Home » Hebrew Word Study: SACRIFICE (QORBAN)

Hebrew Word Study: SACRIFICE (QORBAN)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

The word for sacrifice/offering in Hebrew is QORBAN, which comes from the word QAROB, meaning “closeness” or “nearby.” So if I said that you are my QAROB, it would mean you are my relative. That Hebrew word also reflects “to let go of something for the sake of others.

For the ancient Israelites, the practice of QORBAN (sacrifice or offering) was fundamentally about willingly giving something valuable to establish a closer relationship with another entity. The term “QORBAN” itself stems from the root word QAROB, which denotes proximity or nearness. This linguistic connection underlines the idea that a sacrifice (whether an animal or agricultural) is not about killing something but is a deliberate act aimed at fostering closeness.

This principle is still observable in modern times. Consider organ donors, for example. The act of donating an organ is a profound physical sacrifice, and often, it engenders an emotional bond between the donor and recipient. This act of self-sacrifice, of giving a part of oneself to benefit another, brings them closer together. Similarly, when it comes to our relationship with God, drawing near to Him is fundamentally intertwined with self-sacrifice.

Under the Old Covenant, the Law required the Israelites to make physical sacrifices to God to establish and maintain this closeness. These sacrifices typically involved giving up valuable resources, such as livestock or grains, as an act of worship and reverence towards God.

However, with the advent of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, there occurred a significant paradigm shift in understanding and practicing sacrifice. Rather than requiring believers to make material sacrifices directly to God, Jesus taught that we approach God by making sacrifices for others. Jesus emphasized that to draw near God, one should be ready to relinquish personal possessions and help those in need:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21)

In other words, when we sacrifice for the benefit of others, it is considered as if we are making direct sacrifices to God:

“Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16)

So, in the New Covenant, believers honor God not by making physical offerings on an altar but through acts of kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Therefore, our expressions of faith should not be limited to personal spiritual practices like prayer and scripture study (though these are important too). Instead, we show our love for God and emulate Christ by extending ourselves for the well-being of others. When we bless others, we position ourselves to receive blessings from God in return.

Think back to childhood memories, particularly to school field trips where sharing snacks among friends was a microcosm of this principle of QORBAN. In that context, snacks were valuable commodities, and sharing them was a significant act of sacrifice. It was a way to express friendship, seek favor, or make amends. This seemingly simple act of sharing reflected a broader principle of reciprocation, reinforcing the idea that a genuine sacrifice is intended to engender closeness.

These traditions of sacrifice among children echo the logic that drove the ancient Israelites’ sacrificial rituals. They believed that by making sacrifices for God, they could earn His favor and secure a promising earthly and eternal destiny. They hoped to find themselves on God’s “good side” on the Day of Judgment. Hence, they willingly sacrificed their wealth, time, and energy as an expression of their devotion and desire for divine favor.

Gift-giving is an everyday manifestation of the principle of QORBAN. Whether we’re giving someone a modest lunch or an extravagant diamond ring, the real value of a gift lies not in its material worth but in the sacrifice it represents. More significant gifts indicate a more considerable sacrifice. Furthermore, sacrifice doesn’t always have to be material – it can take the form of time, energy, privileges, pride, rights, and even body parts.

In essence, the principle of QORBAN invites us to deepen our relationships—both with God and with each other—through acts of self-sacrifice. As we extend ourselves for the well-being of others, we embody the loving, generous spirit of God and draw closer to Him. We find ourselves part of a continuum of love and sacrifice that stretches back to ancient times and continues to define our relationship with God and our fellow human beings today.

This article was an extract from my new small book,
Lost in Translation: 15 Hebrew Words to Transform Your Christian Faith.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist