In Genesis 19:22 Lot decides to go to a little village after leaving Sodoma. The text of the NIV version is:

But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it." (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

I've read that Zoar means something like small but could someone provide me a reference or an enlarged explanation about the meaning and origin of this name?

  • FYI, the Hebrew does not actually say, "that is why the town was called Zoar".
    – Cynthia
    Sep 18, 2015 at 13:57

3 Answers 3


The name Zoar in this passage is spelled צֽוֹעַר but elsewhere (Genesis 13:10, Genesis 14:2, etc.) is spelled צֹעַר. I mention the spelling variation, because it is easier to see the connection to the root verb, צָעַר (ṣāʿar), which means "to be, or grow, insignificant". That is, the only difference is the vocalization - both are צער (ṣʿr) in unpointed Hebrew.

As pointed out by Susan, there is also an element of word play/explantion within the text itself. In 19:20, Lot remarks "Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is מִצְעָר (miṣʿār, a little one)" (ESV). The root here is the same – צער (ṣʿr) . The passage is thus suggesting the etymology of Zoar.

Reference/additional info on the various word forms: Abarim Publications


One must not read Hebrew prepositions in a manner that they have an exact corresponding English preposition. Sometimes a preposition and adverb can share the same word, a phenomenon found both in English and in Hebrew.

[על כן] = upon the fact, indeed.

Most of the time, indeed would imply therefore.

But for this case, the meaning of indeed is actually indeed indeed.

The verse actually says, Make sure you reached indeed the city called Zoar. Unless you reached a city indeed called Zoar, I cannot help you.

מהר המלט שמה
Quickly flee there

כי לא אוכל לעשות דבר
As not am I able to do anything

עד באך שמה על כן קרא שם
until you reach there indeed named

העיר צוער
the city Zoar .

Hrrmmphh ... Bible translators ! ! ! Stop treating as though every Hebrew preposition is perfectly aligned with an English/Greek preposition. Or not realising when a clause is prepositional or adverbial.

  • Addendum - "therefore" indeed is also an adverb, but the admonishment of single-mapping Hebrew preps/advs to English/Greek ones is still effective.
    – Cynthia
    Sep 18, 2015 at 14:20
  • I don't follow. The question asked how the city name and the word for small are related and you respond by saying a preposition should be translated "indeed". Are you trying to say there is no relationship between the city name and the word for small?
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 18, 2015 at 14:47
  • The question arises, mainly due to the adverb "therefore". "that is why it is called". Once that it is cleared that "therefore" or "that is why" is no longer the case - the motivation of the question fades. The main issue with the verse is what I dealt with.
    – Cynthia
    Sep 18, 2015 at 15:20
  • There are a bunch of these (עַל־כֵּ֥ן קָרָֽא (שְׁמ֖וֹ "therefore one calls (his/its name)”, especially in Genesis. It’s a little weird that they all make sense as (proffered) links between the name introduced and some pertinent bit of context if that’s not the intent. E.g..... Gen 11:9 (Babel), Gen 16:14 (Beer-lahai-roi), Gen 21:31 (Beersheba), Gen 25:30 (Edom), Gen 29:34 (Levi), Gen 29:35 (Judah), Gen 30:6 (Dan), Gen 31:48 (Galeed), Gen 33:17 (Succoth), Gen 50:11 (Abel-mizraim).... (cc: @ThaddeusB)
    – Susan
    Sep 18, 2015 at 17:30
  • @BlessedGeek I don't think anyone sees an "issue" in the text... The question was what is the linguistic connection between "Zoar" and "small", which despite my request for clarification you still have not provided. Why is it so hard to say "there is none, the similar spelling in Hebrew is just a coincidence," if that is indeed your position?
    – ThaddeusB
    Sep 18, 2015 at 17:46

It sounds to me that since Zoar can mean both little and to be and to grow, then why don't we call the Zoar, the little horn that rises up. I mean Lot can translate to mean veil and covering, and a covering symbolizes God in Ezekiel 16:8, while a veil symbolizes a Harlot. So, the story symbolizes the little horn rising up in the East, because it talks about the sun rising as Lot enters into the city. And, the day of God's coming is to be seen as far as the East is from the West. Lot remains in Zoar from sunrise until the setting of the sun, and then moves on with his two daughters. The two daughters are the brides of Christ: Israel and Judah. They each have a child: Benammi - Son of my blood / Moab - Water of my father. The coming of the Lord will be as in the days of Noah is what these two children symbolize.

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