Arum: CRAFTY is not a Bad Word

CRAFTY, SHREWD, SENSIBLE, PRUDENT, CUNNING: Arum. adjective. (Strong’s 6175); Arom. verb. (Strong’s 6191); Orem. Masculine noun. (Strong’s 6193).

Root: ערם

Sounds like: a’rum, a’rohm, ohrem

Everyone knows the story: Eve and Adam were tricked by a snake to eat the forbidden fruit… and they were tricked because the snake was ‘crafty’. But what exactly does this word mean in Hebrew… and why is it translated in so many different ways: crafty, sensible, prudent, shrewd, cunning, wise?

This Genesis account of the pesky snake does not name the snake as the Adversary (ha-Satan), but the serpent’s words were adversarial to YHWH’s plan. YHWH was a promoter of life and order, but the words of the serpent were used to promote chaos which would lead to death. The snake prudently used his words to lead Eve in the direction that he wanted her to go.

We are told that the serpent was made by YHWH and it was more crafty than any of the other beasts which YHWH had made. Wisely it used its shrewd intellect to produce the outcome it wanted:

Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty [arum] than any beast of the field which YHWH God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 

The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

…in other words, the snake knew the most clever way, the most sensible way, to get the results he was hoping for… and it worked like a charm.

“Surely God didn’t tell you that you couldn’t eat from ANY tree?”

Questioning herself, Eve replied with a confused answer:

“No, He said we COULD eat from any tree, except the one in the middle. If we eat from it, or touch it, we will die.”

Already, Eve got it wrong. YHWH never said she couldn’t touch the tree or its fruit; they were only not to eat of it.  

The serpent planted the seed of doubt and Eve started to question herself: Maybe she misunderstood God? Maybe He didn’t really mean what He said? Maybe He was just trying to stop her from becoming like Him?  Maybe the snake had a point! Perhaps if she ate from the tree she could  become like God and the master of her own destination!

And so with a few simple words the serpent took complete control of the situation with his craftiness. 

Redefining Crafty

Perhaps we’ve made the wrong conclusion about the word arum. For the most part the Bible indicated that being crafty/sensible/prudent/wise wasn’t a bad thing. 

In fact, in the ten times the word arum was used in the book of Proverbs, it pointed towards a positive attribute. To be arum was a good thing, and it was always directly compared to a naive (peh’ti) person or a fool (eh’wil):

  • A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent (man) [arum] conceals dishonour (Proverbs 12:16).
  • A prudent man [adam arum] conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly (Proverbs 12:23).
  • Every prudent (man) [kal arum] acts with knowledge, but a fool displays folly (Proverbs 13:16).
  • The wisdom of the sensible [arum] is to understand his way, but the foolishness of fools is deceit (Proverbs 14:8).
  • The naive believes everything, but the sensible [w-arum] man considers his steps (Proverbs 14:15).
  • The naive inherit foolishness, but the sensible [w-arumim] are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18).
  • A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible [ya-a’rim] (Proverbs 15:5).
  • Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd [ya-a’rim], but reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).
  • The prudent [arum] sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it (Proverbs 22:3).
  • A prudent (man) [arum] sees evil and hides himself, the naive proceed and pay the penalty (Proverbs 27:12).

According to the Proverbs the arum human was crowned with knowledge and yet did not brag about it. The arum human took careful steps and accepted reproof (constructive criticism). The arum human was keenly aware of evil and protected him or herself appropriately. To be arum was wise, and the Proverbs promoted it as a great human attribute.

If we take the Proverb’s use of the word arum and apply it to the Genesis account, we can see that the snake was the crafty prudent character and humanity was the fool. The snake succeeded in fulfilling its goal by preying on the naive and it controlled the conversation with its shrewd intellect. 

Garter snake in Northport, PEI (Photo by S.E. Fisher)

In a surprising twist, Yeshua (Jesus) took the concept of the shrewd serpent and applied it to his own disciples:

Matthew 10:16-20

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd [Greek: phronimoi] as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

Yeshua told his disciples to be as shrewd as serpents BUT he paired that phrase with being as innocent as doves.

