“Nought” is an old-fashioned word that means “nothing” or “zero.” It appears several times in the King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible to describe something that is worthless, empty, or amounting to nothing. Let’s take a deep dive into the biblical meaning and significance of this intriguing word.
The word “nought” occurs over 20 times in the KJV Bible, while the NKJV uses it 16 times. It is mostly used in the Old Testament poetic and prophetic books. The Hebrew and Greek words translated as “nought” imply emptiness, worthlessness, nothingness, or vanity.
Here are some key takeaways we will explore in this post:
- The word “nought” conveys the meaning of absolute nothingness, emptiness, worthlessness, or vanity.
- It often refers to idols, false gods, wickedness, and human pride as being empty and worthless.
- Several verses use “nought” and “vanity” in parallel, suggesting they are synonymous.
- God will often bring the wicked plans and prideful boasts of evildoers to nought, showing their emptiness.
- We as humans are described as “of nought” and our days on earth as but a fleeting breath or vanity.
- But Jesus Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, gives meaning and significance to our lives.
- As Christians, we must avoid worthless idols and boasting, instead finding our worth in Christ.
Let’s now explore each of these takeaways in more detail…
Emptiness and Worthlessness
The fundamental meaning behind the word “nought” is that of absolute nothingness, emptiness, and worthlessness. It describes something that is so insignificant or worthless that it can be considered “nothing.”
The prophet Isaiah used the word in this way when he wrote:
They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed. Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nought? (Isaiah 44:9-10, KJV)
Isaiah is saying that idols are completely worthless and empty, amounting to nothing at all. Those who make and worship them become just as vain and worthless.
The psalms also use “nought” in this way:
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. (Psalm 115:4-8, KJV)
Psalm 115 is emphasizing that idols are empty objects made by human hands. Those who make and worship them become empty as well, “like unto them.” Trusting in these worthless idols leads to vanity and emptiness.
So the word “nought” means something that is absolutely empty, powerless, and devoid of any value or significance. It cannot help or save anyone.
Synonymous with Vanity
You may have noticed the word “vanity” appearing alongside “nought” in several of the verses above. This is because they are used synonymously in the King James Version.
For example, Psalm 33 reads:
The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. (Psalm 33:10, KJV)
The NKJV translates this as:
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. (Psalm 33:10, NKJV)
The phrases “none effect” and “no effect” have the same meaning of useless, worthless, or vain.
Ecclesiastes also uses “vanity” and “nought” in parallel:
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, KJV)
After finding meaninglessness in wisdom, pleasure, wine, work, and material possessions, the Teacher declares all of it to be “vanity and vexation of spirit” – a synonym for “nought.” All his striving led to nothing beneficial or profitable in the end.
God Brings Evil Plans to Nought
One striking way the Bible uses “nought” is to describe God frustrating the wicked plans of evildoers and bringing them to nothing.
For example, in Isaiah’s prophecy against the destruction of Jerusalem, God says:
Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:9-10, KJV)
Isaiah warned the nations not to attack Jerusalem, because the Lord would intervene and bring their evil plans to nothing, just as easily as breaking pottery.
Similarly, Nahum proclaimed against the wicked city of Nineveh:
Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. … Behold, I am against you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. Woe to the city of bloodshed! I will make it a desolate heap. She shall be emptied and despoiled, and be as a dried-up pool, as I destroy her with My mighty arm. (Nahum 3:1, 13-15, NKJV)
Though Nineveh seemed powerful, God declared He would reduce it to a worthless dried-up pool, bringing its wickedness to absolute nothingness.
When evil plans arise, God has the power to deflate human pride and utterly wipe out any schemes that oppose His righteous purposes. Our cleverness amounts to foolish vanity before the Lord Almighty.
Humanity as “Nought” Before God
Not only evil plans are declared as “nought” in Scripture, however. Humanity itself is described this way in several places, revealing our utter frailty and mortality before an eternal God.
