Language Studies Difficult Sayings
Is Gad Jacob's son, a troop, fortune or a pagan deity?
"But you are those who forsake the Lord, Who forget My holy mountain,
Who prepare a table for Gad, And who furnish a drink offering for
Meni" (Isaiah 65:11, NKJV)
Gad is first mentioned in Genesis 30:11 when "Leah said, "A troop
comes!" So she called his name Gad" (KJV), as the traditional
translation has it. Whilst the Authorised Version has Gad meaning
"troop" the more modern NIV renders the Genesis passage, "Leah said,
"What good fortune!" So she named him Gad" (cf. NRSV etc). Gad, the
proper name of a person and tribe, occurs some 70 times (Strong's H1410).
The next and apparently only other mention of the Hebrew word גָּד
gâdh (Strong's #1409), as distinct from the patriarch and tribe, is in
Isaiah 65:11 where it is unlikely to be referring to Jacob’s son. A
number of translations offer differing alternatives such as "troop" or
"fortune", the Greek Old Testament Septuagint goes so far as to render
it by δαιμονι daimoni "devil, demon" (Strong's #1142) and the Aramaic
Targum by "idols".
"prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering
unto that number" (KJV)
"prepare a table for Fortune, and that offer mingled wine in full
measure unto Destiny" (JPS)
"prepare a table for the devil (δαιμονι), and fill up the
drink-offering to Fortune" (LXX)
It has even been noted that the English word "god" may derive from
gâdh according to a website
refers the English "god" back to a Canaanite deity. It is pointed out
here and elsewhere (e.g.,
http://members.cox.net/thomasahobbs/yea_11-9.htm) that the original
Hebrew of gâdh would have been simply GD without vowels and that even
when the "â" vowel was added it could be pronounced "o" as well,
suggesting that the word could stand for "god".
Thus, these sites suggest that we should avoid calling God "god" as it
associates him with a pagan deity, much as calling him "lord", the
term Ba`al (Strong's #1168), does (see Hosea 2:16-17). It should be
noted that there are several words for Lord in Hebrew and Adonai "my
Lord" (Strong's #136) is not a pagan deity. Some of these sites
attempt to teach a theology of only calling God YHVH, a bit like
Jehovah Witnesses with Jehovah. Various sources refer Gad back to
either a Babylonian, Canaanite, or Syrian, deity. The medieval Jewish
commentator Kimchi wrote that Gad was used by the Arabs to refer to
the Roman Jupiter and Greek Zeus. Jupiter was the largest planet and
father of the gods. He is almost akin to the sun god just as Meni/Mani
may refer to the moon god, since the moon was used for numbering (see
the KJV use of "number" in the translation of Isaiah 65:11 above) the
Coincidentally, it was Gad the prophet who was sent to David to
denounce him for having "numbered" the people (2 Samuel 24:10-13).
According to Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5 there is even a city named after
this deity "Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon".
Some refer this Gad to a god of fortune and luck and Meni, likewise,
to fate. We have already noted that the Arabs regarded Gad as Jupiter,
which was itself called "the greater fortune" to Venus’ "lesser
fortune", perhaps Meni. It is shame more background information on
this is not available although Hislop, in his The Two Babylons does
make several remarks:
"The name of the Lord Moon in the East seems to have been Meni, for
this appears the most natural interpretation of the Divine statement
in Isaiah lxv. 11, "But ye are they that forsake my holy mountain,
that prepare a temple for Gad, and that furnish the drink-offering
There is reason to believe that Gad refers to the sun-god, and that
Meni in like manner designates the moon-divinity. Meni, or Manai,
signifies "The Numberer," and it is by the changes of the moon that
the months are numbered:
Psalm civ. 19, "He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth the
time of its going down."
The name of the "Man of the Moon," or the god who presided over that
luminary among the Saxons, was Mané, as given in the "Edda", and
Mani, in the "Voluspa." That it was the birth of the "Lord Moon"
that was celebrated among our ancestors at Christmas, we have
remarkable evidence in the name that is still given in the lowlands of
Scotland to the feast on the last day of the year, which seems to be a
remnant of the old birth festival for the cakes then made are called
Nûr-cakes, or Birth-cakes. That name is Hogmanay.
Now, "Hog-Manai" in Chaldee signifies "The feast of the Numberer;" in
other words, the festival of Deus Lunus, or of the man of the Moon. To
show the connection between country and country, and the inveterate
endurance of old customs, it is worthy of remark that Jerome,
commenting on the very words of Isaiah already quoted, about spreading
"a table for Gad," and "pouring out a drink-offering to Meni,"
observes that it "was the custom so late as his time [in the fourth
century], in all cities especially in Egypt and at Alexandria, to set
tables, and furnish them with various luxurious articles of food, and
with goblets containing a mixture of new wine, on the last day of the
month and the year, and that the people drew omens from them in
respect of the fruitfulness of the year."
The Egyptian year began at a different time from ours; but this is as
near as possible (only substituting whisky for wine), the way in which
Hogmanay is still observed on the last day of the last month of our
year in Scotland. I do not know that any omens are drawn from anything
that takes place at that time, but everybody in the south of Scotland
is personally cognisant of the fact, that, on Hogmanay, or the evening
before New Year's day, among those who observe old customs, a table is
spread, and that while buns and other dainties are provided by those
who can afford them, oat cakes and cheese are brought forth among
those who never see oat cakes but on this occasion, and that strong
drink forms an essential article of the provision." (Alexander Hislop,
The Two Babylons, chapter three)
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, (p.545), Gad was known to the
Jews of the Talmudic era:
"Gad, the god of fortune, is frequently invoked in Talmudic (magic)
formulas of good will and wishes; for instance, in Shab. 67b ("Gad eno
ella leshon 'abodat kokabim"; comp. Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xx.
10, 11). The name is often synonymous with "luck" (Yer. Ned. iv. 38d;
Yer. Shab. xvi. 15d). Gad is the patron saint of a locality, a
mountain (Hul. 40a), of an idol (Gen. R. lxiv.), a house, or the world
(Gen. R. lxxi.). Hence "luck" may also be bad (Eccl. R. vii. 26). A
couch or bed for this god of fortune is referred to in Ned. 56a".
That the word "god" derives from Gad is disputable but plausible.
Online etymology dictionaries such as
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=g&p=7 suggest a derivation from
a verb "to our out a libation" as in the drink offering in the verse
above. So perhaps "god" is a pagan word for "the God", but it is a bit
like the issue in Arabic where Allah is simply the Arabic for God and
the Arabic equivalent of one of the Hebrew words used for God.
God can redeem words though names are important to biblical thought
and should be used with respect. The important thing is to treat YHVH
as God, whether the names ’El, ’Elohîm, Lord, God, etc have
alternative connotations or not.
[For further reading see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old
Testament, on Isaiah 65:11]