Translation commentary on Numbers 3:8

They shall have charge of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting: Have charge of renders the Hebrew verb shamar (see 1.53). Here it may be rendered “take care of” (New Century Version). For the Tabernacle’s furnishings, see 1.50.

And attend to the duties for the people of Israel: Attend to the duties renders the same intensified Hebrew verb plus cognate noun construction (shamar mishmeret) as in the previous verse (see the comments there).

As they minister at the tabernacle: See the comments on the previous verse.

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 4:8

Then they shall spread over them a cloth of scarlet: The pronoun them refers to the table with its sacred bread and all the other items on it. The Hebrew expression for a cloth of scarlet refers to crimson-red material. The dye for this color came from the larvae of an insect found on oak trees. The Hebrew uses two words to refer to the color scarlet, which is literally “worm-scarlet.” This color was a deep, rich red, like “crimson” (New Revised Standard Version). Contemporary English Version says “bright red,” which helps to express that the color was special.

And cover the same with a covering of goatskin: On top of the bright red cloth they had to put a fine leather covering. For the Hebrew expression rendered goatskin, which refers to “fine leather” (Good News Translation), see verse 6.

And shall put in its poles: Like the sacred chest, the table for the sacred bread had rings on its sides through which poles were placed to carry it (see Exo 25.26-28; 37.13-15). Good News Translation renders poles as “carrying poles” to express more clearly that they were used to carry the table. Bible en français courant says “poles serving to carry the table.”

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 5:17

And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel: Holy water was possibly water from the bronze basin, which the priests used to wash their hands and feet before serving in the Tabernacle (see Exo 30.18-21). In any case, this was water set aside for a sacred purpose, that is, in connection with some command of the LORD. The New English Bible (New English Bible) says “clean water,” which seems to miss the function or nature of this water even though this rendering is supported by the Septuagint. An earthen vessel refers to a container made of clay. Good News Translation says “a clay bowl,” and Contemporary English Version has “a clay jar.”

And take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle: For tabernacle, which renders the Hebrew word mishkan (literally “dwelling-place”), see 1.50. The floor of the tabernacle refers to its unpaved dirt floor.

And put it into the water: The dust apparently gave the water a bitter taste. Good News Translation makes this explicit by saying “and put it in the water to make it bitter.” The Hebrew text mentions this in verse 18, where it refers to the water as “the water of bitterness.”

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 7:12 - 7:17

For each of the twelve days and chiefs the Hebrew text describes the offerings in much the same way in verses 12-83. The function of all the repetition in relation to this text’s content and position in Numbers may be to underscore the fact that each tribe of Israel had an identical share in and responsibility for the support and maintenance of the Tent of Meeting, where the LORD communicated with his people. It also suggests the central importance of this place of fellowship, the altar of sacrifice in particular, to the nation as a whole.

Revised Standard Version follows the arrangement of the Hebrew text and divides verses 12-83 into twelve successive paragraphs (one per day and chief). However, Good News Translation combines them into two paragraphs. Good News Translation first gives a list of the days, tribes and chiefs, which is followed by a description of the offerings, brought by each one of the chiefs. After our comments on verses 78-83, we will compare and evaluate these two very different translation models.

The names of the chiefs in verses 12-83 are the same as in 1.5-15, but they and their tribes are mentioned in accordance with the layout of the Israelite camp (see 2.3-31), starting with Judah. The chiefs came one after the other on twelve consecutive days in the order of precedence of their tribes in the camp around the Tent of Meeting and in the prescribed order of the people’s march on their communal journeys.

Our following comments on verses 12-17 will largely suffice for the next eleven paragraphs.

He who offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah: Offered his offering renders the same Hebrew verb and noun as in verses 3 and 11 (see the comments there). As in verse 10, some languages may prefer to say “offerings” instead of offering, since this offering consisted of several individual items. For Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah, see 1.7; for tribe see 1.4.

And his offering was one silver plate whose weight was a hundred and thirty shekels begins the list of items included in the offering of each leader. The Hebrew word for plate is qeʿarah, which comes from a root meaning “to be deep.” It is a general term for a dish that was probably deeper than the flat plates used in many places today (see the comments on 4.7, where the same word occurs). Good News Translation says “bowl,” which seems more accurate. As noted in the comments on 3.47, the standard shekel may have weighed about 11.4 grams (0.4 ounce), so a hundred and thirty shekels is about 1,500 grams (50 ounces). Most translations simply transliterate the Hebrew word shekel, which should be clearly defined in the glossary.

