Hebrew Word Study of חפץ
By Mu-tien Chiou
- I. Introduction
A search of the Hebrew root of חפץ in Bibleworks 8 yields 125 occurrences in 29 forms in 118 verses. Using verb as an addition qualification shows that nonverbal uses of חפץ is not very frequent— Bibleworks 8 shows 74 occurrences of חפץ in 14 different verbal forms in 70 verses, while the Hebrew-English Concordance lists 75 times, includingיַחְפֹּ֣ץ Job 40:17 which is considered by the concordance a homonym of the חפץ this paper will have in view primarily.
- II. חפץ used as a verb
A closer examination of the biblical context reveals that the verb חפץ is predominantly associated with male personal subjects. Among the 74 instances, only found exceptions are found in Song of Songs (2:7; 3:5; 8:4) and Isaiah (66:3). In the case of the former שֶׁתֶּחְפָּֽץ, the Qal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular form of חפץ is “subject” toהָאַהֲבָ֖ה , the Hebrew word for ‘[the] love’, followed by no object. In Isaiah, חָפֵֽצָה , the Qal perfect 3rd person feminine singular form follows the feminine singular noun נֶפֶשׁ, attached by 3rd person masculine plural suffix, conveying the idea of ‘people collective psyche delights in something’.
1) With the Divine agent
26 times we found the verb is governed by God as the subject, and only by the highest God of Israel in the Hebrew notions but never by pagan deities. Examples of this kind include יְהוָ֖ה (1Sa 2:25 WTT), יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ (1Ki 10:9 WTT),אֵֽל (Psa 5:5 WTT), orה֣וּא (Mal 2:17 WTT) that connects to a remote proper noun of the Lord (יְהוָ֗ה) as real subject. In terms of object, it can be used to express God’s delight in a person: “Blessed be ADONAI your God, who took pleasure in you to put you on the throne of Isra’el” (1Ki 10:9 CJB)—Queen Sheba’s affirmation of King Solomon who found favor in the eyes of the Lord. It can also mean the voluntary actions that God takes delight in doing: “for Thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased Thee” (Jon 1:14 JPS, cf. Isa 55:11; Pro 21:1; Pss 115:3; 135:6)—an idiomatic expression about God’s sovereign freedom found in Jonah’s prayer in the fish belly. NIDOTTE classified this use as ‘legal means’. Hurvitz, after comparing extra-biblical sources, concludes that ‘the phrase refers either to God (Ps, Isa, Jonah) or to an earthly king (Eccl) and denotes the unlimited power of the supreme authority which enables him to do whatever he pleases…this is no literary cliché, but rather the adoption of a legal formula whose Sitz im Leben is to be sought in the demain of jurisprudence.”
Another way to employ this verb is on the courses of action that God takes delight in seeing happening: “I take no pleasure in having the wicked person die, but in having the wicked person turn from his way and live” (Eze 33:11 CJB). Finally, substantial objects and generic concepts can both be objects of this verb, such as sacrifice and offering (Psa 40:6 ESV), and the way [דֶּרֶךְ] of a righteous man (Psa 37:23 JPS).
2) With worldly agents
When the subject is human being, which occurs 36 times, it can mean a man’s desire toward a woman: Shechem taking pleasure in Jacob’s daughter Dinah (Gen 34:19), King Ahasuerus taking pleasure in the beauties for a review in the ‘beauty contest (Est 2:14), and an Israeli taking pleasure in a “beautiful captive woman” or “his brother’s widow” in for entering or remaining in a marriage relationship (Deut 21:14; Deut 25:7; c.f. Ruth 3:13 contestable).
