Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ouch!

”And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him with sorrow.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!’ And God granted him that which he requested. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10 King James Version)

“. . . and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!, And God granted him that which he requested.”
(1 Chronicles 4:9-10 New King James Version)


The two bold translation portions above reflect different interpretations of the Hebrew grammar (the infinitive verb form with a pronominal suffix). The suffix, a 1st person singular personal pronoun, translates both as “me” and “I” in the above readings. The pronoun can be interpreted as the KJV translates it (the object of the verb form, “me”) and as the NKJV translates it (the subject of the verb form, “I”). The infinitive verb form can be justly translated “hurt,” “pain,” “grieve,” so this is not an issue in what follows.

In evaluating these translations, the KJV has the advantage of translating the verb actively in keeping with the sense of the Hebrew verb stem (Qal). The NKJV, however, translates the verb with causation that would normally be identified with a different verb stem (Hiphil). By using the text’s verb stem (Qal), however, the NKJV could still have kept the subject use of the pronoun, but it would have had to insert a direct object for the verb, such as, “that I may not pain [others]!” It appears that the NKJV translators conveniently used the causation idea to avoid inserting a word not in the Hebrew text.

A third interpretation possibility is that the author was being intentionally ambiguous so that both the object and subject ideas can be understood in the reading of the text. As in all such cases, the context becomes the deciding factor in selecting the preferred interpretation.

One reason why Jabez was highlighted by the chronicler was the fact that his life defied the “painful” implication underlying his name, “and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him with sorrow [ literally, pain].’” He became exceptionally honorable despite the public humiliation and reputation his name provided. Jabez did not want to experience pain (KJV, object) or pain others (NKJV, subject). These two ideas necessarily interrelate. Jabez knew that the acquisition of land belonging to a less-fortunate family (see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Vol. 1, pp. 166-167) could hurt others and consequently bring about the very thing he sought to avoid—living up to the negative reputation imbedded in his name and suffering the pain of societal rejection.

Given the possibility that the two interpretations of the Hebrew text interrelate, one could supplement the English translation to bring out the fuller meaning. Consider this alternative: “and that You would keep me from evil, so that I neither experience pain nor hurt others.” In that “God granted him that which he requested,” Jabez presumably lived a happy and respected life on his newly acquired property.