See if you can spot the difference in these two Hebrew phrases above.
Sunday morning we were reading Zephaniah 3:17, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;he will quiet you by his love;he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)”. The text of Zeph. 3:14-20 (especially in Hebrew) is the language of a loud and jubilant celebration. In this context, the phrase “he will quiet [you] by his love” in the middle of 3:17 seems startlingly out of place. When I looked at the Greek text to see if there might be any insights about why read as it did, I found that it read very differently i.e. it reads “He will renew you in his love[i].” In Hebrew the difference between these variants is a only single letter, and the two different letters that account for these variant readings are so similar that they are frequently misread. Adding more weight to the possibility that the Hebrew text may have long ago been mis-transcribed, the Syriac text also follows the Greek text[ii], providing a second ancient witness for this variant reading i.e. “He will renew you in his love[ii].”
This text above comes from Ps. 133 in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The text below is a transcription into modern Hebrew letters. Look at how similar the ר and ד are in this ancient text.
While most English translations follow the Hebrew text, several have felt that this variant is significant enough to mention in the foot notes, and the NET has opted to follow the Greek/Syriac texts, noting that “the MT (Hebrew text) reads, ‘he is silent in his love,’ but this makes no sense in light of the immediately preceding and following lines[iii].” The NET footnote mirrors my on thoughts as I read this passage i.e. “this makes no sense!” Given the textual evidence, and the context of this passage, I think it is very likely that the Greek text (a text used by the Apostles) has captured an original text that has since been lost in Hebrew.
God is celebrating because his people have been renewed in his love!
[iii] The MT reads, “he is silent in his love,” but this makes no sense in light of the immediately preceding and following lines. Some take the Hiphil verb form as causative (see Job 11:3) rather than intransitive and translate, “he causes [you] to be silent by his love,” that is, “he soothes [you] by his love.” The present translation follows the LXX and assumes an original reading ) יְחַדֵּשׁ y‘khaddesh, “he renews”) with ellipsis of the object (“you”). (NET NOTES on Zeph. 3:17)
There is a huge cultural chasm between our culture and the cultures of the Old Testament and that chasm is often presents obstacles as we seek to understand the text of Scripture. Translators of the OT face these obstacles in most passages of the OT as they try to communicate its words into English. To overcome these obstacle, translators look at ancient translations of the text, read ancient commentaries about the text, look at archeological evidence, look at variant texts, etc… to better understand the text they are trying to translate. And sometimes they are still left choosing between several possible alternatives. And even when meaning of a text is easily understood, it is still never as precise as our English translations of the text would make it appear. Biblical Hebrew uses a much smaller vocabulary (about 8000[i] words) than does English (about 1,000,000[ii] words). Furthermore, Old Testament Hebrew is a language that is rich with synonyms which further reduces its effective word count. To compensate for the much smaller vocabulary, most words in Biblical Hebrew have much broader ranges of meaning than do their English equivalents. For example, the same word in Hebrew can be translated “to carry, to lift, to support, to forgive, to marry, etc…” Additionally, there are far fewer verb tenses in Biblical Hebrew and they are much more fluid than they are in English. One of the challenges of Biblical Hebrew is trying to understand which verb tense was intended in a given text. For example, most translations of Hosea 1:10b read “And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.” Most people would be surprised to learn that the conjugated Hebrew verb for “it was said” and for “it shall be said” are identical in the Hebrew text. The change of tense was a choice made by the translator, and there is some debate about what tense was intended.[iii] The broad range of meaning of Hebrew words, and the fluid use of verb tenses are just a few of the challenges faced by biblical Hebrew scholars.
While Hebrew scholars often hold strong opinions about the intended meaning of the passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures, they also tend to approach scholarly debate with a lot of grace when challenging those who hold differing opinions because they also recognize how many questions are still unanswered. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your own position is critical to honest debate. When looking at the Genesis account, these scholars recognize that many of the questions we have about how and when creation took place are simply not answered as neatly as we might desire and, while they often have strong opinions about how these passages should be understood, they recognize that there is room for an abundance of grace for those who have come to different conclusions. When Hebrew scholars, who have spent a lifetime studying the language of the OT, are unwilling to make the kind of dogmatic assertions that are being made by people who have not studied the language, it should be a red flag that something is wrong.
