One is not like the other …

The Septuagint (“LXX”) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dating to sometime in the mid to early 2nd century B.C. It came about because many Jews living abroad, particularly in Egypt, had lost much of their ability to read and speak Hebrew. They need a translation of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures) in their own language. The Mediterranean culture was heavily influenced by Hellenism at this time; a legacy of Alexander the Great’s conquests. So, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek.

This Greek version of the Tanakh was the version Jesus and the apostles used. The majority (but not all) of their Old Testament citations are from the Septuagint. This means the Septuagint is important.

I’m preaching from Zechariah 12:1 – 13:1 next week, as our congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper. This passage contains the famous prophesy about the Israelites looking to Jesus, whom they pierced (Zech 12:10). This “piercing” clearly refers to Jesus’ death, and echoes an earlier prophet, Isaiah (“but He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities …” Isa 53:5).

But, there’s an interesting problem. The LXX is different from the Hebrew!

One of these is not like the other

Here is the difference between the two:

To be sure, there are a lot of similarities. Both have a transition statement (“and”) to let the reader know a new, related subject is coming. Both have Yahweh declaring that He’ll “pour out” onto David’s house and those who are living in Jerusalem a spirit characterized by grace and mercy. These are things that describe this spirit; it’s merciful and full of grace.

But, here is the difference. The Hebrew clearly has a reference to someone whom the Israelites pierced. They’ll look at Yahweh, who they pierced, and they’ll be ashamed. This isn’t in dispute. Look at some other English translations:

  • KJV: “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced …”
  • RSV: “when they look on Him whom they have pierced …”
  • NASB: “they will look on me whom they have pierced …”
  • NET: “they will look to me, the one they have pierced …”
  • NIV: “they will look on me, the one they have pierced …”
  • NKJV: “they will look on me whom they have pierced …”
  • NLT: “they will look on me whom they have pierced …”

What does the LXX say? It says this:

Then they’ll stare fixedly at me, dumbfounded, because they treated me with hate.

The “look upon” part is still there; I just translated it in a more colloquial fashion (“stare fixedly at me, dumbfounded”). It’s the second part that’s different. The LXX says the Israelites will be astonished because they treated Yahweh with so much hate. How did they do this? Well, presumably, they treated Him with hate (or, despitefully) by rejecting Him for so long … until they didn’t.

The rest of the verse clarifies:

And they’ll grieve for Him, crying as for a loved one. And they’ll be in terrible, painful anguish, like for a firstborn son.

Because they treated Yahweh with so much hate, they’ll grieve for Him. You could translate the pronoun as it, but only if you believe the antecedent is an impersonal object, like the hateful treatment. But, if that were the case, the rest of the verse wouldn’t make too much sense. How can you mourn and grieve for an impersonal object like you would for a loved one, or even a firstborn son? The New English Translation of the Septuagint agrees, and so did Brenton’s translation. The Lexham English Septuagint, however, goes with “it,” but this deliberately a very literal translation.

The best way to understand this is as a third-person, personal pronoun (Him). But, who? Yahweh is talking in the first-person about Himself, but then shifts to third-person and says the Israelites will mourn for Him. This person is Jesus, who the Jews will turn to in the last days when the Spirit is poured out upon them, to convert them to the New Covenant.

Why the change?

The Greek text was clearly changed. The translators messed with it. The Hebrew reads “pierced,” and the Jews who did the translation altered it on purpose. They changed it to read “because they treated me with hate.” Why did they do it?

Maybe because they didn’t like what it said. How can someone “pierce” God? How does that even work? So, they changed it.

But do we know they being malicious? Not really! Perhaps it was more convenient to take this “piercing” in a more figurative sense. You know that feeling you get when someone you care about betrays you in an awful fashion? Isn’t it like having a stake driven right through your heart? Perhaps God felt that way when the Israelites hated Him, so this “piercing” was more metaphorical and poetic. In a colloquial way, the Israelites “cut God really deep” with their actions. Maybe that’s how they justified the change.

“Here, now,” they might have thought, “this is getting to the idea of being treated with malice and hate, so let’s just spell it out plainly, and drop the ‘piercing’ imagery!”

