🔼The name Zobah: Summary
- Engagement, Collective, Beauty
- From the verb צבא (saba'), to be a collective.
🔼The name Zobah in the Bible
Zobah is the name of an area in Aram; its full name is Aram-zobah, but usually it's truncated to just Zobah. Only twice this name is spelled with an aleph (צובא or Zoba), namely in 2 Samuel 10:6 and 10:8, and once it's spelled צבה (2 Samuel 23:36). The other dozen occurrences are spelled with a he (צובה).
Zobah is solely mentioned in military contexts. King Saul fought Zobah and inflicted severe punishments (1 Samuel 14:47). King David defeated Hadadezer, son of Rehob, king of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:3) but also employed Igal, son of Nathan of Zobah (2 Samuel 23:36). About his struggles with Aram-zobah David wrote the poem that we now know as Psalm 60.
🔼Etymology of the name Zobah
The name Zobah probably comes from a language other than Hebrew, possibly Arabic. Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) sees relations with an Arabic verb that means to incline or depress, and (in his article on Aram-zobah) presumes that the area known as Zobah was somewhat shaped like an amphitheater.
A Hebrew audience, on the other hand, would probably have linked the name Zobah to the word צבא (saba'), meaning division or army, or to צבי (sabi), meaning beauty or honor:
The verb צבא (saba') means to ally; to combine and integrate. It describes the formation of a distinct group, its inner economy and its interactions with neighboring groups. It's often used for military encounters but certainly not restricted to that use. Noun צבא (saba') describes a group that functions internally and externally as a distinct unit: a team, a league, a sodality, a collective, an army division.
Verb צבה (saba) means to swell up, but tends to describe the growing, getting better organized and more thoroughly engaging of the troop described by noun צבא (saba'). Noun צבה (sabeh) mostly describes a physical swelling. Noun צבי (sebi) mostly describes a swelling in the social sense: a becoming more honored or increasing in perceived beauty. In later parts of the Bible the verb צבה (saba) may be used to mean to wish. Noun צבו (sebu) means "desired thing."
Noun צבי (sebi) describes a gazelle, and is identical to the one meaning beauty but may also reflect the gazelle's herd behavior. Noun צביה (sebiya) also means gazelle.
Noun צב (sab) probably stems from an otherwise unused root צבב (sabab) and means cart. It's unclear how it fits in but perhaps as a thing upon which to pile things? Identical noun צב (sab) is thought to describe a kind of lizard (listed as unclean), possibly also because this animal tended to congregate.
For a meaning of the name Zobah, Alfred Jones' Dictionary reads Depression, which is rather peculiar because for Aram-zobah Jones reads Syria Of The Theatre.
A Hebrew audience would possibly have heard a meaning of Collective, Beauty or Engagement.