🔼The name Zarephath: Summary
- Blast Furnace, Workshop For Melting And Refining Metals
- From the verb צרף (sarap), to smelt, refine and test (metal).
🔼The name Zarephath in the Bible
The Phoenician village of Zarephath belonged to Sidon and was located in the northern extremity of Canaan (Obadiah 1:20). It is famous for being the hometown of a certain widow to whom YHWH sent Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17:9).
Elijah had pronounced a three year draught to king Ahab, and went to live by the brook Cherith until it dried up. When that happened, YHWH instructed the widow of Zarephath to expect a visit from Elijah and Elijah went on his way. The two met, but the widow explained that she had next to nothing to eat. Elijah instructed her to give him first whatever she had left, and afterwards there would be food in miraculous abundance, until the rains came back (1 Kings 17:14).
But even with all the food and the presence of the man of God, the widow's son became ill and was about to die. The widow finally lost her patience with Elijah, but he did something elaborate to the boy (and it isn't clear whether this was purely a ritualistic act or rather an old-world medical procedure combined with prayer) and the lad returned to health.
These stories are familiar to most readers of the Bible, but they contain far more portent than meets the eye. When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth, and explained that the Scriptures were fulfilled that day, his audience was more than pleased with what he said (Luke 4:22), but when he mentioned Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:26, now spelled Σαρεπτα, Sarepta, as some translations read) those present were filled with rage and drove Jesus up a hill in order to throw him off it (Luke 4:29). See for a brief discussion of what this might mean, our articles on the names Nazareth and Nazarene.
🔼Etymology of the name Zarephath
The name Zarephath comes from the verb צרף (sarap), meaning smelt, refine or test:
The verb צרף (sarap) describes the metallurgic process of smelting, refining and testing metals, and since metallurgy requires thorough technological sophistication, it often symbolizes knowledge, productivity and efficiency at large.
Noun צרפי (sorepi) describes the metallurgic guild. Noun מצרף (marep), literally means place, instrument or agent of metallurgy and probably refers to a furnace or smelting pot.
For a meaning of the name Zarephath, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads a rather elaborate but quite correct Workshop For Melting And Refining Metals and BDB Theological Dictionary proposes Smelting Place. NOBSE Study Bible Name List does not interpret this name.
The story of Zarephath obviously tells about quite a bit more than just some widow in a bad fix. It confirms the importance of the Phoenicians where the development of Yahwism is concerned, and blatantly revisits the theme of the Phoenician's widow's son (the first one being Hiram, the builder of Solomon's house and Temple) and culminates in Jesus, the ultimate Builder of the Temple.