Men also experience such pleasure with other men. In several contexts, this personal agent is a man in power who has the means to grant favor to the one he desires (חָפֵ֥ץ), such as in the case of Jonathan’s affection toward David (1 Sam 19:1) and the favor David found in the eyes of King Saul (1 Sam 18:22). In Esther 6,חָפֵ֥ץ repeatedly occurs in the same context where the king is portrayed to take pleasure in honoring a certain man through granting titles and material possessions (Est 6:6, 7, 9, 11). Expressed with חָפֵ֥ץ are also desires that King David and King Solomon have had of things which they are capable of satisfying (1 Ki 9:1; 2 Sam 24:3; cf. Eccle 8:3). Other human agent of חָפֵ֥ץ include Elihu, Job’s friend who says to Job “I desire to justify thee” (Job 33:32 JPS), the psalmist who says “I delight to do Thy will” (Psa 40:8 JPS), peoples who “take pleasure in fighting” (Psa 68:31 CJB), the wicked person who “loved cursing” (Psa 109:17 CJB), an ideal God-fearing Israelite who greatly delights in His commandments (Psa 112:1 ESV), the fool who “does not desire understanding” (Pro 18:2 TNK), the Medes that “do not delight in gold” (Isa 13:17 ESV), the Israelites who delight to know God’s ways and to draw near to God (Isa 58:2 ESV), and the Israeli infidels who take no pleasure in God’s word and who desire to sojourn in a foreign land away from the Lord (Jer 6:10; 42:22 YLT).
From the above instances we can tentative conclude that חָפֵ֥ץ is closely tied to one’s volition that involves the subjects’ “positive emotional feeling” toward the objects.
- III. חפץ used as an adjective
A survey of חפץ put into adjectival function yields similar results. It appears 13 times and can be roughly understood as the verb used descriptively: “pleased”, “delighted”, or “content”. Its subjects are naturally personal beings that can “feel” such emotion. God is the subject 3 times (Ps 5:5; 35:27b; Mic 7:18). Another 9 times it modifies human beings. Sometimes an object is attached and sometimes the object is hidden in the context: “if you are pleased (חָפֵ֣ץ) [that I should give you another vineyard in exchange of yours]” (1 Ki 21:6), “whoever desirous (הֶֽחָפֵץ) [of the office], Jeroboam ordained to be priests of the high places” (1Ki 13:33). In other cases, the object include life (Ps 34:12), God’s vindication (Ps 35:27); one’s misery (40:14; 70:2), God’s works (Ps 111:2), fearing God’s name (Neh 1:11), and message of the covenant (Mal 3:1). Positive usages significantly outnumber negative one(s) by 12 vs. 1.
- IV. חפץ used as a noun
The nominal חֵ֖פֶץ govern all the 38 remaining biblical instances. The basic meaning seems to remain within the same semantic range as most modern translations make use of a quite concentrated terms for it: “delight”, “desire”, “pleasure”, “will”, and désirs (2Sa 23:5 Bible en français courant). However, at some instances, especially in Ecclesiastes, the meaning has experienced a progression to mean “things”, “matter”, “cause”, “affair”, “business”, and/or “activity”. At Ecc 5:7, none of the original meaning makes sense: “if you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter (חֵ֖פֶץ)”. (Ecc 5:8a ESV), while four verses earlier it is still the meaning derived from root verb for which the noun is deployed: “for He has no pleasure (חֵ֖פֶץ) in fools” (Ecc 5:3b TNK). The Koheleth wrote elsewhere in the same book: “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience (חֵ֖פֶץ) under heaven” (Ecc 3:1 TNK), and “for there is a time there for every purpose (חֵ֖פֶץ) and for every work” (Ecc 3:17 JPS). The terms in parallel construction with חֵ֖פֶץ in these two verses are ‘everything’ (כֹּ֖ל) and ‘work’(מַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה) respectively, which have little to do with ‘delight’ or ‘pleasure’.