There are a many good questions that should be asked as we approach the biblical account of creation, and good arguments can be made for a number of answers to these questions. Unfortunately the goal of some “creation ministries” has not been to prove that their answers to these questions are the best answers, but rather to prove that they are the only answers. In pursuing this goal, these ministries have often presented extremely flawed arguments in an attempt to force the text of Scripture into their mold. The problem is not that their suggested interpretation of the biblical text is unreasonable; the problem is that far too much energy is being spent trying to prove that all other interpretations are unreasonable instead of honestly looking at the text itself and recognizing where there is room for honest disagreement. Sometimes these ministries have acted like an overzealous cop who so strongly believes his suspect is guilty that he is willing to cross ethical lines and manufacture evidence in order to gain a conviction of a man who may be innocent. When proving that all other explanations of the creation account are invalid becomes the goal, it can lead to an overzealous desire to convict those who interpret these passages differently of mishandling Scripture. Intentionally or not, their over zealousness has far too often been the catalyst for false accusations that have been leveled against brothers and sisters in Christ.
I would like to examine an article written by Answers in Genesis that demonstrates how easily ethical lines can be crossed when the goal becomes “proving” all other explanations are wrong. The primary question being raised in this article is “Are there gaps in the Genesis genealogies?” This is a good question and there are good biblical scholars who validly disagree on the answer to this question. Answers in Genesis takes the position that there are no gaps in the early genealogies of Genesis, and while their answer is an entirely reasonable explanation of the biblical text, it is not the only valid explanation of the text. Problems arise in their argument, not because of how they understand the text, but because they have over zealously tried to “prove” that all other explanations are invalid. The focus of AiG’s argument is based on how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) should be understood. Some Hebrew scholars do support AiG’s understanding of these early genealogies in Genesis, but none will support AiG’s suggestion about how the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ must be understood. While AiG’s proposal, if true, would preclude any other understanding of these genealogies, it is not a proposal supported by Hebrew scholarship and it marks the point where AiG has begun to cross an ethical line. In order to defend their position, AiG must move farther still beyond a line that they should have never crossed. Let’s take a look at AiG’s six arguments.
Arguments 1 and 3
The genealogical information given in Genesis 46 presents a serious problem for those who suggest that the Hebrew root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can refer only to a direct descendant. In trying to defend this position, AiG tells us that “A person needs to read the quoted verse (Ge. 46:15) carefully to correctly understand its meaning. The begat (bare) refers to the sons born in Padanaram. Genesis 35:23 lists the six sons born in Padanaram (those whom Leah begat), who are listed as part of the total group of 33 children in Genesis 46:15. Thus, this passage confirms that begat points to the generation immediately following—a literal parent/child relationship.” There are several serious problems with this explanation.
First, no distinction is made between the six children that were direct descendants and the remaining twenty-seven given in the list. While the qualification “in Paddam-Aram” may indicate that, through the birth of these six children, ultimately Leah bore thirty three children, it is an inescapable conclusion that this usage of YaLaD (begat) refers to multiple generations. It is this kind of usage that many scholars believe may be intended in other early genealogies given in Genesis.
Second, this same pattern is repeated for Zipah (vs. 18), Rachel (vs. 22), and Bilah (vs. 25). In each of these for examples, a list of children and grandchildren is also provided, and then the total number is said to have been born to the woman whose name follows the list. However, in none of the remaining three examples is any qualifying location provided, further demonstrating the impossibility of the very imaginative interpretation suggested by AiG. AiG tells us that “nowhere is it stated that these four wives physically bore the total number of sons listed for each” but the whole point is that scholars see these as examples where the text is speaking of generational gaps, where the text speaks of both children and grandchildren that are born to these women, and the text is very clear on that point. Genesis 46:18 states that “she [Zilpah] bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (NASB)[iv]” but only two were her biological children, the rest were grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Third, this is not the only passage that uses the root YaLad (begat) in a way that indicates multiple generations. Duet. 4:25 tells us that “you will beget sons and sons of sons,” and in Ruth 4:17 were are told that “A son has been born to Naomi.” This son, we know from the narrative, was the direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz. Not only is there a generational gap, there wasn’t even a direct biological relationship between Naomi and Ruth and only a distant relationship between Naomi and Boaz.
AiG’s recognizes that there are skipped generations found in Mt. 1:8 and Mt. 1:11, but AiG tells us that “Here, the Greek word for begat is gennao, which shows flexibility not found in the Hebrew word and does allow for the possibility that a generation or more may be skipped.” Where did the idea that the Hebrew word ‘YaLaD’ is less flexible than the Greek word ‘gennao’ originate? It appears that this idea came solely from AiG. This implied limit to the semantic range of meaning for ‘YaLaD’ is not supported by any Hebrew reference lexicon, and AiG has not referenced the work of any Hebrew scholar that would support such a conclusion.
