PREVAIL: gabar. Verb. (Strong’s 1396).
Sounds like: ga-Bar/ga-Var
The dictionary indicates that to prevail means to be victorious… or at the very least, more powerful than your opposition. Basically, it’s a big “I WIN!!”
We play board games at our house… it’s family time… a way we can all connect together in our ever increasing busy weeks. Kevin and I both have full time jobs and our two teenage daughters are busy (one with an active social life, and the other with an equally active book-reading life). It’s not always easy to make time for each other, but our weekend board game sessions remedy that issue.
It might surprise some of you (or maybe it won’t) that I’m incredibly competitive. I like to win! And although I don’t stand up, point, and say “In your face” when I win, internally that’s exactly what I do.
To prevail is to win! In the Bible, prevailing goes back and forth between good and evil… sometimes good prevails, but often evil comes out on top. The first time the word shows up in the Bible, however, what prevails is not human at all:
Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth. The water prevailed [wa-yig’b’ru] and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. The water prevailed [gav’ru] more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed [gav’ru] fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. The water prevailed [wa-yig’b’ru] upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.
In these days of climate crisis it seems to me that creation is in a great battle. Humans were supposed to be caretakers of the planet, but our abuses have put the earth in a fight for its life, and now nature is fighting back. Nature is proving to be more powerful than its opposition… and we are its opposition. We have been fighting with nature, trying to take control, trying to mould it to our benefit. We were supposed to guide nature, come along side it, and encourage it to flourish the way it was meant to. Instead we have put it into servitude and we have dumped our junk on it. Although God promised to never allow a flood to completely demolish the earth again, it now appears that He is allowing nature to take its course… putting a stop to our self-proclaimed dominance.
This first appearance of the word gabar (to prevail) is the only time in the Bible where the word refers to something other than humans or human behaviour. Biblically the fight for dominance was primarily between humans, and it is a common refrain in the Bible to wonder why the enemies of God seem to consistently prevail. Job certainly wondered this:
“Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful [gav’ru chayil]?”
Most translations use the term very powerful for gabar chayil, however the word is gavar, not koakh (power), so I would suggest this translation: “Why do the wicked still live, proceed, (and) also prevail valiantly [gav’ru chayil]?”
Israel was very familiar with enemies: the Egyptians, the Edomites, the Amalekites, the Canaanites, the Syrians, the Midianites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans… to name a few. Israel had to fight out an existence for itself, and sometimes they prevailed, and many times they did not. But sometimes even “good” Israelites became an enemy to themselves. David, in his lust, became a secret enemy to his own colleague. He put Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (the woman he wanted), in direct danger to conveniently eliminate him:
2 Samuel 11:14-17, 23-27
Now in the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. He had written in the letter, saying, “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” So it was as Joab kept watch on the city, that he put Uriah at the place where he knew there were valiant men. The men of the city went out and fought against Joab, and some of the people among David’s servants fell; and Uriah the Hittite also died…
…The messenger said to David, “The men prevailed [gav’ru] against us and came out against us in the field, but we pressed them as far as the entrance of the gate. Moreover, the archers shot at your servants from the wall; so some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.” Then David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it’; and so encourage him.”
Now when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of YHWH.
David used prevailing enemies to get his way. This deception was an unannounced alliance with enemies. Not only did David briefly “throw the match” in order to betray a friend and colleague, but he also made Uriah unknowingly deliver his own death orders. This was a massive abomination of trust. David did not just risk the life of Uriah but also put in danger many other soldiers under his leadership. David’s people believed he had their best interests at heart. They were wrong. When your enemy prevails and you benefit from it, there is something seriously wrong with the picture.
Of course David paid deeply for the betrayal with the loss of his infant son:
2 Samuel 12:13-14
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against YHWH.” And Nathan said to David, “YHWH also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of YHWH to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.”
While the sin of David was great, God took away his sin and spared his life, but David’s child would not be spared… he would die in his place. In the Biblical narrative the sacrificed child is not a theme to be taken lightly.