Staples notices that the progression of meaning from “desire”, to “desirable thing”, and then to “thing”, is logically possible only in a theistic society where God merely has to desire (חפץ) to make coming to existence a thing (חפץ). Beside turning to the idiomatic use of חפץ with God as subject to reinforce his case, he evidenced it moreover by turning to the sense midway between ‘pleasure’ and ‘affair’ in Pro 3:15 and 8:11: “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things desirable (כָל־חֲ֜פָצִ֗ים) are not to be compared unto her” (Pro 8:11 JPS). LXX attests this meaning by translating it to τίμιον (Pro 8:11). Keil and Delitzsch take note of the same progression as a movement in meaning from that of being inclined to or intention to “the general signification of design undertaking” Based on these evidences, NIDOTTE also argues for a similarity between the evolved meaning and original meaning in that the aspect of ‘the passionate emotions of the heart or passions in a given direction or inclinations” is retained.
- V. Intra-canonical Comparison
With regard to LXX, TDOT has noticed that “it is as complex as the nature of the word group would lead us to expect”. For 49 times is the verb חפץ translated θέλω and 24 times it is βούλομαι. The former is to stress the certainty of the act with often the subject being God, and the latter is preferred in contexts of negation. εὐδοκεῖ is translators’ alternative for 5 times (e.g., 2 Sam 22:20), which elsewhere is the Greek word for רָצָה (e.g., in the parallel structure of Psa 147:10, θέλω is for חָפֵץ and εὐδοκεῖ is used for רָצָה). When αἱρέω and αἱρετίζω (choose) are used (2x), the element of willful selection is emphasized. ἀγαπάω (2x; e.g. Ps 51:8) picks up the nuance of emotion. As for noun, the most frequently used words TDOT notices are θέλημα (19x) and then πρᾶγμα (4x; All in Eccl—3:1; 3:17; 5:7; 8:6).
As mentioned, רָצָה is the main synonym to חָפֵץ. Beside Psa 147:10, instances of the parallel structure where both θέλω/חָפֵץ and εὐδοκεῖ/רָצָה conduct a halve include Ps 51:16 and Mal 1:10 (where the parallel side of the negative verb structure of לֹֽא־אֶרְצֶ֥ה is the negative noun structure of אֵֽין־לִ֙י חֵ֜פֶץ). Other candidates to more or less extent listed by TWOT include חָמַ֣ד (c.f. Psa 68:17; Gen 3:6) and חָשַׁ֧ק (c.f. Deu 7:7), and גִּיל (c.f. Hos 9:1). They share the meaning of ‘desire’ within their respective semantic range. A research performed on Biblworks, focusing on parallelism in particular, found אַהַב (Ps 109:17; primary meaning in context: love), חשׁב (Isa 13:17; primary meaning in context: care LXX: λογίζονται ). When using “desire” and “delight” as the keyword for “concordant” search, תְּשׁוּקָה (Gen 3:16; 4:7; Sol 7:11; primary meaning in context: longing) appears to partake somewhat similar semantics to חֵ֖פֶץas a noun. A candidate to antonym, חָרַף, is found on the parallel structure at Jer 6:10: the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn (חֶרְפָּה); they take no pleasure (יַחְפְּצוּ) in it (Jer 6:10 ESV).
- Extra-canonical Comparison
When we look at the lexicons and dictionaries for the term in cognate Semitic languages, the validity of our current findings are further attested. BDB lists Arabic هَفِظَ (hafiẓa, meaning be mindful of, attentive to, keep, protect), Aramaic ܚܦܛ (ḥpṭ) and its derivative ܚܦܺܝܛ (ḥpiṭ, meaning eager, zealous, Arabic حَفِيظَةٌ (ḥafīẓatun, meaning anger and excitement), and أَحْفَظَ (˒aḥfaẓa, meaning enrage, which Aramaic and Arabic of excited attention, vis-à-vis delighted attention of Hebrew חֵ֖פֶץ). It also observes that it is in later Hebrew the nounחֵפֶץ is weakened to mean “thing” (as is attested in the instances at Eccl), whereas in Talmudic Aramaic the midway meaning of “valuable object” is attested. HALOT includes the Phoenician wordמחפץ , meaning what is desirable and Syriac ḥfaṭ, meaning “try to get”. TDOT enumerates in addition to the aforementioned words another Syriac word ḥefaṭ (meaning “be pleased”, “desire”), the Akkadaian habaṣu (meaning “be abundant, be elated, feel good, be joyful, swell”). To a more or less extent, these all contain the idea of subjective volition and emotional feeing to the object.
