Thursday, August 25, 2011

Did Yahweh Remove Their Chariot Wheels?

     The story of the children of Israel going into the midst of the Red Sea is one
of the great narratives in the Old Testament. It demonstrates God's love for and
protection of his people. It also demonstrates God's utter hatred of sin and the
destruction that awaits those who oppose God.

     There is a key difference among English versions within the context of
Exodus chapter 14. We learn that the Egyptians pursued the Israelites and
went in after them into the midst of the sea. "And in the morning watch Yahweh
in the pillar of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw them into
confusion." (Ex. 14:24)

     In verse 25, some translations say Yahweh "jammed the wheels of their
chariots. " (NET; TNIV; NIV-2011) Others read similarly by saying he
"clogged their chariot wheels." (RSV; ESV) The TANAKH (Jewish Publication's
Society's translation, 1985) says Yahweh "locked the wheels of their chariots."
Those translations follow the reading of the Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch,
and the Syriac instead of the Hebrew text. The translators believe the Hebrew
root is 'asar, meaning to bind, and could contextually carry the connotative
meaning, "to clog," perhaps by sinking into the wet sand of the Red Sea.

     The ASV reads, "And he took off their chariot wheels," followed by the
NIV which says, "He made the wheels of their chariots come off." The KJV
like the ASV says "And took off their chariot wheels." The KJV, ASV, and
NIV translate the Hebrew text as it stands. The Hebrew word in the traditional
text is wayyasar, meaning "to turn aside," (The NASB-71 and NASB-95
say "He caused their chariot wheels to swerve.") Wayyasar is likely used in
the sense of removing the wheels. The question is, which rendering is to be
preferred---'asar, jammed in the sense of clogging or locking their chariot
wheels, or wayyasar, removed their chariot wheels?

     Many of the translators and commentators who work with this portion of the
Hebrew text reason, "Would a wheelless chariot drive 'with heaviness,' or would
it just grind to a halt?' " (Exodus 1-18, page 500, W.H.C. Propp, Anchor Bible 
Commentary) Others see the phrase "removed their chariot wheels" as an
"interpretive translation of the Hebrew." (Exodus, page 343, Douglas K. Stuart,
The New American  Commentary)

     In response to the first statement, "Would a wheelless chariot drive 'with
heaviness?', the answer is a definite yes. A horse can  pull  a "wheelless" chariot
just as surely as he can pull a sled, wagon, and cart without wheels. And they
are driven with "heaviness." As to whether translating wayyasar as "removed"
or "took off" is an interpretive translation of the Hebrew. The Hebrew word
has a range of meanings, one of which is "to remove." (The Hebrew and
Aramaic Lexicon of the old Testament, volume 2, page 748)

     Translators need compelling reasons before they depart from the traditional
Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Amending the Hebrew text may be necessary
when there are legitimate grounds to do so, but in my judgment, such is not
necessary in Ex. 14:25. No insurmountable difficulties arise when wayyasar
remains in the text and is translated as "removed" or "took off."

Copyright 2011


  1. I appreciate your blog brother; especially since it is on a subject i was totally ignorant of. It was almost over my head but you simplified it enough for me to understand it. Thank you my friend cousin!

  2. Daniel, thank you so much for your encouraging words. With the strength God supplies, I try to "blog" about fresh, yet relevant material that will strengthen the faith of God's people and stir others to obey the will of the Lord. I am grateful to have you as a fellow evangelist, friend, and relative in the flesh!

  3. Ron, I have thought that some of the lead chariots lost their wheels, while others were "Locked up" or clogged in mud while others became loose and "Wabbled" but to whatever degree confusion was the outcome and they stopped long enough to be drowned. Thanks for the breakdown of the language, it helps.

  4. Mike, thanks for your thoughts. I always appreciate hearing from you my brother and long time friend. All we know about what happened on that momentous occasion is what the sacred scriptures tell us. Yahweh's action was against "the host of the Egyptians." (Ex. 14:24) The host of the Egyptians is previously described as "all of Pharoah's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen." (Ex. 14:23) How marvelous is our God!