The Greek NT has been translated into a number of Semitic languages, like Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic. These languages share many common roots, and one frequently shared root is ‘YaLaD’ (to beget). When we examine translations of Mt. 1 in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation, we find that ‘YaLaD’ is consistently used to translate the verses with their known genealogical gaps. Some examples are Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut’s 14th century Hebrew translation[v], the Peshitta (an Aramaic 5th century translation)[vi], and the Van Dyke[vii]. If, as AiG contends, the root ‘YaLaD’ (begat) can never be used to refer to anyone other than a direct biological descendant, then we would expect that the translators of these Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translations of this biblical text would have recognized the problem and chosen other words to express the non-direct relationships found in this genealogy; they did not. The universal usage of this root in every Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic translation alone demonstrates the fallacy of this argument.
AiG tells us that “The Hebrew word yalad for begat is not used in the 1 Chronicles passage (1 Chronicles 7:23–27);” however, it is present[viii] in the very first verse of this passage.
In Luke 3:36, and in most copies of the LXX (ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text) we have an additional generation that is not present in the Hebrew genealogies found in Ge. 11:12 or 1 Chr. 1:24. AiG contends that this was an error introduced into both the LXX and the text of Luke 3:36. They point to an early manuscript (P75) of Luke which does not contain the additional generation, and suggest that this was the original text and that all other copies reflect a corrupted text. While this, unlike the other arguments, is a possible explanation, it is far from certain.
Most scholars believe the genealogies that include Cainan reflect the original text of Luke and that the basis for Luke’s genealogy is found in the LXX. P75 was found in 1952, and many new English translations of Scripture have been published since its discovery i.e. the NIV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NLT, HCSB, etc…; to date, no translation committee has felt there was sufficient evidence to warrant changing our English translations and every new English translation still includes the name Cainan. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, scholars often presumed that differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text reflected either corruption or mistranslation of an original Hebrew text; however, the DSS have demonstrated that many of these differences were actually a reflection of previously unknown Hebrew variants[ix]. For this reason, scholars today have much more respect for the translation quality of the LXX than did scholars of a generation past. Because this additional generation is found in so many ancient manuscripts[x], many scholars believe that copies of Luke that include Cainan are more likely to represent the original text.
Additionally, witnesses to this genealogy also exist in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, and these witnesses add details that may provide grounds for understanding why Cainan was omitted from the Hebrew text. In the book of Jubilees[xi] we are told that Cainan the son of Arphaxad (and father of Shelah) found a cave with writings about astrology written by the “watchers who lived before the flood.” He copied the writing and then hid this from Noah because he was afraid of Noah’s response. This led to sin that apparently resulted Cainan being sent away. His involvement in astrology and subsequent expulsion may explain why his name was blotted out of the OT record. Additionally, mathematical analysis[xii] of both the Hebrew and Greek genealogies of the OT demonstrate that it is extremely unlikely that this additional generation was due to a simple transcription error because the numbers have been adjusted to provide the same numerical sums in the genealogies that contain this name as are provided in the genealogies that omit it. Whether the name Cainan was part of the original text of Luke is a much more difficult question to answer than AiG has suggested. Regardless of what one concludes regarding Luke’s genealogy, that decision should be made based solely on evaluating the evidences related to this passage. Attempting to use this passage to prove that the meaning of a Hebrew word should be limited is circular reasoning, and something to be avoided.
There is no reason to defend Harold Camping’s argument, so I will ignore it and focus on the errors in AiG’s response. AiG tells us that “These verbs use the hiphil form of the verb” and that the “Hiphil usually expresses the causative action of qal.” While both statements are true, AiG then leaps to the unwarranted conclusion that “God chose this form to make it absolutely clear that we understand that there are no missing generations in chapters 5 and 11 of Genesis. Any other Hebrew verb form would not have been nearly as emphatic as the hiphil form.” This is stated without providing references to any Hebrew scholarship that would support this conclusion, and there is no Hebrew reference lexicon that would suggest the hiphil form would limit the semantic range of meaning for this root in this way. While it is true that the hiphil form USUALLY expresses causative action, they have failed to recognize that the meaning of a verb is not always derived from its form; common usage must always take precedence in determining meaning. For example, if I say “I speak Hebrew[xiii]”, the piel (intensive) form of the verb is used; however, the meaning of this verb is just simple active even though the piel construction is used. There are many Hebrew verbs that “break the rules” when one considers the meaning that “should” be derived from its form. When we look at the interchangeability of the qal (light, active) and hiphil (causative, active) for the root ‘YaLaD’ (to begat) as it is used in the biblical text, we should recognize that caution must be exercised before deriving the meaning for this verb based on its form.
