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The English word ward originated from an old Anglo-Saxon word that was pronounced as "ward" by some tribes of Anglo-Saxons and "gard" by others (the differences in English pronunciation are still very evident e.g. for tomato, some say tom-ay-toe while others say tom-ah-toe; the ancient Israelites also had their differences of pronunciation of words e.g. Shibboleth); hence ward and guard are actually the same word by origin. Ward is used by the King James Version to translate a Hebrew word, pronounced mish-mahr, that means the same thing as the English word, a guard, or a guarded place.

"they put him in ward, that the mind of The Lord might be showed them"

After being falsely accused by the wife of Potiphar, the Israelite patriarch Joseph (see also Children of Jacob) found himself imprisoned in the Pharaoh's ward, along with others who had been put there.


"And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward." (Genesis 40:1-4 KJV)

Ironically, after his rise to power in Egypt, Joseph had some of his brothers temporarily placed in perhaps the very same ward. Joseph's seemingly harsh treatment of them was because of what they did to him i.e. Joseph's brothers sold him as a slave (see Coat Of Many Colors).

"And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies: Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies. And he put them all together into ward three days." (Genesis 42:14-17 KJV)

In matters of The Lord's justice, the ward, or jail, was merely the place where an offender was held until his sentence was decided; prison was usually not the punishment itself, as in these examples of a blasphemer and a Sabbath breaker:

"And they put him in ward, that the mind of The Lord [see also YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD] might be showed them. And The Lord spake unto Moses [see also The Education Of Moses], saying, Bring forth him that hath cursed without The Camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of The Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of The Lord, shall be put to death." (Leviticus 24:12-16 KJV)

"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day [see "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy"]. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And The Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones [see Stoning] without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as The Lord commanded Moses." (Numbers 15:32-36 KJV)

The term "ward" was also used to refer to a section, whether of a place or people (modern day usage also has examples of this e.g. a hospital ward).

"All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of The Lord, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God, according to the king's order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman. So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of The Lord, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight. And they cast lots, ward against ward, as well the small as the great, the teacher as the scholar." (1 Chronicles 25:6-8 KJV)

"And the chief of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, ward over against ward." (Nehemiah 12:24 KJV)

In keeping with its meaning of guard, ward was also used to refer to a military or police unit or precinct, as in this example where Jeremiah was arrested while leaving the city, not to defect to the Chaldeans as he was wrongly accused, but rather to go to the Israelite land of Benjamin to get away from the corruption of Jerusalem (which is the reason that the Chaldeans / Babylonians were coming upon the city; see Why Babylon?).

"Then Jeremiah [see Jeremiah and Baruch] went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people. And when he was in the gate of Benjamin, a captain of the ward was there, whose name was Irijah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he took Jeremiah the prophet, saying, Thou fallest away to the Chaldeans. Then said Jeremiah, It is false; I fall not away to the Chaldeans. But he hearkened not to him: so Irijah took Jeremiah, and brought him to the princes." (Jeremiah 37:12-14 KJV)

Fact Finder: What happened when Herod imprisoned the apostle Peter in the "ward" (KJV)?
See Peter The Political Prisoner

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