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The Hebrew Word Shabua


Strong’s Concordance defines this Hebrew word as: “literally sevened, that is, a week (specifically of years):—seven, week.” In Daniel 9 this word is translated in the NIV as ‘sevens’ and in the KJV as ‘weeks’.

This word first appears in the Bible in Genesis 29:27 where it refers to Jacob’s bridal week with Leah, for which her father required seven years of service from Jacob, twice, once for each of his wives. Daniel uses the same word in another chapter (10:2,3) to refer to a week. In almost all other cases in the Old Testament the word shabua is used to refer to the Feast of Weeks.

The Feast of Weeks occurs on the 50th day from the Feast of First Fruits, the Wave Sheaf offering. This offering is given on the day after the weekly Sabbath during unleavened bread. Leviticus 23:15 explains that the feast of weeks is the day after counting off seven Sabbaths. In referring to the Sabbath, the seventh day, this emphasizes the week. Where do we see this exact same pattern? It is the Jubilee year where one counts off seven sabbatical years and then the following year is a Jubilee to the Lord.

One definition of the Sabbath we find in the Bible is the 7th day. It is a holy day and to be set aside as a sacred day of rest. We see in Lev 23:27-32 that the Day of Atonement is also referred to as a sabbath. The pattern of the 7th in the 7th day Sabbath is also seen in larger time cycles. In Leviticus 25:1-4 the Lord explains that every 7th year is to be a sabbath rest for the land and calls it simply a sabbath. And then to emphasize the importance of this cyclical rest, the great Jubilee year is defined by counting off “seven sabbaths of years” (Lev 23:8). Finally, we know that the 7th day also refers to the future Sabbath rest of the 7th millennium for God’s people.

So we see that the word sabbath can refer to the 7th day of rest for God's people, to the 7th year of rest for the land and also to the future millennial rest for all. This word can refer to any of these, so it’s meaning is determined by its context.

Since the word “shabua” is used primarily to refer to the feast of weeks, there is a lot of contextual meaning here. The feast of weeks is an annual reminder of the great Jubilee year, which itself is a once or twice in a lifetime reminder of the promise of the future rule of the Messiah. So the definition of counting Sabbaths for the feast of weeks carries with it the meaning of the weekly cycle of sabbaths and the yearly cycle of sabbaths. It is the context again which tells you the level of meaning that is being conveyed and often it is more than one at the same time.

When studying the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel chapter 9, the word “shabua” alone can refer to 7 days or 7 years, so we must look at the context. Daniel is praying about Jeremiah’s prophecy that Israel will be in captivity for 70 years, so years is the likely time frame. Further, we know from Jeremiah 34:13-14 that one of the reasons for this penalty was the fact that the Israelites did not remember the seven year sabbatical laws, specifically to release their fellow Hebrew slaves. So this also points to years.

When viewing the fulfillment of the first 69 weeks of the prophecy, from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah, this time frame cannot possibly be in days. Since shabua can refer to years, and years definitely fits the record of history, then there can be no doubt that we are talking about weeks of years in the 70 weeks prophecy.

444 BC + (69x7 lunar years)(360 days / lunar year)(solar year / 365.25 days) + 1 = 33 AD

The study and practice of Judaism helps one to see and appreciate the various layers of context that are defined in the Bible (Rom 1:16).

There is another insight we can gain from the Hebrew language. A root word for “shabua” is “shaba”. It’s meaning according to Strong’s concordance is: “A primitive root; properly to be complete, … to seven oneself, …”. So carried within the meaning of the very word that defines the time period of the tribulation, is the idea of being completed, of being perfected, which is the same idea as the refining of the silver and gold seen throughout the Bible. Why would God want to remove us from something designed to complete us? The very word itself supports a post-tribulation view of when we are to meet our Lord in the air.

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©2006, 2009 Collins Hamblen
First Posted: 7/10/06
Last Updated: 2/27/09