Aqev: Striking the HEEL

HEEL: Aqev, Masculine Noun (Strong’s 6119)

Root: עקב

Sounds like: aw’kev

What I love about studying Biblical Hebrew words is that you come quickly to the realization that each Hebrew word is meaningful. Even what seems like the most mundane word can have profound meaning or, at the very least, give clarity to a concept that is profound. A heel is a body part; it’s the bottom back part of your foot. What’s profound about that? Well, the heel actually plays a significant part in the Bible’s first prophecy. In Genesis 3, YHWH and the Adversary, in the form of a snake, faced each other. The snake had turned Eve and Adam away from their purpose of being YHWH’s image bearers, so God cursed the snake and gave a prophecy that would spell out the Adversary’s downfall:

Genesis 3:14-15

Then YHWH God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all the livestock, and more than any animal of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life; and I will make enemies of you and the woman, and of your offspring and her Descendant; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel [aqev].” 

This was the first account in the Bible of a showdown between YHWH and His Adversary, the great deceiver in the form of a snake. And YHWH laid out the plan for all to read: the woman’s Descendant would crush the head of the snake, but in turn the snake would wound Him, fatally, on the very heel that crushed him. There would be painful consequences for crushing the snake… a poisonous blow would devastate the Anointed One.

From this point, the Biblical writers would be carefully intentional when using the word for heel. It was used to make you remember YHWH’s plan of redemption. He would save us, but at a painful cost that would be His, alone, to bear.

Heel Grabber, Deceiver

The word heel doesn’t make a comeback in the Bible until the birth of Jacob:

Genesis 25:23-26

And YHWH said to her [Rebekah],

“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people will be stronger than the other; and the older will serve the younger.” 

When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel [ba-a’qev], so he was named Jacob [Yaqov]; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

The name Jacob, or Yaqov,  came directly from the word aqev. Jacob was a “heel grabber”. This story set up the reader to associate Jacob with the first prophecy. He was a heel grabber and, later, like the snake, he was identified as a deceiver. 

Rebekah favoured her younger son Jacob, and she wished that he was the inheritor of the birthright of the firstborn, rather than Esau (see Genesis 27). So she hatched a plan to trick her blind husband into giving the birthright to Jacob instead of Esau. Jacob played along with the scheme and metaphorically bit the heel of his brother and took his blessing as the new firstborn.

Jacob’s story was ripe with imagery from the first prophecy. For every ancient reader, Jacob would bring to mind the deceiver, or heel biter, in Genesis 3. In his actions, Jacob was not reflecting the Image of God, he was reflecting the image of the Adversary, the Great Deceiver.

Although Jacob was deceptive and an imposter firstborn, YHWH still loved him and Jacob eventually put his hope and faith in YHWH and reflected the Image of YHWH instead of the image of the deceiver.  God blessed Jacob with twelve sons and one daughter. In Genesis 49 Jacob prophesied about each of his sons; two of them would be associated with heel imagery:

Genesis 49:17-19

Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned viper in the path, that bites the horse’s heels [iq’vey], so that its rider falls backward. For Your salvation I wait, YHWH.

As for Gad, a band of raiders shall attack him, but he will attack at their heels [aqev].”

One small bite could take down the biggest of riders! The Danite and Gadite tribes were militant tribes and would know where to strike for the biggest impact, but it wasn’t always under God’s direction.

Later when Joshua battled to take Canaan, he reflected back to the first prophecy in order to highlight YHWH’s plan of Salvation to the Hebrew people. 

When Joshua fought against the Amorites, the five kings of the Amorites hid in a nearby cave at Makkedah. After they defeated the Amorites the five kings were tracked down and brought to Joshua:

Joshua 10:24-25

When they brought these kings out to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the leaders of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come forward, put your feet on the necks of these kings.” 

So they came forward and put their feet on their necks. Joshua then said to them, “Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for YHWH will do this to all your enemies with whom you fight.”

This mirrored the imagery from Genesis 3. They put their feet on the necks of the enemy, which was reminiscent of crushing the head but exposing the heel. It was a physical reminder that YHWH would conquer the enemy and so they could be strong and courageous, knowing that the final victory was God’s.

Image by Siddharth Salve (

Exposed Heels

Having exposed heels was the idea of being vulnerable to being bit by the enemy. When we don’t follow YHWH, we expose our heels:

Jeremiah 13:22

“If you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things happened to me?’ Because of the magnitude of your iniquity your skirts have been removed, your heels [a’qeyvayik] have been exposed.”

Sin weighs us down, and it exposes our heels to be bitten by the Deceiver. YHWH would eventually crush the head of the snake, but until then we could easily be bitten when we put our guard down and wander into all the traps set for us by the Adversary.

King David knew what it was like to be surrounded by the enemy’s traps. He had been anointed (by God) as king of Israel, but this was not well received by Saul, who had been dethroned by God. And so Saul sought to kill David in order to retain his kingship. During his efforts to evade Saul, David was seized by the Philistines and held captive:

Psalm 56:4-6, 9b-11

[David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath:] In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me? All day long they distort my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They attack, they lurk, they watch my steps [my heels: a’qeyvai], as they have waited to take my life…

… this I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in YHWH, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can mankind do to me?

David saw himself, rightly, as God’s anointed child. He was chosen by God to lead the people, and he was the forerunner and ancestor of God’s Anointed One (the Messiah), Yeshua. Harking back to Genesis 3 David used heel imagery to describe how his enemies hoped to attack him. They closely watched his heels and wanted to bite him. Using this imagery, David was exposing his status as YHWH’s anointed king and predecessor of Yeshua, the Messiah who would bring final Salvation. In the end, humans had no power over David because he was a child of God.