More importantly, AiG’s understanding of causative action is itself flawed. In biblical Hebrew, the causative form is frequently used to indicate the person who was the cause of an action even when that person was not the agent who did the action. When Scripture speaks of David bringing (hiphil) the shields of gold to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 18:7), it does not intend to convey the idea that David personally carried them to Jerusalem, but rather that he had his men bring them to Jerusalem. When it speaks of Solomon bringing (hiphil) the dedicated items into the Temple (2 Chr. 5:1), again the intent is not to convey the idea that Solomon literally carried these items himself, but rather that they were brought to the temple by others following his order. Similarly, when Scripture tells us that God brought disaster on Israel, most of the time that action was carried out by the men of other nations i.e. God was the cause of the action, but not the agent of that action. Additionally, it is clear that this verb can be used in the Hiphil form to indicate genealogical gaps. One of the best examples can be found in Duet. 4:25 which uses this exact form to say “for you will beget sons and sons of sons;” a statement that couldn’t more strongly indicate multiple generations.
Strong vigorous debate is an invaluable tool for learning only when we come to that debate willing to acknowledge the weakness of our own position and willing to hear the positions of those with whom we disagree. Some of the most valuable debates I have engaged in personally are the ones I have lost; they were valuable because loosing meant that I learned something that I had not known before. When we enter into a debate with the idea that winning is more important that learning, too often the result is that integrity is compromised in order to achieve that goal, and no one profits from that debate. It is time we stop coming to debates over Creation with the goal of winning, and start engaging in debates with the goal of truly learning from one another.
[i] Strong’s identifies 8674 Hebrew words, other sources vary slightly.
[ii] The number of words in the English language is: 1,025,109.8. This is the estimate by the Global Language Monitor on January 1, 2014. The English Language passed the Million Word threshold on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 a.m. (GMT). The Millionth Word was the controversial ‘Web 2.0′. Currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. Though GLM’s analysis was the subject of much controversy at the time, the recent Google/Harvard Study of the Current Number of Words in the English Language is 1,022,000. The number of words in the English language according to GLM now stands at: 1,025,109.8. The difference between the two analyses is .0121%, which is widely considered statistically insignificant. Google’s number, which is based on the counting of the words in the 15,000,000 English language books it has scanned into the ‘Google Corpus,’ mirrors GLM’s Analysis. GLM’s number is based upon its algorithmic methodologies, explication of which is available from its site.
[iii] Among Hebrew scholars there is a debate about whether the first instance should be translated as “it was said” or whether “it should be said” better communicates the intent of Hosea. The use of the perfect is primarily based on the translation of this text found in the LXX.
[viii] In 1 Chr. 7:23 (the very first verse from this passage) we read ‘וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן’ (and she conceived and begat a son). In Hebrew, letters like ה,ו,י,נ are weak letters, and it frequently dropped when verbs containing them are conjugated. In the text from 1 Chr. 7:23 that I provided, both verbs contain weak letters and both verbs have dropped a letter in their conjugated form in this text. The root for ‘to conceive’ is הרה and the final ה is dropped when conjugated as ותהר, the root for ‘to begat’ is ילד and the י is dropped when the verb is conjugated as ותלד. The prefixed ת simply indicates that this is the 3rd person feminine singular imperfect.
[ix] Because the DSS are very fragmentary, every passage found in the LXX cannot be compared to an original text from the DSS collection; this is one example where we our comparison is still limited only to Hebrew manuscripts that centuries newer than the Greek texts of the LXX to which they are being compared.
[x] The NET bible notes that “the witnesses with this reading (or a variation of it( are substantial: א B L ¦1 33 )Καϊνάμ(, A Θ Ψ 0102 ¦13 Û (Καϊνάν, Kainan)”
One of the most beautiful poetic passages of the Hebrew bible is found in Ecclesiastes 12, and the richness of this passage is too often missed because people have failed to understand the rich poetic imagery that Solomon has employed. Throughout this passage, word pictures are employed to describe the process of aging and all that comes with it. How many of these word pictures can you identify and correctly interpret?
The most challenging word pictures found in this passage are in verse 5; their challenge lies in the fact that we no longer have a clear understanding of the intended imagery of the almond blossom, the locust [tree], or the caperberry. Many translations have opted to interpret some or all of these word pictures for you, often without indicating their departure from the underlying Hebrew text. While the NLT attempts to keep the original imagery, it adds the common interpretations of that imagery into the text i.e. “before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire.” However, I believe Robert Alter, in his book “The Wisdom books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes,” offers a better solution when he notes that “It is less strained to read these lines simply as images of the cycle of growth and decay in nature as man is about to depart from that cycle.” Alter also offers a possible solution to one of the most challenging word pictures in this text. He notes that “The most puzzling reference is to the laden locust. Some see this as indicating a plant, not an insect (in fact a meaning carried by the English word as well); others detect a reference to the female locust heavy with eggs, after laying which she dies. Perhaps the least strained construction is a locust tree heavy with ripe fruit.”
