Shavah: A CAPTIVE Soul

CAPTIVE: shavah, verb ‘to take captive’ (Strong’s 7617); sh’vut, feminine noun (Strong’s 7622); sh’viy, masculine noun (Strong’s 7628); shiv’yah, feminine noun (Strong’s 7633).

Root: שבה

Sounds like: sha’vah; sh’voot; sh’vee; sheev’yah

Taking captives was a common part of ancient warfare. We know that Canaanites took Israelites captive (Numbers 21:1); Israelites took captive the women of Midian and their “little ones” (Numbers 31:9); during David’s day the Amalekites took the Hebrew women and children captive (1 Samuel 30:1-5); in the days of Jehoram, king of Judah, the Philistines and the Arabs along the borders of Ethiopia defeated Judah and took captive the king’s wives and children (2 Chronicles 21:16-17). 

Taking captives was universal to warfare. Both sides, Israel and their enemies, took captives as spoils of war.

Judges 5:12

“Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and lead away your captives [u-sha’veh shev’ye’ka וּֽשֲׁבֵ֥ה שֶׁבְיְךָ֖], son of Abinoam.”

In the Bible’s first war, five kingdoms (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (aka Zoar)) faced off against four others kingdoms (Elam, Goiim, Shinar, and Ellasar). Sodom, where Abraham’s nephew Lot lived, was on the losing side. In the wake of the destruction, Lot was taken captive: 

Genesis 14:14-16

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive [ni-sh’bah נִשְׁבָּ֖ה], he led out his trained men, born in his house, numbering 318, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. Then he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the other people.

This was the first Biblically recorded war and the first record of captives of war. Abraham lamented the loss of his nephew so he formed an army to bring the captives back home. They were successful, but in this instance there was no mention that Abraham took captives of his own; he merely recovered his people.

Do not Kill the Captives

Captives weren’t to be killed; they were spoils of war and had tremendous value. When Elisha led the enemies to the doorstep of the king of Israel, the king asked if he should kill the captives. Here was Elisha’s response:

2 Kings 6:22

“You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive [shavi’ta שָׁבִ֛יתָ] with your sword and your bow? Set bread and water before them, so that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.” 

Elisha called on the king to have compassion on the captives and feed them. But life for the average captive was not so great. For the most part, they were exploited as workers and slaves. 

As warfare continued, it became more common to focus captive-taking on women, children and animals (1 Chronicles 5:21; 2 Chronicles 14:15). By taking women it caused a huge dent for the future population; and by taking children, it robbed the enemies of their future; and by taking animals it robbed the enemies of their livelihood.

Israel was not above cashing in on the spoils of war as well. Enough foreign women were captured by the Israelites that they created laws to protect them:

Deuteronomy 21:10-14

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and YHWH your God hands them over to you and you take them away captive [w-shavita shiv’yow  וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֹֽו], and you see among the captives [ba-shiv’yah בַּשִּׁבְיָ֔ה] a beautiful woman, and are strongly attracted to her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity [shiv’yah שִׁבְיָ֜הּ] and shall remain in your house, and weep for her father and mother a full month; and after that you may have relations with her and become her husband and she shall be your wife. But it shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; and you certainly shall not sell her for money, you shall not treat her as merchandise, since you have humiliated her.”

As terrible as this passage sounds to us, from our 21st century perspective, it was actually a step forward in justice (minimal though it was). For centuries women had been taken as captives and forcibly raped and/or sold into human slavery. This Hebraic law changed the process. The woman would be brought into the home, cared for, and given a full month to grieve her loss. Her beauty would be stripped away to ensure that the man still desired her, regardless of her beauty. After the month, if the man no longer desired her, she had the right to go wherever she wished. Finally, this law stopped the process of the female slave market for the Israelites. This is still far removed from our sense of justice, but it was a rather radical step in the right direction for the Ancient Near East cultural norm.

Children were also a big portion of captive-taking which made perfect sense. How do you  crush the spirit of your enemies? You take away their future; you take away their children. In the scroll of Kings we read the story of Naaman the Syrian’s healing and conversion. In retrospect, Namaan owed his life to one of these captive children:

2 Kings 5:1-4

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man in the view of his master, and eminent, because by him YHWH had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but afflicted with leprosy. Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive [wai-yish’bu וַיִּשְׁבּ֛וּ] a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “The girl who is from the land of Israel spoke such and such.” 