David wasn’t the only Psalmist to highlight heel imagery. Asaph prayed to YHWH and pointed to the fact that YHWH’s heels (usually translated as footprints) were unknown. God had not exposed His heels, but He led His people by the hand, through Moses and Aaron:

Psalm 77:16, 19-20

[Psalm of Asaph:] The waters saw You, God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the ocean depths also trembled…

…Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints [w-iq’voteka] were not known. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

YHWH had not yet exposed His heel.. the time had not come for the serpent’s head to be crushed. But until then, YHWH would guide us by the hand. From heels to hands, God had a plan.

Victory through a Heel Bite

Ethan the Ezrahite clearly was thinking of the first prophecy when he cried out to God in anguish:

Psalm 89:46-52

[Ethan the Ezrahite:] How long, YHWH? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire? Remember what my lifespan is; for what futility You have created all the sons of mankind! 

What man can live and not see death? Can he save his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah

Where are Your former acts of favour, Lord, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness?

Remember, Lord, the taunt against Your servants; how I carry in my heart the taunts of all the many peoples, with which Your enemies have taunted, YHWH, with which they have taunted the footsteps [the heels: iq’voht] of Your Anointed.

Blessed be YHWH forever! Amen and Amen.

Here Ezra asked the big question. What human can live and not fall to the decaying chaos of death? Can a soul be saved from Sheol (the grave)? Would there be an escape from death?

YHWH’s promise in Genesis 3 has given us the understanding that yes, there would be an escape, but at a cost. Ethan’s metaphysical question was at the heart of his poem: can life overcome death? At the end of Ethan’s poem he dropped blatant Genesis 3 imagery: the enemies taunted the heels of God’s Anointed One. 

And who would become YHWH’s Anointed One?.. His unique Son, Yeshua (Jesus). 

David, the forerunner of the Messiah to come, was constantly under the attack of enemies and he lamented his continual strife:

Psalm 41:7-13

[David:] All who hate me whisper together against me; they plot my harm against me, saying, “A wicked thing is poured out upon him, so that when he lies down, he will not get up again.”

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel [aqev] against me.

At the Last Supper Yeshua quoted this Psalm of David to His disciples and He had a certain disciple in mind when He said it:

John 13:1-20

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that His hour had come that He would depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And during supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had handed all things over to Him, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper and laid His outer garments aside; and He took a towel and tied it around Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which He had tied around Himself. 

So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, You are washing my feet?” 

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not realize right now, but you will understand later.” 

Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” 

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no place with Me.” 

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 

Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet; otherwise he is completely clean. And you are clean—but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; it was for this reason that He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Then, when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’; and you are correct, for so I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking about all of you. I know the ones whom I have chosen; but this is happening so that the Scripture may be fulfilled,

‘He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel [Greek: pterna] against me.’

From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may believe that I am He. Truly, truly I say to you, the one who receives anyone I send, receives Me; and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.

Yeshua washed the feet of His disciples, even the feet of the disciple who was about to betray Him. It was an act of unquestionable forgiveness, humility and servitude.

After this, Yeshua shared His last Passover meal with His disciples. He shared His bread with Judas Iscariot and Judas, in turn, lifted His heel and betrayed Him.

Six days earlier, before the Passover meal, Yeshua and the disciples ate at the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. At that gathering Mary washed the feet of Yeshua with expensive perfume. After washing His feet she dried them with her hair. Judas, in his greed, questioned Mary’s extravagant actions. The money spent on the perfume could have lined his own pockets and he saw Mary’s gestures as a waste.  But it was Yeshua’s feet that would bear the wounds of the snake and Mary’s early preparations for Yeshua’s death and resurrection were both beautiful and prophetic.

Yeshua’s final Passover celebration was the setting that would begin the fruition of the first prophecy… the defeat of the Adversary at the expense of the Anointed One. The Adversary had taken hold of Judas Iscariot and he would betray Yeshua to His death. Yeshua may have cleansed the feet of His disciples, including Judas’, but His own heel was about to be struck hard by the enemy. It would be nailed to the tree. 

It’s interesting that John’s gospel gave us the only account of foot washing before the Last Supper event. Yes, it highlighted the practice of humility, but it was more than that. Here was the Royal Messiah, the King of the Universe, kneeling down and washing the feet of His people. Yeshua was the Servant Saviour who washed the feet of others while letting His own heel would remain unclean. It would take the poison of sin in order to swallow up our iniquity and bury it with His sacrifice. 

Through Yeshua, the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled. God shattered the head of His Adversary, not through violence but through self-sacrifice. YHWH would save His people from the sentence of death. Victoriously He would bite death and swallow it to its final destruction. It was a radical action that changed the world:

Psalm 68:20-23a

[David:] God is to us a God of salvation; and to YHWH the Lord belong ways of escape from death.

God certainly will shatter the heads of His enemies, the hairy head of one who goes about in his guilt.

The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan [land of the snake]. I will bring them back from the depths of the sea, so that your foot may shatter them in blood.”

Yeshua’s sacrifice swallowed up our sin and removed our guilt. Now we are free to be the children of YHWH we were meant to be. Our feet can strike the Great Enemy, but we will not be stricken. YHWH freed our feet to shatter the enemy, but not through violence. Instead we are to bear the image of YHWH by shattering the world with love and devotion, self-sacrifice and humility. It’s a fight that the Adversary (the Satan) cannot win because he just cannot comprehend that kind of amazing love.

Next week: crouch/lie down

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