For example, Job admonishes his friend Bildad:
How hast thou counselled him that hath no wisdom? and how hast thou plentifully declared the thing as it is? To whom hast thou uttered words? and whose spirit came from thee? Dead things are formed from under the waters, and the inhabitants thereof. Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them. (Job 26:2-8, KJV)
The “empty place” refers to the darkness and chaos that was over the face of the deep before creation (Genesis 1:2). Job is declaring that God “hangeth the earth upon nothing” – upon the void and emptiness.
In comparison to the eternal Creator God, humanity is like “nought.” Our lives are fleeting and transitory before the vastness of creation.
The psalmists also highlight our mortality using the word “nought”:
LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:4-5, KJV)
When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: surely every man is vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:11, KJV)
Our lives are fleeting, our beauty fading. When God rebukes us for sin, our frailty becomes quickly apparent. We are like moths, existing for but a moment before vanishing away.
The Vanity of Human Pride and Boasting
If our lives are so frail, then vain human pride and arrogance become exceedingly foolish. Yet we often fall into the trap of boasting about our plans and achievements.
The people of Shinar exhibited this hubris when they said:
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4, KJV)
In their prideful ambition, they sought to “make a name” for themselves by their tower. But the Lord brought this to nought, confusing their languages and scattering them (Genesis 11:5-9).
King Sennacherib of Assyria also boasted proudly against Jerusalem:
Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand? (2 Kings 18:32-35, NKJV)
Yet the Lord declared that He would defend Jerusalem, saying:
I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.” Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (2 Kings 19:34-37, NKJV)
Sennacherib’s arrogant words were rendered empty and vain. Not only was his attack thwarted, but he was struck down by his own sons upon returning home in humiliation. His boasting came to nought.
Over and over Scripture warns against the emptiness of human pride and ego. Only the Lord is worthy of praise.
Jesus Gives Significance to Our “Nought”
If human life is so fleeting and empty, amounting to “nought” before an eternal God, is there any meaning or purpose to our existence?
The Bible’s resounding answer is yes – because of what Jesus Christ accomplished through his sacrifice on the cross. The apostle Paul explains:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10, NKJV)
We were once empty, dead in sin, enemies of God without hope. Yet in His mercy, Jesus took our sin and punishment upon Himself, giving His life to reconcile us to God. He suffered, so that we could become spiritually rich, healed, restored, and adopted into God’s family.
Our human existence now overflows with meaning and purpose because of Christ’s sacrifice. What seems like “nought” to the world, God can transform into vessels of honor. The apostle Paul explained this to the Corinthians:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29, ESV)
As Christians, we must put no confidence in human wisdom or status – in worldly things that are “nought.” Rather, we trust in the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, who gave us value. Our security comes from what He accomplished, not what we can achieve.
Living Out Our New Identity in Christ
If you are in Christ, your identity now comes from being an adopted child of God. Despite our human frailty and mortality, we are heirs to God’s eternal Kingdom!
This radical truth should transform every area of our lives. Here are some ways we can live out our new identity:
- Worship God alone. No longer worship empty idols or seek meaning in worthless worldly pursuits. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
- Boast in the Lord. Don’t puff yourself up with pride and ego. “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).
- Clothe yourself in Christ. Remember your security is in His love. “To put off the old self with its practices and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
- Treat others with dignity. Those around you have immense worth as God’s image-bearers. “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
- Be generous. Share freely, knowing your eternal reward is secure in Christ. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
- Make knowing Jesus your highest goal. The rest will fall into place. “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord… that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
May the truth that we who were “nought” have now become loved children of God move us to live purposefully for His glory each day!
The obsolete English word “nought” occurs several times in the King James Bible, communicating the meaning of utter nothingness, emptiness, worthlessness, or vanity. It often describes the futility of idols, human pride, and evil schemes in the face of God’s power and eternity. Though humanity in its natural state is transitory as a fleeting breath before the Lord, Jesus Christ gave eternal significance to our existence through His sacrifice on the cross. As Christians, we must turn from empty idols and boasting to find our meaning, worth, and identity in Christ alone.