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After Moses received the second set of tablets from God, we read:

Moses hastened to bow low to the ground in homage, and said, “If I have gained Your favor, O Lord, pray, let the Lord go in our midst, even though this is a stiffnecked people. Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own!”—Exodus 34:8-9 (NJPS)

Other translations render the appeal differently:

And he said: 'If now I have found grace in Thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray Thee, go in the midst of us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance.'”—Exodus 34:9 (JPS)

A survey of a number versions show that translators are evenly split on whether Moses is asking for the Lord to overlook the stubbornness or whether he is asking Him to come in their midst for the very reason of their obstinateness. What are the considerations used to arrive at these opposite renderings?

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1 Answer

Most excellent question.

Although כִּי (ki) more often possesses the sense of "because, since" (see Gesenius, p. 458, §2a), there are some instances where it possesses the sense of "although" (see Gesenius, p. 461, §4 (just above §5)).

It seems that context will have to determine the appropriate translation.

In Exo. 33:2-3, YHVH informs Moshe,

"And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey, for I will not go up in your midst, for (כִּי) you are a stiff-necked people, lest I consume you in the way."

Here we see that YHVH would not go in their midst because they were a stiff-necked people. Had He gone in their midst, He would have consumed them.

Moshe pleads with YHVH to go with them on the way to Canaan (Exo. 33:12-16), to which He obliges.

"Although" seems to make more sense, because YHVH at first said that if He went in their midst, He would consume them. Thus, He obliges to go in their midst although they are a stiff-necked people.

On the other hand, it seems that Moshe is pleading with YHVH because He knows that only God is able to manage the stubborness of the people by His threats and actions (e.g., threatening to consume them, and even, consuming them).

If we recall, the Israelites wanted to stone Moshe at one point (Exo. 17:4), so Moshe is very cognizant of the danger in leading the Israelites on the journey to Canaan. It's possible that Moshe is pleading for the supervision of YHVH because he cannot manage the stiff-necked people by himself (Num. 11:14). Thus, it would be translated as "...because (or "for," "since") it is a stiff-necked people."

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