In Exodus 14:16 (NIV) Moses is told by the Lord,

Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

I am trying to establish the correct translation for "divide the water."

1 Answer 1


The word translated "divide" can also mean "conquer" as in 2 Chr 32:1, or "split" as in Ecc 10:9m Num 16:31, "burst" (Job 32:19), breaking up fallow ground (Ps 141:7), or "dividing in two" (Zc 14:4, "separate" (Hab 4:9). The same word is used of the dividing of the sea in Ps 78:13 and Neh 9:11. Thus the word itself has a wide range of meanings.

Context is always important in establishing meaning. Consider, for instance, Ex. 14:22:

So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

It is from this verse clear that the waters were divided (cf. also v29). Thus, since the context clearly shows that the waters were divided, and since "divided" is a well-attested meaning of the Hebrew word, it is best to translate the phrase "divide the water". Had the author intended the reader to understand Moses "doing violence to" the water, he would not have used a word that often means "divide" in a context in which the waters are divided.

An English example
If I say, "My dog smells. Especially when it's been outside in the rain", you will understand "smell" to mean "stinks". But if I say, "Some dogs rely mostly on seeing and hearing. But my dog smells. It can use its olfactory faculties to find well-hidden food, even with it's eyes closed." - you will understand "smells" to mean "uses its sense of smell". No English speaker would think that I was referring to the sense of smell in the first example - a Chinese person might, especially if he takes the verse in Exodus out of context. Whoops, I accidentally revealed the nature of my allegory. Oh well.

  • 1
    ,Very interesting.To save loading the comment box,i am going to post another question which i invite you to answer.
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 14:34
  • 1
    In Hebrew, often the word means, and is intended to mean more than one thing. So no matter how much your dog uses his nose, he stinks ;) Hebrew is a fun, silly and childish language which is deeply rooted (even to the strokes) which produces prophetic riddles in double-entendre. One does not just hear Hebrew, it is tasted and savored.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 19:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.