The name that is transliterated as “Judah” or “Judea” in English (referring to the son of Jacob, the tribe, and the territory) is translated in Spanish Sign Language as “lion” (referring to Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5) (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff.)
Many languages use a “body part tally system” where body parts function as numerals (see body part tally systems with a description). One such language is Angguruk Yali which uses a system that ends at the number 27. To circumvent this limitation, the Angguruk Yali translators adopted a strategy where a large number is first indicated with an approximation via the traditional system, followed by the exact number according to Arabic numerals. For example, where in 2 Samuel 6:1 it says “thirty thousand” in the English translation, the Angguruk Yali says teng-teng angge 30.000 or “so many rounds [following the body part tally system] 30,000,” likewise, in Acts 27:37 where the number “two hundred seventy-six” is used, the Angguruk Yali translation says teng-teng angge 276 or “so many rounds 276,” or in John 6:10 teng-teng angge 5.000 for “five thousand.”
This strategy is used in all the verses referenced here.
The numbers here and in the rest of the chapter correspond exactly with those in chapter 1. See the comments on 1.20-46.
Those to encamp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah means Judah and the other tribes in its group must camp on the east side of the Tent of Meeting. The phrase toward the sunrise seems superfluous and unnecessary after the east side. Probably for this reason Good News Translation has omitted it. But toward the sunrise (“where the sun rises” in De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling) is crucial information. Although Reuben was Israel’s firstborn son, it is not the banner of Reuben’s camp (located on the south) but the banner of Judah’s camp that must be on this side, which was the side of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (see 3.38). The position of Judah’s camp at this privileged side underlines how important the tribe of Judah was. If a literal rendering of toward the sunrise poses a problem, this phrase may be translated “on the front side [of the tent]” or even “on the side of the [tent’s] entrance.” New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh renders on the east side toward the sunrise as “on the front, or east side.” In some languages the directions of sunrise and sunset are culturally significant (for instance, in burial rituals) and there may be particular technical or idiomatic ways of expressing them; for example, Chewa expresses sunrise as “where the sun comes out.” The camp of Judah refers to the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.
By their companies is literally “by their troops” (see the comments on 1.3). The Israelites were a well-organized army.
The leader of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab: See 1.7. The Hebrew word for leader is nasiʾ (see 1.16), which is better rendered “chief” (Revised English Bible) or “Chieftain” (New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh) in this context.
His host as numbered …: Host renders the same Hebrew word (tsavaʾ) as companies, but in the singular. New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh renders it “troop.” Numbered renders the same Hebrew verb (paqad) translated “number” in 1.3 (see the comments there). It is better rendered “registered” (New Living Translation), “enrolled” (New Revised Standard Version), or “recorded.”
Those to encamp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar: The pronoun him refers to the tribe of Judah. Contemporary English Version makes this clear by rendering this clause as “On one side of Judah will be the tribe of Issachar.”
The leader of the people of Issachar being Nethanel the son of Zuar: See 1.8.
Then the tribe of Zebulun: Nothing in the Hebrew text corresponds with the conjunction Then; the Hebrew only has “The tribe of Zebulun” and seems like a list at this point. This sentence is not grammatically complete. Perhaps the target language has a special conjunction or transitional term to indicate the last item in a list, whether short (as this one) or long. In some languages (for example, Albanian) it will be more natural and seem less repetitive if this first sentence about Zebulun is moved to the beginning of verse 5, combining it with the tribe of Issachar as follows: “Those to camp next to the tribe of Judah shall be the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun….”
The leader of the people of Zebulun being Eliab the son of Helon: See 1.9.
The whole number of the camp of Judah is literally “All those enrolled of the camp of Judah.” Number renders the Hebrew verb paqad again (see 1.3), so it is better translated “enrolled” (New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh). The King James Version (King James Version) renders this whole phrase as “All that were numbered in the camp of Judah,” but the Hebrew here shows no indication of any past tense at all (so also in verses 16, 24, and 31).
They shall set out first on the march: This clause refers to repetitive action; not just one change of camp is in view here but many. Chewa provides a good model for this clause, saying “Those ones [tribes] should be out in front as they move/travel.” The pronoun They refers to the three tribes under the banner of Judah. The Hebrew verb rendered set out … on the march can mean “move off,” “set out,” “journey further,” or “march.” The translation of it here should fit the context of a (military) camp.
We recommend Good News Translation‘s list layout for verses 3-9, 10-16, 18-24, and 25-31. Bible en français courant has lists as well, but without headings such as “Tribe.” This does not make the translation unclear, because Bible en français courant introduces the lists with “under a chief of their tribe” instead of “under their leaders” (Good News Translation). In any case, whether there is a list layout or not, the verses about each group of three tribes may be put in a separate paragraph (so Good News Translation), or may even be preceded and followed by a blank line (so New International Version). The numbers may be printed in figures, not only because it will make the translation easier to read but also because figures are more fitting in lists of this kind.
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 .