How many of the word pictures employed by Solomon can you identify?
Remember your Creator while you are still young,
before the days of misery come
and turn into years in which you say “there is no pleasure in them.”
Remember him –
Before the light of the sun, and the moon, and the stars grow dark,
And the clouds return after the rain.
When the guardians of the house tremble
and the strong men stoop,
When the grinders are idle because they are few
and those who peer through the windows fade away.
When the doors to the street are shut,
And the sound of the mill grows faint.
When one rises to the sounds of the bird,
But the daughters of song have been subdued.
Even heights bring fear,
And the streets terrify them.
— the almond tree blooms,
the locust tree is heavy laden,
and the caper berry breaks open —
Because a man goes to his eternal home,
And mourners go around in the streets.
Remember him –
Before the silver cord breaks
and the golden bowl crashes to the ground,
Before the well’s pitcher is smashed
and it’s crank wheel broken.
Before dust returns to the earth from where it came,
And the spirit returns to God who gave it.
Futility, futility, said the preacher, all is futility.
Seldom have I read a text in the Hebrew bible and have been as surprised by how differently that text sounded in our English bibles than I was when I read 2 Chr. 7:14 this week. Most English versions read something similar to this rendering from the NIV.
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
When I followed along as this verse was read in English, my first thought was “Where is the ‘if’ in this verse?” In Hebrew, this verse reads like we began in the middle of the sentence and we missed something important that came earlier. This is how it sounds in Hebrew.
“…and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”
As I looked back at the prior text to see what I had missed, the text appeared even stranger. Chapter 7 begins with the joyous celebration dedicating the Temple. Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication, and fire had come down from heaven, consummating the temple dedication. Following this, there has been three weeks of celebration with praise, music, and feasting, and then when this had been completed and the people returned to their homes, God appeared to Solomon:
“And Lord appeared to Solomon at night. And he said to him, I have heard your prayer and I have chosen this place to be my house of sacrifice. Thus I will restrain the rain from the heavens, and thus I will command the grasshopper to eat the [produce of] the land! And if I send a plague against my people, and my people, who are called by my name, are humbled and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I certainly will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.”
At first glance, this appears to be a rather strange response to the dedication of the Temple. Why would God promise to withhold the rain, and send plagues against his people in response to the dedication of the temple? The answer is that he didn’t, God’s answer here isn’t an unsolicited response to the dedication of the temple, it is a direct response to Solomon’s own prayer. Only when we look back to Solomon’s prayer recorded in Chapter 6 does God’s response begin to make sense. Here is a portion of Solomon’s prayer.
“May you hear the petitions of your servant and your people Israel who pray towards this place. Hear from your dwelling place in heaven, hear and forgive.
If a man sins against his neighbor, and is compelled to take an oath before your alter in this house, may you hear from heaven, act, and judge your servants, repaying the wicked for his deeds, and vindicating the righteous man, and rewarding him for his righteousness.
If your people are struck down by an enemy because they sinned against you, and they return and praise your name, and they pray and seek your favor in this house, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land that you gave to them and their fathers.
When the heavens are restrained and it does not rain because they sinned against you, and they pray towards this place, praising your name, and turn from their sin because you have punished them, may you hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants. And teach your people Israel to walk in your good way, and send rain on your land, [a land] that you gave to your people to possess.
When there is famine in the land because of a plague, whether it is blight or mildew, locust or grasshopper, or because their enemies have raided their fortified cities. All are afflicted and all are ill. Every prayer and petition for every man and for all your people Israel, each man knowing his own affliction and pain and spreading out his hands towards this house, may you hear from heaven, your dwelling place. May you forgive and repay each man according to all his ways. You know his heart because you alone know the human heart. Do this so that they will fear you all the days that they live in the land you gave to our fathers.”
As we look at Solomon’s prayer, we can see that God’s response was not unexpected, it was a direct answer to thing for which Solomon had already prayed.
Some additional difference in the Hebrew text
While most versions translate יִכָּנְע֙וּ reflexively i.e. ‘they will humble themselves,’ this Hebrew verb form is primarily used as a passive. ‘they will be humbled.’ The Hebrew text conveys a bit more strongly God’s part in humbling his people, while still conveying the idea that man has a responsibility to respond when God has humbled him. God’s response in 2 Chr. 7:14 mirrors Solomon’s declaration (2 Chr. 6:26) that it is God who punishes.