The snake in Eden had a nefarious agenda and he used his craftiness to push his plan forward. Unlike the snake, followers of Yeshua were to remain innocent in the eyes of YHWH. All of the goals of YHWH’s followers were to elevate YHWH, and their shrewdness was never to be used to elevate their own self-indulgent life plans at the expense of others. 

The Cunning/Crafty David

For the most part being crafty, shrewd, prudent was a positive character trait. It was using your brain to sort out puzzles and to stand strong in the face of the wicked. According to king Saul, David was one-such particularly cunning problem solver.

Saul feared David and his rise in popularity. Feeling that his kingship was threatened, Saul sought David’s life. Knowing this, the Ziphites came to Saul and told him that David was hiding in their hills:

1 Samuel 23:20-23

[The Ziphites to king Saul:] “Now then, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to do so [capture David]; and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” 

Saul said, “May you be blessed of YHWH, for you have had compassion on me. Go now, make more sure, and investigate and see his place where his haunt is, and who has seen him there; for I am told that he is very cunning [ya-a’rim]. So look, and learn about all the hiding places where he hides himself and return to me with certainty, and I will go with you; and if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” 

David was very cunning but he was also wholly reliant on God. By the grace of God he managed to avoid capture, adding to Saul’s great frustration. Eventually Saul fell and David rose as king.

The Downside of Craftiness

Although arum tended to have a positive representation in the Bible, it also put a spotlight on those who were crafty in opposition to God’s plan.

The apostle Stephen pointed out that Egyptian Pharaoh, during the time of Moses, took shrewd advantage of our race” (Acts 7:19). Pharaoh was shrewd and calculating and used his cunning to keep the Hebrew people in bondage. His craftiness opposed YHWH’s plan of salvation and he shared the attribute of prudence for his own gain along with the serpent in Eden.

In the book of Job, one of Job’s friends (Eliphaz) explained how YHWH had control over the shrewdness of those who were crooked/twisted:

Job 5:8-17

[Eliphaz:] “But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God; who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number.

He gives rain on the earth and sends water on the fields, so that He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.

He frustrates the plotting of the shrewd [a’rumim], so that their hands cannot attain success. He captures the wise by their own shrewdness [b-ar’mam], and the advice of the cunning [the crooked, the twisted] is quickly thwarted.

By day they meet with darkness, and grope at noon as in the night. But He saves from the sword of their mouth, and the poor from the hand of the mighty. So the helpless has hope, and unrighteousness must shut its mouth.

Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”

Eliphaz argued that YHWH would frustrate and thwart the plans of the crafty crooked ones, and his point was valid and true. But a little later in the book Eliphaz turned on Job and suggested that Job was one of these crafty crooked people. Job’s suffering, Eliphaz proposed, was because he had used crafty words to elevate himself:

Job 15:1-6

Then Eliphaz the Temanite responded,

“Should a wise man answer with windy knowledge and fill himself with the east wind? Should he argue with useless talk, or with words which are not profitable? Indeed, you do away with reverence and hinder meditation before God. For your guilt teaches your mouth, and you choose the language of the crafty [a’rumim]. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; and your own lips testify against you.”

Frustrated, Job announced that Eliphaz,  Bildad, and Zophar were not just terrible comforters, but they were also wretched accusers:

Job 16:1-5

Then Job answered, “I have heard many such things; sorry comforters are you all. Is there no limit to windy words? Or what plagues you that you answer? I too could speak like you, if I were in your place. I could compose words against you and shake my head at you. I could strengthen you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips could lessen your pain.

Job was absolutely right to call out his friends; their words were of no help. If anything, it was they who were full of windy, useless, words. Their words were not prudent, they were foolish. YHWH took note and He expressed his anger against Eliphaz and the two other friends: 

Job 42:7b-9

 …YHWH said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”

So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as YHWH told them; and YHWH accepted Job.