Centuries earlier Moses stood as a leader to his people. He trusted fully on God’s strength, and on the strength of his community, for Israel to prevail against the Amalekites:
Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed [w-gavar], and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed [w-gavar]. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Then YHWH said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it YHWH is My Banner [YHWH Nissi]; and he said, “YHWH has sworn; YHWH will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”
War is a horrific thing, but when the Hebrew people put their full trust in YHWH they could prevail over anything.
It seems to be a great human fault that we want to prevail at everything regardless of the cost. When there are no weapons of war we turn to another, perhaps more powerful, weapon: the tongue.
Help, YHWH, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. May YHWH cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things; who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail [na-g’bir]; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”
“Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says YHWH; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” The words of YHWH are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times. You, O YHWH, will keep them; You will preserve him from this generation forever.
This blatant announcement, “With our tongue we will prevail [na-g’bir]; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”, was an attempt undermine God’s authority. We are in control, so who needs God? But unlike the tarnished tongues of humans, YHWH’s words are pure and true… and through His words (His covenants with humanity) He would prevail!
At the time of the Babylonian invasion, and subsequent Jewish exile, it certainly did not feel like YHWH prevailed. It was utterly heartbreaking to Jeremiah when YHWH announced that truth did not win, rather the lies of the enemies prevailed:
Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; that I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men.
“They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail [gav’ru] in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,” declares YHWH.
The writer of Lamentations (quite possibly also Jeremiah) felt utterly alone at the time of the exile. Feeling that God had turned His back on His people because of their unrepentant sinfulness, he ached for comfort, but found none:
…For these things I weep; my eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter, one who restores my soul. My children are desolate because the enemy has prevailed [gavar].” Zion stretches out her hands; there is no one to comfort her…
The great Jewish exile is a foreshadowing event of the cross. They had to die to their old life, leaving Jerusalem behind… but they would rise up and return.
Five hundred years in the future Israel was no longer under Babylonian servitude, but now they lived under a whole new regime. In Yeshua’s (Jesus’) day Israel was immersed in Greco-Jewish culture under Roman occupation. The Jews had not prevailed in their own land for a very long time. In their distress they waited for the Messiah to come as a conquering King, pulling them out from under Roman rule.
When Yeshua came, He reflected a very different kind of a Messiah than what the Jewish people expected. Rather than a Warrior King, He acted like a humble servant. He radically challenged the governing religious order of the Sanhedrin and He did not champion the great revolt that the Jewish people yearned for. If this was the Messiah, they weren’t interested in his message. And so at His trial they completely rejected him, and demanded His life:
But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (He was one who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection made in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”
But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail. And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted. And he released the man they were asking for who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, but he delivered Jesus to their will.
It was the prevailing voices of God’s enemies that convinced Pilate to hand Jesus over to His opponents. It seemed that the poisoned tongues had won yet again, but out of the lowest depths the greatest things can rise up. Yeshua’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection was the apex of the entire Biblical story. He took our sins upon Himself and took them to His grave. Then He rose up out of the grave, and left the sins behind, buried forever.
Although it seemed like the sinful always prevailed, the truth was, God was the ultimate winner!
YHWH will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail [yit-gabar] against His enemies.
Even though it was God, alone, who would prevail over evil, He didn’t do it for Himself… He did it for His people.
I will strengthen the house of Judah And I will prevail the house of Judah [w-gibar’ti et bet Y’hudah] and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them back, because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am YHWH, their God and I will answer them.
Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; indeed, their children will see it and be glad, their heart will rejoice in YHWH,. I will whistle for them to gather them together, for I have redeemed them; and they will be as numerous as they were before.
When I scatter them among the peoples, they will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back. I will bring them back from the land of Egypt and gather them from Assyria; and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon until no room can be found for them.
And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea, so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up; and the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart.
And I will strengthen them in YHWH And they will prevail [w-gibar’tim] in YHWH, and in His name they will walk,” declares YHWH.
