a name applied to the Israelites in Scripture only by one who is a foreigner (Ge 39:14,17; 41:12, etc.), or by the Israelites when they speak of themselves to foreigners (Ge 40:15; Ex 1:19), or when spoken of an contrasted with other peoples (Ge 43:32; Ex 1:3,7,15; De 15:12). In the New Testament there is the same contrast between Hebrews and foreigners (Ac 6:1; Php 3:5).
(2.) Others trace the name of a Hebrew root-word signifying "to pass over," and hence regard it as meaning "the man who passed over," viz., the Euphrates; or to the Hebrew word meaning "the region" or "country beyond," viz., the land of Chaldea. This latter view is preferred. It is the more probable origin of the designation given to Abraham coming among the Canaanites as a man from beyond the Euphrates (Ge 14:13).
(3.) A third derivation of the word has been suggested, viz., that it is from the Hebrew word 'abhar, "to pass over," whence 'ebher, in the sense of a "sojourner" or "passer through" as distinct from a "settler" in the land, and thus applies to the condition of Abraham (Heb 11:13).
Shem is called "the father of all the children of Eber," as Ham is called "father of Canaan." The Hebrew and Canaanites were often brought, into contact, and exhibited the respective characteristics of the Shemites and the Hamites. The term "Hebrew" thus is derived from Eber (Ge 10:21, compare Nu 24:24). The Septuagint translated "passer from beyond" (perates), taking the name from eeber "beyond." Abram in Palestine was to the inhabitants the stranger from beyond the river (Ge 14:13). In entering Palestine he spoke Chaldee or Syriac (Ge 31:47). In Canaan he and his descendants acquired Hebrew from the Hamitic Canaanites, who in their turn had acquired it from an earlier Semitic race. The Moabite stone shows that Moab spoke the same Hebrew tongue as Israel, which their connection with Lot, Abraham's nephew, would lead us to expect.
In the patriarchs' wanderings they never used interpreters until they went to Egypt. In Israel's bondages in the time of the judges they never lost their language; but in the 70 years' captivity in Babylon their language became in a great degree Aramaic or Chaldee, and they adopted the present Hebrew alphabet. Thus it is proved the Israelites spoke the languages of the surrounding peoples. The sense of Ge 10:21 is: as in Ge 10:6-20 the three Hamite settlements are mentioned, Babylon, Egypt, Canaan, so next the Shemite races are spoken of as commencing at the most easterly point of the Hamites, namely, Babylon and the Euphrates.
Shem was "father of all the children of Eber," i.e. of the nations settled eastward, starting from beyond the Euphrates. The name Hebrew, applied to them in relation to the surrounding tribes already long settled in Canaan, continued to be their name among foreigners; whereas "Israelite" was their name among themselves (Ge 39:14,17; 43:32; 1Sa 4:6,9). In New Testament the contrast is between "Hebrew" and those having foreign characteristics, as especially the Greek or any Gentile language (Ac 6:1; Php 3:5 (See GREEK; GRECIAN), 2Co 11:22; Lu 23:38).
The name Hebrew is found in Genesis and Exodus more than in all the other Books of the Bible, for it was the international name linking Jacob's descendants with the nations; Israel is the name that separates them from the nations. After the constitution of Israel as a separate people (in Exodus) Hebrew rarely occurs; in the national poetry and in the prophets the name does not occur as a designation of the elect people among themselves. If, as seems implied in Genesis 10, Eber be a patronymic, his name must be prophetic (as Peleg is) of the migrations of his descendants.
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.' Ge 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." 1Sa 13:3.
The term occurs in the N.T. only in Ac 6:1 to distinguish the Greek-speaking Jews from those of Palestine, and in 2Co 11:22 and Php 3:5 concerning the ancestors of Paul, wherein, to meet the cavilling of the Judaising teachers, he calls himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews, one who had descended without any Gentile or proselyte blood.
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 Ge 11:17-26 that there were five generations between Eber and Abraham, so by this derivation many others might have been called Hebrews. Ge 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. Ge 14:13. When there he was a 'sojourner,' in a strange country, dwelling in tents. Heb 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." Ge 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 O.T. after 1 Samuel except in Jer 34:9,14 and once in Jon 1:9.
Hebrew He'brew Language.
This word first occurs as given to Abram by the Canaanites,
because he had crossed the Euphrates. The name is also derived from Eber, "beyond, on the other side," Abraham and his posterity being called Hebrews in order to express a distinction between the races east and west of the Euphrates. It may also be derived from Heber, one of the ancestors of Abraham.
The term Israelite was used by the Jews of themselves among themselves; the term Hebrew was the name by which they were known to foreigners. The latter was accepted by the Jews in their external relations; and after the general substitution of the word Jew, it still found a place in that marked and special feature of national contradistinction, the language.