In a parallel way, the NET did a similar thing when it rendered Deuteronomy 10:16. See a comparison:

  • NET: Therefore, cleanse your heart and stop being so stubborn!
  • ESV: Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

The more literal rendering is to “circumcise” your heart. The NET decided that was too literal, and tried to get to the heart of the phrase by dropping the figurative imagery. That’s not necessarily a problem … unless you’re wrong about what that figurative imagery means!

In this case, assuming I’m right about why the LXX translators changed it, they were certainly wrong about what the imagery meant. It wasn’t imagery at all; Jesus literally was pierced (i.e. died). 

Am I right about the reason for the change? I’ve no idea. Nobody knows why it was changed, so I might as well speculate right along with the commentators. Their guess is as good as mine. When a good textual critical commentary on the LXX of Zechariah comes out, then maybe we’ll have a more informed opinion! After all, there is no monolithic “one Septuagint.” There are many versions of the Septuagint floating around!

Bottom line

The LXX is neat. The LXX is helpful. The LXX is necessary. If you’re a pastor, and you took two years of Greek, you can muddle your way through the LXX. If you took more than the two years of Greek, you can stumble your way through it, like I do.

The LXX of Zechariah 12:10 is different, but it still conveys the same essential meaning. There are two people in the verse; Yahweh and the Person the Israelites will mourn for when they come to faith. This verse is a small snapshot of our triune God.

My Translation of Micah 5:1-3

The prophet Micah wrote a wonderful prophesy about Jesus Christ, the One who would come forth for God to be the ruler par excellence in Israel. I’ve spent some time translating the passage from the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and the early Christian used. I plan to write a bit about this passage soon. For now, I’ll just leave you with the translation.

There are some differences from the English translation in your Bibles, because they’re translated from Hebrew, not Greek. The verse numbers from the Septuagint are also different, sometimes. This is one of those times. In your English Bibles, this passage will be Micah 5:2-4. Here, it’s Micah 5:1-3:

Micah 5(1-3)You can find more of my pitiful translations from the New Testament, the Septuagint and an ancient creed or two here.

The LXX as a Commentary

lxxThe LXX is an Roman numeral abbreviation which means “70.” It’s a shorthand way to refer to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible which Jesus and the apostles used and quoted from. Many of the Old Testament quotations the New Testament writers used did not come from the Hebrew translation. Many of them came from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Verbatim. Exactly.

The LXX (also known as the “Septuagint”) is referred to this way because, allegedly, 70 translators worked on the translation from Hebrew into Greek. I recently picked up a copy of the LXX because I wanted a chance to study Greek a bit more, and because if this is the text Jesus and the apostles quoted from, then it would make sense to own a copy.

If you’ve done translation work, then you know it is difficult to resist putting a bit of interpretation into your translation. Sometimes this isn’t too bad an idea. For example, I’ve noticed that Mark often didn’t use Jesus’ actual name to refer to Him. He usually just wrote “he.” That means you’ll have an entire chapter (or two!) where Jesus’ name isn’t even mentioned. All you really have is “he . . . he . . . he . . . he.” Some translations clean this up a bit by throwing Jesus’ name into the mix occasionally. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I noticed something interesting in Isaiah 42:1 from the LXX yesterday evening. Here is the English text:

Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my servant whom I support, my chosen one in whom I take pleasure. I have placed my spirit on him; he will make just decrees for the nations.

Christians understand Isaiah to be referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Got it. What does the LXX read? Behold the bit of commentary they tossed into their translation:

Ιακωβ ὁ παῖς μου ἀντιλήμψομαι αὐτοῦ Ισραηλ ὁ ἐκλεκτός μου

Jacob, my servant whom I will help; Israel, my chosen one . . .

How interesting! This gives us some insight into how the Israelites interpreted the Hebrew Bible during the inter-testamental period before Messiah came. They interpreted this Messianic passage to be referring to the nation of Israel. I haven’t done enough study in the LXX to know how much of a trend this is, but I’ve read elsewhere that it is very common.

It’s always a joy to stumble across something by accident and confirm something for yourself, rather than read about it in a book.

