Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
נפח פוח יפח
The three verbs נפח (napah), פוח (puah) and יפח (yapah) all have to do with breathing. This cluster appears to deal mostly with exhaling, whereas the verb רוח (ruah) appears to be mostly associated to inhaling. That means that רוח (ruah) mostly represents the global reservoir of resources that is available to everyone and the chunk of it which an individual absorbs for himself. Our cluster then reflects what an individual does with his share of the resources, before it is given back to the continuum.
The verb נפח (napah) means to blow or exhale forcefully. It's used a mere fifteen times in the Bible but its usages reveal great significance. Our verb is used most often to describe the blowing into a fire in order to get it to burn hotter (Job 20:26, Jeremiah 1:13, Ezekiel 22:30). But it's also the verb that's used to describe how the breath — נשמה (neshama) — of life entered Adam; YHWH blew it into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7, also see Ezekiel 37:9), and twice to describe how it leaves someone (Jeremiah 15:9, Job 31:39). This usage helps to clarify the difficult Hebrew concept of נפש (nepesh), broadly denoting a living being.
Once our verb is used in a decidedly negative way. In Malachi 1:13, YHWH complains how Israel has blown at his Name. This particular usage of the act of exhaling is continued in the verb פוה (puah), see below.
This verb comes with the following derivatives:
- The masculine noun מפח (mappah), meaning a breathing out (of life; Job 11:20 only).
- The masculine noun מפח (mappuah), meaning bellows (Jeremiah 6:29 only).
- The masculine noun תפוח (tappuah), denoting some kind of fruit or fruit-tree, but see the discussion below:
Most interpreters translate the noun תפוח (tappuah) with apple(-tree), assuming that our verb נפח (napah) works the same as רוח (ruah), which also means to be fragrant. Here at Abarim Publications we disagree with that. Words out of this cluster are first of all not associated with smell (which would require inhaling), and secondly, an apple doesn't stand out enough to be known for its odoriferousness.
Our noun occurs six times in the Bible. It's mentioned in passing in Joel 1:12 and in Proverbs 25:11 a word spoken in the right circumstance is likened to tappuah made of gold and set in silver. More telling descriptions and applications occur in the Song of Solomon:
Early in the story, the Bride likens the Groom among young men to an tappuah-tree among the trees of the forest, with fruit sweet to her taste (2:3) and sighs, "refresh me with tappuah, because I am love sick" (2:5). Later the Groom hopes that the scent (ריח, reah) in her nose will be that of tappuah (7:9).
In the grand final of this marvelous poem, the Groom submits: "Beneath the tappuah-tree I aroused you" (8:5; and yes, the verb is עור, 'ur, meaning to arouse or excite or even to expose or to make naked).
Ergo: whatever genus of fruit the word תפוח (tappuah) may denote, it was known for its aphrodisiac qualities, possibly comparable with the fruit called דודי (duday), with which Rachel acquired Jacob from Leah (Genesis 30:15).
The verb פוח (puah) means to blow or exhale, and that to the point of exhaustion. This verb occurs fifteen times in the Bible, seven times in Proverbs where it six times describes an exhaling of lies (Proverbs 6:19, 12:17, 14:5, 14:25, 19:5, 19:9). In Proverbs 29:8, "men of scorn puah a city," which probably means that they exhaust the city with lies and is possibly comparable to the intensifying of a fire using the previous verb נפח (napah). In a similar vein, a wicked man puahs his vexers (Psalm 10:5) and YHWH will puah the sons of Ammon with the fire of his wrath (Ezekiel 21:31).
Our verb is not negative in essence, but clearly conveys a becoming exhausted. Psalm 12:5 famously reads, "I will set him in the safety for which he puahs," and Habakkuk 2:3 tells of a vision that puahs till the end (either till its own end or the end of time; it's not clear).
Rather spectacular is the usage of our verb in the amatory metaphors of the Song of Solomon. The Bride first reports how the Groom pastures his flock among the lilies, while she longs for the day to puah and the shadows to flee (2:17). Then the Groom notes that the Bride's breasts are like two fawns feeding among the lilies, until the day puahs, the shadows flee, and he can go up to the mountain of myrrh — מור (mor) — and the hill of frankincense (4:6; obvious references to the mons pubis). Finally the Bride exclaims: "Awake north! Come south! Puah my garden — גן (gan) — and let its spices flow. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat its excellent fruits". (4:16).
This verb's sole derivative is the masculine noun פיח (piah), meaning soot. This noun occurs only in Exodus 9:8 and 9:10, where Moses throws the soot in the air which will eventually produce the boils of the sixth plague.
The verb יפח (yapah) is a rare by-form of the previous verb פוח (puah). It's used only once, in Jeremiah 4:31, where the daughter of Zion gasps for breath like a woman in labor. Its sole extant derivative is the adjective יפח (yapeah), which is used only in Psalm 27:12: "false witnesses and a yapeah of violence".