Psalm 15 begins with the question (v.1):

יְהוָֹה מִי־יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?

and answers (vv. 2-4):

הוֹלֵךְ תָּ֭מִים וּפֹעֵל צֶדֶק
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
נִשְׁבַּ֥ע לְהָרַע וְלֹא יָמִר
who swears to his own hurt and does not change...

I'm not sure what "swears to his own hurt" in the ESV means,* but I would have thought that nišbaʿ lᵉhāraʿ means "swears to do harm" (cf. Deut 1:35 and Josh 21:43 with the same construction — nif. šbʿ + lᵉ + inf. con. — to mean "swear to do X"). The hifil form of rʿʿ normally involves bringing harm to another, not oneself.

The LXX translator appears to have shuffled a couple letters: ὁ ὀμνύων τῷ πλησίον αὐτοῦ (= נשבע לרעהו).

  • How do translations arrive at the reflexive (?) idea,"swears to his own hurt"?
  • Is there any possibility of this meaning "swears to do harm [to another]"?
  • Or might the LXX's "makes an oath to his neighbor" (harmless, as it were) be correct?

*The NIV may be preferable here: "who keeps an oath even when it hurts". NASB, NRSV, HCSB, etc. agree.

2 Answers 2


It's worth noting that the Hiphil form of רעע is not always a transitive verb. For instance in Genesis 19:7 (Lot speaking to the townspeople of Sodom):

וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אַל־נָ֥א אַחַ֖י תָּרֵֽעוּ׃


and said, “No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing.

Grammatically at least, it's not necessary for there to be an object of the wrongdoing. I'm not proposing that the psalmist has the Genesis 19:7 thing in mind, however. :-)

So there are some options:

  • Perhaps the original verb had a potential reflexive meaning, and we happen not to have any other clear examples of that. The usage in Psalm 37:8 might be construed to have a reflexive meaning, but I don't think that's clear. (Against this: we do have a couple of niphal forms of רעע, and you'd have expected a reflexive to be expressed with that, really.)
  • Perhaps the original text was indeed רֵעֶה, the Septuagint translated it as such, and subsequently the Masoretic text was corrupted. (Against this: usually the harder reading is preferred, because it's thought to be more likely that a difficult reading would be “corrected” by a later copyist, than that a randomly troublesome error would be introduced by a later copyist.)
  • Perhaps the Septuagint translator had the same Hebrew that we do, but went through the same thought process we're going through — perhaps especially with the context of Genesit 19:7 in mind — and thought, “Surely that's just a mistake” and tried to fix it in his translation.

All of the above are possible, and it's always subjective to assign probabilities to these things. For me, the first or third feel more likely, but different people might feel differently (and even the second option might have been what actually happened).

  • Another option for the Septuagint translation is that the ו in ולא was duplicated at the end of רעה to make רעהו
    – b a
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 19:48

My persistent opinion is - there is something academically disagreeable with the techniques promoted by this site.

A few months earlier in another answer, I proposed that [אשר] actually meant regard, which has then been used as a preposition.

  • so that "regard" can be used relatively,
    hence the preposition [אשר] = which, whom, whose
  • And therefore, as my answer to Psalm 1,
    Being honoured/regarded is the man who does not go in counsel of the wicked.

Because, your English translations have been struggling between translating [אשר] as "happy is" and "blessed is".

But "Blessed" is [ברוך]. What does "blessed" even mean? It is an empty meaningless concocted English word whose meaning is built on shifty sand. [ברוך] otoh means being knelt to, and thence its idiomatic usage.

In fact, now I have changed my mind. I now believe that due to the absence of any suggestive passive, the meaning is now in the active form, where the masc plural is frequently a gerund

Regards/honouring the man who does not go in counsel of the wicked.

So for this question, a case which is much easier -- did you notice this is a simple passive form [נשבע]? Which is the simple passive form of ... what?

Tada ... [שבע] = completion, perfection.

One must be willing to perform a grammatical analysis and then figure out if the prevalent meaning had actually mutated thro idiomatic means. Do you relegate your responsibility to make reasonable grammatical analysis to "authoritative scholarship" ("authoritative" !!) and simply accept their presumptuous opinions, which themselves had exhibited no real scholarship?

I mean there are many reasonably upvoted answers here where they did evangelical conjectures, original but reasonable and logical conjectures - so then why are ya'll not willing to accept reasonable and logical grammatical conjectures?

Now that I have spoken my long-winded, but reasonable persuasion preamble ....

there is high possibility that many of the instances where [נשבע] is found, it is not the mutated idiomatic meaning that was intended, but the original simple passive meaning of [שבע] is intended.

The most basic principle of a Bible fundamentalist is -- always go back to ground zero even if it means questioning "authority". Dig out the truth.

  • Genesis 24:7
    • ואשר דבר לי ואשר נשבע לי
    • who spoke to me and by whom I am assured
    • [נשבע] being assured, given a fulfillment, which idiomatically implies a promise.
    • Which in latter scriptures allowed for the mutatated negative sense of abuse of false promise - a mockery of a promise = swearing.
    • There is a linguistic terminology of the phenomenon where a word mutates into a negative/opposing meaning of its own, and I can't recall that term.

Go thro every occurrence of [נשבע] and you will find that the simple passive of given a feeling of completion, given a closure is a more reasonable meaning than "swearing".

Biblical Hebrew is not a lifeless monochromatic language.

  • Psalm 15:4
    • נבזה בעיניו נמאס
      ואת יראי יי יכבד
      נשבע להרע ולא ימר
    • being loathed in his eyes are the undesirables (l'miserables)
      and those who fear HaShem he honours
      his intention towards that who cause evil and/then will he not risk compromise

Where [ימר] is the uncompleted of [המר] = laying down to the odds, placed before the odds.

  • 1
    Give me an explanation for the downvote.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 9:02
  • 2
    I downvoted you because you spent a large amount of space ranting about your annoyances, such as the word blessed and how you can't seem to comprehend for the life of you why blessed would be used for happy is, seemingly making it appear you are too lazy to look up blessed in a dictionary which would plainly show that blissfully happy or contented is one of the definitions. You then rant about "authoritative scholarship," which is absurd because if Susan blindly accepted "authoritative scholarship" she wouldn't even be asking this question.
    – user6503
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 19:11
  • 2
    Then when you finally get around to what I thought might be an answer of the actual question, you still don't answer it. You even state that "Biblical Hebrew is not a lifeless monochromatic language" when no one said it was, but then your own attempted translation makes it just that. And on top of it all, you come across as super rude and haughty. What happened to you, Blessed Geek? I've run across a few of your older answers from years ago where you seemed to be at least a little considerate.
    – user6503
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 19:11
  • Why should I look up {blessed} in the English dictionary when the Hebrew word is at stake here. Is the "original language" of your Bible English?
    – Cynthia
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 12:01
  • Why are you induced into defensiveness when I write in strongly affirming language without insulting anybody? Even your Jesus (if he even exists) used strong affirming language and you have no problem with that. I am at least equal in stature to your god jesus as a human. At least I exist, while there is no evidence of his existence.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 12:04

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