Simon Glass

Isaiah 24:1-12, an annotated translation

1. Here1, Yahweh2 empties3 the land and lays it waste, twisting its face, and scattering its dwellers. 2. It will be4 with the people5 as with the priest6 , with slave as with his master, with maidservant7 as with her mistress, with buyer as with seller, with lender as with borrower, with creditor as with debtor. 3. Emptied empty8 is the land, defaced, disgraced9 , for Yahweh has spoken10 this word11. 4. The land grieves and profanes12, miserable and profane13 is the world, miserable14 are the highest of the land. 5. The land is violated beneath its dwellers, for they have overstepped15 their teachings16, transgressed the law, denied the eternal17 covenant. 6. Therefore a curse devours the land, its dwellers found guilty18. Therefore the dwellers of the land are consumed19, and few20 men remain. 7. The new wine grieves, the vine is miserable, the glad of heart sigh21. 8. The joy of the tambourines pauses22, the clamor of the revelers ceases23, the joy of the harp pauses. 9. They shall not24 drink wine with song. Beer will be bitter25 to those who drink it. 10. Broken is the city of the depths26, closed are all the houses to those who arrive. 11. There is a cry in the streets over wine, night falls on all happiness, the joy of the land is banished27. 12. There will remain28 in the city devastation and a desolation29 of its demolished gate.

1. "Heeneh". This is often translated as "behold". "Heeneh" though, is not a verb and is not etymologically associated with looking or seeing. Rather, it has the same root as the word for "here". It emphasizes presence.

2. "Yahweh". This is the not-to-be uttered name of God. Its letters and structure strongly suggest that it is a unique form of the verb "to be" – one that is neither past, present nor future but possibly all three at once. As a proper name it is not translatable but it is simultaneously a proper name and a unique verb. To the extent that there are two words here they are at once homonyms and synonyms. Two identical words, one a name, one a verb or, two words, a verb and a name that both have the same meaning.

3. "Boqeq". This is one of four verbs in this verse. Some translations into English show them as present, some as future. More significant than tense perhaps is aspect. Are these actions completed or ongoing? 4. "Vehayah". The verb "to be" occurs here in the past form, however the letter vuv preceding it, as is often the case in biblical Hebrew, reverses the tense from past to future. This conflation of past with future occurs many hundreds of times in Hebrew scripture. As the prefix vuv may also mean "and" or "but", many biblical verbs are of ambiguous tense.

5. "Um". A more literal translation than "people" is "nation".

6. "Cohen", a priest. This word persists into the contemporary as a surname.

7. "Shifcha". The Hebrew biblical word for a female slave has an etymological relationship to the contemporary word for "family", "mishpacha".

8. "Heeboq teeboq". A rhyming pair. The assonance and consonance here are achieved through a play on the word "boqeq". See verse 1, note 3. Both words are hapax legomena, ie. they occur but once in all of Hebrew scripture. Likely they are coined by the prophet. The prefix letter hey in "heeboq" may suggest the presence of God. The prefix letter tuv in "teeboq" – the last letter of the alphabet – may connote a teleology.

9. "Heeboz teeboz". Another rhyming pair. The root "bazaz" is a verb, to spoil, plunder or pillage. Again, Isaiah the poet likely coins these terms, and repeats the hey and tuv prefixes.

10. "Diber". In this context, this word is generally translated into English in the present perfect. Elsewhere, the same word can be found translated in the past.

11. "Davar". The Hebrew word for "word" can equally be translated "thing". 12. "Avlah navlah". A rhyming pair, the roots of these two words are the words for "grief" and "fade" respectively. But, "naval", of the same root as "navlah", has come to mean "the making of an animal ritually forbidden, by improper slaughtering". In its conjugation here it also forms the exact equivalent for "let us confound", appearing in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7) in which God confounds the language of humanity. Isaiah's vision of the land is one of profound devastation intimating violation of the law and irrevocable banishment.

13. "Umlelah navlah". Another rhyme, the first of these terms occurs only in the writing of the prophets, not in any of the first five books of Moses.

14. "Umlalu". This is the first occurance in this chapter of this conjugation – a verb stem with a vuv-dagesh suffix, giving the "u" sound. Throughout scripture, these verbs (and in some cases adjectives) are translated into English with past, present or future tense and occasionally in the imperative. Where translations differ from one another, and especially perhaps where they do not, what is the proof of an authoritative translation? 15. "Avru". Literally, crossed over. The Hebrew name for the Hebrew language, "Ivrit", is etymologically related, possibly because of a historical crossing by the Hebrews of the Euphrates River.

16. "Torot". Plural of Torah, the Five Books of Moses. These are the teachings which are "overstepped".

17. "Olam". This word refers to the existence of the universe throughout all of time. 18. "Vayeshmu". The context here strongly favours a translation into the present tense, however the same conjugation elsewhere is clearly demonstrated by context to be past.

19. "Kharu". This exact form of conjugation is elsewhere (eg. Isaiah Ch.22 v.4, Ch.23 v.2) necessarily imperative.

20. "Mizar". This word does not occur in scripture outside of Isaiah, but survives into modern Hebrew. 21. "Na’enchu". Many translations into English show this in the present tense, while the same conjugation is sometimes shown as past and sometimes as future. It might be said that only context can demonstrate meaning, yet the narrative of scripture often determines that a given conjugation will sometimes be one tense, sometimes another. Is the purpose of translation to communicate the writer's intention or to interpret the writing? 22. The verb for "pause" in this verse is "shavat", of the same root as for "sabbath". Its etymology shows it is clearly not a final cessation.

23. The verb for "cease" here is "chadal". Its first occurance in Hebrew scripture relates to the cessation of the building of the Tower of Babel, a final cessation. 24. Some translations into English of this verse show the present tense.

25. "Yemar". The adjective "mar", meaning "bitter", is conjugated in the 3rd person future tense. A better translation might be "… will be embittered …". 26. "Tohu". While often translated "vanity", in harmony with Jerome's Latin Vulgate, the meaning of "tohu" is demonstrated in the book of Genesis, where it is related to its root, "tehom", meaning "nadir" or "the deep". 27. "Galah". This word for "banished" is the root of the word "galut", diaspora. 28. "Nishar". Strictly speaking, there is no future imperfect in the English language.

29. "Sheeya". This word is a hapax legomenon (see verse 3, note 8), and so the desolation described here is an extraordinary one. While the book of Isaiah also predicts the coming of a messianic age, it is left unsaid how long devastation and desolation will remain in "the city".

© Simon Glass 2015