Hebrew

Concise Bible Dictionary:

Designation of Abraham and of his descendants. The name is first met with when Lot had been carried away prisoner, one came and told Abram “the Hebrew” (Gen. 14:1313And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. (Genesis 14:13)). Hence it is applied to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob in distinction to the name of Israelites (from the name of Israel given to Jacob), which is their covenant name, the name of promise. It may be remarked how Saul king of Israel had lost the sense of this when he said “Let the Hebrews hear” (1 Sam. 13:33And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear. (1 Samuel 13:3)).
It is not very clear why Abraham was called a Hebrew. It is generally supposed to be derived from his ancestor Eber or Heber; but it will be seen from Genesis 11:17-2617And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters. 18And Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu: 19And Peleg lived after he begat Reu two hundred and nine years, and begat sons and daughters. 20And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug: 21And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters. 22And Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor: 23And Serug lived after he begat Nahor two hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. 24And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah: 25And Nahor lived after he begat Terah an hundred and nineteen years, and begat sons and daughters. 26And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. (Genesis 11:17‑26) that there were five generations between Eber and Abraham, so by this derivation many others might have been called Hebrews. Genesis 10:2121Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. (Genesis 10:21) says that Shem was “the father of all the children of Eber.” This shows that the Hebrews were Shemites, but many other tribes were “Shemites” that could not be called Hebrews. In scripture the name is not applied to any except to Abraham and his descendants, and only to those who descended through Isaac and Jacob, to the exclusion of the children of Ishmael and Esau. So that there must be some other reason for the name and for its being thus restricted.
The root of the word is “to pass over,” as when one passes over a river, or from one region to another. Abraham was bidden to leave his country and his kindred and to go into the land of Canaan, and the word Hebrew is not employed until Abraham had left his country and was in the land of Canaan (Gen. 14:1313And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. (Genesis 14:13)). When there he was a “sojourner,” in a strange country, dwelling in tents (Heb. 11:99By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: (Hebrews 11:9)). The name was therefore characteristic, and the people of the land could go to Abraham the “sojourner” and tell him that Lot had been taken prisoner. Joseph when in Egypt said he had been stolen from “the land of the Hebrews” (Gen. 40:1515For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. (Genesis 40:15)). The above characteristic was doubtless subsequently lost, and nothing seen in it but the natural descent from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob; the same persons being mostly called Israelites. The descendants of Ishmael and Esau were not sojourners in the promised land, but wandered whither they would. The name Hebrew does not occur in the Old Testament after 1 Samuel except in Jeremiah 34:9,149That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother. (Jeremiah 34:9)
14At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear. (Jeremiah 34:14)
and once in Jonah 1:99And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. (Jonah 1:9).