🔼The name Hobab: Summary
- Beloved, Embrace
- From an Arabic noun that means serpent.
- From the verb חבב (habab), to embrace.
🔼The name Hobab in the Bible
In Judges 4:11, Hobab is mentioned again, as ancestor of the Kenites and thus Heber the Kenite, whose wife Jael killed Sisera. The challenge here is that Hobab is called the חתן (hoten) of Moses and that word commonly described one's father in law. However, judging from similar words in cognate languages, the word חתן (hoten) merely implies that the person called such is one's father in law. The word actually refers to a person who performs circumcision. That in turn implies that the Midianite version of the ritual of circumcision served as a coming of age procedure, specifically in relation to a young man's intention to marry. The Hebrew rule was that a male had to be circumcised on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12), but with the exception of Isaac (Genesis 21:4), in Genesis circumcision is consistently performed on grown men rather than infants (Genesis 17:23-25, Genesis 34:15).
It appears that while in Egypt Israel failed to adhere to the rules of circumcision (Joshua 5:2), but this is certainly also due to Pharaoh's order of the murder of all male Hebrew babies, right after their birth (causing the customs and traditions surrounding the procedure to die out). When Moses was born, his mother Jochebed had hidden him for his first three months, which implies that he was ever circumcised and that explains why Moses had to be properly circumcised when he arrived in Midian and indicated to want to marry Zipporah.
Why Hobab and not Reuel performed the procedure on Moses isn't told. What we do know is that when Moses and his wife and their son Gershom left Midian, Moses heeded the Midian custom of adult circumcision and that appears to have been fine with YHWH as long as Moses was in Midian. When they entered the realm of Egypt, where Israel resided, YHWH sought to kill Moses on account of his uncircumcised son (Exodus 4:26). Zipporah quickly took a stone knife and circumcised her son, which appeased YHWH, and this reinstated infant circumcision to Israel.
🔼Etymology of the name Hobab
The name Hobab comes from the verb חבב (habab), to embrace or press near to one's bosom:
The verb חבב (habab) means to love, to warmly embrace or to passionately hold close. It occurs only once in the Bible, as does the derived noun חב (hob). This noun is commonly translated as "bosom" but the much more common word for bosom is חיק (heq), and the noun חב (hob) is probably more accurately rendered with "embrace".
The accidentally similar verb חבק (habaq) means to embrace in the sense of to huddle together. This verb is much less dynamic and emotional than the previous and emphasizes the search for prolonged collective strength or shelter. The noun חבק (hibbuq) describes a huddling together.
For a meaning of the name Hobab, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Beloved. BDB Theological Dictionary lists our name beneath the verb חבב (habab) but endorses a similarity with an Arabic noun that means Serpent. This makes sense since Midian was in Arabia, but the story was written for a Hebrew audience, and Hebrew scribes more often than not transliterated foreign names to fit a Hebrew meaning. NOBSE Study Bible Name List skips the name Hobab all together.