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NIV Nehemiah 4:23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.

How to translate Nehemiah 4:23?

וְאֵ֨ין אֲנִ֜י וְאַחַ֣י וּנְעָרַ֗י וְאַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמִּשְׁמָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַחֲרַ֔י אֵין־אֲנַ֥חְנוּ פֹשְׁטִ֖ים בְּגָדֵ֑ינוּ אִ֖ישׁ שִׁלְחֹ֥ו הַמָּֽיִם׃ ס

Is "for water" some sort of euphemism?

  • there are none of us putting off our garments, each `hath' his vessel of water. [YLT] – Nigel J Jul 18 at 13:06
  • The words are missing from the Septuagint. The way I see it, after consulting renditions into various languages, even when they took off their clothes for washing their bodies, they still held on to their weapons, that's how on guard they were. – Lucian Jul 19 at 15:36
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The word translated "water in Neh 4:23 is simply מַיִם (mah'-yim) and simply means "water".

However, it is obvious that more than just water is intended. The Hebrew is obscure because the literal rendering is "each one his weapon the water", which makes no sense. Therefore, most version supply another verb. There are several possible understandings here:

  1. Water could mean "water of the feet" that is urine. Such a meaning is found elsewhere according to BDB. 2 Kings 18:27 = Isaiah 36:12; compare מַדְמֵנָה בְּמֵי Isaiah 25:10 Kt in water of a dunghill.
  2. Some versions suggest that the "water" here is "washing", and that appears possible, eg, KJV, NKJV, HCSB, DRB.
  3. Water could also mean simply "water", ie, when each man went for a drink or refilled his water bottle. I think this last meaning is unlikely as such a meaning would not normally require the removal of clothes.

Therefore, I think it simplest to understand this reference to water as ablutions generally, that is, either washing or toilet as both involved water.

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  • Is it, therefore, a sort of euphemism ? Presumably a point is being made (perhaps in spiritual allusion, though the meaning escapes me) and something is being hinted at (as scripture often does). I wonder if there is such a thing as an 'elliptical euphemism'. +1. But see YLT. – Nigel J Jul 18 at 13:03
  • @NigelJ - interesting possibilities. I do not know the answer either. – Dottard Jul 18 at 21:33

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