I'm having some trouble translating the phrase

מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה רָאֹ֥ה רָאִ֛יתִי אֶת־עֳנִ֥י עַמִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו כִּ֥י יָדַ֖עְתִּי אֶת־מַכְאֹבָֽיו׃

And God said, "I have certainly seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry, [ ??? ], for I have known its pains.

(Exodus 3:7)

Is the participle נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו supposed to be a substantive noun? In this case, you could translate the phrase literally as "from the face of its exactor". (I'm assuming that מִפְּנֵ֣י is in construct state.)

Still, this isn't the best translation. How would you translate the missing phrase, and why?

3 Answers 3


The root נגשׂ means to "oppress, hurry (workers), whip on", etc. This is a qal active participle, i.e., "oppressors". You can find the word also in Isa. 3:12, where children are the oppressors of the people.

The word has a pronominal suffix, i.e., "its oppressors". This must refer to the people (עם) which can be referred to with both singular and plural pronominal forms (syntactic/semantic agreement).

The word פנים (absolute state; you correctly identified the construct state) is often used in conjunction with prepositions; for instance לפני "before, in the presence of". Here, it can be translated with "from before": "and their cry I have heard from before their oppressors".

It is true that מפני can mean "because of, due to", as another answer suggests, but then it would be odd that the verb is interposed: "their cry I have heard because of their oppressors" would seem to mean that the cry was heard because of their oppressors, rather than that the reason for the cry itself was the oppressors. So to get to the meaning "because of" here, we would expect:

וְשָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו; or with topic fronting:
וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙

In any case the מן of explanation and the causal מן are rather secondary meanings; the core meaning of מן remains separation and distance (cf. Joüon-Muraoka, §133e).

  • There are three "senses" in this verse: ראיתי שמעתי ידעתי. God saw the suffer, hear their cry (the taskmaster use whips as we can see on the Egyptians drawings), and knew that they were in pain. The order of the words in this verse is sort of Parallelism.
    – A. Meshu
    Jul 9, 2018 at 13:37

מִפְּנֵי means "because of, due to" here. And נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו is the Egyptians.

This verse say that God see and hear the suffer of Israel, and understand their pain.


נוֹגֵשׂ (noun) means in the bible "taskmaster". As verb, נָגַשׂ (qal) means " to demand payment of a debt".

The basic meaning of the root נגש is "to come closer" (the word לגשת for example) so we can understand why נוגש is the word for Egyptian taskmaster: he actually come closer to the Hebrew slave in order to hurry him to work (with or without whip).

Second Edit - as @Keelan say the two consonants that written with the letter ש are different, BUT they are (can be) closely related (with the third ס consonant): for example the word שעורה (barley - pronounce se'ora) origin preserved in Arabic شعير (pronounce sh'ir) etc. But even if that is not enough, maybe the proper understanding of this word will be to compare it with ס: if נגש is more like נגס ("to bite, to eat away, to eat into - another form will be הֵגֵס (hiph'il) with it literary meaning as "to roughen, to coarsen, to harden", it can spread more light on the נוגש meaning.

I think it mixture of both.


Had trouble with that verse also.

Heb. from Scripture4all.org - ISA2 program.

Exo. 3:7

And~he-is-saying (u~iamr) Yahweh (ieue) to-see (rae) I-see (raithi) ath (ath)(-) humiliation-of (oni) people-of~me (om~i) who (ashr) in~Egypt (b~mtzrim) and~ath (u~ath)(-) cry-of~them (tzoqth~m) I-hear (shmothi) from~faces-of (m~phni) ones-exacting-of~him (ngshi~u) that (ki) I-know (idothi) ath(ath)(-) pains-of~him (mkabi~u):

Tentatively, a different translation:

And~he-is-saying (u~iamr) Yahweh (ieue) to-see (rae) I-see (raithi) ath (ath)(-) humiliation-of (oni) people-of~me (om~i) who (ashr) in~Egypt (b~mtzrim) and~ath (u~ath)(-) cry-of~them / I-hear / from~faces-of / ones-coming-near/close-of~him / that / I-know / sorrow-of~him.

In the next verse,

And~I-am-descending to~to-rescue-of~him from~hand-of Egyptians....

Rationale: Yahweh, to me, is speaking of those who come close to the living bones of Joseph and pour out their distress. It is through Joseph that Yahweh hears the plight of the Israelites.

I don't use pointing, but can turn it on in the ISA2 program. It looks as tho "nagash" is pointed for nagas' (taskmaster/tyrant/oppressor - 5065) rather than nagash (came near - 5066).

Anyway, that's my take, thus far.

  • With your different translation, "coming near", you seem to be relating this to נגשׁ. This is incorrect. It is a śin, not a šin. Also the transliteration is very misleading.
    – user2672
    Jul 7, 2018 at 15:03
  • @Keelan Addressed the pointing in the post. ISA2 translit. shows uniform values for each Heb. letter. Many Biblical Hebrew (BH) scholars do not trust the Masoretic Text (MT) (pointing). I'm not a BH scholar, but have come to appreciate their skepticism. "NGSh' is only incorrect if one is using pointing here. The KJV translation doesn't work with the Hebrew (points or no points). What would your translation be using nagas'? .
    – tblue
    Jul 7, 2018 at 16:13
  • 2
    Scholars do not trust the MT in cases where there is a clear reason for a different reading. In any case, there is no reason to deliberately deviate from MT just because you can, and here נגשׂ provides a much more logical translation (see my answer). ISA2 was useful for text storage before Unicode, but has no use for phonetic representation.
    – user2672
    Jul 7, 2018 at 18:03
  • Many BH scholars have ruled out the usefulness of the MT, not just occasional deviation. (ISA2 also has the option of MT pointing.) It's okay with me, whichever system one uses, but results aren't always equally coherent. Why did the Masoretes contrive a 'sin' of 'shin' when Hebrew already had a samekh? Bowing out. All the best.
    – tblue
    Jul 7, 2018 at 19:35
  • 1) The samekh and the śin are historically distinct letters which grew towards each other. 2) You keep repeating something about "many scholars" but do not give references. Seems to me it's simply untrue. 3) Even if you reject all usefulness of MT, there still is the issue that reading נגשׂ here provides a better translation than נגשׁ; again, see my answer.
    – user2672
    Jul 7, 2018 at 19:43

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