🔼The name Baal-zephon: Summary
- Lord Of The Hidden Things, Lord Of The North, Lord Of Darkness
- From (1) the verb בעל (ba'al), to be lord, and (2) the noun צפון (sapon), north or darkness, from the verb צפן (sapan), to hide.
🔼The name Baal-zephon in the Bible
The name Baal-zephon is associated to the place where Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds, near Pi-hahiroth and Migdol (Exodus 14:2 and 14:9, spelled בעל צפן). At some early point in their wanderings, Moses led Israel back to Baal-zephon (Numbers 33:7, spelled בעל צפון).
It's not clear whether Baal-zephon is a city or a center of worship of a god named such. The wording is peculiar and seems to favor the idol perspective. In their treatment of the verb צפן, BDB Theological Dictionary carefully submits that our name is "perhaps" the name of a deity, but does not elaborate. Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) is more confident and declares Zephon to be the same as the Egyptian god Typhon, better known as Set.
Note that for undisclosed reasons, the name of Gad's son Ziphion evolved into Zephon.
🔼Etymology of the name Baal-zephon
The name Baal-zephon consists of two parts. The first part is the familiar word בעל (ba'al), Baal, meaning lord or master:
The verb בעל (ba'al) means to exercise dominion over; to own, control or be lord over. The ubiquitous noun בעל (ba'al) means lord, master and even husband, and its feminine counterpart בעלה (ba'ala) means mistress or landlady.
God is obviously called 'lord' all over the Bible and the sin of the Baal priests (1 Kings 18:40) was not that they called upon some other deity but rather their incessant howling of the word 'lord' without any further responsibility or effects (see Matthew 7:21 and 11:4-5).
The second part of the name Baal-zephon — the way it is transliterated (or perhaps translated) — shows a close resemblance of the common Hebrew noun צפון (sapon), meaning north, but definitely refers to all things hidden:
Verb צפה (sapa) speaks of covering, whether a literal covering of an item with an overlay like gold or the figurative covering of watchman's surroundings by his watchful gaze. In cognate languages this verb also means to hope.
Noun צפיה (sippiya) means lookout post and noun מצפה (mispeh) means watchtower. Noun צפוי (sippuy) means plating, noun צפית (sapit) means rug or carpet, and noun צפת (sepet) refers to the plated capital of a pillar.
Verb צוף (sup) means to flow or float on top of something else. Noun צוף (sup) describes a honeycomb, or rather the structure of hexagonal cells upon which honey floats. Verb צפה (sapa) means outflow.
Verb צפן (sapan) means to hide or store up. Nouns צפין (sapin) and מצפון (maspon) describe a mass of predominantly static wealth. Noun צפון (sapon) means north, as for unexplained reasons the Bible considers the north a place of gathering. Noun or adjective צפוני (seponi) means northern or northern one.
Verb שפן (shapan) isn't used in the Bible but in cognate languages it means to hide. Noun שפן (shapan) describes a kind of cud-chewing, rock-dwelling animal with no divided hoofs, commonly (rather oddly) interpreted as rock-badger or Coney (rabbit).
The name Baal-zephon most literally means Lord Of The Hidden Things and may even refer to esotericism: the deliberate keeping away of knowledge from the uninitiated. The Creator, of course, doesn't entertain a culture of elites and secrecy but invites everybody to get down with everything there is to know.
For a meaning of the name Baal-zephon, NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with the secondary meaning of צפון as indicated by BDB Theological Dictionary, and reads Lord Of Darkness. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names: Lord Of The North, or Place Of Typhon. BDB Theological Dictionary does not translate this name.