Posts Tagged ‘Zechariah 4:10’

Which version is better in Zechariah 4:10?

October 17th, 2014

Which Bible translation of Zechariah 4:10 is correct? Here are some examples:

Zechariah 4:10 (NKJV)

10          For who has despised the day of small things?

For these seven rejoice to see

The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,

Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:10 (ESV)

10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.

“These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

(The seven lamps* represent the eyes of the Lord that search all around the world.)

 

The main difference in the versions is that some (e.g., ESV, NRSV) translate the first clause as a conditional/circumstantial clause and others (NKJV, NIV 1984) translate it as a question. The NLT goes a bit further and translates it as a command. I think the best translation is the one that has it as a question. The question “Who has despised the day of small things?” is a rhetorical question, to which the answer is “No one”. No one, at least no one who plans on doing something great, has despised the day of small things.

 

In other words, here are the three options represented in various translations:

  1. “Whoever has despised…shall rejoice”
  2. “Who has despised…? (A: no one!)
  3. “Don’t despise…”

 

I honestly don’t know how the ESV could have missed this one so badly. While the Hebrew word מִי (mî) can be translated as an indefinite pronoun “whoever”, that does not fit the rest of the syntax at all.

  • First, it would require that the second clause “…shall rejoice” have the subject “whoever” repeated, which it is not.
  • Second it would require that the verb “shall rejoice” be singular, to match the singular subject (just as the verb “has despised” is singular), but “shall rejoice” is plural.
  • Third, there’s a little thing in Hebrew called a waw (or vav) consecutive and it is never used to introduce a circumstantial clause, nor is it ever used after a “whoever”. You can think of it as our English “and”.
  • Fourth, it awkwardly requires the word “seven” to be a part of the following sentence.

 

It is much better to translate that word מִי (mî) as “Who?” – an interrogative pronoun, rather than an indefinite pronoun “whoever”. Then the second clause becomes its own sentence “These seven rejoice to see…”. “These” is plural and the verb “rejoice” is plural. The next sentence (10b) tells us what seven things are being referred to: the seven eyes of the Lord (see also 3:9).

 

In this case, “Who despises the day of small things?” is a rhetorical question. No one who intends to accomplish great things despises the day of small things. The Lord is smiling on their work in rebuilding the temple because they intend to see it through. And the bigger picture is that the temple, even when completed, is just a small thing compared to what it symbolized  – what God planned to accomplish ultimately in the Messiah.

 

The NLT takes a logical leap from “Who has despised…? (no one)” to “No one has despised…” to “Do not despise…”. In any case, the point is keep your eyes on the end!

 

Interestingly, the NIV 2011 has “Who dares despise…?”. And,

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, abbreviated “LXX”) puts this first phrase as a question, just like I am suggesting.

 

So, in conclusion, I think the NKJV wins the translation battle this time*.

Zechariah 4:10 (NKJV)

10          For who has despised the day of small things?

For these seven rejoice to see

The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,

Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

*Other times, the NIV wins and still other times the ESV wins. When doing serious study, you should compare multiple versions and when they differ, you should consult a few critical commentaries (commentaries which refer to the original languages) and/or ask someone who knows the original languages (Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT).
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