Water in the Desert

I have mentioned in the past that I like to use different Bible translations to study God’s Word. Normally when I compare passages across translations there’s just minor differences that don’t seem to change the meaning to me. However, in my reading today, I found a passage that seems, at least to me, to be subject to different interpretations.

I was reading in 2 Kings, chapter 3 about how Moab was required to pay evil King Ahab (the Northern Kingdom of Israel) a rather steep annual tribute. When Ahab died and his son Jehoram (also evil) became King of Israel, Mesha, the King of Moab, rebelled against paying Israel’s tribute. King Jehoram enlisted the assistance of King Jehoshaphat (Judah, favored by God because he loved God), and the King of Edom to come against Mesha, the King of Moab. They decide that they need to attack Moab through a rather circuitous route from the south, through the wilderness of Edom. As it was, they came to a place where there was no water for the army or animals. And, in typical Israelite fashion, complaints take place, this time from Israel’s king. Judah’s king talks the others into consulting with Elisha, a prophet, about the upcoming battle and lack of water. It is only because Jehoshaphat is favored by God that Elisha agrees to see these three kings. And now I came to the following verses in my ESV Bible:

16 And he said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’

17 For thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ (2 Kings 3:16-17, ESV)

I then went looking for a visual of verse 16: ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ But, what I found was visuals that talked about digging ditches for the water. What? I didn’t see anything in my ESV about digging ditches. I looked at my John MacArthur study Bible notes for that verse and there was no mention of digging ditches either. Further research yielded that even some Bible commentaries talked about the kings going to their tired, thirsty army and having them dig ditches. For me this was highly unusual that interpretations (at least in my mind) were so very different. The ESV makes it sound like the streambeds were already there, just as I see dried up streambeds and riverbeds out west in the USA. If that were the case then digging ditches would not be required.

That then lead to research just what 2 Kings 3:16 says in other popular Bible translations:

Amplified: He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Make this valley (the Arabah) full of trenches.’ (AMP)

New International Version: and he said, “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water.” (NIV)

New Living Translation: and he said, “This is what the LORD says: This dry valley will be filled with pools of water!” (NLT)

New American Standard Bible: He said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Make this valley full of trenches.’ (NASB)

King James Version: And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches. (KJV)

Holman Christian Standard Bible: Then he said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Dig ditch after ditch in this wadi.’ (HCSB)

International Standard Version: so he said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Fill this valley with trench after trench!‘ (ISV)

To me that seems to be quite a bit of divergence between the translations. And, it’s not even consistent across the spectrum between word-for-word (or literal) translations compared to thought-to-thought translations. I thought perhaps the thought-to-thought translations may have interpreted in the idea of the army digging ditches, but that’s not the case. Both the Amplified Bible and the English Standard Versions are considered to be firmly within the word-for-word translation spectrum, and their interpretations seem very different to me. I’m not quite sure what to make out of this divergence.

What do you think about this particular verse, how do you interpret it? When you read your Bible do you consult other translations? If so, have you noticed differences that cause you to scratch your head?


One thought on “Water in the Desert

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