Several instruments of this description are so discriminated in Scripture as to show that the Hebrews had them of different forms and for various uses.
(1.) גִּרזֶן, garzen' (so called from chopping), which occurs in De 19:5; De 20:19; 1Ki 6:7; Isa 10:15; ἀξίνη, Mt 3:10; Lu 3:9; corresponding to the Lat. securis). From these passages it appears that this kind was employed in felling trees (comp. Isa 10:34), and in hewing large timber for building. The conjecture of Gesenius, that in 1Ki 5:7, it denotes the axe of a stone-mason, is by no means conclusive. The first text supposes a case of the head slipping from the helve in felling a tree (comp. 2Ki 6:5). This would suggest that it was shaped like fig. 3, which is just the same instrument as our common hatchet, and appears to have been applied by the ancient Egyptians to the same general use as with us. The reader will observe the contrivance in all the others (wanting in this) of fastening the head to the haft by thongs.
(2.) מִעַצָד, madtsad' (a hewing instrument), which occurs only in Isa 44:12 (where it is rendered "tongs") and Jer 10:3. From the latter of these passages it appears to have been a lighter instrument than the preceding, or a kind of adze, used for fashioning or carving wood into shape; it was probably, therefore, like figs. 4 to 7, which the Egyptians employed for this purpose. Other texts of Scripture represent such implements as being employed in carving images, the use to which the prophets refer. The differences of form and size, as indicated in the figures, appear to have been determined with reference to light or heavy work. The passage in Isaiah, however, as it refers to the blacksmith's operations at the forge, may possibly designate some kind of chisel.
(3.) קִרדֹּם, kardom' (from its sharpness); this is the commonest name for an axe or hatchet. It is of this which we read in Jg 9:48; Ps 74:5; 1Sa 13:20-21; Jer 46:22. It appears to have been more exclusively employed than the garzen for felling trees, and had therefore probably a heavier head. In one of the Egyptian sculptures the inhabitants of Lebanon are represented as felling pine-trees with axes like fig. 1. SEE LEBANON. As the one used by the Egyptians for the same purpose was also of this shape, there is little doubt that it was also in use among the Hebrews.
(4.) The term חֶרִב, che'reb (destroyer), usually "a sword," is used of other cutting instruments, as a "knife" (Jos 5:2), or razor (Eze 6:1), or a tool for hewing or dressing stones (Ex 20:25), and is once rendered "axe" (Eze 26:9), and there may probably mean a heavy cutlass, like fig. 2, or perhaps battle-axe, or possibly even pick-axe, as it is there used to denote a weapon for destroying buildings.
(5.) A similar instrument, כִּשִּׁיל, kashshil' (feller), is once spoken of (Ps 74:6) as a battle-axe. It also occurs in the Targum (Jer 46:22) in the sense of broad-axe.
(6.) Iron implements of severe labor, מִגזֶרָה, magzerah' ("axe," 2Sa 12:31), and מגֵרָה, megerah' ("axe," 2Ch 20:3; also in the same verse more properly "saw," and in 2Sa 12:31; 1Ki 7:9), were used by David in the massacre of the inhabitants of Rabbah, but their form cannot be made out. SEE SAW.
(7.) The word בִּרזֶל barzel', rendered "axe-head" in 2Ki 6:5, is literally "Iron;" but, as an axe is certainly intended, the passage is valuable as showing that the axe-heads among the Hebrews were of iron. Those which have been found in Egypt are of bronze, which was very anciently and generally used for the purpose. But this does not prove that they had none of iron; it seems rather to suggest that those of iron have been consumed by the corrosion of three thousand years, while those of bronze have been preserved. SEE HELVE.
(8.) The "battle-axe," מִפֵּוֹ, mappets' (Jer 51:20), was probably, as its root indicates, a heavy mace or maul, like that which gave his surname to Charles Martel. SEE BATTLE-AXE.
The most common use of the axe, as is well known, is to cut down trees; hence the expression in Mt 3:10, and Lu 3:9, "the axe is laid at the root of the trees" (comp. Silius Italicus, 10; also Virgil, AEn. 6:180; Isa 10:33). That trees are a general symbol of men is well known.
SEE FOREST; SEE TREE. (See also Eze 31:3; Da 4:7-8; Mt 7:19; Mt 12:33; Ps 1:3; Zec 11:1-2). What John Baptist therefore refers to is probably the excision of the Jewish nation. But there is a force in the preposition used here which escapes the ordinary reader: the expression πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται, denotes that it had already been struck into the tree preparatory to felling it, and now only awaited the signal for the utter vengeance of Heaven. The axe was also used as the instrument of decollation, to which there is allusion in Re 20:4, "The souls of them that were leheaded for the testimony of Jesus," literally, "cut with an axe." Hence the axe becomes a symbol of the divine judgments. Sometimes it is applied to a human instrument, as in Isa 10:15, "Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?" i.e. Shall the proud king of Assyria boast himself against God, whose instrument he is to execute his purpose? In Jer 51:20, the army of the Medes and Persians is most probably intended, as elsewhere the instrument of God's vengeance is called a sword, a rod, a scourge (see also Jer 46:22). By. axes, which were a part of the insignia of the Roman magistracy, was denoted the power of life and death and of supreme judgment. Axes were also used in war (Sidonius, Carm. El. 5, 247; Horace, Ode 4, 4 Carm. Secul. 54; Virgil, dan. 2, 480). Axes were used in sacrifice; hence called the axe of the Hierophant. These are seen on various coins (Smith's Hist. of Class. Ant. s.v. Securis).