What Have You Done for Me Lately!? (Exodus 17:7)

josh17(7).pngOn their journey towards Mt. Sinai from Egypt, the Israelites became angry. Actually, they became angry a lot, but this time they said something particularly foolish:

Exodus 17:7 (KJV): And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

I spent some time pondering why on earth they would ask this question. It’s a pretty stupid question, really. Is the Lord with them? Well, let’s quickly re-cap everything He had done for them in a few short months since Moses returned to Egypt:

  1. They saw Moses’ staff miraculously transformed into a serpent (Ex 4:29-31), which was meant as a token miracle to convince the Israelites that Moses really was a man sent from God to rescue them from captivity, just as He had promised their fathers (cf. Gen 15:6, Ex 6:6-8).
  2. They saw Moses turn the Nile River into blood (Ex 7:14-25).
  3. They saw the plague of frogs strike Egypt (Ex 8:7).
  4. They saw God miraculously kill all the frogs dead at once (Ex 8:8-15).
  5. They witnessed the plague of lice, and the pagan magicians themselves even acknowledged that “this is the finger of God!” (Ex 8:16-19).
  6. They beheld the plague of flies, and the way the Lord miraculously kept all flies out of the delta of Goshen where the Israelites were! (Exodus 8:20-24).
  7. They saw the Lord do yet another miracle, removing the plague of flies once Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites (Ex 8:25-32).
  8. The Israelites saw the plague which struck all the cattle in Egypt on a set date, a plague which did not touch the area of Goshen where they themselves lived (Ex 9:1-7).
  9. They witnessed the plague of boils (Ex 9:8-12).
  10. They saw the plague of fire and hail, “such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.” Once again, this plague did not touch the Israelites (Ex 9:13-26).
  11. They saw the Lord miraculously stop this plague upon command (Ex 9:27-35).
  12. They witnessed the awful and devastating plague of locusts (Ex 10:1-20).
  13. They beheld the plague of darkness, “even darkness which may be felt,” over the entire land of Egypt (Ex 10:21-29). Bizarrely, this darkness did not effect their own homes. Can you even begin to imagine how awe-inspiring this must have been to the Israelites, and how terrifying it must have been to the pagan Egyptians!?
  14. They witnesses the last plague, which killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt (Ex 12) – a plague which even stuck the cattle (what little were left!). More than that, they each personally experienced the Lord’s blessing and protection when they applied the blood of the passover lamb to their doorposts, so that “the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you,” (Ex 12:23).
  15. The Lord allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt well-provisioned and enriched with goods from the Egyptians (Ex 12:36).
  16. They saw the Lord, every single day, lead them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21-22).
  17. God miraculously split the waters of the Red Sea in the dead of night. The Lord showed Himself as a cloud which came between the pursuing Egyptians, laying a thick blanket of darkness before the enemy, but lighting the way for the Israelites to make the crossing onto the Sinai Peninsula by the roaring fire of His glorious presence (Ex 14:19-22).
  18. They saw God drown the entire Egyptian army in the river (Ex 14:27-28).
  19. The Lord miraculously provided heavenly food for them in the barren wilderness (Ex 16).

In light of all this, why in the world would God’s people even ask such a foolish question? They asked it because they were ungrateful, selfish, self-centered, and inherently wicked. I’m just the same, and so are you. We’re ungrateful for God’s blessings and provisions. You’re selfish and materialistic, ignoring God’s grace and petulantly demanding still more. Like the noted philosopher Janet Jackson asked, “what have you done for me lately?”

These people had lots of reasons to trust God to provide for them and take care of them. He’d rescued and cared for them every step of the way. More than that, He was visibly revealing Himself every single moment of every single day, by cloud or by fire. If you’re a Christian by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect, finished work, then think about the Israelites the next time you’re tempted to complain and ask anything stupid. If you’re a Christian, the Lord is always fully with you, in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:23).

For those who are interested, here is my own translation of this verse from the Greek Septuagint.

Joshua 11:20 in the Septuagint

josh11(20)This isn’t the best title to entice a tired reader, but it’s the best I could do! In my devotions the other day, I ran across Joshua 11:20. Here it is, with the immediate context:

So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses (Joshua 11:16-20, KJV).

This verse means what it reads. You cannot escape it. You cannot wish it away. You cannot “contextualize” it and change the meaning of the words. Look at all the English translation you like (e.g. ESV, NLT, NIV, NASB, NET, ISV, LEB, KJV, NKJV, Tyndale, NRSV, RSV), and you won’t find an escape hatch. But, more on that later. For now, I wanted to post my own translation of this verse from the Septuagint.