The words of Job’s friends were folly. Eliphaz accused Job of using the language of the crafty, but they had used the language of fools. 

Prudent/Sensible/Shrewd in the Parables of Yeshua

The Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word arum was phronimos (Strong’s 5429), and Yeshua (Jesus) used it frequently in His parables.

For example, a prudent person built their house on a strong foundation:

Matthew 7:24-27

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise [prudent; phronimo] man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

Like the examples in the book of Proverbs, this prudent, sensible, man was directly compared to the foolish man. His crafty intellect allowed him to live well and secure on a solid foundation.

The parable of the ten virgins directly compared five prudent women to five foolish women, hight-lighting that a prudent person was always prepared in advance:

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent [phronimoi]. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent [phronimoi] took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

The foolish said to the prudent [phronimois], ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

But the prudent [phronimoi] answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’

But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

A prudent person was prepared in advance; she was alert and ready. In a similar parable Yeshua spoke of being like the sensible steward:

Luke 12:35-37, 40-44

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible [phronimos] steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”

The Master would put the sensible steward in charge of all of his possessions, and a few chapters later in Luke, Yeshua recited a parable about an unrighteous steward who squandered his Master’s possessions:

Luke 16:1-8

Now He was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 

The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’ 

And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 

And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ 

And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 

Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ 

And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ 

He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 

And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly [phronimos]; for the sons of this age are more shrewd [phronimoteroi] in relation to their own kind than the sons of light

The unrighteous sensible steward saved his own skin with his crafty plan, and his master commended him for it. Why? Because both master and steward saw money as their true master. 

In earshot of some Pharisees, Yeshua followed up with these words: 

Luke 16:13-15

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Yeshua was pointing a finger at the Pharisees. They were the sons of this age, the shrewd ones, in relation to their own kind. YHWH could read their hearts and He knew that they were shrewd in their worship of money, but they were not shrewd in their devotion to YHWH.

Prudent Fools

As we have noted, in the Bible foolish people were considered the opposite of crafty people. Paul pointed out that we were all fools in comparison to the crafty/sensible/shrewd YHWH. But being prudent fools for the Messiah, regardless of the difficult road it put you on, was far better than being arrogant fools for the Adversary:

1 Corinthians 4:9-13, 18-20

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Messiah’s sake, but you are prudent [phronimoi] in Messiah; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honour. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now…

…Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.

We may be fools, but we are God’s fools! We are fools FOR Messiah’s sake, and YHWH was crafty in His use of the Messiah to save us. We are weak and needy, but YHWH is strong, distinguished, and the ultimate power source.

If we put our focus on the will of YHWH we will rise above our weakened state and be the sensible followers of YHWH, living in the power of His kingdom. The words of the foolish have no power in the kingdom of YHWH, but the prudent, sensible, crafty followers of God will inherit His possessions. 

Yes, there are forces of evil and proponents of chaos that make shrewd plans against YHWH and His people, but they will come to a very different end:

Psalm 83:1-5, 12-18

O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans [ya-a’rimu sohd] against Your people, and conspire together against Your treasured ones.

They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.” For they have conspired together with one mind; against You they make a covenant… [they] who said, “Let us possess for ourselves the pastures of God.”

O my God, make them like the whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. Like fire that burns the forest and like a flame that sets the mountains on fire, so pursue them with Your tempest and terrify them with Your storm. Fill their faces with dishonour, that they may seek Your name, O YHWH.

Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish, that they may know that You alone, whose name is YHWH, are the Most High over all the earth.

Even after all this, it still seems funny to say, Be crafty for God”… but God gave us a brain and we are to use it well. Yeshua warned us that we would live amongst wolves, but if we kept our wits about us, and used our intellect to glorify God, then we would be using our brains sensibly, prudently, shrewdly. So yes, be crafty and clever for YHWH. He knows your heart and your mind… both belong to Him.

Next week: Write!

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