Most English texts use the conditional ‘if’ three times in verse 13 i.e. ‘If I will restrain the rain,’ ‘if I will command the grasshopper,’ and ‘if I send a plague’ but the first two instances in the Hebrew are not conditional. The Hebrew word used here is הן and is most often translated as ‘behold,’ ‘thus,’ etc… The text communicates that this is something God will do, and not something he might do.
Why then do our English translations read the way they do?
The LXX (an ancient Greek translation of the OT) of these verses reads much more closely to our English translations, and it includes all of the conditionals missing in the Hebrew text. The KJV relied heavily on this Greek text, and subsequent English translations very often follow the textual tradition set by the KJV translators. Additionally, some scholars have suggested that the Hebrew text may align closer to the Greek, positing the idea that ‘הן’ is an example of an Aramaism in this Hebrew text; ‘הן’ can be used in Aramaic as a conditional in some circumstances. If we accept this proposal, it could account for the two missing conditionals in verse 13, but it does not explain the missing conditional in verse 14. While this is a possible explanation for the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts, it is much more likely that the author of Chronicles, who lived at a time when the Jewish people primarily spoke Hebrew, used this word with its Hebrew meaning, and the translators of the LXX, who lived centuries later at a time when Aramaic had become the prevalent spoken language used by the Jews, simply misunderstood the meaning of this word.
Solomon, in his prayer, acknowledged that God, in his sovereignty, may choose to use life’s difficult circumstances to guide his people to repentance. He recognized that God’s punishment is not that of a tyrant ready to pounce, but rather it is that of a loving father who desires the very best for his children. When God appeared to Solomon, he himself confirmed that Solomon had correctly understood God’s heart for his people. The idea that God, as a loving father, uses the difficult circumstances in life to guide us back to his path is a theme often repeated in Scripture. Hosea describes God as blocking the wrong path of sinful Israel in order to bring them back into fellowship with him, and the author of Hebrews expounds on this idea in Chapter 12, declaring that God’s punishment demonstrates that we belong to him and that he truly loves us.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11 NIV)
The story of the Gospel that is threaded throughout all of Scripture is not an instruction about what we must do to please God, but rather it is a description of what God has already done for us, and how we should respond to the God who first loved us and is always trying to draw us into true intimacy with him.
[iii] The voice change in this Psalm is implicit, the words “They say” are supplied in English.
[iv] Lit. “them” in reference to the Lord and his Messiah (or anointed).
[v] The voice change in this Psalm is implicit, the words “His King says” are supplied in English.
[vi] The text here is difficult, the MT reads נשקו-בר (kiss a son); however, this is difficult for several reasons. First, the verb נשק expects a preposition i.e. ל-. Second, the word בר (son) is Aramaic and unexpected here, especially when the Hebrew word for son was already used earlier in this Psalm. There have been a number of suggestions attempting to resolve the difficulties in this verse. BHS suggest that the text may be corrupt at this point and suggests an alternate reading of “נשקו לרגליו” (Kiss his feet). The NET, Alter, and others suggest that בר is functioning in an adverbial sense meaning pure/sincere, and “kiss purely” should be treated as an idiom for “sincere allegiance” or “upholding purity.”
[vii] “your” is supplied here to smooth out the translation.
When trying to understand why God rejected Cain’s offering, commentators have made a number of suggestions. Some suggest that because Cain’s offering was not a blood offering that it was rejected, some suggest that this is an example of God’s divine sovereignty and predestination, some have even suggested that God chose Abel’s offering because it had a better aroma. The most common suggestion, and I believe the best, is that Abel, with a thankful heart, gave from the very best that he had but Cain gave only from his leftovers. Here are some things to consider when trying to understand why God rejected Cain’s gift.
1) The Structure of the language in the passage implies that Cain’s gift was careless. Hebrew tends to be very terse and when additional adjectives are used to describe something, it usually is significant. I have broken apart the two parallel portions from this passage regarding the gifts so that it is a little easier to see how they compare one to another. (Note: Hebrew is read from right to left).
From the crops
And Cain brought
and from their fat
of his flocks
from the firstborn
And Abel brought
2) The possessive “his” is used in describing Abel’s offering but absent in the description of Cain’s offering suggesting that Abel’s offering may have been more personal.
3) The term Firstborn/Firstfruit can be used to speak both of animal and grain offerings (Lev. 2:14). Similarly, “fat,” meaning the best part, was also used in reference to grain offerings. While these terms are translated differently into English they are the same in Hebrew and their absence in the description of Cain’s offering is a strong indication that Cain’s offering was less than satisfactory.
4) Cain’s response to the rejection of his offering is a strong indication that his heart was not right before God.
