Translation commentary on Isaiah 42:18

Good News Translation indicates that God is speaking here by beginning with “The LORD says” (see the introductory comments on this section [42.18-25]).

Hear, you deaf; and look, you blind, that you may see!: These two parallel lines are literally “The deaf ones hear, and the blind ones look in order to see.” The verbs “hear” and “look” are imperatives in Hebrew, so “The deaf ones” and “the blind ones” are vocatives. This is an unusual construction in Hebrew. It places emphasis on the vocatives by putting them before the verbs. Good News Translation expresses them well with “you deaf people” and “you that are blind.” The deaf and the blind are metaphors for God’s people, referring to their disobedience (compare verse 16). With the commands Hear and look he tells them to pay attention. God wants his people, who have been deaf and blind to his teachings, to take note of what he is about to say.

That you may see expresses the purpose of their listening. God wants them to comprehend what he is about to say. The verb see may be rendered “comprehend” or “understand.”

We urge translators to keep the metaphors deaf and blind, if possible. In languages where the readers take them in their literal sense, Contemporary English Version‘s rendering of this verse may help: “You people are deaf and blind, but the LORD commands you to listen and to see.” If not, similes may be used by saying “You who are like people who are deaf and blind, listen and look closely.” However, this lessens the impact of the words somewhat. Other translation examples are:

• The LORD says:
“You [plural] who are deaf, listen up;
you [plural] who are blind, look closely and observe.

• The LORD says:
“Listen up, you deaf ones;
look closely, you blind ones, and take note.

Quoted with permission from Ogden, Graham S. and Sterk, Jan. A Handbook on Isaiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2011. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .