I had promised to look at sacrificial love and respect in marriage in Part XI, but after further study, this post had to come first to lay a proper foundation. Enjoy!
Up until now, we have only explored the roles of the male (zakar) and the female (neqevah). In this post, we will look at what it means to be a man or husband (ish) and a woman or wife (ishshah).
For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishshah); and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)
Let’s begin by looking at the ish and ishshah in Hebrew. Below are Brown, Driver, and Brigg’s Hebrew definitions.
BDB Definition: (ish) 1) man 1a) man, male (in contrast to woman, female) 1b) husband 1c) human being, person (in contrast to God) 1d) servant 1e) mankind 1f) champion 1g) great man 2) whosoever 3) each (adjective)
BDB Definition: (ishshah) 1) woman, wife, female 1a) woman (opposite of man) 1b) wife (woman married to a man) 1c) female (of animals) 1d) each, every (pronoun)
Man אישׁ and woman אשּׁה share two Hebrew letters: aleph and shin. The difference between the two is that man has the letter yohd and woman has the letter hey. Interestingly, if we put these two together, it spells Yah (yohd, hey). Yah is the poetic form of God’s Name. In other words, the man and the woman each have a piece of the name and authority of God, but only when they come together as one flesh, can we see the Creator’s Name.
יהּ = Yah
This shouldn’t be surprising considering that it takes both the male and the female to display the image of Elohim (God) in the earth. But before we take this further, let’s see what the ish and ishshah share in common. What does aleph and shin spell in Hebrew?
אשׁ = Fire
A man and a woman are beings of fire without the yohd and hey (Yah/God). What does this mean? I believe this depicts two different yet complimentary things to us. I want to explore both. The most obvious side of this issue and the one most often taught is the negative aspect. Fire, burning, and consuming is rarely seen as something positive. In the case of men and women or husband and wife, we understand this all too well. If we say that our marriage is burning or on fire, we most likely mean that it is falling apart, collapsing from within, or turning into ashes. Thus, let’s consider this for a moment.
Fire is Destructive
Fire burns. Fire is hot. Fire consumes. Fire can destroy life. If you touch a flame, the effects are painful long after you remove your hand. Nothing hurts quite like a burn. And nothing scars our flesh in a worse way. Flesh can literally melt in a fiery furnace. And at the core of our being, you and I (man or woman) ARE fire (aish). Does that sound scary? You see, we can easily (or maybe not so easily) relate to YHWH as being a “consuming fire”, but how often have you thought of yourself as one?
The truth is that with or without YHWH, we are still FIRE. We are truly made in the image of our “fiery” Creator. Do you recall from Part IX how we are either a builder or a destroyer? The analogy is the same here. The question is what we will do with our fire?
If we are fueled by the motives and desires of the flesh, we will burn and consume ourselves and our relationships with a destructive heat. Even if we manage to put the flames out, irrevocable damage and scarring is left in our wake. We must be very careful and intentional with the power the Creator has granted unto us.
Men and women are “hot”, and not in a sexy way. The fact that our FLESH naturally produces heat has a spiritual message to teach. If we live by the “flame” of our desires, we are sure to find ourselves in the Refiner’s fire of correction. (How’s that for a living parable?)
Fire Cleanses and Refines
On the other hand, fire can cleanse and refine. Fire can give warmth. Fire can tenderize and cook meat. Fire can form, shape, and create new land. Fire and can refine precious metals. Fire can transform dead soil into a rich fertile environment. Fire can preserve life.
Fire, when handled properly and surrounded by definite boundaries, is a very good thing. Thus, we use phrases such as “I’m on fire” to describe our zeal, compassion, blessed efforts, and the like. We even use it to express a winning streak in life or in a game. Not all fire is destructive.
In fact, there are certain seeds that will not germinate and sprout to life without the intense heat from fire. The giant redwoods (sequoias) are a fine example of this. This is interesting considering that most seeds will sprout in the presence of just water. If we look at this natural picture from a spiritual standpoint, the seeds (Word of God) sprout or produce life in the presence of both water and fire. (Does this remind you of baptism (water and fire)? The pillar of cloud and pillar of fire? The judgment of water (flood) and of fire? The river of life and the lake of fire?)
At first glance, water and fire seem like polar opposites. But if Hebraic thought has taught me anything it is that every word has the potential to be a contranym and that two diametrically opposed concepts often have a mighty truth to teach if we will just wrestle with the opposites.
The contrast of water and fire was first given to us in Genesis chapter one. The first reference to the Holy Spirit is on Day one of creation where He is hovering or moving upon the faces of WATER. (Gen 1:2). Then, God says, “let there be light”. Light can easily be associated with fire. We see a repeat of this contrast of water and fire on day two when the heavenly waters (shamayim) are separated from the earthly waters (mayim). (Gen. 1:6-8)
The shamayim (heavens) are quite literally waters (mayim) with a shin prefix. As we mentioned above, shin is not only one of the two letters that make the Hebrew word for fire, but it also physically looks like tongues of fire! Thus, it is quite easy to deduce (as Rashi did) that the heavens are indeed waters of fire or fire waters. For our purposes here, the main point is that from the very beginning until the very end, God uses the imagery of both water and fire to not only express His nature, presence, Word, creativity, judgment, and harvest, but also to express similar things in us! The fact that the Hebrew words ish and ishshah depict the heart of men and women as fire and the scientific fact that our “hot” bodies of flesh are composed of mostly water only reiterates this apparent dichotomy.
