the Pit.
5 To whom can you compare Me Or declare Me similar? To whom can you liken Me (va tam’shiluniy), So that we seem comparable?
19 He regarded me as clay, [and] I have become like (va ‘etmashal) dust and ashes.
And we can see from these that these verses show a meaning of one being liken something. The first verb usage of mashal is one where it is very similar to the other Semitic languages in this case. So this appears to be the root meaning of mashal.
Mashal (verb2) from the BDB page 605 and page.772 NEHC. It is also reference number 4911. It has the general meaning of “use or speak a proverb”. This is especially found in Yehe’zqel/Ezekiel.
44 Why, everyone who uses proverbs (kal-hamoshel all proverbs) applies to you the proverb (yim’shol) “Like mother, like daughter.”
It is essentially saying that of the proverbs (likened sayings) used for you this one that is used for you.
23 Assuredly, say to them, Thus said Yehovah Elohim: I will put an end to this proverb (hamashal); it shall not be used in Israel any more. Speak rather to them: The days draw near, and the fulfillment of every vision.
Here Yehovah is putting the end to a proverb.
2 O mortal, propound a riddle and relate (umashol) an allegory (mashal – 4912) to the House of Israel.
Yehe’zqel is to speak a saying (proverb) as a story/allegory which is from the noun form we will look at later.
3 Further, [and] speak (umashol) in an allegory (mashal) to the rebellious breed and say to them: Thus said Adoni Yehovah: Put the caldron [on the fire], put it on, And then pour water into it.
Here Yehe’zqel is make to liken something to something he is trying to teach a concept through a story or likening it to some example. It appears that proverbs as also a likening of concepts to teach.
2 What do you mean by quoting this proverb (hamashal) upon the soil of Israel, “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth are blunted”? 3 As I live—declares Adoni Yehovah—this proverb (hamashal) shall no longer be current among you in Israel.
Again stating that this saying likening a concept is not be used.
27 Therefore the bards (hamash’lim poets or speakers of sayings) would recite: “Come to Heshbon; firmly built And well founded is Sihon’s city.
So we see that this verb is related to the previous in that is likens some saying to compare something. This leads us to the third verb form for mashal. And the one most people translate as rule or dominate.
Mashal (verb3) from the BDB page 605 and page.772 NEHC. It is reference number 4910. It has the general meaning of “rule as in reign or have authority”.
6 For Yehovah eloheykha will bless you as He has promised you: you will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself; you will dominate (vamashal’ta) many nations, but they will not dominate you (lo yim’sholu).
Here Yehovah promises that his people will rule or have authority. If they are obedient to his commands.
19 Yehovah has established His throne in heaven, and His sovereign rule (mashalah – 3fs) is over all.
Here we have the verb form in a 3 person feminine singular form and the reason it ends in a hey.
12 My people’s rulers (nog’shayv 5065 oppressors) are babes, It is governed (mash’lu rule over us) by women. O my people! Your leaders are misleaders; They have confused the course of your paths.
The people are ruled by women and oppressed by children.
19 We have become as a people You never ruled (lo mashal’ta), To which Your name was never attached. If You would but tear open the heavens and come down, So that mountains would quake before You.
We have become like those who never were a people to Yehovah.
8 Slaves are ruling (mash’lu) over us, with none to rescue us from them.
13 He shall build the Temple of Yehovah and shall assume majesty, and he shall sit on his throne and rule (umashal). And there shall also be a priest seated on his throne, and harmonious understanding shall prevail between them.”
18 [and] to dominate (valim’shol) the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And Elohim saw that this was good.
The Sun has the authority over the day and moon over the night. In the sense they are the greatest lights in the sky.
8 His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule (tim’shol) over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams.
Here Yosef’s brothers question his dreams.
2 “Put this question to all the citizens of Shechem: Which is better for you, to be ruled (ham’shol) by seventy men—by all the sons of Jerubbaal—or to be ruled (mashol) by one man? And remember, I am your own flesh and blood.”
