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"‏וַיֹּ֖אמֶר בִּ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח׃" (Exodus 4:13, Masoretic Hebrew)

My word-for-word translation of this is: "And he said 'Oh Lord, please send by the hand of (him who) you will send'" which matches the King James version pretty well: "And he said, my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send."

But NIV and other modern translations I've seen say this: 'But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”'

There seems to be a Hebrew idiom here, but I'm too inexperienced at Hebrew to understand how it works. Can someone explain the idiom to me? Or is this a difference in manuscripts that I missed?

3

Here's how Gesenius explaned it:

(c) In the genitive governed by a substantive (cf. § 130 d), Ex 4:13 שְׁלַח־נָא בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send, i.e. by the hand of some one else; -- Gesenius, F. W. (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew grammar. (E. Kautzsch & S. A. E. Cowley, Eds.) (2d English ed., p. 488). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Gesenius%27_Hebrew_Grammar/155._Relative_Clauses

That is, יַד is construct in בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח. Thus, a literal translation is "Please send by the hand you will send." For the rest see above ("i.e. by the hand of some one else."). The note in the JPS Tanakh says the literal translation is "send through whomever you will send" using the grammatical relative clause.

Davidson explains "by the hand of" meaning "through."

  1. Ex. 4:13 שְׁלַח בְּיַד תִּשְׁלַח send through (by the hand of) him-whom thou wilt send. -- Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed., p. 192). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

§ 25. A clause may occasionally take the place of the gen. Such a clause will be what we call relative (in Heb. rel. or descriptive), particularly in designations of time and place: Gen. 40:3 מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יוֹסֵף אָסוּר שָׁם the place where J. was confined; Is. 29:1 קִרְיַת חָנָה דָוִד thou city where D. dwelt; 1 S. 25:15 כָּל־יְמֵי הִתְהַלַּכְנוּ אִתָּם all the days we were conversant with them; Ex. 4:13 שְׁלַח־נָא בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלַח send by the hand of him whom thou wilt send (send by means of some one else); 6:28 בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יהוה on the day Je. spoke. -- Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed., pp. 34–35). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

. 10. person ⇔ hand — the whole human person conceived of in terms of the hand; perhaps with a focus on agency. Related Topic: Hand.

Ex 4:13      שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א  בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח׃

Brannan, R. (Ed.). (2020). Lexham Research Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

1

Hebrew idiom in Exodus 4:13

The article "Hand" in the Insight on the Scriptures gives the following commentary:

Other Hebrew idiomatic expressions involving the hand are: ‘put your hand with,’ meaning to cooperate with, be on the side of (Ex 23:1; 1Sa 22:17); “by the hand of” denotes under the guidance of (Ex 38:21) or by means of (Ex 4:13; Le 8:36; 10:11); ‘his hand does not reach,’ or ‘his hand is not attaining it,’ he does not have enough (financial) means (Le 14:21); ‘what his hand shall get,’ what he can afford (Nu 6:21); ‘hands of a sword,’ power of a sword (Job 5:20); ‘hand of the tongue,’ power of the tongue (Pr 18:21); ‘life of your hand,’ revival of your power (Isa 57:10); ‘to shut the hand’ from one’s brother, that is, to be closefisted as to helping him.​—De 15:7, KJ. (bold mine)

Basically, Moses was asking Jehovah God to send someone else because of him not being a fluent speaker (vs 10).

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Young's Literal Translation Exodus 4:13

and he saith, 'O, my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand Thou dost send.'

This somewhat reminds me of what Jesus said in Gethsemane, Luke 22:42

saying, 'Father, if Thou be counselling to make this cup pass from me -- ;but, not my will, but Thine be done.'

Gills agrees with this sentiment:

the common interpretation is, that God would send a more fit and proper person than he was; and that he would rather send anyone but him, and entreats to be excused;

Most versions interpret it like this, claiming that it was a Hebrew idiom. I'm not so sure and neither was Gills.

but I see not why this may not be understood of Moses assenting to his mission, and acquiescing in the will of God; as if he should say, since it must be so, the will of the Lord be done, let him send by whom he will, and since it is his pleasure to send by me, I submit; what may seem to contradict this is, the Lord's anger and resentment expressed in the following words; but that might be notwithstanding, since Moses had been so backward and reluctant, and made so many objections before he consented.

I find Gills' explanation satisfying.

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  • But Jewish tradition and most of Christian thought is against Gills, and God's response in the next verse doesn't really seem to fit a sudden change of heart by Moses, as even he notes. While I like most of your answers I'm afraid I have to disagree with this one. Aug 8 at 4:05
  • I'm taking your comment into advisement. God bless you :)
    – Tony Chan
    Aug 8 at 13:19

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