Finishing on Saphad and Misped
In this section of the Hebrew course, I have decided to focus on individual words of significance in the Bible and see how they are used in a variety of contexts. They usually bring along with them many familiar words, but they also take us on the most interesting journeys to new terms. I looked at saphad (“mourn/lament”) but got so caught up in a few of its avenues that I didn’t finish going down the main boulevard. Hence, we begin with a few more of saphad’s appearances.
Finishing on Saphad/Misped
Is. 32:12 appears in a passage addressed to the “women at ease” who, you guessed it, shouldn’t be at ease. Terrible things will happen. Verse 12 talks about some of them: “Mourn upon (saphad) (your) breasts (שַׁד, shad), upon the pleasant (חֶמֶד, chemed) fields (sadeh, note the near-identical form with shad), upon the fruitful (פָרָה, parah) vine (גֶּפֶן, gephen).” Language of incredible richness is contrasted with the simple command to “mourn.” We feel the grief of the writer and the recipients.
Of course, the trip down “mammary lane” by examining “breasts” (shad) is a most delightful one for many people. Suffice it to say that the word shad appears 24x in the Bible, with a (disproportionate) 1/3 of them in the Song of Songs. One can “lie” (lun, really “to spend the night,” which we have seen) between (ben) my breasts (shad; S of S 1:13).” Then, in 4:5 we have “your two (shenayim) breasts (shad) are like two (shenayim) fawns/young harts (עֹפֶר, opher), twins (תָּאוֹם, teom) of a gazelle/deer (צְבִיָּה, tsebiyyah) that pasture/graze (רָעָה, ra'ah) in the lilies (שׁוּשַׁן, shushan).”
A few comments on the “breasts detour.” First, we are now plunged deep into poetical work, and the words are delightful but quite different from what you encounter in historical or legal narratives. But just as many a person doesn’t mind lingering over breasts, sometimes for an inordinate length of time, so it repays our effort to linger over the words that become associated with breasts. I love the “lodging” word (lun). The word for lily (shushan) has such a delightful ring to it. Linger over the animals; the number is finite. But then we have words that look like other words, and that is what makes Biblical Hebrew a bit more of a challenge than we would like. For example, opher (“fawn”) looks precisely like aphar (dust)—only the vowels, written above and below the word, are different. The word for grazing (ra’ah) looks so similar to shepherd and evil and a host of other words that one might just have to make a lesson trying to tell the difference among all these words. But we are the grateful recipients of nine new words.
I realized that I can look up appearances either of saphad (32x) or misped (14x) because both take us on similar journeys. I love the way that verbs are piled up in Jer. 4:8, sophisticated verbs that we are beginning to learn: “At (al) this (זֹאת, zoth) gird on (chagar) sackcloth (saq), lament (saphad) and wail/howl (יָלַל, yalal) for the fierce burning (חָרוֹן, charon) of God’s anger (aph) has not turned back (shub). We don’t have many new words in Is. 22:12, but there are some familiar ones: the Lord (adonai) God (yahweh) of hosts (tsaba) has called (qara) in that (הוּא, hu—I realized I hadn’t yet done this pronoun, which can mean “he” or “that”) day (yom) for weeping (beki) for mourning (misped) for baldness (קָרְחָה, qorchah) for girding (chagar) with sackcloth (saq).
In Jer. 6:26 we have more lamentation going on. “Daughter (bath) of my people (am), gird yourself/dress (chagar) in sackcloth (saq) and roll about/wallow in (פָלַשׁ, palash) ashes (aphar) mourning (abal) as for an only child (יָחִיד, yachid). Make for yourself (asah) most bitter (תַּמְרוּר, tamrur) lamentation (misped) for (kiy) suddenly (פִתְאוֹם, pithom) will come (bo) the plunderer (shadad) upon (al) us. The word pithom expresses the idea of suddenness, as does the 7x appearing word which probably is really the same word: פֶתַע, petha. The two of them appear together (petha pithom) in Num. 6:9. In fact, that is a very interesting verse on the life of a Nazirite and his vows. He has to stay away from corpses. “If (kiy) someone dies (muth is repeated—actually/certainly dies) beside (al) him very suddenly (petha pithom), and he makes unclean (tame—two syllables, which we have seen) his consecrated (נֶזֶר, nezer) head (rosh), then he shall shave (גָּלַח, galach) his head (rosh) in the day of his cleansing (טָהֱרָה, tahorah; we have seen the verb for cleansing taher) and on the seventh day (sheba + yom) he shall shave (galach) it.
Finally, let’s conclude with one more mention of misped, from Mic. 1:8. More lamentation, of course. “On account of this (al + zoth) I will wail/mourn (saphad) and howl (yalal) and I will go (halak) naked (עָרוֹם, arom) and barefoot (שׁוֹלָל, sholel; though the meaning of this isn't perfectly clear. The verb from which it is derived, שָׁלַל, shalal, means “to capture/loot/plunder” in its sixteen appearances), and I will make a wailing (misped) like the jackals/great sea monster (תַּנִּין, tannin, which made its first appearance in Gen. 1) and a mourning (ebel) like the ostriches (יַעֲנָה, yaanah).”
Phew. Another really productive day, this time yelling us 25-26 words, but neatly coming from the womb of lamentation, and adding to our store of words.