In the NASB95, Joel 2:18 is translated as

Then the Lord will be zealous for His land And will have pity on His people.

Here the NASB refers to the Lord becoming zealous/jealous and that the Lord will have pity.

In the ESV, Joel 2:18 is translated as

Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.

Depending on which translation you read, this same verse describes a future event (relative to the audience) vs. a past event that God had enacted (without knowing Hebrew, this may still be future to Joel's readers).

My question is not about translation methodology but the language. Can the words translated as "will be" or "became" and "will have" or "had" respectively have both tenses in mind?

2 Answers 2


NIV, Joel 2:18

Then the LORD was jealous for his land and took pity on his people.

became jealous
וַיְקַנֵּ֥א (way·qan·nê)
Conjunctive waw | Verb - Piel - Consecutive imperfect - third person masculine singular
Strong's 7065: To be, zealous, jealous, envious

and spared
וַיַּחְמֹ֖ל (way·yaḥ·mōl)
Conjunctive waw | Verb - Qal - Consecutive imperfect - third person masculine singular
Strong's 2550: To commiserate, to spare

Cambridge argues for past tense:

18, 19. Then was Jehovah jealous for his land, and had pity on his people. And Jehovah answered and said, &c.] The future tenses of the A.V. are grammatically indefensible[42]. Though it is not expressly so stated, it is understood that the prophet’s exhortations had the intended effect; the people shewed themselves to be truly penitent; the priests interceded on their behalf; and the words quoted describe Jehovah’s gracious change of purpose, and the promises which He in consequence vouchsafed to His people.

[42] See the grounds for this statement in the writer’s Hebrew Tenses, § 82 Obs.

Keil and Delitzsch agree:

Joel 2:18 and Joel 2:19 contain the historical statement, that in consequence of the penitential prayer of the priests, the Lord displayed His mercy to His people, and gave them a promise, the first part of which follows in Joel 2:19-27. Joel 2:18, Joel 2:19. "Then Jehovah was jealous for His land, and had compassion upon His people. And Jehovah answered, and said." The grammar requires that we should take the imperfects with Vav consec. in these clauses, as statements of what actually occurred.

Why do some translations change the order of events in Joel 1:18?

Because of the ambiguity in the Hebrew imperfect. However, a case can be made for the past tense.



As I’ve explained a number of times before (others ‘forumers’ have given similar information in other instances, too), either the Masoretic Texts or the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Bible books we have to our disposal are devoid of any chronological factors inside the Hebrew verbal forms in throughout the texts.

What we found today in these texts is only the indications of two verbal aspects (‘Perfect’ and ‘Imperfect’ – there are also other ‘labels’ with which they are named) that bear no relation with real chronological factors, like our tenses, as Past, Present, and Future. Regrettably, this is – maybe – the commonest BH’s translation-related error is to confound aspects with tenses.

Granted, the so-called Masoretic ‘vocalization’ inform us in what manner those medieval scribes did read the Bible Hebrew text in their time, but – we now ask - is this added diacritical system able to helps us today to attach the correct tenses (i.e. chronological factors) to the Hebrew Bible verbal forms?

This time, instead to give you a dry answer to this question I prefer present a Bible example. We found it in Eze 36:36. I present now the MT text (supplied by Masoretic ‘vocalization’, obviously):

וְיָדְעוּ הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׁאֲרוּ סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶם כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה בָּנִיתִי הַנֶּהֱרָסוֹת נָטַעְתִּי הַנְּשַׁמָּה | אֲנִי יְהוָה דִּבַּרְתִּי וְעָשִׂיתִי

[“Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it.” (KJV1611)]

Note, please, the last verbal form of the last sentence in this passage, namely, עָשִׂיתִי . This verbal form is derived from the MT’s root עשׂה that means – traditionally - ‘to do’.

Now, even if someone is not acquainted with ‘Biblical Hebrew’ (BH) he is – anyway - able to conclude that (1) if the Masoretes’ diacritical system (‘vocalization’) were able to help us to assign – in translation – the correct tense to this verbal form (עָשִׂיתִי), then we had, in all Bible translations, the very same tense! Right?

In a similar way (2), even supposing that the Perfect state in this verbal form does indicate a specific tense (granting that you can) - for an example, one Past-related, so translating this verbal form with “I did do it”, or alike - we should find, by logic, that all Bible translations had a Past rendering of this term. Right?

So, we will see some renderings of the last verbal form of Ezekiel 36:36:


Douay-Rheims: “… done [it]” Literal Standard Version: “… I have done it” New World Translation: “… I have done it” Smith’s Literal Translation: “… I did” Young: “… I have done it”


Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “… I act” Contemporary English Version: “… make this promise” Salvatore Garofalo (an Italian version, 1964): “… lo faccio” [‘I do it’] Leone Tondelli (an Italian version of Ezekiel, 1930): “…lo compio” [‘I accomplish it’]


The majority of other Bible translations.

