What Do You Want? A Helpful Definition for Bible Reading
So often, we never pay any attention at all to the little words of our language. Who, for example, ever uses a dictionary to look up the meaning of the word at or spends a lot of time thinking about the word the?
But if we are not careful, we can forget that words have more than one meaning; and meanings of words that were commonly used a few hundred years ago may not be used very often at all right now.
The word want is a great example. Most of the time nowadays, we use the word want to mean ‘desire.’ We use the word in sentences like this:
I want to go to church.
Mary wants a new dress.
Marvin wants a new truck.
But the word want can also mean ‘to lack.’ We rarely use this expression these days, but you may have heard someone say, “She died for want of a doctor.” The meaning here is “because there was no doctor that she could access, she died.”
When the King James Bible was translated in the 17th century, the word want was commonly used to mean ‘to lack.’ Even many decades after 1611, the English poet John Dryden would write that certain people “Began to dream they wanted liberty.” When Dryden wrote this, he was not saying that people were correctly dreaming about obtaining liberty someday; he was saying that people were wrongly thinking that they lacked liberty.
The usage in the Bible is the same.
Job 24:8 says, “They are wet with the showers of the mountains, and embrace the rock for want of a shelter.” Here, the word want means ‘lack.’
Proverbs 9:4 says, “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding…” This does not mean that some people correctly desire understanding. This verse describes the person who is lacking in understanding.
So the word want is a simple little word. But be careful with it, or you may not even know what you want!