top of page

Hebrew 36
The Verb Haphak 

Haphak is quite common, appearing 94x, and means to “turn” or to “overturn.”  We have already seen the first appearance of the word in Gen. 3:24, where the flaming cherubim turned in every direction (haphak; here it appears in the Hithpael, which adds a reflexive tone to it).  It appears 3x in Gen. 19, where it is used to describe the “overthrow” (haphak) of Sodom and Gomorrah, and a like number of times in Ex. 7, where it describes the Nile “turning” (haphak into blood) or a staff/rod (matteh) of Moses that was turned into a serpent (nachash).  These appearances give us a nuanced treatment of the word. 


It isn’t until we reach Lev 13, where it appears 9x, that we focus on yet a different kind of “turning”—where the skin of the body demonstrates various kinds of leprosy, because it has turned different shades of color.  Two verses will suffice to show that meaning (13:2-3). Let’s begin just with verse 2:  


“When a man (adam) has on the skin (or) of his body (basar) a swelling (seeth; from nasa, which means “to lift up.”  Therefore a skin eruption “lifts up/swells”) or a scab (sappachath, which we have also seen. The word only appears one other time, in Lev. 14:56, also with the triad of “swelling, scab, bright spot”) or a bright spot (bahereth; it appears 12x and all in Lev. 13 and 14), and it becomes (hayah) like a leprous (צָרַעַת, tsaraath) sore (נֶגַע, nega), then he shall be brought to (el) Aaron the priest (kohen) or (o) one (echad) of his sons (ben). . . .”


Of the three words describing the sore, only seeth (14x) appears outside of Lev. 13-14.  Its first appearance is in the difficult-to-translate Gen. 4:7, when God says to Cain, “Is it not the case that (halo) if you do well (yatab) there is seeth (some kind of “lifting up”); if you don’t do well (yatab), sin (chata) at the door (pethach) is lying (rabats). For unto you (el) is its longing (תְּשׁוּקָה, teshuqah) but you must rule (מָשַׁל, mashal) it/over it.”  A richly evocative passage, to be sure.   In the beautiful poem of Gen. 49, the word appears again, where Jacob speaks of his eldest/first-born (בְּכוֹר, bekor)  Reuben, “You are my strength (כֹּחַ, koach), and the beginning (רֵאשִׁית, reshith) of my might (אוֹן, on),  pre-eminent/abundant (יֶתֶר, yether) in dignity/lifting up (seeth). . .”  We see not only how the poetic works of Scripture gives us new and distinctive words. Yet the words highlighted are all very useful, and essential in building our understanding.  For example, reshith is the first word of the Bible. Nine new words already. 


But we really should return to Lev. 13, and the “leprous sore.”  The sore, nega, comes from the very common verb naga, to “touch/reach/strike.”  Its first appearance fixes it forever in our mind, for it is in Gen. 3:3, where the woman tells the serpent that they ought not even to “touch” (naga) the tree.  Nega frequently is rendered “plague” or “infection” but one of its appearances in Lev 13:42 adds a few words to us.  “If there is on his bald head (קָרַחַת, qarachath; we have already seen the word qorchah for “bald”; the verb “to be/make bald” is קָרַח, qarach) or bald forehead (גַּבַּחַת, gabbachath) a white (laban) and reddish (אֲדַמְדָּם, adamdan) sore (nega), it is leprosy (tsaraath) breaking out (פָרַח, parach). . .”


Then, a word about some appearances of tsaraath (“leprosy”). The basic verb “to be struck with leprosy/to be leprous” is צָרַע (tsara). It appears 20x in the Bible, the first of which is when Moses removes his hand from his garment and his hand was “leprous” (tsara) like snow (sheleg). In Lev. 22:4 we have a discussion about a man (ish), a descendant (zera) of Aaron and who is a leper (tsara) or has a discharge (זוּב, the verb zub means to “discharge” or “gush”) shall not eat (akal) of the holy offerings (qodesh) until (ad asher) he is clean (taher) . . .” Then it concludes by talking about a man with an emission (שְׁכָבָה, shekabah, from the verb “to lie down” or “a layer”) of  seed/semen (zera). 


Though we could spend our life looking at Leviticus, I want to return to haphak and pick up a few other references. In Jud. 7:13, in the Gideon (גִּדְעוֹן, gidon) story, we have the interesting mention of a dream (chalom) story overheard by some of Gideon’s people.  Someone “dreamed” (חָלַם, chalam) of a loaf (צְלוּל, tselul, a hapax) of barley (שְׂעֹרָה, seorah) bread that tumbled/turned (haphak) into the camp (מַחֲנֶה, machaneh)  of Midian.” We note that seorah (“barley”), which appears a healthy 34x in the Bible, is in hendiadys with “flax” (פִשְׁתָּה, pishtah) in Ex. 9:31.  Interestingly, in that passage, we have the seorah and pishtah being struck (nakah), because the seorah was in “its head/fresh or young ears” (אָבִיב, abib). I wanted to pause on abib because it is the name of the first month of the year—that it is also the “head” of barley makes the word nearly unforgettable. The flax, by the way (in Ex. 9:31) was “in the bud” (גִּבְעֹל, gibol, a hapax).


Well, this is enough for a day on haphak, and we may just need to begin tomorrow with it too.  24 new words.

Hebrew 37
Back to Biblical Hebrew Page 

bottom of page