And, as if this chaos weren’t enough, we have even an halfway between a Present-rendering and a Future-rendering! In fact, for an example, the International Standard Version translates: “… I’m going to bring it about!”

So, from the sole example I’ve present – and from the hundreds of examples of this kind anyone may produce - we must conclude that:

  1. The TM had no chronological factors inside their verbal forms;

  2. the Perfective and Imperfective aspects have no relation with chronological factors.

  3. the Masoretic diacritical system offers no help to assign time values to the TaNaKh verbal forms.

Actually, as things stand, we today possess – predominantly - the context as a linguistic method to assign chronological valencies to the thousands of TaNaKh’s verbal forms. This is why the Bible translations do not reach a common consensus about the tenses to assign to the verbal forms. Each Bible translator (from Hebrew; the same concept concerns also a translation team) makes a judgment of this kind based on the context’s peculiar understanding of him/her.

Another aid we could receive (but not always) from the ancient translations, starting from LXX, Syr, Vulg, and alike.

So, getting back to the point, as regards Joe 2:18, we may give the following remarks.

The context of Joel prophecy speaks about the desolate condition of Israel (in a material and spiritual sense).

Material sense: Joe 1:10-12, 16-20.

Spiritual sense: 2:12-13.

Joel makes clear that Israel did suffer so the consequences of their own sins. If they would repent Yahweh was “ready to be turned from his purpose of punishment” (Joe 2:13, BBE).

Now, we can focus on the chapter 2 of Joel (according its logical ‘paragraphs’)

1-11 Yahweh prepares each Israelite to be ‘on one’s toes’, being ready to suffer the attack of a foreign people (with the permission of the Lord himself; see the verses 11, 13 [last sentence]) .

12-19 There is a possibility to survive!

20-27 Blessings that Yahweh will bestow on the repented Israelites.

28-32 Twofold-style (fleshly Israel and the ‘Israel of God’, Galatians 6:16) prophetic promises (see the NT Peter’s discussion on Acts 2:14-21).

Now, we can zoom-in further in the logical paragraph 12-19, which contains the passage we discussing on.

The possibility to survive depends from an effective repentance, don’t doing this for show, but being urged by the ‘inner self’ (= heart [לב, in Hebrew]). The astonishing Lord’s sentence, “rend your heart, and not your garments” (JPS) well indicates how much He knows about our human toward-hypocrisy psychology…

The ‘the priests, Yahweh’s ministers’ (Joe 2:17) must be the first ones to do so. Note that the Israelites are not invited to repent with the predominant purpose to survive. This is only a secondary aspect of the matter. Their pivotal cause to this deep change of heart must be the sanctification of the Lord’s name (compare Mat 6:9). In fact, the last sentence of the verse 17 says: “Wherefore should they say among the peoples, Where is their God?” (Darby).

How all this data can help us to answer to your question (“Can the words translated as ‘will be’ or ‘became’ and ‘will have’ or ‘had’ respectively have both tenses in mind?”)?

Yahweh presents the attack of foreign people as a natural consequence of their errors (Israelites’) and the concomitancy of the withdrawal of God’s protection on his people. But this introduced-by-God situation is not be considered an inescapable ‘fate’. All did depend from the spiritual reaction of the Israelites.

All these acquainted with the ‘Biblical Hebrew’ know that this issue is naturally related also with the meanings we have to assign to the the opening waw, we find in Joe 2:18. More probable - consistently to the data presented above – this time, the opening waw, in Joe 2:18 indicates a kind of apodosis. In other words, it here indicates the logical result of the (possible and desirable) repentance of Israel. If this is the case, it have to be translated, with ‘then’, ‘in this case’, and alike.

This manner to translate this verse is in perfect harmony with the context (we’ve examined before), and - consequently - request us to translate the verbal forms you ask for in a future tense, as a number of Bible translations do (a partial list is following):

“Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.” (KJV)

“Y Jehová celará su tierra, y perdonará su pueblo.” (Reina-Valera)

“Then the LORD will be jealous for His land and pity His people.” (A Faithful Version)

“And [then] the Lorde wyll be ielous ouer his lande, & wyll spare his people.” (Bishop)

“Adonai will be zealous for His land, and have compassion on His people.” (Tree of Life)

“Then Jehovah will be jealous for his land, and will have pity on his people.” (Darby)

“Then the LORD will show great concern for his land, and will have compassion on his people.” (ISV)

“Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.” (Webster)

“And let the LORD be zealous for His land and show mercy for His people” (Alter; the future sense is implied)

Interestingly, though the translations of this verse in the NET Bible is is Past-related, a footnote on Joe 2:18 partly says (bold is mine): “ […] some modern English versions render these verbs as futures (e.g., NIV, NASB), apparently concluding that the context requires a future reference.”

I hope these information will be useful to your research.

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