5) The texts states that Cain and Abel brought a “gift” and never suggests that either gift was a “sacrifice.” In the Levitical law an offering ( מנחה ) almost universally refers to a grain offering. While this word can occasionally refer to a “gift” in a more general sense (like it does in this passage), as a technical term of the Levitical law it never refers to an animal sacrifice. If the intent was to imply that a blood sacrifice was required, one would expect the vocabulary of a blood sacrifice to be used; it is not.
6) Ancient Rabbinic tradition suggests that Cain brought from the refuse. (Ge. Rab. 22.5) and Philo (1st century philosopher) saw Cain as an example of a “self-loving man” who showed his gratitude to God too slowly and then not from the first of his fruits.
7) Commentators, both modern and ancient, have frequently noted that the rejection of Cain’s offering was not based on the kind of offering but of its quality and his heart attitude in bringing it to the Lord.
“The passage is intent on showing the contrast between the two men. Also interpreting Cain as stingy conforms with the narrative’s depiction of his self-absorbed attitude (4:7) and his absence of conscience (4:13).” K. Mathews, The New American Commentary, Vol 1 – Genesis 1-11.
“The ground of the difference is not stated, and it can only therefore be inferred. But it can hardly have lain in anything except the different spirit and temper actuating the two brothers. Cain, it is to be noticed, as soon as he perceives that his offering has not been accepted, becomes angry and discontented – in itself a sufficient indication that his frame of mind was not what it should have been.” S. R. Driver, Westminster Commentaries – The book of Genesis.
“Contrary to the popular opinion that Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was not a blood sacrifice, it seems clear from the narrative that both offerings, in themselves, were acceptable — they are both described as “offerings” (מנחה) and not “sacrifices” (זבח). J. Sailhamer, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2
“Abel said: “My sacrifice was accepted because my good deeds exceeded yours.” Cain answered: “There is no justice and there is no judge, there is no world to come and no reward or punishment for the righteous and wicked.” About this the brothers quarreled. Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him with a stone.” Jonathan ben Uzziel, 1st Century B.C.
“And Cain brought from the crops an offering for the Lord – from the refuge. An evil tenant, he was eating the first-fruits and from the wealth for the King.” Berashit Rabbah 22:5
Behold all the servants of the Lord, bless the Lord.
All those who stand in the house of the Lord at night.
Raise your hands in the sanctuary[i] and bless the Name[ii] of the Lord.
From Zion the Lord, who made heaven and earth, will bless you.
[i] The phrase “ידכם קדש” is unique in the OT; the easiest reading of the unpointed text would be “your holy hand” but the nekkud in the MT suggests that “ידכם” is plural which disconnects it from the singular “קדש”; the DSS (11QPSa) add further support to the MT as it renders this texts as “ידיכם קדוש” Most translations follow the LLX which renders this text as “ἐπάρατε τὰς χεῖρας ὑμῶν εἰς τὰ ἅγια / Lift up your hands in the sanctuary;” the Hebrew text lacks the preposition making this an awkward reading. Ps. 150:1 “הללו־אל בקדשׁו / praise God in his sanctuary” provides a good example of the expected grammar. Context in this situation adds support to the LXX reading.
[ii] The MT reads “וברכו את-יהוה / bless the Lord” but the DSS (11QPSa) reads “וברכו את שם יהוה / bless the Name of the Lord”
The Hebrew text of Psalm 51:17, as pointed by the Masorites in the 6th century, reads “Sacrifice of God” rather than “My sacrifice.” While it is true that, in Hebrew, the only difference is in the vowel markings and those markings were not originally part of the text, early translations, like the Greek LXX (2nd Century B.C.), Aramaic Targums, 1 Century A.D.), and Latin Vulgate (4th Century A.D.), reflect a reading that is identical to the way that the Masorites pointed this text and, unlike the Hebrew text, the possessive form is not a “possible” reading in these early translations. I know of no ancient translation that supports the reading found in the updated NIV nor is this reading found in other modern translations. The 2011 revision offers a new reading of Psalms 51:17, but the textual evidence shows much stronger support for the reading found in the 1984 revision of the NIV.
The goal of this translation is to provide a text that enables the bible student to more easily identify places in the text where significant interpretive choice have been made by the translators of other versions. For this reason, some of the English readings are purposely awkward where the corresponding Hebrew text itself is also awkward and in a few places an alternate translation has been offered where the interpretation of a specific phrase is more open in the original text.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth[i]. And the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was blowing[ii] on the surface of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God divided between the light and between the darkness. And God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” And it was evening and it was morning, one day[iii].
And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters and it will divide the waters.” And God made the expanse and it divided between the waters which were under the expanse and the waters that were above the expanse and it was so. And God called the expanse “sky.” And it was evening and it was morning, a second day[iv].
