Does "brit am" in Isaiah 42:6 mean "a covenant of a people" or "a covenant people"? Or are both translations viable?

[Isa 42:6 NASB] (6) "I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations,

[Isa 42:6 WLC] (6) אני יהוה קראתיך בצדק ואחזק בידך ואצרך ואתנך לברית עם לאור גוים׃

[Isa 42:6 LXX] (6) ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἐκάλεσά σε ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ καὶ κρατήσω τῆς χειρός σου καὶ ἐνισχύσω σε καὶ ἔδωκά σε εἰς διαθήκην γένους εἰς φῶς ἐθνῶν

1 Answer 1


Syntactically, the phrase can be indefinite as there is no definite article, so "a covenant of a people". It is quite normal, however, that the article is left out in poetry even when the phrase should be read as definite. That is probably the case here, too, since it is clear who the "people" to whom is referred are. Hence "a covenant of the people".

  • Is "a covenant people" a viable translation? Aug 2, 2019 at 4:53
  • The JPS Tanakh translates it as "I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you, And I have grasped you by the hand. I created you, and appointed you a covenant people, a light of nations." I was wondering whether translating "brit am" as "covenant people" rather than "a covenant of a (or "the") people" is a viable way to translate this. Aug 2, 2019 at 12:09
  • @David I hold the JPS in the highest regard, but really don't see how that translation can be justified. Like I said, the head of the phrase is "covenant", not "people".
    – user2672
    Aug 2, 2019 at 12:20
  • Could you explain what you mean exactly by "the head of the phrase is 'covenant', not 'people'" and how that relates to the translation? Thank you. Aug 2, 2019 at 13:06
  • @David it means that ברית qualifies עם and not the other way around (and this qualification is optional, so you can leave out ברית without losing the intended meaning). See: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_(linguistics)
    – user2672
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:19

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