22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule (mashal) over us—you, your son, and your grandson as well; for you have saved us from the Midianites.” 23 But Gideon replied, “I will not rule (lo em’shol) over you myself, nor shall my son rule (yim’shol) over you; Yehovah alone shall rule (yim’shol) over you.”
Again Mashal is rule in this form of the verb.
16 And to the woman He said, “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing; In pain shall you bear children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, And he shall rule (yim’shal) over you.”
6 And Yehovah said to Cain, “Why are you distressed, And why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master (tim’shal – rule over it).”
8 If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right (lo yim’shol power/ability to rule) to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her.
Tehillim/Psalms 106:41 (40-42)
40 Yehovah was angry with His people and He abhorred His inheritance. 41 He handed them over to the nations; their foes ruled (vayim’shalu) them. 42 Their enemies oppressed them and they were subject to their power.
41 He gave them into the hand of nations and ruled over them those who hated them. 42 And oppressed them their enemies and they were humbled under their hand. (Interlinear)
Here the word mashal is used for rule again but the interlinear give more a sense of what was said in Hebrew.
24 The hand of the diligent wields authority (tim’shol); The negligent are held in subjection.
Here we see authority as the work used. Authority is another was of saying rule.
2 A capable servant will dominate (yim’shol) an incompetent son And share the inheritance with the brothers.
Does the servant rule over the son or is authority given to him.
7 The rich rule (yim’shol) the poor, And the borrower is a slave to the lender.
By vurtue of their status the poor is ruled by the rich who has more power. The relation between the borrower and the lender is much the same.
4 And I will place the Egyptians At the mercy of a harsh master, And a ruthless king shall rule (yim’shal) them”—declares the Sovereign, Yehovah of Hosts.
2 And Abraham said to the senior servant of his household, who had charge (hamoshel) of all that he owned, “Put your hand under my thigh.
Here we see that Avraham put his servant in charge or in authority. Did Avraham give up complete authority of his house?
8 So, it was not you who sent me here, but Elohim; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, Adon of all his household, and ruler (umoshel) over the whole land of Egypt.
If we look back at Bereshit 41:40 that Yosef was given authority up to but not including the throne.
26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler (moshel) over the whole land of Egypt.” His heart went numb, for he did not believe them.
Again from the earlier account we see he was given authority but not complete.
4 His father and mother did not realize that this was Yehovah’s doing: He was seeking a pretext against the Philistines, for the Philistines were ruling (mosh’lim) over Israel at that time.
The Philistine had authority over the Yisraelim because they were not serving Yehovah. Yehovah was still their sovereign but he used the people of the land to chastise his people when they went bad.
11 Thereupon three thousand men of Judah went down to the cave of the rock of Etam, and they said to Samson, “You knew that the Philistines rule (mosh’lim) over us; why have you done this to us?” He replied, “As they did to me, so I did to them.”
Even the people saw them as having authority over them.
Shemu’el Bet/II Samuel 23:3
1 These are the last words of David: The utterance of David son of Jesse, The utterance of the man set on high, The anointed of the Elohim of Jacob, The favorite of the songs of Israel: 2 The spirit of Yehovah has spoken through me, His message is on my tongue; 3 The Elohim of Israel has spoken, The Rock of Israel said concerning me: “He who rules (moshel) men justly, He who rules (moshel) in awe of Elohim.
We know that the King though over Yisrael was still under the authority of Yehovah just as all the people were too. The people wanted and King and Yehovah gave them one.
Divrei Hayamim aleph/I Chronicles 29:12
11 Yours, Yehovah, are greatness, might, splendor, triumph, and majesty—yes, all that is in heaven and on earth; to You, Yehovah, belong kingship and preeminence above all. 12 Riches and honor are Yours to dispense; You have dominion (moshel) over all; with You are strength and might, and it is in Your power to make anyone great and strong. 13 Now, Elohim, we praise You and extol Your glorious name.
Here is the only one who has power over all. And all belong to him.
