🔼The name Mizpah: Summary
- From the noun מצפה (mispeh), watchtower, from the verb צפה (sapa), to cover.
🔼The name Mizpah in the Bible
There are two Biblical names spelled מצפה; one which the Masoretes punctuated as Mizpah and one which they deemed Mizpeh. Why they made this distinction isn't clear, but they also weren't very consistent. At least two of the Mizpahs are also known as Mizpeh. It's not clear how many different Mizpahs or Mizpehs there are but these are the candidates:
- When Laban and Jacob make a covenant of peace, they create a stone monument, which Jacob calls Galeed and Laban Jegar-sahadutha. The place where this happened becomes known as Galeed and Mizpah after Laban's statement, "May YHWH watch between you and me..". (Genesis 31:49).
- During the conquest of northern Canaan, the local kings form an alliance against Joshua and Israel. Among these allied nations are the Hivites of mount Hermon in the land of Mizpeh (Joshua 11:3), which is quite likely the same as the area called Mizpah by Laban and Jacob. Israel defeats the alliance as far as the valley of Mizpeh to the east (Joshua 11:8). Much later, Israel unites against the Ammonites at Mizpah in a series of battles that would result in the reign of Jephthah the judge, who lived in Mizpah (Judges 10:17). In Judges 11:29 this place is called מצפה גלעד or Mizpah-gilead. Nehemiah reports that after the return from exile in Babylon, men of Mizpah performed repairs for the governor beyond the river (Nehemiah 3:7). It's not clear which river or region Nehemiah means but perhaps the river is the Jordan and the region is the district of Mizpah, of which Shallum, son of Col-hozeh was one official (Nehemiah 3:15) and Ezer son of Jeshua another (Nehemiah 3:19).
- A city named Mizpeh is mentioned among the cities that were assigned to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:38). This city was possibly associated with the previous land of Mizpeh, and it's possibly the Mizpah referred to by the prophet Hosea (Hosea 5:1).
- Another city named Mizpeh was assigned to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26). This city too may or may not be associated to the previously mentioned land of Mizpeh. And this may also be the Mizpah where the Israelites gathered to fight Benjamin because of the murder of a certain Levite's concubine (Judges 20:1), and where later Samuel judged (1 Samuel 7:6). After Israel had defeated the Philistines, Samuel erected a monolith between Mizpah and Shen and called it Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12). At Mizpah Samuel identified Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 10:17). Much later, king Asa of Judah fortified Mizpah of Benjamin (1 Kings 15:22) and later still the seat of governor Gedaliah was located there (2 Kings 25:23, Jeremiah 40:10). This town is called מצפת, Mizpath, in 1 Samuel 7:5-7 and Jeremiah 40:6 to 41:1. In 1 Samuel 7:6 and Jeremiah 41:1 the two forms appear in one statement (which is not unusual).
- A place called מצפה־מואב or Mizpah-moab. This Moabite city is where David brought his parents when he was fleeing from king Saul (1 Samuel 22:3).
🔼Etymology of the name Mizpah
The name Mizpah is the same as the noun מצפה (mispeh), literally meaning "place of coverage":
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).
There are no two ways about it: the name Mizpah means Watchtower.