As the story goes on, the king of Aram allowed Naaman to go to Israel to seek out Elisha and Naaman was, indeed, healed of his leprosy. He also converted to become a follower of YHWH and he took a couple loads of dirt home with him to stay connected to the sacred space where he had seen the light and turned to the God of the Hebrews. But it was a little captive Israelite girl that had sent him on his way to freedom. He was the true captive and she was the mighty warrior in Namaan’s story.

Captives of (Civil) War

The enemies of YHWH’s people weren’t always foreign powers. After the split of the Northern tribes from the South, they turned on each other, fought against each other, and gathered their own Hebrew people as captives (2 Chronicles 28:5-21). 

When Ahaz, king of Judah, blatantly turned away from YHWH, God respected his wishes and relented protection over Judah. Without YHWH’s protection, Judah was exposed to military attack. They lost, and Ahaz was handed over to the king of Aram. The king of Aram, in turn, gave Ahaz over to the king of Israel and the Northern tribes attacked Judah with 120,00 men, defeated them, and took captives as spoils of war. But one prophet stood up and declared God’s anger over what had happened:

2 Chronicles 28:8-11

The sons of Israel led away captive [wai-yish’bu וישבו] two hundred thousand of their relatives, women, sons, and daughters; and they also took a great deal of spoils from them, and brought the spoils to Samaria. 

But a prophet of YHWH was there, whose name was Oded; and he went out to meet the army which came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because YHWH, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, He has handed them over to you, and you have killed them in a rage which has even reached heaven. Now you are proposing to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem as male and female slaves for yourselves. Are you not, however guilty yourselves of offenses against YHWH your God? Now then, listen to me and return the captives whom you captured [w-ha-shivu ha-shiv’yah asher sh’vitem והשיבו השביה אשר שביתם] from your brothers, for the burning anger of YHWH is against you.” 

Oded’s pleading was effective and the Northern kingdom showed mercy to the captives and led them back home:

2 Chronicles 28:12-15

Then some of the leading men of the sons of Ephraim—Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai—rose up against those who were coming from the battle, and said to them, “You must not bring the captives [et ha-shiv’yah את־השביה] in here, for you are proposing to bring guilt upon us before YHWH, adding to our sins and our guilt; for our guilt is great, and His burning anger is against Israel.” 

So the armed men left the captives [et ha-shiv’yah] and the spoils before the officers and all the assembly. Then the men who were designated by name got up, took the captives [ba-shiv’yah בשביה], and they clothed all their naked people from the spoils; they gave them clothes and sandals, fed them and gave them drink, anointed them with oil, led all their feeble ones on donkeys, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brothers; then they returned to Samaria.

Hasan Almasi (

Why was it so common for God’s people to lose wars and find themselves in captivity? Every time this happened the Bible indicates that it was because they rejected their God.

Solomon prayed a prayer of dedication at the Temple’s grand opening. In the prayer he asked God to remember His people when they were taken captive. Solomon was wise, and although his army was strong and the threat (at the time) was minimal, he prayed in advance for God’s mercy:

1 Kings 8:48-51 (see also 2 Chronicles 6:36-39)

[Solomon:] “If they [who turned away from YHWH] return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive [shavu שבו], and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their pleading in heaven, Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their wrongdoings which they have committed against You, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive [sho’vehem שביהם], so that they will have compassion on them (for they are Your people and Your inheritance which You have brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace)…”

Solomon recognized that people would turn away from God and be captured by enemies, but he pleaded that God would listen to the repentant ones, and have compassion on them. He asked God to always remember that they were His inheritance and worth saving.

But sometimes YHWH did not particularly like His inheritance:

Psalm 106:35-48

But they got involved with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them.

They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was defiled with the blood. So they became unclean in their practices, and were unfaithful in their deeds.

Therefore the anger of YHWH was kindled against His people, and He loathed His inheritance. So He handed them over to the nations, and those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were subdued under their power.

