Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are two roots of the form חפר (hpr) used in the Bible, and the same identical duo appears in Arabic. Perhaps these two roots are fundamentally separate, but it seems more likely that the meaning of one specialized in one application, which evolved into its own verb:
The verb חפר (hapar) means to dig or search for, and in used in much the same way as we use the verb to dig. Digging may be done either to unearth and extract something or to deposit and cover something.
In the first category belongs the digging of a well to extract water (Genesis 21:30), or the digging for treasures (Job 3:21; which also suggest that death can be dug for). This first category gave rise to its own specialization, namely in the meaning of to search for or survey: The king of Jericho informed Rahab about spies "digging" around in the land (Joshua 2:3), a perched eagle "digs" for food far below (Job 39:29), and Job "digs" around and rests securely (Job 11:18).
In Jeremiah 13:7, the prophet first hides a waistband in the crevice of a rock, and then goes back to "dig" for it, which seems to demonstrate that this verb doesn't only cover a search for something allusive but also for something we know is there. In Job 39:21, the Lord tells of the horse which "digs" the valley. It's not clear what this horse is doing, but commentators figure that it scraping its hoof on the ground (an Arabic noun meaning hoof is related to our verb), although it may simply be clumping about the valley floor eating as it goes.
To the second category belongs the digging of a trap for someone (Psalm 7:15, Ecclesiastes 10:8), or the digging of a latrine (Deuteronomy 23:14; see our commentary on the incredible significance of the Old Testamentary latrine).
- What scholars assume is a derivative of this verb occurs only in Isaiah 2:20: the feminine noun חפרפרה (haparpara), assumed to mean mole (literally a digger).
The verb חפר (haper) means to be abashed or ashamed. The large majority of its seventeen occurrences are tied to the more frequently occurring verb for being ashamed: בוש (bosh; Micah 3:7, Isaiah 54:4, Proverbs 19:26). This latter form has the appearance of being related to the verb יבש (yabesh) meaning to be or become dry. All this suggests that the Hebrews associated dryness with shame: a dry river was known as a lying river (see כזב, kazab, meaning to lie) and the word for instruction (Torah) comes from the same root as the word יורה (yoreh), meaning rain. Another word from that same root is מורה (moreh), which either means rain or teacher.
The meanings of our verb חפר (haper) appear to fall in two similar categories as the verb חפר (hapar) meaning to dig. Shame is either sought to be buried or covered, or else it's brought about by something that exposes something shameful.