Meaning of הָפַךְ in Jonah

Ugh. I woke up with a cold this morning. Please forgive this somewhat out of context excerpt from an assignment I did regarding the meaning of a Hebrew word found in the Book of Jonah: הָפַךְ

You can look over my further meanderings here: Assignment(7)

Question: What is at issue as regards the meaning of הָפַךְ (Hapek)?

As mentioned in class, whether, in this context, the word Hapak means destruction or change changes the interpretation of the book of Jonah: Did Jonah’s prophecy come true? If Jonah’s prophecy was that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days, then he was not a prophet of God. However, given the alternative translation of Hapak, if Jonah’s prophecy was that Nineveh would be changed, then he would not have been shown to be a false prophet.

Furthermore, given that the Ninevites hoped for God’s “compassion” even while believing God had already declared that they would “perish,” could an ambiguity not have been in God’s ultimate plan? Would God purposely hide the meaning of his words so as to accomplish his words?

Though this isn’t really a part of the question of “significant issue(s),” perhaps there is a nesting of meanings: in a sense, to change something is to destroy what that something was. From a point of view, a repentant Nineveh is a destroyed Nineveh: The Nineveh before is not the Nineveh after. If the word is destroy, then it can concurrently be change, but radical change. Perhaps both meanings of the word are true in this context.

If the word means destroyed, and God relented of the destruction, what should we say? In Jonah 3:10, what God relents of is not Hapak. Is it possible that Hapak was meant to be ambiguous? that the prophecy was in fact a crossroads for Nineveh? Was it implicit within the prophecy that Hapak must have one meaning? The analogy of quantum position seems to be in order where, until a later time, the position of say a photon is undetermined until it is observed: Could the meaning of Jonah’s prophecy have only been truly understood once observed? This would seem to fit prophecies like those found in the books of Daniel and Revelation, however, those prophecies seem to be an entirely different form than the one found in the book of Jonah.


  1. Hello Doc, I actually can read Hebrew and I’m pretty sure that is the letter “fay” in the middle (not “pay”) which would make the word hafak or haphak, which means to turn around, to turn back, to change around yourself…I believe. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re completely right. I wrote it Hapek because that is the way it is presented in the concordance I used. The pronunciation guide in the same concordance said to pronounce it Haphek. I don’t know why, but it seemed the general tradition to write the Hebrew word as Hapek in English, but to just pronounce it Hafek. IDK? It was probably translated wrong long ago, and now that we know how to pronounce the word, the tradition of spelling it in English looks wrong. I’ve seen texts using the spelling Haphek as well.

      And yes, the literal meaning of Hapek is to turn/turn around. The question is how the word is being used in the context of Jonah. Our class spent weeks arguing over this, and the general propositions are either destruction or change, i.e. to figuratively turn around, repentance, or to figuratively be overturned, destroyed.

      Its a complex issue about a complex book of the Bible, one upon which many scholars debate. Was Jonah a false prophet? Does God give misleading prophecies? What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello. So, one reason I came to Islam (among many) is that yes the Torah and the Bible were revealed through Prophets from God. We believe this. But the translation of those was changed and altered and also accidentally mistranslated by its followers, even to the point where The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was mistaken to be a deity in a mistranslation, which Islam makes clear he was not a deity. He was a man and a wonderful beloved prophet. God has no offspring and God has no partners. There is one God only. God sends prophets but God does not make children. If Jesus was divine, and an offspring, that would mean Adam is an offspring too because Adam (peace be upon him) had no mother or father at all. The Quran remains in its original Arabic to this day and so there is no question and confusion about what it says. It was God’s mercy to once-and-for-all make clear everything and ensure that His words would not be changed. So, in chapter 10 of the Quran entitled Jonah, verse 98 says- “If only a single town had believed and benefited from its belief. Only Jonah’s people did so, and when they believed, We relieved them of the punishment of disgrace in the life of this world, and let them enjoy life for a time.” So Jonah (peace be upon him) was definitely a legitimate real prophet sent from God to warn his people to believe in the one true and only God and they listened. Other prophets, like Noah (peace be upon him) his people did not listen when he warned them about God and so God drowned the disbelievers who heard Noah’s message and turned away.

