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Isaiah 65:1a

נִדְרַ֙שְׁתִּי֙ לְל֣וֹא שָׁאָ֔לוּ
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;

נִמְצֵ֖אתִי לְלֹ֣א בִקְשֻׁ֑נִי
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. (ESV)

The ESV (also NRSV, NET, NASB; contrast NIV, HCSB) take these two verbs – "ready to be sought ... ready to be found" – as tolerative nifals, I gather.

Joüon-Muraoka (a Hebrew grammar) says of the tolerative nifal נדרש:

generally with a notion of effective action....to allow oneself to be asked, and that effectively, hence practically = to answer (speaking of God)

Walkte & O'Connor (another Hebrew grammar) follow this idea, offering the translation:

I answered (< allowed myself to be sought by) those who did not ask (for me);
I revealed myself to (< allowed myself to be found by) those who did not seek me.

This "efficacy” nuance is different from the "ready to..." translation of the ESV etc.

How should we decide in what way to understand the nifal here? Is this verse intended to convey something already accomplished (revealed, answered) or merely offerred?


1. The other uses of the potentially "tolerative" nifal דרש (with subject = Yahweh) are in Ezekiel; mostly these could also be taken either way.

2. The LXX seems to carry a similar sense of "effective": Εμφανὴς ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἐμὲ μὴ ζητοῦσιν, εὑρέθην τοῖς ἐμὲ μὴ ἐπερωτῶσιν· = I became visible to those who did not seek me; I was found by those who did not inquire after me. This may have more to do with reading them as passives ("was found" + reconciliation of "did not ask" with "was sought" --> "became visible") rather than a reflection of the translator having read Jouon, but you never know.

  • Since its been quiet for a couple days I'll go ahead and ask this. I'm probably being dense, but I'll try to understand. Basically, has he prepared himself to be found or has he already been found? I think the way you described it as offered is what threw me off at first. I would think the tense of "did not seek/ask" is involved. If it is "ready to be" by those that "did not" then the implication becomes they now do or will ask and seek. Which changes their position from passive to active. If he allowed it to already happen, then they find him without perhaps intending to. – Joshua Dec 7 '15 at 14:11
  • Related question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/19819/… Not sure if it fully and thoroughly answers your question, but I feel it is appropriate to link it here. – RJ Navarrete Dec 7 '15 at 21:32
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    @RJNavarrete Thanks, yeah Paul changes it up a bit. The words are exactly the same as the LXX in note 2, but the A/B parts of the two clauses are flipped-flopped (so AB A’B' becomes A’B AB’) . The verb forms of the LXX/Romans are also not consistently representing the Hebrew. (I’m not suggesting that they are a poor expression of it, only that I don’t think we can necessarily figure out the Hebrew from it.) – Susan Dec 7 '15 at 22:43
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The נפעל isn't always passive when translated, witness נמצא, which means to be there or to be present, though often translated as "was found", which does not give the correct sense in modern English. In this case the נפעל is reflexive.

If you read the complete verse,

נִדְרַ֙שְׁתִּי֙ לְל֣וֹא שָׁאָ֔לוּ נִמְצֵ֖אתִי לְלֹ֣א בִקְשֻׁ֑נִי אָמַ֙רְתִּי֙ הִנֵּ֣נִי הִנֵּ֔נִי אֶל־גּ֖וֹי לֹֽא־קֹרָ֥א בִשְׁמִֽי

the answer is clear from the parallelism of second half and the internal alliterative1 parallelism of each half, נדרשתי/נמצאתי and אמרתי/אל גוי. The second half reads (my translation):

"I said 'Here I am! Here I am!', to a nation that didn't call my name"

So the first half should read:

"I answered but no one asked, I was there but no one searched"

That is, the נפעל form נדרשתי indicates the action that God "was asked (by Himself in this case) and prepared (active) the answers, to the questions that no one asked".

So the translation of the entire verse would be:

I answered but no one asked, I was there but no one searched
I said "Here I am! Here I am!", to a nation that didn't call my name.

This is not a difficult verse to understand though it presents some translation problems because of the brevity of the language. In any event, there isn't any passive sense in the intent and the active language continues into the following verse. The ESV, Walkte & O'Connor and enegue's translation all appear to me to be over-translations. That is, they try to pack too many of the nuances into the translation and lose the simple meaning of the words on the way.


  1. The alliteration is even more striking in the Babylonian and Yemenite Hebrew vocalizations that have no "segol" and instead vocalize "patach" where a "segol" appears in a text using the Tiberian system of diacritics.
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My personal translation of Isaiah 65:1-2:

I am inquired of not by those who [could have] asked of me, and am found not by those who [could have] sought for me. I have said, "Behold! Behold!", to a nation that has not called on my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people who walk after their own thoughts a way that is not good.

To what extent was the LORD “sought” and “found” in Isaiah 65:1?

He wasn't, which is what all the fuss is about. Even though God had made it crystal clear that His purpose was to set Israel apart from all the other nations in order to draw all men to Himself, the people of Israel just couldn't get a handle on it:

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (KJV)

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

But, then, Deuteronomy 4:25-28 tells us that God didn't really expect Israel, as a whole, to get a handle on His purpose. There were those, though, whom God knew would be refined by the predicted tribulation. The prophet's plea for mercy in Isaiah 64 is a direct appeal for God to keep the promise He made in Deuteronomy 4:29-31, which, of course, we know He did.

  • I'm not sure how you can get, "I am not inquired of by those who [are able to] ask of me". The word nidraštı̂ ("I was [ready to be] sought") is not negated; šāʾālû ("they asked for") is negated. – Susan Mar 14 '16 at 12:17
  • Sorry! Have just edited. – enegue Mar 14 '16 at 12:34
  • Surely niḏ-raš-tî just means "I am inquired of" , like kə-ṣê-ṯî means "I am gone out" (Exodus 9:29) or like niš·kaḥ·tî means "I am forgotten" (Psalm 31:12). How does the "ready to be" figure into it? – enegue Mar 14 '16 at 13:41
  • That is, indeed, the question! See the link in the Q to GKC "tolerative niphal" (§51c). The other two grammars quoted in the question also reflect the existence of such a possibility. (To your examples: kĕṣēʾtı̂ is a qal active form: "when I have gone out". Niškaḥtı̂ (Heb. v. 13) is also niphal but most naturally passive ("I have been forgotten [like one who is dead]"). – Susan Mar 14 '16 at 14:02
  • "I am forgotten as a dead man" (KJV) OR "I have been forgotten like one who is dead;" (ESV). They communicate the same idea, but the ESV has lost the poetry. You are being more prescriptive, here, than the Hebrew language requires, to which the variety of renderings testifies. I might just add that nearly all the interpretations of niš·kaḥ·tî prefer "I am", like the KJV. – enegue Mar 14 '16 at 21:47

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