Note: I preached yesterday morning from 2 Samuel 8. Here are some thoughts on the matter of text and translation for 2 Samuel 8:4:
I. The issue: How many chariots and horsemen in v. 4?
The Hebrew text might be construed as ambiguous: eleph oo-shabah-meh-ot parashim [literally: “one thousand and seven-hundred horsemen”].
The question is whether the eleph (one thousand) has an unstated referent—“chariots”—or whether it should be linked with the number seven hundred (shabah meh-ot) in describing the number of horsemen (parashim). Matthew Poole notes that “chariots” is “fitly supplied out of 1 Chron. xviii.4, such substantives being oft understood in the Hebrew language, as Gen xxvi.30; 2 Sam xxi.16.”
Also, in favor of the referent being “chariots” is the mention later in the verse that David hamstrung the “chariot horses [recheb]” but reserved one hundred of them.
The LXX follows this interpretation: chilia harmata kai hepta chiliades hippeon (“one thousand chariots and seven hundred horsemen”).
More compelling (and perhaps also more confounding) is comparison to the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:4 where the noun recheb (chariot) is explicitly written but the number of horsemen is increased to seven thousand: elpeh recheb vuh-sheeb-at alaphim parashim (“one thousand chariots and seven thousand horsemen”).
1 Chronicles 18:4 would seem to settle the fact that the “thousand” in 1 Samuel 8:4 has “chariots” as its referent. The increased number of horsemen is more difficult but not impossible to harmonize. Matthew Poole, as he so often does, provides a rationally satisfying explanation:
Seven hundred horsemen, or seven hundred companies of horsemen, i. e., in all seven thousand; as it is in 1 Chronicles xviii.4; there being ten in each company, and each ten having a ruler or captain, Exod xviii.21; Deut 1:15. Or these seven hundred were the chief and rulers of the rest, and the remaining six thousand three hundred were the common horsemen, subject to their commanders.
II. How do modern English translations render 2 Samuel 8:4?
The Geneva Bible (1599) translates straightforwardly: “a thousand and seven hundred horsemen” with no supplied referent but without explicitly numerically linking the thousand to the seven hundred.
The KJV (1611) interprets the thousand as having its implicit referent to be “chariots”: “a thousand chariots, and seven hundred horsemen.” In a typically helpful manner, the word “chariots” is in italic to let the reader understand that the word is not in the original but has been supplied by the translator.
The NIV (1978, 1984) rendering is more highly interpretive: “a thousand of his chariots and seven thousand charioteers.” It makes “chariots” the referent to thousand and renders parashim (“horsemen”) as “charioteers.” Most significantly, it harmonizes the verse to 1 Chronicles 18:4, disregarding the underlying Hebrew of 1 Samuel 8:4, by making the number “seven thousand” rather than “seven hundred.”
The ASV (1901), RSV (1952, 1973, 1980), and NRSV (1989) are like the Geneva: “a thousand and seven hundred horsemen.”
With the NASB (1995) there is a significant change in how the verse is rendered. Rather than write the number out, a numeral is used: “1,700 horsemen.” This is also the rendering the ESV (2001): “1,700 horsemen.”
This rendering is troubling in that it creates an unnecessary contradiction with 1 Chronicles 18:4.
At the risk of being labeled a KJV-Onlyist, I have to conclude that the KJV rendering of 2 Samuel 8:4 is superior. It accurately reflects the text of the underlying Hebrew original but also harmonizes with the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:4.
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