The Verb Saphad
The language of grief and mourning is incredibly rich in the Scriptures. One might think that having God on one’s side might limit or reduce the amount of grief felt, but it seems that God and grief fit into the same sentence very easily, both in sacred literature and in life. Today we explore the verb saphad and its cognate noun מִסְפֵּד (misped, “lamentation”; though the Hebrew word for the title of the Book of Lamentations is אֵיכָה, eykah, “how,” which is the first word of the Hebrew text of the book).
The first verse in which both saphad and misped appear is Gen. 50:10, “And they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and heavy lamentation, and he did seven days of mourning for his father.” The “he” in the verse is Joseph.
The words that are new are “threshing floor” (גֹּרֶן, goren); then “beyond” is עֵבֶר (eber); the Jordan is יַרְדֵּן; then we have misped; and finally is another word for “mourning” in the last phrase (אֵבֶל, ebel; the verb form of this is אָבַל, abal). When we look for one example of abal we find Gen. 37:34, and see how many words we know! “Jacob tore (qara) his garments (simlah) and put (sum) sackcloth (saq) on his waist (mothen) and mourned (abal) for (al) his son (ben).” Feeling better about the language?
I decided actually to explore misped. Esther 4:3 has the word. “And in every (kol) province (מְדִינָה, medinah) and medinah (i.e., everywhere) where (maqom, “place” and asher) there was a command (dabar) of the king (melek) and a decree (דָּת, dath) arrived (naga) there was great mourning (ebel gadol) among the Jews (יְהוּדִי, yehudi); many lay (יַצַע, yatsa) with fasting (צוֹם, tsom) and weeping (בְּכִי, beki) and misped and sackcloth (saq). The word dath is an unusual word for “decree/law.” Though it appears 21x in the Bible, 20 of these are in Esther alone. The verb for “fast” is צוּם, tsum. In the wrenching and powerful story of David and Bathsheba, David ends up fasting while the newborn child is on his deathbed. “While the child (yeled) was alive (chay) you fasted (tsum) and wept (bakah) but when (asher) he died (muth), you arose (qum) and ate (akal) bread (lechem). I better stop here or you will begin to think the language is TOO easy!
Distress finds a home in the Psalms, and we can see this in Ps. 30:11, “You have turned my mourning into dancing and clothed me with gladness.” “Turn” is הָפַךְ, chaphak and “dancing is” מָחוֹל, machol. Finally, “clothe” is אָזַר, azar. We have seen the word chul, which means to writhe or bend, and so we see how machol, dancing, can be derived from it. We are urged to praise (הָלַל, halal) the Lord’s name with dance (machol), with timbrel (toph) and harp (kinnor). Let them praise (זָמַר, zamar) him (Ps. 149:3). We hadn’t seen the words for praise, even though words for instruments and dance are now clear. Finally, Jer. 31:13 talks about how “you will rejoice (samach) in the dance (machol), both young men (בָּחוּר, bachur) and old (זָקֵן, zaqen). We have already seen the word for a young woman/virgin (bethulah).
Just a word on turning or changing (haphak). I think I need to devote an entire essay to it, but I can’t resist introducing its first biblical appearance, in Gen. 3:24. There we have the story of how God drove out (גָּרַשׁ, garash) the man, and placed him/made him dwell (shakan) to the east (qedem) of the garden (gan) of Eden (עֵדֶן) and where there was a cherubim (kerub) and a flaming (לַהַט, lahat) sword (chereb) which turned/whirled (haphak) . . .” We could seemingly go on interminably, but should stop here.
This was a brief lesson today, but still we got 22 new words. Read and learn them. See how they appear elsewhere in the Bible, and make them your own.