🔼The name Ephai: Summary
- Bird-like, Coverer, Darkling
- From the verb עוף ('up), to use wings.
🔼The name Ephai in the Bible
The name Ephai occurs only one time in the Bible. Ephai the Netophathite is the (arch-)father of a group of men, who accompany Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, and a good few other men on their visit to Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, who is the appointed vassal over the cities of Judah in service of the king of Babylon. We probably only know about this event because the prophet Jeremiah was staying with Gedaliah at that time (Jeremiah 40:8).
Gedaliah does his best to persuade everyone that serving Babylon is really not a bad deal, and most people seem content with his explanations and take their leave. But Ishmael, son of Nethaniah and a thoroughly unpleasant fellow to boot, returns with ten men and assassinates Gedaliah and proceeds to slaughter pretty much everybody else.
🔼Etymology of the name Ephai
The name Ephai comes from the following root cluster:
The root עוף ('up) reflects the idea that in nature wings arose not with the objective to fly but rather with the objective to protect. Creatures that used their arms to protect their young attained an advantage over creatures that didn't, and eventually discovered that their desire to protect their young gave them the ability to fly. This is also the reason why angels have wings; not to fly with but to protect with.
The verb עוף ('up) essentially means to use wings. Obviously this results in our verb to mostly mean to fly or fly away, but once it means to be dark (which is what happens when wings cover chicks). Noun עוף ('op) denotes creatures that have wings: birds and insects. Noun עפעף ('ap'ap) means eyelid; the "wing" that covers the eye and thus causes darkness. Noun עיפה ('epa) means darkness. Nouns מועף (mu'ap), מועף (ma'up) and תעפה (teupa) mean gloom.
Verbs עיף ('ip) and יעף (ya'ep) mean to faint, or "go dark" in a consciousness sort of way. Adjective עיף ('ayep) means faint or exhausted. Adjective יעף (ya'ep) means weary of faint. Noun יעף (ye'ap) means weariness or faintness.
An identical but unused verb יעף (ya'ep) exists in cognate languages with the meaning of to ascend, and note that creatures that protect their young don't merely end up being able to rise up into the sky, but more importantly, they also ascend on a scale of success and prominence. It's no coincidence that birds are revered in all cultures. The derived noun תועפה (to'apa) does occur in the Bible and means eminence.
The letter י (yod) upon which our name ends, may either create an adjective (such-and-such-like), a possessive form (my such and such), or may be a remnant of יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH, or Yahweh.
For a meaning of the name, NOBSE Study Bible Name List goes with עוף I, figures the final י to be an adjective-maker, and reads Bird-Like. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names leans towards the root עיף II, deems the י to be a remnant of יהוה and reads Wearying Of The Lord. BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't interpret this name but does list it under the root עוף II / עיף I ('up), and would probably agree with translations like Dark or Darkling.