Several Hebrew words and one Greek word are used in the Scriptures to denote thread, string, cord, and rope of various kinds. Most often employed is the Hebrew word cheʹvel. Cheʹvel is used both literally and figuratively to denote cord and rope. (2Sa 17:13; Ec 12:6; Ho 11:4) It can, among other things, signify a measuring “line” (2Sa 8:2) and thus is sometimes employed as a topographical term for a measured area, an “allotment” (Jos 17:5, 14; 19:9), or a “region.”
The only Greek word used in the Scriptures to signify rope is skhoi·niʹon, which is applied to a cord or rope and may denote a rope made of reeds or rushes. In righteous indignation, “after making a whip of ropes,” Jesus Christ “drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple,” evidently using the whip of ropes, not on the men, but on the animals.
Some cords and ropes of ancient times were made from flax, others from hemp fiber, the fiber of ramie, or that of the date palm. Strong, thick rope made of palm-tree bark fiber was discovered at Ezion-geber. Rushes and reeds of various kinds were also evidently used, and among the materials employed by the Egyptians were twisted leather strips that made a powerful rope. The fibers of ramie (Boehmeria nivea, an Asiatic plant of the nettle family) made a very strong rope, quite useful for fishnets.
Cords were sometimes used as articles of attire. For instance, Judah seems to have carried his seal ring on a “cord.” (Heb., pa·thilʹ [Ge 38:18, 25]) “Wreathed chains, in ropework, of pure gold” were put through the two rings at the extremities of the breastpiece worn by Israel’s high priest. (Ex 39:15-18) Palace articles of Persian King Ahasuerus included “linen, fine cotton and blue held fast in ropes of fine fabric.”
“Tent cords” (from Heb., meh·tharʹ) were used to fasten tents. (Isa 54:2; Ex 39:40) There were wagon “cords” (Heb., ʽavothʹ [Isa 5:18]) and cords used for “bowstrings.” (Heb., yetha·rimʹ [Job 30:11; Ps 11:2]) Ropes and cords were also used to bind captives. (Jg 15:13-15; Eze 3:25) Ropes served as tackling for ships. (Isa 33:23) Rahab was told to tie a “cord [from Heb. tiq·wahʹ] of scarlet thread [Heb., chut]” in the window so that she and her household might be spared during the destruction of Jericho.
Figurative Usage. The congregator said: “A threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two.” (Ec 4:12) By untwisting a cord made up of three strands, each strand alone can quickly be broken. But if they are plaited, the resulting “threefold cord” cannot easily be torn in two. Similarly, God’s servants entwined with one another, as it were, in unity of view and purpose have greater spiritual strength, such as is needed to cope with opposition. The congregator also urged remembering the Creator in youth, “before the silver cord is removed” (Ec 12:1, 6), “the silver cord” apparently meaning the spinal cord, the severing of which results in death.
David, referring to a time when a violent death appeared imminent and it seemed certain that Sheol awaited him, said “the ropes of death encircled me” and “the very ropes of Sheol surrounded me.” Apparently, he felt as if ropes had been cast around him and were pulling him down into the grave, drawing him into death and Sheol.
Isaiah said: “Woe to those drawing error with ropes of untruth, and as with wagon cords sin,” perhaps to indicate their attachment to error and sin in a way similar to that in which animals are bound with ropes, or by cords, to wagons they draw behind them.
In an act evidently symbolic of abject subjection and humiliation, defeated Syrians “girded sackcloth upon their loins, with ropes upon their heads, and came in to the king of Israel,” seeking Ahab’s indulgence toward Syrian King Ben-hadad II. Each may have worn a rope as a band around his head or his neck.
As pagan rulers and nations who did not want to become vassals of the Israelites gathered together against God and his anointed one in ancient times, so Messianic prophecy foretold that kings of the earth and high officials would mass together as one “against Jehovah and against his anointed one, saying: ‘Let us tear their bands apart and cast their cords away from us!’” Any restrictions imposed by Jehovah and his Anointed One would be opposed by the rulers and nations. However, their efforts to tear apart such bands and cast away such cords were to be futile.
Tent cords torn in two and thus no longer able to hold a tent erect are used figuratively in a description of desolation. (Jer 10:20) But there is prophetic assurance of just the opposite, restoration and Jehovah’s favor, in the words: “Behold Zion, the town of our festal occasions! Your own eyes will see Jerusalem an undisturbed abiding place, a tent that no one will pack up. Never will its tent pins be pulled out, and none of its ropes will be torn in two.”