In the Image of God – The Other Mysterious Hebrew Meaning

A few days ago, we discussed the Hebrew meaning of the well-known biblical figure of speech ‘let us make man in our image.’ We have talked about the different meanings of the original Hebrew word ‘Tzelem’ {צלם} which was translated to English as ‘image.’

Next, we saw that when Hebrew was revived, in the late 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, the root of the Biblical Hebrew root ‘Tzelem’ (TZ-L-M {צ-ל-מ}) was used in the new modern Hebrew

word ‘Matzlemah’ {מצלמה} which is a ‘camera’ – meaning a device that produces images.’

Today, we will describe the OTHER  more obscure Hebrew meaning of the word ‘Tzelem’, which is still a mystery among the Biblical Hebrew scholars.

In the Book of Psalms, this Hebrew word can be found TWICE in an unclear context which makes it harder for us to understand the meaning of this word ‘image.’ Here is the first example:

“Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalm 39:6)

There, the original Hebrew word ‘Tzelem’ was translated as ‘shadow.’  I guess many of you are probably now wondering why the English translation chose the word ‘shadow.’

And the answer lies in the second reference of this unique Hebrew word in the Book of Psalms, in a verse I’m sure you are all familiar with:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

The original Hebrew term for ‘the shadow of death’ is ‘Tzalmavet.’ {צלמוות} The first part of this obscure Hebrew term is ‘Tzel’ {צל}  which is shadow.

However, the Hebrew letter ‘mem’ {מ} which appears in the middle of ‘TzalMavet’ can be connected to both the Hebrew words ‘Tzelem’ and ‘Mavet’ {מוות} (‘death’).

Because of this obscure Hebrew term (‘Tzalmavet’) and the appearance of the word ‘Tzelem’ in the first example we gave from Psalms, some Hebrew Bible commentators believe this Hebrew word has something to do with ‘shadow’ – and that is the other more mysterious meaning of this fascinating Hebrew word.