        I hope I have not offended or said anything off in anyway. I put this comment here in all sincerity and mean it with all respect. I hope you have a great rest of your evening. Thanks for your posts!


        1. There’s is little anyone can do to offend me, and I am very grateful that you and I can openly dialogue. However, it is getting late for me, and I would be remiss to not give a more in depth response to your comment than what I am able to write now. I think, though, I’ll use your comment as the impetus for a future post.

          My off the cuff response would be that Jesus is God. However, going into a full defense of the Bible, the Trinity, and Christianity in general, is too much for the comments section. However, I think I can clarify what is generally meant when Christians say Jesus is God, that is to say, explain what the Trinity is.

          The Trinity is an attempt to describe God, and to understand why God creates. The fundamental claim is that God is love. To have love requires a lover and an object of love. So, the basic idea is that the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The three parts then are the Father, the Son, and the relationship between them, the Holy Spirit. The three are one in essence. God is singular in essence but three in person. Anyway, I’m trying to pull this all from memory while fighting off a cold. I hope to give a better answer this weekend.

          Generally, whether Jesus is God is a very important question. The Trinity is an explanation of how Jesus could be God and God still be one. The reasons Christians claim Jesus is God is biblical though, and textual criticism, the reasons why the Bible is trustworthy, is somewhat out of my expertise: the main arguments revolve around the wealth of manuscripts available for study, some of which are dated very close to the time of Christ.


        2. Hey, I want you to know that I am still working on a more thorough response to your comment and hope to have it ready by tomorrow. However, I want to warn you that it is getting out of hand and may be far more than you bargained for. I apologize. (It may or may not reach 2,000+ words soon.) I wanted to share my opening with you though:

          Okay, so you brought up a few different points, and I want to give answers to them; before I do, however, I’d like to pontificate a little regarding our positions: We are both believers, and I assume we have both experienced the spiritual. We both want to serve God, the one true God. Our goals, in this sense, are united. Our divisions come in points of fact: Primarily, the question regards Jesus. The tricky part comes in that, wanting each other’s good, we both run the risk of stepping on the other’s toes. I think myself sufficiently thick skinned that I would encourage you to be open with me, but I, conversely, am unsure how far is too far as I respond to you. I hope then, as I try to respond, you understand that what I herein write is written in honest affection, desiring good for both our sakes.

          I hold you in my prayers (and myself for that matter) that greater and deeper knowledge of God will come through through this dialogue. I hope we may both do each other good out of love.


          1. That is a beautiful opening and I respect you greatly for it. I am honored at the time and care you are taking to speak about the most important subject there is: God. Thank you so much. You can write your response as long as you need it to be and I will read all of it. Thanks again!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I forgot to answer your question about does God send misleading things. God definitely makes some things crystal clear and other things ambiguous because it is not for us to know. There is some reason we aren’t supposed to know all the details. It is commanded to us to believe in the One and Only God with the subtle and present signs he gives us and nothing more. If he told us anymore, then there would be no test in order to see who is faithful and brave and who isn’t. If it was too clear, everyone would obey God absolutely as the angels do and there would be no test or purpose that he has created for us anymore.


  3. I’m enjoying reading true intelligent debate amongst Christian and Muslim. This is what many strive for and can’t (mostly won’t) achieve. As Christian, I believe in our word(although its flawed by language translation ) and seeing how the commenter above is able to relate the two works shows tolerance and understanding that there’s correlation. We are of the same tribe through Abraham as it’s mentioned in Genesis, with mostly all the same main characters just different titles.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are right to say that I have never seen you (or any Dr.) ramble so! What is your doctorate in? I am beginning to think some sort of manipulative medicine!

    However, I do like things that take us beyond Theology 101, and therefore your question: “Furthermore, given that the Ninevites hoped for God’s “compassion” even while believing God had already declared that they would “perish,” could an ambiguity not have been in God’s ultimate plan? Would God purposely hide the meaning of his words so as to accomplish his words?”

    What makes this beyond a 101 level class, doc? The fact that insecure persons will suppose you just accused God of something, whereas, God’s toolbox is immense and His approach beyond finding out (for creativity/wisdom). Thanks for the provoking question on which to ruminate.

    Liked by 1 person

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