Koholet/ Ecclesiastes 9:17
17 Words spoken softly by wise men are heeded sooner than those shouted by one who rules (moshel) in folly.
5 Yehovah has broken the staff of the wicked, The rod of tyrants (mosh’lim ones who rule).
1 Dispatch as messenger The ruler (moshel) of the land, From Sela in the wilderness To the mount of Fair Zion:
7 Thus said Yehovah, The Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, To the despised one, To the abhorred nations, To the slave of rulers (mosh’lim): Kings shall see and stand up; Nobles, and they shall prostrate themselves— To the honor of Yehovah, who is faithful, To the Holy One of Israel who chose you.
Mashal (Masculine noun) from the BDB page 605 and page.772 NEHC. It is reference number 4912. It is from the verb form Mashal reference number 4911 It has the general meaning of “one who speaks in a proverbs/parable”.
7 He took up his theme (mashalo story), and said: From Aram has Balak brought me, Moab’s king from the hills of the East: Come, curse me Jacob, Come, tell Israel’s doom!
Here we see that this noun is from the verb form 3 which was to speak in a story (parable) or proverbs (sayings).
Shemu’el Aleph/I Samuel 10:12
12 But another person there spoke up and said, “And who are their fathers?” Thus the proverb (lamashal) arose: “Is Saul too among the prophets?”
A saying is made that asks is Shaul amoung the Prophets because he spoken as a prophet that time.
Shemu’el Aleph/I Samuel 24:14 (10-14)
10 And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say, ‘David is out to do you harm?’ 11 You can see for yourself now that Yehovah delivered you into my hands in the cave today. And though I was urged to kill you, I showed you pity; for I said, ‘I will not raise a hand against adoni, since he is Yehovah’s anointed.’ 12 Please, sir, take a close look at the corner of your cloak in my hand; for when I cut off the corner of your cloak, I did not kill you. You must see plainly that I have done nothing evil or rebellious, and I have never wronged you. Yet you are bent on taking my life.13 May Yehovah judge between you and me! And may He take vengeance upon you for me, but my hand will never touch you. 14 As the ancient proverb (mashal) has it: ‘Wicked deeds come from wicked men!’ My hand will never touch you.
Here we see David uses a saying. Only a wicked man would do wickedness and since he did not there is no wickedness in him.
Melekhim Aleph/I Kings 5:12 (10-12)
10 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the Kedemites and than all the wisdom of the Egyptians. 11 He was the wisest of all men: [wiser] than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalkol, and Darda the sons of Mahol. His fame spread among all the surrounding nations. 12 He composed three thousand proverbs (mashal), and his songs numbered one thousand and five.
Here we see that mashal used in reference to the proverbs as the sefer we have today.
Melekhim aleph/I kings 9:7
4 As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked before Me, wholeheartedly and with uprightness, doing all that I have commanded you [and] keeping My laws and My rules, 5 then I will establish your throne of kingship over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘Your line on the throne of Israel shall never end.’ (not cut off to you man from on the throne of Yisrael) 6 [But] if you and your descendants turn away from Me and do not keep the commandments [and] the laws which I have set before you, and go and serve other elohims and worship them, 7 then I will sweep Israel off the land which I gave them; I will reject the House which I have consecrated to My name; and Israel shall become a proverb (lamashal) and a byword among all peoples.
Yisrael would become a saying among people because they were removed from the land.
15 You make us a byword (mashal) among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
A proverb or saying.
5 I will turn my attention to a theme (lamashal), set forth my lesson to the music of a lyre.
1 The proverbs (mish’lei) of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
6 For understanding proverb (mashal) and epigram (mahlitzah – 4426 taunting saying), The words of the wise (hakhamim) and their riddles (vachidatam – 2420 dark sayings).
Here we see that mashal is part of saying which include taunting/scorners, dark/riddle sayings.
1 The proverbs (mish’lei) of Solomon: A wise son brings joy to his father; A dull son is his mother’s sorrow.
Again mashal is also a proverb.
1 These too are proverbs (mish’lei) of Solomon, which the men of King Hezekiah of Judah copied:
7 As legs hang limp on a cripple, So is a proverb (umashal) in the mouth of dullards. 8 Like a pebble in a sling, So is paying honor to a dullard. 9 As a thorn comes to the hand of a drunkard, So a proverb (umashal) to the mouth of a dullard.
The legs of the cripple are no use to him and so is like that the saying in the mouth of a fool. He does not learn from the saying.
9 A further word: Because Koheleth was a sage, he continued to instruct the people. He listened to and tested the soundness of many maxims (mashalim proverbs). 10 Koheleth sought to discover useful sayings and recorded genuinely truthful sayings. 11 The sayings of the wise are like goads, like nails fixed in prodding sticks. They were given by one Shepherd.
Here we see that the collector of the proverbs was Koheleth. That one was Melekh Shlomo.
9 I will make them a horror—an evil—to all the kingdoms of the earth, a disgrace and a proverb (ulamashal), a byword (shaninah 8148 a sharpened saying) and a curse (valiq’lalah – despised saying) in all the places to which I banish them.
Here we see that Yehudah will be proverb, a sharp remark, and despised saying.
20 The inhabited towns shall be laid waste and the land shall become a desolation; then you shall know that I am Yehovah.
21 The word of Yehovah came to me: 22 O mortal, what is this proverb (hamashal) that you have in the land of Israel, that you say, “The days grow many and every vision comes to naught?” 23 Assuredly, say to them, Thus said Yehovah Elohim: I will put an end to this proverb (hamashal); it shall not be used in Israel any more. Speak rather to them: The days draw near, and the fulfillment of every vision. 24 For there shall no longer be any false vision or soothing divination in the House of Israel. 25 But whenever I Yehovah speak what I speak, that word shall be fulfilled without any delay; in your days, O rebellious breed, I will fulfill every word I speak—declares Yehovah Elohim.
Here Yehovah tells Yehe’zqel that this saying is not to be used anymore. That whatever is prophesied as to come to past to against them will happen in their lifetime.
6 Now say to the House of Israel: Thus said Yehovah Elohim: Repent, and turn back from your fetishes and turn your minds away from all your abominations. 7 For if any man of the House of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, breaks away from Me and turns his thoughts upon his fetishes and sets his mind upon the sins through which he stumbled, and then goes to the prophet to inquire of Me through him, I Yehovah will respond to him directly. 8 I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a byword (valim’shalim and for proverbs), and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am Yehovah.
9 And if a prophet is seduced and does speak a word [to such a man], it was I Yehovah who seduced that prophet; I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel. 10 Thus they shall bear their punishment: The punishment of the inquirer and the punishment of the prophet shall be the same,
Here we see that Yehovah will take the disobedient one and make them an example of something not to be like.
1 The word of Yehovah came to me: 2 What do you mean by quoting this proverb (hamashal) upon the soil of Israel, “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth are blunted”? 3 As I live—declares Adoni Yehovah—this proverb (hamashal) shall no longer be current among you in Israel.
Here again a proverb likening something. In reading the text you see that this proverbs was to show that what is done by the parents is found punished in the children.
4 In that day, One shall recite a poem (mashal) about you, And utter a bitter lament, And shall say: “My people’s portion changes hands; How it slips away from me! Our field is allotted to a rebel. We are utterly ravaged.”
A mashal is a saying and therefore a poetic form too at times.
6 Surely all these shall pronounce a satire (mashal) against him, A pointed (malitzah) epigram (hidot) concerning him. They shall say: Ah, you who pile up what is not yours—How much longer?—And make ever heavier your load of indebtedness!
Here the proverb or likened saying is used in a way that is not complimentary but scornfully and dark.
What we have seen from this study is that Mashal as a base meaning is something that becomes like something. In the second form of the root the proverb/saying which likens something to express as idea or concept. It can be used to also condemn a person or people. The last verb from the same stem is the one most people think of for Mashal which is to rule or to have authority. This is the hardest one to link to the base meaning. It is not a later meaning but occurs at the same time as the other verb forms. As it is used to say rule and speaking in sayings the root verb mashal has to uses in Hebrew.