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I wanted to see the arguments for and against the placement of Isaiah 9:1 and the translation of "כָּבַד". [ie, 3513]

So, What are the arguments for the placement of Isaiah 9:1 in Isaiah 9 and what are the arguments for it being in Isaiah 8?

ESV

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

KJV

Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

I have seen the word being translated as afflict and as honored so I am wondering which is the correct version and what are the arguments for it?

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  • @Dottard Hello and sorry for the confusion. I was actually concerned with both of the questions but I would prefer the translation of honor/afflict if one had to be chosen.
    – User2280
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 6:11
  • 2
    The question about the placement of the chapter division is moot because it is a human division and not part of the original text.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 9:35

3 Answers 3

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In this answer I will not address the question of the chapter division as this is not part of the original Bible text.

The other question turns on the meaning (as the OP has said) of the word כָּבַד. According to BDB it means:

be heavy, weighty, burdensome, honoured

Thus, while the word literally means "heavy and weighty", metaphorically, it is used for "burdensome" and "honoured/glorious" (ie, heavy reputation). Thus, the phrase could legitimately be rendered as either:

  • ... the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea ... (ESV)
  • ... The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea ... (NKJV)

Both translations are grammatically and semantically possible. The LXX is not much help, neither is the NT which follows the LXX when it quotes this passage in Matt 4:15. On this subject, Barnes offers these comments:

Did more grievously afflict - הכביד hı̂kebbı̂yd. This verb has very various significations. It properly means "to be heavy, to be grievous, to lie or fall heavy on anyone, to be dull, obstinate; also, to be honored, respected;" that is, of weight, or influence in society. It means, in Hiphil, the form which is used here, "to make heavy, or grievous;" 1 Kings 12:10; Isaiah 47:6; "to oppress," Nehemiah 5:15; and it also means to "cause to be honored, or distinguished, to favor. - Gesenius." The connection requires that it should have this sense here, and the passage means, that the land which he had made vile in former times, or had suffered to be despised, he had purposed to honor, or to render illustrious by the great light that should rise on it. So Lowth, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius, translate it; see a similar use of the word in Jeremiah 30:19; 2 Chronicles 25:19; 1 Samuel 2:30.

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This word is in the hifil and as Dottard mentioned both meanings are valid.

כבד: ... hif: ... 1. to make heavy: ... 2. to make dull, make unresponsive ... 3. to cause to be honoured ... 4. to make numerous -- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). In The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 456). E.J. Brill.

Even the Jewish translations have the same issue:

For if there were to be any break of day for that [land] which is in straits, only the former [king] would have brought abasement to the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali—while the later one would have brought honor to the Way of the Sea, the other side of the Jordan, and Galilee of the Nations. (JPS 1985)

For is there no gloom to her that was stedfast? Now the former hath lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but the latter hath dealt a more grievous blow by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in the district of the nations. (JPS 1917)

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I have nothing to add to the question of translation, but regarding the placement, several English-language bibles do place it in chapter 8. We often ignore the last verses of a preceding chapter, so looking at the text without the interruption of chapter breaks can provide important insights.

Arguments for including this verse in ch. 8 include:

  • It is the culmination of a thought that begins in 8:19 - "Surely, those who speak like this are the ones for whom there is no dawn...23 [But now] There is no gloom where there had been distress..."

  • It is written in prose rather than the poetry that starts with "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light." Placing it in ch. 8 enhances the majesty of the poem.

Arguments in favor of it being included in ch. 9 include:

  • It breaks from the dire warnings that began at ch. 8:11 ("thus said the Lord... warning me not to walk in the way of this people...") and begins a new message of hope that belongs in a new chapter.

  • It serves as an introduction to the famous messianic poem of chapter 9.

Chapter divisions are arbitrary and were created more than a millennium after the original text; but there are good arguments for the verse being included at the end of chapter 8, as well as the traditional placement in the beginning of chapter 9.

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