The LXX, or Septuagint, is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew which dates from perhaps 200 B.C. and was the Bible the early church, including Jesus Christ, used and quoted from.

Here is my own translation of Joshua 11:20 from the Greek Septuagint (the PDF is available here):

Greek Text:

ὅτι διὰ κυρίου ἐγένετο κατισχῦσαι αὐτῶν τὴν καρδίαν συναντᾶν εἰς πόλεμον πρὸς Ισραηλ ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν ὅπως μὴ δοθῇ αὐτοῖς ἔλεος ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν ὃν τρόπον εἶπεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν

English Translation:

Joshua 11:20 (LXX): “for because of the Lord it came to pass that their heart was strengthened in order to meet Israel in battle so that they would be annihilated. That is, so that mercy would not be granted to them – even so that they would be totally destroyed, just as the Lord said to Moses!”

Detailed Translation:


ὅτι: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing the intentional cause, the grounds, of the preceding statement (Josh 11:19)

διὰ: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing reason

κυρίου: (1) Case – in the genitive case because it is the object of the preposition διὰ

ἐγένετο: (1) Translation – this construction is common in narrative literature, and its general sense is to move the events along. The normal gloss is “it came to pass,” or something of that nature (cf. BDAG, s.v. “1646 γίνομαι,” 4.f.).

κατισχῦσαι: (1) Classification – an anarthrous, simple infinitive which complements and completes the thought of the verb ἐγένετο. (2) Voice – a simple active, indicating the subject (the heart of Israel’s enemies) is performing the action of the infinitive. Of course, it was “because of the Lord” (διὰ κυρίου) that their heart did this in the first place! (3) Tense – context suggests a constative aorist, describing a simple historical event in the past.

αὐτῶν: (1) Case – the personal pronoun is possessive, indicating the heart in question belong to Israel’s enemies

τὴν καρδίαν: (1) Case – an accusative subject of the infinitive κατισχῦσαι

συναντᾶν: (1) Classification – an anarthrous, simple infinitive which complements the prepositional phrase

εἰς: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing purpose. Why was their enemies’ heart strengthened? So that they would sally forth into battle against Israel and be destroyed!

πόλεμον: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition εἰς


πρὸς: (1) Classification – the preposition is either expressing association (“battle with Israel”) or opposition (“battle against Israel”). (2) Translation – I opted to leave this completely untranslated, because it’s basically superfluous.

Ισραηλ: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition πρὸς

ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν: (1) Classification – this is a standard purpose clause. (2) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates the subject (Israel’s enemies) receive the action of the verb.

ὅπως: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing purpose. I believe it’s acting in apposition to the preceding purpose clause, further explaining God’s intentions here – therefore I translated it with “that is . . .”

μὴ: This is a simple negation

δοθῇ: (1) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates that mercy is something being dispensed (or in this case, not being dispensed!) to Israel’s enemies

αὐτοῖς: (1) Case – a dative of direct object, signifying Israel’s enemies are receiving the action of the verb

ἔλεος: (1) Case – the subject nominative of the sentence

ἀλλ᾽: (1) Classification – the conjunction is expressing emphasis. It makes no contextual sense to translate this to express contrast (“but”), because the preceding subjunctive purpose clause is already negative. I think it serves to just heighten the sense of God’s divine condemnation, so I translated it as “even.”

ἵνα ἐξολεθρευθῶσιν: (1) Classification – this is a standard purpose clause. (2) Voice – a simple passive, which indicates the subject (Israel’s enemies) receive the action of the verb.


ὃν τρόπον: (1) Translation – this construction is usually expressed in English with the gloss “just as . . .” (Friberg, s.v. “27075 τρόπος,” 1).

εἶπεν: (1) Voice – a simple active, indicating the Lord performed the action of the verb. (2) Tense – context suggests a constative aorist, describing a simple historical event in the past. (3) Mood – a declarative indicative.

κύριος: (1) Case – the subject nominative

πρὸς: (1) Classification – the preposition is expressing association

Μωυσῆν: (1) Case – in the accusative case because it is the object of the preposition πρὸς