Many times He would rescue them; they, however, were rebellious in their plan, and they sank down into their guilt. Nevertheless He looked at their distress when He heard their cry; and He remembered His covenant for their sake, and relented according to the greatness of His mercy. He also made them objects of compassion in the presence of all their captors [sho’vehem שוביהם].

Save us, YHWH our God, and gather us from the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise.

Blessed be YHWH, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. And all the people shall say, “Amen.” Praise YHWH!

This was Solomon’s prayer, answered. He asked YHWH to remember His people in their captivity and make them objects of compassion to their captors… and He delivered. God would uphold His covenant and save His people.

Captive in Babylon

The biggest exile of the Hebrew people was the Babylonian exile. They attacked Jerusalem in 597 BC, and again in 589-587. They annihilated Jerusalem, tore down the city walls and destroyed the Temple. All the citizens were gathered up an marched to Babylon:

Jeremiah 13:17b-19

And my eyes will shed and stream down tears, because the flock of YHWH has been taken captive [ni-sh’bah נשבה].

Say to the king and the queen mother, “Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head.”

How utterly devastating this would have been. Everyone was forced to leave their home and everything they treasured (their culture, language, religious festivals, their sense of community). They were now foreigners in an alien land:

Psalm 137:1-4

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors [shovenu שובינו] demanded of us songs, and our tormentors, jubilation, saying, “Sing for us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land?

It was heartbreaking to lose everything, but they had not lost their God. He promised to protect them and fight on their behalf:

Jeremiah 50:33-34

This is what YHWH of armies says:

“The sons of Israel are oppressed, and the sons of Judah as well; and all who took them captive [sho’vehem שביהם] have held them firmly, they have refused to let them go.

Their Redeemer is strong, YHWH of armies is His name; He will vigorously plead their case so that He may bring rest to their land, but turmoil to the inhabitants of Babylon.”

YHWH also promised that the Hebrew people would never be annihilated. There would always be a remnant of His people and He would protect them:

Ezekiel 6:8-10

“However, I will leave a remnant, in that you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be taken captive [ni-sh’bu נשבו], how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which committed infidelity with their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations. Then they will know that I am YHWH; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”’

YHWH also promised that their captivity wouldn’t be forever. He had a plan to bring them back home:

Jeremiah 29:10-14

“For this is what YHWH says: ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares YHWH, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will restore your fortunes captives [w-shav’ti et sh’vut’kem ושבתי את שבותכם)] and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you,’ declares YHWH ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’’

Restoring the Fortunes/Captives

YHWH’s phrase, from Jeremiah’s scroll, “I will restore your captives [w-shav’ti et sh’vut’kem]” is often translated as “I will restore your fortunes”

In a way, restoring the captives and restoring the fortunes were the same thing. The biggest treasure a nation has is its own people! They are the real fortune! 

Psalm 14:7 (repeated in Psalm 53:6)

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!

When YHWH restores the fortunes/captives [sh’vut] of His people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.

The Hebrew word for “restore” is shuv (which we’ve looked at in an earlier blog posting). Shuv carries the same root as the word for captive (shavah). The idea is the same. The captives were turned-away people, but they could also turn back.

Psalm 126

When YHWH brought back the captives of Zion [b-shuv YHWH et shivat Zion], we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting!

Then they said among the nations, “YHWH has done great things for them.”

YHWH has done great things for us; we are joyful!

Restore our fortunes, YHWH [shuvah YHWH et sh’vitenu שובה יהוה את־ שביתנו], as the streams in the South.

Those who sow in tears shall harvest with joyful shouting. One who goes here and there weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

In this verse, “restore our fortunes” could also read “turn back our captives”… bring us home. There is great rejoicing in turning back to your roots and finding a harvest-filled home.

And God did promise to return the captives… a promise captured by many of the prophets:

Jeremiah 30:18

“This is what YHWH says: ‘Behold, I will restore the captives/fortunes [shav sh’vut שב שבות] of the tents of Jacob And have compassion on his dwellings; And the city will be rebuilt on its ruins, And the palace will stand on its rightful place.”