And God said, “let the waters under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry land appear” and it was so. And God called the dry land “earth” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout grass, plants producing seed, fruit trees producing fruit according to their kind which has its seed in it” and it was so. And the land brought forth grass, plants producing seed according to their kind and trees producing fruit with seed in it according to their kind. And God saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning a third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to divide between day and night and to be signs for the seasons, days, and years and let there be lights in the expanse of heaven to shine on the earth” and it was so. And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night and the stars[v]. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to shine on the earth and to govern the day and the night and to divide between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, a fourth day.
And God said, “the waters will swarm with living creatures and birds will fly above the earth on the face of the expanse of the heavens” and God created the great sea creatures and all the living creatures that swarm in the waters according to their kind and all the winged birds according to their kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them saying, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the seas and the birds will multiply on the land.” And it was an evening and it was a morning, a fifth day.
And God said, “the land will bring forth living creatures according to their kind, livestock, and creeping things, and wild animals according to their kind” and it was so. And God made the wild animals according to their kind and the livestock according to their kind, and all which creeps along the ground according to their kind and God saw that it was good. And God said, “We will make man[vi] in Our[vii] image and according to Our likeness and they[viii] will rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and the livestock and everything that is in the land and all that creeps upon the land.” And God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said to them, “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every animal that creeps on the land.” And God said, “behold, I have given you every plant producing seed which is on the face of the earth and every fruit tree which produces fruit with its seed in it, for you it will be for food. And for every land animal and for every bird of the air and for every creeping animal on the land which has a living soul, every green plant will be food” and it was so. And God saw everything which he had made and behold it was very good. And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day[ix].
And the earth and all their hosts were finished. And God finished on the seventh day from his work which he did and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he did. And God blessed the seventh day and he sanctified it because on it he rested from all his work which God created to make[x].
[i] The words שמים (Shamayim) and ארץ (Eretz) when used individually typically refer to “sky” and “land” but when used together refer to the entire universe i.e. “heavens and the earth.”
[ii] The Hebrew word רוח (ruach) means either “spirit” or “wind” and the Hebrew word מרחפת (m’rachephet) can mean “hovering” or “blowing,” thus this phrase could alternatively be translated “and the Spirit/wind of God was blowing on the waters”
[iii] In Hebrew adjectives follow the noun but in English they proceed the noun, so a literal translation יום אחד (yom echad) would be “one day” rather than “day one.” The same phrase is almost always translated as “one day” when used in other places in Scripture i.e. Ge. 27:45, Ge. 33:13, Nu. 11:19, Is. 9:13. Translations that use “first day” as the translation for this phrase have made a highly interpretive choice to harmonize this day with the ordinal days that follow. In Hebrew “first day” is יום ראשון (yom rishon) not יום אחד (yom echad). The NASB is one of the few translations that has translated this phrase as “one day”
[iv] Days 1-5 do not contain the definite article i.e. “the” but it is included with the 6th and 7th days. Many translations have added the definite article despite its absence in every known Hebrew text. The NASB is one of the few translations that has not added the article where it is absent in the Hebrew text.
[v] The Hebrew texts reads simply “and the stars” but many translations have amended the text to convey the idea that “he also made the stars;” however, the original thought may have been that the “lesser light” ruled both the night and the stars.
[vi] There are two common words form “man” in Hebrew, the most common word is איש (ish), but the word used exclusively, except in the phrase “from man she was taken” (Ge 2:23), in the first two chapters is אדם (adam) which is related to the word for “ground” אדמה(adamah) from which man was taken. This is sometimes translated as “man” and sometimes as the proper name “Adam.” The word play between man, Adam, and ground is lost in English.
[vii] The use of the plural reference to God is unique to this passage in Scripture.
[viii] Note the switch to the plural form when referring to man. An identical move between the singular and plural is also found in vs. 1:27
[ix] The sixth day is the first day that includes the definite article although both vs .1:31 and 2:3 are in the construct form and would literally translate as “day of the sixth” and “day of the seventh.” Only in vs. 2:3 do we have the literal Hebrew text for “the seventh day.”
[x] This last phrase is difficult in the Hebrew. Most translations attempt to smooth out the translation in English.
[iv] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea reads “his people”; the MT reads “my people”
[v] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea reads “they gave”; the MT reads “he gave”
[vi] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead sea reads “and YHWH desired to crush him and pierce him (ויהוה חפץ דכאו ויחללהו).” This mirrors the statement in verse. 5 which reads “he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquity” and is a much easier reading than the MT which reads “and YHWH desired to crush him, caused sickness (ויהוה חפץ דכאו החלי)”