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Exodus 3:19 reads:

וַאֲנִ֣י יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֠י לֹֽא־יִתֵּ֥ן אֶתְכֶ֛ם מֶ֥לֶךְ מִצְרַ֖יִם לַהֲלֹ֑ךְ וְלֹ֖א בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃ (WLC)
But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. (ESV)

I’m interested in the last part:

וְלֹ֖א בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה
literally: and not in|with|by a mighty hand.
ESV: unless compelled by a mighty hand.

Most other translations also seem to have arrived at something like unless or except (also LXX: ἐὰν μὴ = except), and they generally expand it with some statement of “compulsion”, which seems to fill out the metaphor with acceptable English. The latter I understand, but I’m not accustomed to the waw conjunction meaning unless. Hebrew has other ways to say that.

  • Is this a valid translation of the MT as written, or are the translations that use ‘unless’ or ‘except’ emending the Hebrew according to the LXX (or whatever)?

(The meaning seems pretty obvious if indeed ‘unless’ is the best interpretation, but if anybody has a way to make sense of it otherwise, I’m interested.)

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יט וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי לֹא יִתֵּן אֶתְכֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַהֲלֹךְ וְלֹא בְּיָד חֲזָקָה

Regarding the phrase וְלֹא בְּיָד חֲזָקָה in Exo. 3:19, Keil & Delitzsch wrote (pp. 444-445),

“not even by means of a strong hand;” “except through great power” is not the true rendering, ולא does not mean ἐὰν μή, nisi. What follows, - viz., the statement that God would so smite the Egyptians with miracles that Pharaoh would, after all, let Israel go (Exodus 3:20), - is not really at variance with this, the only admissible rendering of the words. For the meaning is, that Pharaoh would not be willing to let Israel depart even when he should be smitten by the strong hand of God; but that he would be compelled to do so against his will, would be forced to do so by the plagues that were about to fall upon Egypt. Thus even after the ninth plague it is still stated (Exodus 10:27), that “Pharaoh would (אבה) not let them go;” and when he had given permission, in consequence of the last plague, and in fact had driven them out (Exodus 12:31), he speedily repented, and pursued them with his army to bring them back again (Exodus 14:5.); from which it is clearly to be seen that the strong hand of God had not broken his will, and yet Israel was brought out by the same strong hand of Jehovah.

The ESV translation is interesting, and I wonder how they arrived at their conclusion, as the KJV translates it as,

And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.

Of course, as you mentioned, the LXX translated the Hebrew into Greek by ἐὰν μὴ μετὰ χειρὸς κραταιᾶς ("except with a mighty hand").

References

Delitzsch, Franz; Keil, Carl Friedrich. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1900.

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Just read the Hebrew plainly, without much ado ..

ואני ידעתי כי לא יתן אתכם
and I knew that not will let you

מלך מצרים
king of egypt

להלך ולא ביד חזקה
to go and-not by hand of might.

Moving "king of egypt" from interrupting predicate of the sentence,

ואני ידעתי כי לא יתן אתכם
and I knew that not will let you

להלך ולא ביד חזקה
to go and-not by hand of might.

  • I knew that king of egypt (will not let you to go) (and not by/in hand of might).

  • I knew that king of egypt (will not let you to go) (and not thro asserting might).

  • I knew that king of egypt (will not let you to go) (without thro asserting might).

[יד] (hand) is used in Hebrew to form causal prepositions.

  • על יד = upon hand of, due to, because of
  • מיד = from hand of, thereafter, soon after
  • ביד = in hand of, through, by, via

I will say that the verse is saying,

I knew that king of egypt, will not let you go without through asserting might.

I knew that king of egypt, will not let you go without a fight.

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