Are you fire or are you water? The answer is yes. And both water and fire can either destroy life or preserve it. When our lifeblood begins to boil, will it be in lust? In anger? With envy? Or will we give our warmth over to preserve life? To clothe or feed the naked? To defend the helpless?
The truth is that our fire can only be fueled from two places. We either fan the flames with that which is below the expanse or that which is above the expanse. Will our fire come from our lower earthly nature or from the cool, blue, fiery heavens? Both burn with intense heat, both can destroy or purify, but only one does so with a soothing heat that promises everlasting life.
‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Mat 6:10)
Back into the Frying Pan
I think you get the analogy now. But I want to zoom back in on the differences between the ish and ishshah one more time. Remember that the word for man or husband contains fire (aish) and the letter yohd. The yohd is a pictograph of a hand (yahd) or a fist. It has the numerical value of ten and carries the idea of working or creating.
This is similar to the function of the zakar (male), but with more emphasis. A man or a husband is for all intents and purposes “a hand on fire”. The fire within a man needs to be channeled into working or creating. (Perhaps this is why so many men love to collect tools. Or why they and boys love mission oriented video games.) A man with idle hands will always find trouble and destruction. Thus, a man’s (and a husband’s) greatest strength is found in what he does with his hands. It is his actions that show YHWH to his wife, to his children, and the world at a large. (And actions really do speak louder than words!)
Do you recall from Part I how the zakar literally serves YHWH when he works the ground? A man’s career will bring him the most fulfillment when he labors to till, guard, and keep what YHWH has given him to tend. In marriage, one way that a man serves his wife and children is by reaping the produce of his labor. Ideally, the provision he provides sustains the family. In this way, his “contained” fire preserves life.
The “hand on fire” or the man has great potential. Those fiery fists can accomplish mighty things. If they are fueled by the cool heavenly flames, his hands will become callused and strong by putting food on the table, building the house, leading and blessing his family, and sometimes even wielding a rod that gently corrects the children. All feel safe, secure, and loved by the large worn hands that create and protect a home that is warmed by his fire.
But as you’ve already surmised, this great strength is also a man’s or husband’s biggest test. Hands that strike and abuse, hands that withdraw when they should caress, hands that fail to work, hands that deal under the table, hands that touch what is forbidden… all these things are a misuse of a man’s fire, but are no less powerful. No one is safe, secure, or loved by a man that gives his fire to these destructions. It won’t take long before his house turns to ashes and all of his labors are consumed.
The good news is that we always have a choice to change fuel sources. A man that finds himself wearing sack cloth and sitting in ashes can rebuild. And if he stays the course, those very ashes will make the ground doubly fruitful. There is always hope. YHWH desires reconciliation. And He loves even the fallen.
In the case of the ishshah, a woman or wife is fire with the addition of the letter hey. Hey has a numerical value of five and means a breath or to behold. Pictographically, the letter hey portrays a person with arms lifted up or of an open window. Both imply making something known by drawing attention to it. In other words, the fire of a woman is meant to REVEAL something. I hope you recall from Part X that while women are the epitome of what is hidden, they do in fact reveal (prophetic).
They also draw attention to what isn’t easily seen. For example, YHWH is a Spirit. Though we can’t physically “see” Him, it is usually a woman (mother, grandmother, wife, sister, or the like) that first reveals our hidden God to others. (See Part IX for more on this.) As a wife, a woman can often intuit certain motives of people or circumstances that affect her husband and children. Again, this is her revealing something that is hidden. To make these things known, she must use her hey or breath.
Thus, for all intents and purposes, a woman is a “fiery breath”. Yikes! That sounds too much like a dragon for my liking! Yet, the fact remains that a woman who is not walking uprightly can sure depict this flaming beast. Just ask any man with a nagging, controlling, or contentious wife.
Ideally, a woman’s gentle breath will be a flame of fervent prayers, praises, and edification. In fact, the hey pictures this very thing. In ancient Hebrew, hey looked more like a person standing with arms lifted high. This is a worship pose. It is certainly one of praise! Perhaps this is why so many women are such valiant worshippers, dancers, counselors, and prayer warriors.
In marriage, this strength carries over to her husband as well. How many of you have read in multiple self help books on marriage that one of man’s greatest desires from his wife is praise? Well, the Hebrew is one more witness to this truth. A man is motivated to work even harder and to stoke the flames brighter when he has a woman that gushes his praises.
