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My question is regarding the translation of the Heb. זָר which basically means an alien or a stranger. However, it is used in Isa 43:12 to refer to strange gods:

אָנֹכִי הִגַּדְתִּי וְהֹושַׁעְתִּי וְהִשְׁמַעְתִּי וְאֵין בָּכֶם זָר וְאַתֶּם עֵדַי נְאֻם־יְהוָה וַֽאֲנִי־אֵֽל׃

I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. (ESV)

A commentary I consult to lists three (3) other occurrences where apparently the Hebrew could mean other gods: Deu 32:16, Jer 2:25, and 3:13. Looking at these verses it appears to me that although זר could refer to the gods of other nations, the word might also just be translated as [human] stranger/s, as in the ESV:

Deu 32:16: They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods (זָרִים); with abominations they provoked him to anger.

Jer 2:25: Keep your feet from going unshod and your throat from thirst. But you said, ‘It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners (זָרִים), and after them I will go.’

Jer 3:13: Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners (זָרִים) under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD.

The verses provided weren't exhaustive of all uses of זָר but it does show examples of flexibility in translating the word. Most of the uses however only refer to persons, "strangers". I personally think, however, for the verses above, that gods could be a better translation, as in the NET:

Jer 3:13: "...You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods (זָרִים) under every green tree, and have not obeyed my commands,’ says the Lord. (NET)

So going back, is the translation in Isa 43:12 referring to strange gods justified, or could it just be translated strangers?

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Unlike English, the most common use of adjectives in Biblical Hebrew is to function as a noun. The adjective itself has gender and number. In this case

foreign god
זָ֑ר (zār)
Adjective - masculine singular

The actual noun that the adjective refers to is determined from the context and it is usually obvious because it has matching gender and number. It is a standard Hebrew grammar practice. There is nothing unusual about it.

Something like this: He and his wife have a communication problem, not a theological (one).

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The Hebrew word, זוּר (zuwr) occurs 77 times in the Hebrew Bible and indeed, means "strange" (adj), or "stranger/alien" (noun), or "estrange/alienate" (verb). This much is clear. However, sometimes it is used as an adjective (or participle) without a noun to qualify. In such cases, the noun must be inferred from the context. There are several examples of this:

  • Deut 32:16 where "gods" is implied by the sense of the verse.
  • prov 22:14 & 23:23 - is it "strange things" or "strange woman" = adulteress? Both translations exist in some versions.
  • Isa 17:10 - is it "strange god" or "strange/imported vines/seedlings"
  • Isa 43:12 - "gods" is implied by the sense of the verse
  • Jer 18:14 - "land" is implied by the sense of the verse
  • Hos 8:2 - strange "thing" impled

The idea of "strange gods" is explicit in other places such as Ps 44:20, 81:9.

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