- VII. Conclusion
The word study of חפץ can be proceeded both diachronically and synchronically, intra-linguistically and inter- linguistically, intra-canonically and extra-canonically. Our evidence has shown that the meaning of חפץ (as well as its derivatives) is not static. But its progression is logical— from desire to thing so desired to thing/work. Though maybe just incidental, an instance is found at 1Ki 9:1, where חפץ stands in the middle of the other two words (חשׁק and עשׂה) that represent the stage 1 and stage 2 meaning development of חפץ.
As to the the root verb חפץ, enough instances have helped us to fairly draw the broad line of a definition between “the volition of a personal subject” and “the emotional delight the subject experienced”. Most specifically, all the major lexicons, such as HALOT (take pleasure in, desire, delight in, be willing, feel inclined), BDB (delighting in, having pleasure in), Strong (to delight in, take pleasure in, desire, be pleased with, be pleased to do), and TWOT (take delight in, be pleased with), have accurately identified the primary meaning of חפץ in biblical usage.
Works Consulted/ Bibliography
Botterweck, G. Johannes, and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol.5., trans. David E. Green. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. . Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000
Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke, B. K. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.). Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980, 310-312
Keil, Johann F. and Franz Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary vol.6). MA: Hendrickson, 1976
Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M., & Stamm, J. J. The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. Vol. 1-4 combined in one electronic edition. (electronic ed.). Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999, c1994-1996
Kohlenbeger III, John R. and James A. Swanson, The Hebrew-English Concordance to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998
Staples, W. E., "The Meaning of µ¢peƒ in Ecclesiastes," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 24 (Jan-Apr 1965) 110-12
VanGemeren, Willem, ed., The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 6 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997
 Kohlenberger, 1998, pp.563-4
 TWOT, p.312
 NET notes under Song 2:7 summarizes that “Most translations view this as an example of the article denoting an abstract concept. However, a few translations (KJV, AV, JB, NEB) view it as an abstract use of the article for the concrete (abstractum pro concreto), and render it as "my love" as referring either to the woman’s own feelings or the feelings of her lover. Throughout the Song, the term אַהֲבָה (‘ahavah, "love") is not used as a term for endearment in reference to one of the lovers; it typically refers to sexual passion (Song 2:4, 5, 7; 3:5; 5:4; 8:4, 6, 7)… The reference to sexual desire in 2:4–5 and חוֹלַת אַהֲבָה (kholat ‘ahavah, "love-sickness") in 2:5 suggests that the use of אַהֲבָה ("love") in 2:7 is sexual desire. Love is personified in this picture.” Hence הָאַהֲבָ֖ה here in Song (2:7; 3:5; 8:4) is not a person, but an abstract concept personified for the sake of literary expression.
 NIDOTTE, 1988, p.233
 In 12 verses, from Biblework 8 search of Hebrew WTT; TWOT says 10 verses.
 From Biblework 8 search of Hebrew WTT; TWOT says 39 times.
 A theological application of speech-act theory that is once used the phenomena of ordinary language use has been developed recently based on this kind of exegetical and historical studies.
 Jon 1:14; Ps 115:3. Also discussed earlier in this paper
 Staples, 1965, p.110
 Keil and Delitzsch, 1976, p.255
 NIDOTTE, 1997, p.233
 TDOT, vol.5 pp.94-95
BDB, 2000, p.342.
 HALOT, 1999, p.339.
 כָּל־חֵ֣שֶׁק שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָפֵ֖ץ לַעֲשֽׂוֹת, translates “All the desirable things that Solomon desired to do”. Technically, this means we can basically substitute חפץfor the two words without changing much of its intended meaning (though redundant): כָּל־חֵפֶץ שְׁלֹמֹ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָפֵ֖ץ לַחָפֹ֤ץ