I came across this quite confusing construction in Isaiah 43:3. The ESV reads,

For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. 

The Hebrew is נָתַתִּי and parsed as Qal Perfect. Now the perfect is said to mean a completed event, whether it be past, present, or future. The ESV renders it in the present so I was quite confused about its time reference.

Some translations render it in the past,

For I am the LORD thy God, The Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. (JPS)

This brings interpretative issues. If the verse refers to a past event (Exodus), how does Cush (Ethiopia) and Seba fit in the picture? Also, it seems interpreters generally take the statement as referring to a futuristic Persian engagement.

Question: Is the past tense rendering of נָתַתִּי (Isa 43:3) in English translations wrong?

  • The next verse has וְאֶתֵּן אָדָם תַּחְתֶּיךָ (imperfect) apparently in reference to the same thing. I think the shift of aspect is just a poetic parallelism (and therefore not a great indicator of whether it refers to a specific event). Compare זָחַלְתִּי וָאִירָא (Job 32:6) "I feared (perfect) and I fear (imperfect)"
    – b a
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 0:46
  • I think the shift to the imperfect in Job 32:6 is justified as זָחַלְתִּי refers to the past and אִירָא is a continuous attitude exhibited by the speaker, "afraid to declare". Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 3:25
  • My point was just that the shift of aspect is meant as poetic parallelism, and that I think Isaiah 43:3-4 is one such example. There are many other cases in the Bible, I can think of e.g. אֶחֱזֶה/רָאוּ (Job 19:27), עָלָה/תֹּאכֵל/בָּעֲרוּ (Psalms 18:9)
    – b a
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 9:14

1 Answer 1


No, it is not wrong. The reason why Cush (Ethiopia) and Seba fit in the picture is, because their firstborn who were in Egypt while "Makot Bchorot" died too. https://www.sefaria.org/Mekhilta_d'Rabbi_Yishmael.12.29.1?vhe=Mekhilta_--_Wikisource&lang=bi

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