🔼The name Zephathah: Summary
- From the verb צפה (sapa), to cover.
🔼The name Zephathah in the Bible
The name Zephathah occurs just once in the Bible. It's the name of a valley in which king Asa of Judah came face to face with Zerah the Cushite and his army of a million men (2 Chronicles 14:10). More specifically: they met at Mareshah in the valley of Zephathah.
The situation being grim, Asa called out to YHWH and he ran the Cushites off. The Israelites gave chase and killed whoever they could catch and went on to destroy the region of Gerar too while they were at it.
🔼Etymology of the name Zephathah
The name Zephathah appears to derive off the verb צפה (sapa), meaning to cover:
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).
If our name indeed comes from either of our verbs צפה (sapa), it appears to be an older spelling (צפת, spt instead of צפה, sph) in turn made feminine with a final ה (he).
Of the sources we routinely consult, only Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) dares to propose a translation of our name, which is Watch-tower. But this seems to be a rather inconsiderate name for a valley, and perhaps this name isn't taken from the meaning of to lay out physically. That would give our name the meaning of Covered or Carpeted. With what exactly this valley would be covered remains a mystery, but it does seem to hint at a reason why Zerah and his army chose to be there.
Neither NOBSE Study Bible Name List nor BDB Theological Dictionary interprets our name. BDB ostensibly lists it alphabetically under צפת (spt), and not below either of the proposed verbs צפה (sph).