Amos 9:14-15

[YHWH:] I will also restore the fortunes/captives [w-shav’ti et sh’vut ושבתי את שבות] of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the desolated cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit.”

“I will also plant them on their land, and they will not be uprooted again from their land which I have given them,” says YHWH your God.

Zephaniah 3:19-20

[YHWH:] “I will make you famous and praiseworthy among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes/captives [b-shuvi et sh’vutekem בשובי את שבותיכם] before your eyes,” says YHWH.

Ezekiel 39:25-29

Therefore this is what the Lord YHWH says: “Now I will restore the fortunes/captives [a-shiv et sh’ut] of Jacob and have mercy on all the house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name. They will forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid. When I bring them back [b-shuv’vi בשובבי] from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall show Myself holy through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am YHWH their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then I gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer. I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” declares the Lord YHWH.

Captives to Death

In the Torah, Moses final speech is found in Deuteronomy 29-31. In his speech he encouraged the people to hold onto their faith, for God would restore them from captivity. At the time, they were free people, escaped from Egypt, living in the wilderness, and about to enter the Promised Land. But Moses spoke like they were captive people. What was this captivity that Moses spoke of? 

Deuteronomy 30:3-4, 6, 19b-20a

“…YHWH, your God, will restore you from captivity [w-shav YHWH Eloheka et sh’vut’ka שבותך], and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where YHWH your God has scattered you. If any of your scattered countrymen are at the ends of the earth, from there YHWH your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back… 

Moreover, YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love YHWH your God with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live

…So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving YHWH your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.”

Moses may have had the foresight to know that the future would hold a time of captivity for the Hebrew people, but he certainly knew that the captivity that has the greatest hold on humanity was death. Moses was about to face his own death, in fact. But he knew his faith was secure because he chose life. Moses encouraged his people to choose life so that death would be unable to grasp them.

YHWH was the God of life, not death. He would find a way to bring them home. He would send someone, an God-Anointed individual, to save them and offer them life to the fullest!

When Yeshua (Jesus) came onto the scene He proclaimed in His hometown synagogue of Nazareth the words of Isaiah:

Luke 4:16-21 (Quoting Isaiah 61:1-3)

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives [Hebrew: li-sh’vuyim; Greek: aichmalotois], and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favourable year of the LORD.”

And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Freeing the Captives!

Yeshua came to free the captives. What kind of captives? He wasn’t there to free those imprisoned by Rome or do a jailbreak on Herod’s dungeons. Yeshua came to free us from a very different kind of captivity.

John 10:10

[Jesus:] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.

Yeshua had a job to do. He had a mistake to rectify… and it would cost Him His life.

When Adam and Eve wandered in the garden they tasted death. It was always there, in the Garden, but God asked them to leave it alone and enjoy everything else the garden offered. But they wanted the knowledge; they wanted a taste of everything, good or bad… and they ended up cursing themselves. They became captives of death and destruction. With this knowledge, they could no longer stay in the garden, even though it was the home prepared for them. Death has no place in God’s Kingdom and they had to leave, but God promised that He would find a way to bring them back home. 

Yeshua was the Way, prepared by God, to lead us back to His Garden Kingdom, free from the chains of death. He came and died to take hold of death and render it powerless. And then Yeshua rose up, shared His Spirit with us, and claimed the victory on our behalf.

We need to consider, carefully, Moses’ words of wisdom: choose life. With Yeshua’s sacrifice, we can choose life because we are no longer captives to death, but the choice must be made.

Be a captive or be free, the choice is yours… and yours alone.


5 thoughts on “Shavah: A CAPTIVE Soul”

  1. Many Christian congregations do not teach that we don’t have to be held captive by sin!! Through the power of the risen Yeshua HaMashiach and our ability to choose life we have power over sin and can live free from it’s bondage, burden, pain and captivity.


  2. Thank you for presenting so clearly that we have the power to choose. God is life and when we choose to walk away from Him, we will reap the natural consequences of that choice. But, I a, so thankful for Jesus and His life that has rescued us!
    I am looking forward to next week’s post on remanat!


    1. Yes through training in righteousness, we can learn to master sin. This is what our Heavenly Father wants. Gen. 4:8


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