3

יְחִי רְאוּבֵן, וְאַל-יָמֹת; וִיהִי מְתָיו, מִסְפָּר. {ס}

Deuteronomy 33:6 KJV

6 Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few

Deuteronomy 33:6 ESV

“Let Reuben live, and not die, but let his men be few.”.

The above texts seem to differ in their translation as one says the men of the tribe of Reuben must not be few whilst the other says that they must be few.

Which is the correct translation?

1

The difference in translations depend on whether the negative וְאַל (= and not) is considered extended to the following verb וִיהִ֥י (= let be).

Note the suggestion of the Pulpit commentary:

Verse 6. - And let not his men be few. The negative, though not expressed in the Hebrew, is to be carried into this clause from the preceding.

Ellicott is similar:

It seems best, therefore, to take the whole verse as applying to Reuben, and the negative in the first clause as covering the second clause also. “Let not his men be a (small) number.”

The versions are divided as whether they agree as noted by the OP. Literally, the Hebrew reads:

Let Reuben live and not die and let his men be few.

However, if we allow the force of the negative in the first clause to apply to the second clause (as noted above), then the verse would read:

Let Reuben live and not die and let not his men be few.

As Ellicott notes:

The most terrible destruction ever wrought in Israel by the word of Moses came on Dathan and Abiram (who were Reubenites), when “they and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit.” We cannot say how far the tribe was diminished by this terrible visitation and the plague that followed (Numbers 16), but the fighting men of the tribe had slightly decreased in the second census (Numbers 1:21; Numbers 26:7), and only two of all the twelve tribes had a smaller force than Reuben at this time.

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