One silver basin of seventy shekels: As noted in the comments on 4.14, the Hebrew word for basin refers to bowls that were used to hold the blood of the animals that had been killed for sacrifices. Since the blood in these bowls was sprinkled on the altar (see Lev 1.5, 11), Contemporary English Version says “sprinkling bowl.” Seventy shekels is about 800 grams (30 ounces).

According to the shekel of the sanctuary: This official Tabernacle standard of weight is also mentioned in 3.47 (see the comments there). Good News Translation says “by the official standard,” which does not show that this standard was connected to the sanctuary, that is, it was either kept at the Tabernacle, or it was the weighing system used for the offerings given there (different from the later royal standard). A better model here is “by the official standard of the sanctuary” (similarly Bible en français courant, Bijbel in Gewone Taal). If the notion of “standard” is difficult, then another possible model is “by the official norm [or, measuring unit] of the sanctuary.” For sanctuary, which renders the Hebrew word qodesh, see the comments on 3.28.

Both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a cereal offering: For fine flour mixed with oil, see the comments on 6.15. It was probably coarsely milled wheat flour with olive oil mixed in it, but it may not be necessary to specify wheat flour, unless the target language requires it. New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh has “choice flour with oil mixed in.” For cereal offering (“grain offering” in Good News Translation), see the comments on 4.16.

One golden dish of ten shekels: As mentioned in the comments on 4.7, the Hebrew word for dish is the same one as for the palm of the hand, so the word “bowl” (New Jerusalem Bible) expresses its hollow shape more accurately. Translators should select a deeper cup-like object used in the receptor culture. This gold bowl was comparatively light since it only weighed ten shekels, which is equivalent to about 115 grams (4 ounces). This whole phrase may be rendered “a small gold bowl weighing one hundred grams” (similarly Bijbel in Gewone Taal).

The gold bowl was full of incense. For incense see 4.16.

One young bull, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering: One young bull is literally “one young bull, son of a cow,” which refers to a young bull that is mature. A ram is an adult male sheep. It is older than a male lamb a year old (see 6.14). Each leader gave these three animals to be sacrificed as a burnt offering (see 6.11). This offering was for the consecration of the participants.

One male goat for a sin offering: The Hebrew expression for male goat refers to an adult billy goat. If the receptor language has a single word that contains the idea of maleness as well as the idea of goat, then it should be used here. Each leader gave this animal to be sacrificed as a sin offering (see 6.11). This offering was for the forgiveness of the unintentional offenses of participants.

And for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old: The Hebrew plural word rendered peace offerings refers to the individual sacrificial animals here. The sacrifice of peace offerings refers to one event, so many translations use a singular expression here, for example, “a/the fellowship offering” (Good News Translation, New International Version) or “a shared-offering” (Revised English Bible). For peace offerings, see 6.14. This sacrifice included two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five male lambs a year old. The Hebrew word for oxen (baqar) is the same one used in verse 3. It is a general term referring to cows and bulls as well as oxen. In this context the word oxen may be inappropriate in some cultures where these animals are not considered suitable for sacrifice. If so, oxen may be rendered “bulls” (Good News Translation, Contemporary English Version, NET Bible, Revised English Bible).

This was the offering of Nahshon the son of Amminadab: The Hebrew word for offering (qorban) renders the same general term for all kinds of offering that was used at the beginning of the paragraph. This sentence at the end of the paragraph has no past tense verb corresponding with was. It is a verbless sentence that summarizes the paragraph. Perhaps there is a similar device to signal the close of a discourse unit in the target language, for example, a special verb form or conjunction. Chewa says “These they are the very things that were the offerings of Nahshon….”

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 8:23

And the LORD said to Moses: See 1.1. This verse introduces the LORD’s instructions to Moses about what age Levites should be to work.

