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I have two different translations of 1 Samuel 3:19. The 2011 NIV renders the sentence:

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.

However, I recently came across another phrasing (not from a published source) that renders it like this:

And he let none of the Lord's words drop to the ground.

I assume that neither the name of Samuel nor a name of God appears in the second half of the sentence. The grammar in the 1984 NIV is at least somewhat ambiguous. Is there any warrant at all for the second translation above? Whose words are being kept from falling to the ground?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

You are correct in that the latter clause does not name either Yahveh or Samuel.

Hebrew text:

וַיִּגְדַּל שְׁמוּאֵל וַיהוָה הָיָה עִמּוֹ וְלֹא הִפִּיל מִכָּל דְּבָרָיו אָרְצָה

English translation:

And Samuel grew up, and Yahveh was with him, and he did not let any of his words fall to the ground.

Or,

And Samuel grew up, and Yahveh was with him, and he did not cause any of his words to fall to the ground.

In his entry on the verb נָפָל, binyan Hif'il, p. 683, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius noted the following:

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Hence the expression הִפִּיל + דְּבָרִים + אָרְצָה means for a promise to be broken. Preceding the phrase with a negative particle expresses the idea of keeping one's promise (i.e., not allowing one's promise to be broken).

Also see:

In the case of Samuel, it was Yahveh who made promises to Samuel (1 Sam. 3:11-14). In 1 Sam. 3:12, Yahveh says,

In that day, I shall cause to stand (אָקִים) unto1 Eli, everything that I spoke unto1 his house. When I begin, I shall also make an end.

1 or "concerning"

בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא אָקִים אֶל עֵלִי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי אֶל בֵּיתוֹ הָחֵל וְכַלֵּה

To cause words to stand (expressed by the binyin Hif'il conjugation of the verb קוּם) is the antithesis of causing words to fall (expressed by the Hif'il conjugation of the verb נָפָל).

words stand = promise fulfilled :: words fall = promise broken

Since Yahveh said He would cause the words He spoke to stand, then it is Yahveh who did not cause those same words to fall (and be broken). Hence, the phrase וְלֹא הִפִּיל מִכָּל דְּבָרָיו אָרְצָה refers to the fact that Yahveh did not break His promises to Samuel and everything occurred which Yahveh promised to and/ or by Samuel the prophet concerning Eli and his house (cp. 1 Kings 2:27).


References

Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, including the Biblical Chaldee. Trans. Robinson, Edward. Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1865. (source)

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From reading of the Hebrew (besides for every translation I've ever seen), it sounds very much like the phrase is referring to the Lord's not letting Samuel's words 'fall'.

Referring to the Lord's word in such a way seems rather strange; His words wouldn't 'fall'- they would still be just as true, even if they aren't being followed. Samuel's words were allowed not to fall in the sense that whatever he said ended up being true (as the next verse goes on to state that the people recognized him as such, and as proven by Saul's request for the whereabouts of his father's sheep).

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. –  Paul Vargas May 23 at 19:16
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