Like it or not, we were created to function this way as one flesh. When a man functions in his righteous role as that loving hand of fiery work, the woman feels “safe and secure”, which compels her mouth to sing fiery praises to her man. The converse is also true. Actually, the jury is out on which comes first here… the chicken or the egg. What I do know is that the roles are reciprocal and one fans the flames of the other. If we do our part, even when it seems futile or even if it’s the last thing we “feel” like doing and we don’t grow weary, the other half naturally changes. Change always starts with YOU, not your spouse. But I digress… let’s continue with the woman.
The strength of a wife or woman is in how she expresses the praises of both Adonai and her man. With words women reveal the will and Word of God to their husband and children. Words can encourage, inspire greatness, and motivate others. Words can bind up wounds and brokenness. Words can uncover the heart of a matter or situation. Women are far more relational than men. Our lives focus and center around our family and friends and to maintain these relationships we use our words in person, on the phone, and through social media. There’s a reason women are known for “talking”.
But like our counterpart, the ish, it is also our greatest test. I once heard someone say that our greatest trials and tests are in our strengths, not our weaknesses. The Refiner’s fire isn’t fun, but it is better to suffer for the sake of righteousness than for the sake of unrighteousness.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet. 4:12-13 ESV)
I wonder how many of these “fiery trials” occurs within marriages? I suspect a great deal. And ladies, how often is our strength (our mouth) the reason for our troubles? Dr. Alewine says that women have trouble with “delivery”. She intends the pun because it encompasses childbirth and delivering a message. How we say things, the way it comes off of our lips, MATTERS.
Women can be gossipy, cheeky, and manipulative with words. Women know how to say all the right things, but say it in a way that undermines the very message they are conveying. With a look, sigh (breath), or even a smile, they can tell you everything you need to know about what they are really thinking. That old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie from the pit of hell. Words give or destroy life! And words are indeed associated with fire in the Bible.
When a woman speaks solely from her emotions or feelings her fire can race out of control. The flood from her lips can consume an entire forest. (People are trees!) And because women are gifted with juggling multiple tasks and holding numerous issues, topics, and stressors in the forefront of their mind at one time, this flood can touch EVERY area of the person she spews on at once. Somebody yell, “FIRE!”
We need some water on aisle 9! The good news is that all this destruction can be redeemed. Perhaps, a giant sequoia will grow from the ashes. But of course, the better path is to allow the seeds to sprout after a gentle rain. My prayer is that we LEARN the difference and choose to be a breath of shalom. (By the way, the breath can be another symbol for the Holy Spirit, the ideal role model for the female. See Part V for more detail.)
Now, none of this is meant to limit an ish or ishshah to a one-size-fits-all box. Obviously, men use words and women use their hands! But what this does teach us is that men have more proclivities toward work that involves their hands, physical labor, or just “rolling up their sleeves” to conquer a task (literally and figuratively); whereas, women usually shine brighter when they are able to interact with others in a relational way. There will always be some cross over between the roles of men and women. My thoughts are expressing the general rule based on what I see in real life, the Hebrew language, and the Bible.
Remember, you are not just a light, but also a fire. Burn responsibly.
In upcoming Part XII, we will continue the man, woman, and fire with a tie-in on sacrificial love and respect. For previous posts in this series click here.
 These transliterations are pronounced eesh and eesh-shah. There is NO short English “i” sound in Hebrew. Every time you see an “i” in a Hebrew transliteration, it is marking the long double “e” (ee) sound. For example, Elohim (God) does not sound like the English word “him” at the end. It sounds like “heem”. If you hear someone making a short “i” sound in a Hebrew word, it is incorrect. :) As my Hebrew teacher taught me, Hebrew uses strong pure vowels. I guess she was implying that English is impure, lol.
 For example, see Psalm 77:11. ( Strong’s H3050) Many translations simply translate the poetic name Yah with LORD as they do for the Most Holy Name YHWH. You can search online Bibles to see the poetic version for yourself.
 Fire is often transliterated as aish, esh, or aysh. Make the English letter “a” say it’s name then add “sh” to the end and you’re saying it correctly.
 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Mal. 3:2-4 ESV)
 The great Jewish commentator Rashi asserts that in Genesis 1:8, “God mingled fire with water and of them made the heavens“. He bases this on an etymological analysis of the Hebrew word for heavens. Rashi explains that shamayim is a compound of the words for fire (esh) and water (mayim).
You can also read more about the creation days, including the mayim and shamayim, by studying Dr. Hollisa Alewine’s The Creation Gospel Workbook One.
 Pro. 19:15
 This implies much more than a “job”. I mean work in the fullest sense of the word. Work at work. Work at home. Work for YHWH. Work in marriage. No man does this without LOVE, which we will explore in Part XII.
 This is respect or reverence, which we will cover in Part XII.
 Think of YHWH’s Ten Words coming from a “smoking” Mt. Sinai and the tongues (words/language) of fire that rested upon the disciples in Acts 2. If good and righteous words are akin to fire, you better believe that there is a counterfeit! What do you think the watery river that flows from the mouth of the dragon in Revelation 12:15-16 is metaphorically speaking about? Remember, water and fire mirror one another. (You can see this comparison in my post on The Rivers of Eden.)