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 10:17

According to 2.17, the camp of the Levites was in a central position for marching. The Levites formed a protective barrier around the Tabernacle, thus separating it from the lay tribes both for camping and for marching (see also 1.53; 3.23, 29, 35, 38). In chapter 2 no distinction was made between the marching positions of the different Levite clans. But that is changed here in chapter 10. During a march the Gershonite and Merarite clans, who carried the Tabernacle, were not positioned in the middle between the second camp of Reuben and third camp of Ephraim, but already between the first camp of Judah (verses 14-16) and the second camp of Reuben (verses 18-20). In this way these Levite clans were already in a position to set up the Tabernacle at the next camping site in time before the holy objects themselves would arrive, carried by the Kohathites (verse 21). The place for most of these objects was inside the Tabernacle. So chapter 10 is more specific about the position of the Levites clans than chapter 2, probably because the text is now more concerned with the details of marching from site to site (so Budd, page 110).

And when the tabernacle was taken down, the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who carried the tabernacle, set out: The Gershonites and Merarites were responsible for dismantling and carrying the Tabernacle when the Israelites moved from site to site (see 3.25-26, 36-37; 4.25-26, 31-32). Instead of And when, New Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation use the conjunction “Then,” since it is clear in the Hebrew text that they dismantled the Tabernacle after the camp of Judah began to march. For tabernacle, which renders the Hebrew word mishkan (literally “dwelling-place”), see 1.50. The verbs was taken down and set out refer to repetitive actions, so Good News Translation says “would be taken down” and “would start out.” In languages that do not use passive verbs, this verse may be rendered as follows:

• Then the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried the Tabernacle, would take it down and start out.

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 11:22

Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to suffice them?: The Hebrew word for flocks (tsʾon) refers to sheep and goats, and the word for herds (baqar) refers to cattle. Parole de Vie renders this rhetorical question as a strong statement, saying “Even if they [indefinite] kill for them [the Israelites] all the sheep, the goats and the cattle, that is not enough!”

Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?: Parole de Vie renders this rhetorical question as a strong statement also, saying “Even if they [indefinite] take all the fish, that is not enough!” For Parole de Vie the fish of the sea is a redundant expression, so it simply says “fish.”

These two rhetorical questions imply considerable doubt on Moses’ part. He simply did not believe that the LORD could do what he had just promised. No amount of sheep, goats, cattle, and fish would be enough to feed such a large multitude!

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Numbers 13:20

And whether the land is rich or poor is literally “and whether the land is fat or it is lean.” Good News Translation says “whether the soil is fertile,” which makes it clear that this clause in Hebrew refers to the quality of the soil, not to the economical situation of the country. Instead of rich or poor, some languages will use an idiomatic expression that is similar to the one in Hebrew, for example, “fat or spare/meager.” Levine translates “rich in produce or lean.”

And whether there is wood in it or not: In this context the Hebrew word for wood refers to “forests” (NET Bible, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch). New Living Translation renders this clause as “Are there many trees?” Then, as nowadays, trees were a valuable resource.

Be of good courage, and bring some of the fruit of the land: Revised Standard Version renders the Hebrew verb for Be of good courage as a general encouragement that comes after the instructions concerning exploration of Canaan, while in Good News Translation this verb (translated “be sure”) is connected directly to the instruction to bring back some of the fruit. The latter connection seems more plausible. This Hebrew verb comes from a root meaning “to be strong,” and is often understood to mean “be bold, brave, courageous” (so Revised Standard Version). Traduction œcuménique de la Bible takes it in this sense here by rendering this sentence as “Be bold enough to take fruits of the land,” and so does Parole de Vie with “Do not be afraid to pick fruits of the land.” These versions emphasize that the spies should not fear the Canaanites when they take some of the fruit. This interpretation was already given by the Jewish medieval commentator Rashbam. However, the Hebrew verb for Be of good courage can also be understood to mean “be determined” (similarly Good News Translation), “muster strength” (Alter), or “take pains” (New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh). This sense may fit better with verse 23, where a single cluster of grapes is so heavy that it requires two men to carry it (so Alter, page 746). Strength, perseverance, and courage would be needed to travel such a long distance in hostile territory with a visible sample of the fruit of the land.

Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes: The adverb Now in Revised Standard Version and the parentheses in Good News Translation show that this sentence gives some background information about the season in which the spies undertook their journey. Some languages will have a distinctive way of marking such information; for example, Chewa begins with “And so we can say….” The text provides this information to prepare the reader for verses 23-24. In Canaan the season of the first ripe grapes was mid-summer, toward the end of July. In this season the spies would be able to see how fertile the land was. For grapes see 6.3.

Quoted with permission from de Regt, Lénart J. and Wendland, Ernst R. A Handbook on Numbers. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2016. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .