Sunday Morning Greek Blog

January 26, 2012

“Seer” in Old Testament: A Hebrew Word Study

Filed under: 1 Chronicles,1 Samuel,2 Chronicles,Hebrew,Old Testament,Prophet — Scott Stocking @ 10:12 pm

I’m digging into my archives from way back, when for a short time I sent out an e-mail called “Word of the Week” and when I contributed to the HarvestNet.org forum. I hope you enjoy!

The concept of the seer in the Old Testament (OT) may be connected to the priest who wore the Urim and Thummim. I don’t know if all of the individuals called seers were keepers of the Urim and Thummim, but if any were priests (e.g., Zadok, 2 Sam 15:27), they probably did. Seventeen of the twenty-eight occurrences of “seer” appear in 1–2 Chronicles, which one should expect, since Chronicles is the priestly account of the kings of Judah.

רֹאֶה

The NIV translates two Hebrew words as “seer” in OT, רֹאֶה (rōʾěh) and חֹזֶה (ḥō∙zěh). The first word is a participle (i.e., a verb used as a noun) form of the verb “to see” in Hebrew. OT authors used the word twenty-six times. The NIV translates רֹאֶה twelve times as “seer” and twelve times generically as anyone who “saw” something in the natural way. You will find the other two occurrences in parallel passages (2 Kings 25:19, Jeremiah 52:25), where the NIV translates them as “men of the king’s council,” which might be a little closer to “seer” in the religious sense. The word is used of Samuel eight times. In fact, the first time the word is used of Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9), the author makes a point of bridging the gap between the era of the seer and the rise of the “prophet.”

The Septuagint (LXX) in seven of those eight occurrences translates this as βλέπων, “one who sees.” This word by itself has no technical significance in Greek as far as I know relating to special prophetic function. The other occurrence connected with Samuel is translated προφήτης “prophet” in the LXX (1 Chronicles 26:28). Two other mentions of רֹאֶה refer to Hanani, an advisor to one of Judah’s kings. The LXX calls him προφήτης.

חֹזֶה

The second word (חֹזֶה) is found sixteen times in the OT, and with the exception of Isaiah 30:10, where the NIV translates it “prophets” in parallel with רֹאֶה, it is translated as “seer(s).” This is the main word used to describe those who were either in the employ of a king, or advised kings. (Hanani above is the only exception, but his(?) son Jehu is called a חֹזֶה in 2 Chronicles 19:2.) Ten of the sixteen times, it either refers to the “king’s seer” or to someone who advised a king (whether the king wanted him to or not; similar to the roles played by the men in 2 Kings 25:19). I include Amos in this count (Amos 7:12). The LXX uses ὁρῶν (“one who sees,” probably with emphasis on content of what is seen rather than the act of seeing) eleven times. βλέπων is used once (in 1 Chronicles 29:29; רֹאֶה Samuel and חֹזֶה Gad are mentioned together here; both are called βλέπων in the LXX).

There is also an interesting connection with חֹזֶה in that in a few instances, the seers were connected with music or poetry. In 1 Chronicles 25:5, the LXX identifies Heman as an ἀνακρουομένῳ “one who sings praise” or “one who prophesies with music.” He is one of the men chosen “for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 25:1; see also Judges 5:11). Asaph (one of the more prominent coauthors of the Psalms) is also mentioned as a seer (1 Chronicles 29:30).

Finally, Isaiah 30:10 (in addition to 1 Chronicles 29:29) mentions חֹזֶה and רֹאֶה apparently synonymously. רֹאֶה and חֹזֶה are most often translated προφήτης in the LXX and “seer” in the NIV, but חֹזֶה is occasionally translated ὁρῶν in LXX, especially of David’s seer Gad.

The Role of the Seer

The role of the seer is very easy to discern in the OT. He spoke the word of God to the people or to kings. The title was prominent up through the beginning of the kingdom era, but the title gradually shifted to prophet (נָּבִיא), especially when Isaiah came on the scene. The seer was probably a little more politically connected than the prophet, but neither were strangers to the palace. And neither had a message that was any more popular with the people or the kings: they rarely minced words. Samuel was the hinge pin of history between the seer and prophet, as he ushered out the age of the judges and ushered in the age of the kings.

Conclusion

I suppose I could say my last two posts are a bit of a hinge pin as well. This blog originally started as my musings on reading through the Greek NT. But I can’t forget my Hebrew “roots” in seminary. Now that I’m reading through the OT again, I know I will have much to say on that. But for those of who are worried that my long blog title might extend to Sunday Morning Biblical Languages Blog, don’t worry. I like it just the way it is.

Peace & Shalom!

Scott Stocking


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3 Comments »

  1. This helped a lot! Thanks!

    Comment by Rachel — July 8, 2012 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  2. Of all of my posts, this one is by far the most popular (11% of my total views are for this post). If you read this far, would you mind leaving a short note what drew you to this post? Thank you.

    Comment by Scott Stocking — October 12, 2014 @ 8:00 pm | Reply


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