The Mystery in Sefer: The Hebrew Word for Writing

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What does the Hebrew word Sefer mean? Is it really describing writing or a book or scroll or something more? What is the difference between Sefer and Kathab which also means to write? What mysteries can we discover in the Hebrew pictographs that would help our understanding? Is there a connection to Messiah to be found? Let’s see.

In the book of Joshua, a period of history is recorded for us that describes the conquest and division of the land promised by Yehovah to the nation of Israel. In Chapter 18 verse 9 Joshua tells the seven tribes who have yet to receive their portion to each to send three men to investigate and describe the territory remaining: 

And the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh.   

The word book here is the noun Sefer and in conventional Hebrew is something written like a book, a scroll or evidence.  The word translated described is the verb Kathab which means to write, engrave or write in. 

Back in Chapter 2 of the book of Joshua, Sefer, although spelled the same way, is used as a verb and means something entirely different. Verse 23 states:

So the two men returned, descended from the mountain, and crossed over, and they came to Joshua the son of Nun, and told him all that had befallen them.  

From the noun, we would expect the verb form to tell us that this will be the act of writing. But here the word told or Sefer means to mark as a tally or to count. They recounted all the events that had happened one by one. This form is all about the math. But what mystery can the pictographs reveal to us? Sefer is spelled Samech Pey Reysh.


Samech is the picture of the prop and means to support or to assist.


Pey or fey is a picture of the mouth and means to speak, to open or a word. 


Reysh is the picture of the head and means a leader, the highest, the master or the prince.

The report which was not just spoken but written words were to support the leader which here is Joshua and also to support the people in their relationship with their leader. The Sefer contains the evidence and instructions needed to proceed. This makes even more sense when we read Joshua Chapter 1 verse 8 where Yehovah instructs Joshua on behalf of the people:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein:  for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

The book of the law is the Sefer Torah which Yehovah has spoken to assist us in our relationship with Him through the perfect prince, His Son.

The numbers the letters represent also help us to understand this word better. Samech is the number 60 and reveals pride. Pey is the number 80 and stands for a new beginning and a new birth. Reysh is the number 200 and contrasts the sufficiency of God with the insufficiency of man. In Sefer, we find God sufficient to overcome our pride and bring us to a new beginning and a new birth through His Son. 

But how is this different from Kathab?  

The pictographs for this word will tell us much if we notice how Kathab is used in the Torah in Exodus Chapter 31 verse 18: 

And he gave unto Moses when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. 

The word written here is Kathab and we see Yehovah is engraving the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments on tables or tablets of stone. 

This word Kathab is spelled Kaf Tav Beyt.


Kaf is the palm of the hand and means to cover or uncover, to open, or to allow.


Tav is the crossed sticks and means to seal, to covenant, or a sign. 


Beyt or Veyt is the tent and means the house, the family, or a dwelling place and is the first letter in the Torah that identifies the Son of God. 

So the mystery revealed in these pictographs tells us that in these tablets Yehovah is opening or allowing us into a covenant that will include us in His tent and make us His family. 

Also, Kaf is the number 20 which means redemption. Tav is the number 400 and indicates a divinely appointed period of time which will bring about deliverance and renewal. Beyt is the number 2 and stands for the Son of God or the Living Word. 

So the mystery in the numbers in the engraving of Kathab point to the Living Word with the hope of delivering and redeeming us at a point of time ordained by Yehovah. 

There is one final mystery to mention here. The first letter of Sefer is the letter Samech. We can’t know for sure, but in the Midrash, which is an ancient commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures, we are told the stone tablets which were written on by Yehovah Himself were perfect cubes. Exodus 32 verse 15 tells us the letters were written on both sides of the tablets. In other words, according to rabbinic tradition, the letters were Kathab or engraved all the way through. This would mean that the center of the Samech which means to prop up or to support would have been “supported” by a miracle.  

The really great miracle is that Yehovah would show us in Sefer and in Kathab that He has written and planned all along to covenant with us and through His Son Yeshua Ha-Mashiach, Jesus the Christ, to deliver us from our pride and bring us into His family.

We are reminded of what this cost in the Gospel of John Chapter 19 verse 19 where the Kathab or writing was engraved on the cross:

And Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross.  And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. ​

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Melissa says:

    Did you learn this of Jeff Benner ? He is a Ancient Hebrew Teacher on youtube. Did you get this knowledge from his books ?

    1. SaraM says:

      Hi Melissa- Our books are written by authors such as C.J. Lovik, Frank Seekins, etc. Thanks for your comment and support!

  2. Debra Corkle says:

    I enjoy your word study. Thank you

  3. Ken Floto says:

    All the folks mentioned above are a great resources for the ancient Hebrew. One thing that I’ve learned as when I started my study of the language is that each word can have multiple meanings because the ancient Hebrew is based on function. For example, we would describe a pencil as long, make of wood, and has an eraser on one end. In ancient Hebrew they might say, “it’s something I write with.”

    PS. Thank you for adding the Proto-Canaanite letters!

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