🔼The name Ishpah: Summary
- Jasper, Guiding Fire At The Edge
- From the verb שפה (shapa), to sweep, shave bare or establish a border by means of beacon fires.
🔼The name Ishpah in the Bible
The name Ishpah (or Ispah or Jishpah according to some translations) occurs only once in the Bible. He is mentioned as one of the sons of Beriah of Benjamin who chased off the inhabitants of Gath (1 Chronicles 8:16).
🔼Etymology of the name Ishpah
The name Ishpah is spelled the same as the Hebrew word for jasper, which in turn looks like it comes from a verb שׁפה (shapa), which appears to have something to do with border-marking fire:
Root ספף (sapap) has to do with creating, marking or temporarily reaching through the border between two essentially distinct realms that nevertheless have a common origin; this border circles around the smaller of the two so that this smaller realm sits within the larger. It's the verb that describes any such formation from the palisade around a tribal territory to the fence around a single house, the skin of a person or even the cellular wall of a eukaryote.
Noun סף (sap) means threshold or sill (and is also the word for a kind of goblin or based bowl). Verb סוף (sup) means to come at an end. Noun סוף (sop) means end. Noun שפה (sapa) denotes the edge of things. Noun סופה (supa) describes a violent storm (perhaps a tornado, in form comparable to a goblin or based bowl).
Noun סוף (sup) refers to reed, which grows at, and thus marks the border between water and dry land. From reed comes papyrus, and books mark the border between the howling outer dark and the enlightened space within. The industrial production of papyrus, of course, was an absolute marvel and a milestone in information technology (easily comparable with the invention of floppies and dish drives in our age).
Verb ספה (sapa) means to sweep away (across the threshold, out the door) and so does verb שפה (shapa). The latter may also mean to skim, to shave or to border-mark by means of a protruding beacon or mark. From the latter comes the verb שפת (shapat), which describes some kind of setting or placing just outside the realm of civilization, and that usually by means of a ring of conspicuous, guiding and protecting fires. Proverbially, both the contagious and the extremely poor, and of course the shepherds, their flocks and wild animals abided on the dark side of these fires. The latter verb also yields noun שפי (shepi), which describes bones sticking through the skin of a emaciated man, or hills that likewise conspicuously mark some border, presumably in an otherwise flat landscape.
Verb שוף (shup) appears to mean to violate in the sense of illicitly entering one's personal space (or body). This verb became associated with the bite of a snake, and the noun שפיפן (shepipon) denotes some sort of snake, presumably one that attacks by darting from its burrow and then swiftly retreating.
Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names and BDB Theological Dictionary agree that our name derives from שׁפה (shapa). BDB interprets our verb with to sweep bare but doesn't interpret the name. Jones translates the verb with to be high or eminent (but as such runs in admitted trouble with the reference to Job's bare bones; Job 33:21) and translates our name with He Will Be Eminent.
Here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure that Ishpah's name commemorates what the prophet Daniel proclaimed about those with insight: they will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3). Ishpah means He Will Shine Conspicuously.
Note that the most formidable men from Gath were Goliath and his kin, among whom Saph, and the name Saph too comes from the group of words treated above.
The Bible isn't too concerned with military battles (it doesn't even mention the famous battle of Qarqar of 853 BC for instance) and much of the Bible's stories about journeys and conflicts with other peoples reflect intellectual battles. The Bible tells the story of the advancement of Yahwism, which is the quest for practical knowledge of creation in order to take care of creation.
Ishpah's father defeated the Gittites, which means that he knew something that the Gittites didn't (and it doesn't matter whether this was a military technique or something else; he out-competed them, which takes skill). Ishpah himself, if his name is any indication, worked to lure the less informed towards the light of insight, and thus peace and prosperity.