We are all deeply burdened with sin, but the Psalmist understood that although sin prevailed, God lovingly forgave:
There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God, and to You the vow will be performed. O You who hear prayer, to You all men come. Iniquities prevail [gav’ru] against me; as for our transgressions, You forgive them.
How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. By awesome deeds You answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation, You who are the trust of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest sea; who establishes the mountains by His strength, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the peoples.
They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.
We should stand in awe of the things YHWH has done! We deserve none of it, and only by the grace of God do we receive any of it!
YHWH is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him so His lovingkindness prevails [gavar] towards those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so YHWH has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of YHWH is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him.
YHWH’s lovingkindness prevailed over everything… there was nothing that could defeat it… and it would have no end! It wasn’t war that prevailed over evil, it was love.
YHWH was the great Champion, and humans, really, could do nothing on their own, for it was God who gave life, and raised humans out of the depths of whatever hole they had fallen into. No one knew this more than Hannah. She had been barren for years only wishing for one thing: to become a mother. God heard her prayers and had compassion on her. She gave birth to a son, Samuel, and in her great joy she sang this prophetic song:
1 Samuel 2:6-9
YHWH kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. YHWH makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honour; for the pillars of the earth are YHWH’s, and He set the world on them.
He keeps the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail [ki lo b-koakh yig’bar ish].
Even the most powerful man or woman could do nothing if God did not wish them to do it. Relying on our own strength will only bring failure. A complete reliance on God and His promise of Salvation through a Messiah would be the only thing that would bring us victory.
Daniel provided a rather cryptic prophecy concerning the days of the Messiah:
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm [prevailing: w-hig’bir] covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
Now is not the time to delve into this very detailed and complex prophecy, but I want to highlight one point here: upon the Messiah’s arrival He would make a “firm covenant” with the people. Most translations use “firm covenant”, but the more direct translation would be “prevailing covenant”. This covenant would be victorious! It was the great promise of YHWH… He would send His Anointed One to redeem the people.
Prevail through the Womb!
The Messiah coming to earth to redeem the people was an enormous event and the announcement of His coming needed to be delivered. YHWH wisely chose a messenger from the heavenly realm named Gabriel to announce this pivotal moment in earth’s history. After all the heartache and all the pain God would prevail! Gabriel was the perfect messenger because his name, literally, meant “God Prevails”: Gabar (Prevails), El (God).
Gabriel began the Good News story by announcing the birth of John the Baptizer to John’s father, Zacharias:
Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel [God Prevails], who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Gabriel continued his announcement of Good News to Mary:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Gabriel announced the most miraculous news of all… a young woman who had never known a man, in the physical sense, would become pregnant. Good news came through the womb!
Hannah and Elizabeth were barren, and their inability to have children was lifted by God. Both of them had sons who announced that God Prevailed. Hannah’s son Samuel had anointed David as king (1 Samuel 16:12-13), and John, in a similar fashion, anointed Yeshua, through baptism (see Matthew 3:13-17). Samuel and John, both born of barren mothers, anointed David and Yeshua. Once they were anointed, the Spirit of the Lord descended on both of them. David, as king, brought great military and economic success to Israel, but Yeshua, son of a virgin, was a very different kind of King.
Yeshua, as the humble Servant King, never went about yelling “I win!” In fact, he rarely ever talked about prevailing or being victorious. Here is one of the rare instances, where He mentioned it:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Most translations, such as the New King James version, read that the gates of Hades will not prevail: And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Nothing can overcome YHWH’s covenant plan for His people. Hades will not prevail; the grave will not win. YHWH stood in as Champion for us all. His sacrifice solidified that we don’t just win the battle, we win the entire cosmic war. Yeshua defeated death, and with that victory we can live fully, freely and eternally with God our Creator!
Praise YHWH, all nations; laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness
is great prevails [gavar] toward us, and the truth of YHWH is everlasting. Praise YHWH!
Next week: A sign