With A Secret Hand


One of the joys of the newly published, Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), containing all the canonical Orthodox books of the Bible, is the fact that the Old Testament was carefully brought into agreement with the text of the Septuagint, long a standard and important liturgical translation for Orthodox Christians.

The early Church generally used the Septuagint, a translation from the Hebrew made in Alexandria, Egypt, some 200 or more years before Christ. By the time of the birth of the Church it was a dominant form of the Old Testament, particularly within the Jewish Diaspora. New Testament writers regularly quote it and seem to prefer it over the Hebrew text (though not always).

But for modern American, Orthodox Christians, it affords probably the first practical glimpse at the Orthodox texts that have most influenced the Fathers of the Church. It rewards its readers with wonderful, hidden treasures. I have no argument with someone who finds fault with this or that about the Orthodox Study Bible, but I think it is a great achievement, long awaited, that, even with its short-comings (which are often in the eye of the beholder) is still a great leap forward for English-speaking Orthodoxy.

A case in point:

My wife, who is an avid reader of the Bible, Saint’s lives, British mysteries, and the editor of almost everything I write, was given an Orthodox Study Bible as soon as it arrived at our parish book store (I held out for a leather-bound copy and so received mine some weeks later). But she recently began a read through Exodus (partly spurred on by a few scenes from The Ten Commandments). It was a place to start reading.

She brought this verse to me the other night:

Exodus 17:16  Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation.

She had never seen the verse before and brought it to me. The Hebrew Masoretic text reads differently:

And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

I looked at the Hebrew and the Greek (which I both read), and the Septuagint translation was absolutely accurate from the Greek, as was the other translation from the Hebrew. It’s just a place where the Masoretic text and the Septuagint text differ. Some Orthodox would note that the Septuagint represents a translation of manuscripts far older than the Masoretic texts (though I’m not sure how the Dead Sea Scrolls come down in this debate).

But all of that is a side question. More to the point is Amalek. In Orthodox hymnody, on many feast-days, reference is made to Amalek. This past weekend was one of those occasions when we celebrated the Sunday of the Life-Giving Cross.  Amalek is mentioned because in the original battle with Amalek, recorded in Exodus 17, Moses stretches forth his arms in the form of a cross. So long as his arms remain so outstretched, the battle against Amalek is won. When Moses weakens and his arms droop, Amalek begins to gain the upperhand. Finally Aaron and Hur supported Moses arms and Amalek is defeated. The Fathers of the Church saw in this a prefigurement of Christ on the Cross.

And the very verse my wife brought to my attention is the verse which underlines the true nature of the battle with Amalek. Early Christians rightly saw in this battle a foreshadowing and prophecy of God’s war against all the forces of evil. Thus we have the wonderfully mysterious verse in the Septuagint:

Now Moses built an altar and called its name The-Lord-My-Refuge; for with a secret hand the Lord wars with Amalek from generation to generation.

Indeed the battle against the forces of our adversary has never been quit by our God. He indeed battles against evil from generation to generation. But quite fascinating to me was the statement, “with a secret hand.” For surely that is a description our our own experience. God has defeated the forces of the enemy (Amalek) at the cross of Christ, and yet we still have to make that victory complete. I was struck with the phrase “with a secret hand” for I realized how little of the war we actually see. How many times have we been protected from evil but saw nothing of it? We complain about the problems in the world, but how many times do we stop and give thanks that the problems are not, in fact, worse than they are – and God knows they could be.

But by His “secret hand” God works for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world. Part of that secret hand is the prayers of His saints, and the prayers of the righteous who live silently and secretly among us all.

May God hurry the final victory when Amalek is no more and every secret battle is made manifest that we may sing: Glory to God for all things!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


24 responses to “With A Secret Hand”

  1. The Scylding Avatar

    Looking back on my life so far, I can only say AMEN! to your post. What is so amazing is that He guides one’s actions in the most ‘unobstrusive’ ways even to accomplish His work. Truly – Glory to God in all things!

  2. Dave Avatar

    Father Stephen

    All thanks to God for illuminating that passage. I am non-orthodox, and I usually read the NASB. I looked up the lexicon on bible.cc and could only find the word “yad” in greek translated “hand”.


  3. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Fr. Stephen, take a gander at Luke 10:2, “He said to slop…”

    That’s right, instead of “them” somehow the very odd typo of “slop” was inserted. It’s not even close! A friend told me about this in an email entitled, “Get the slop out.”

    We now jokingly call this the Slop Bible.

  4. jacob Avatar

    Our leatherbound OSBs came with an Errata sheet that noted the “sloppy” treatment of Luke 10:2, as well as several other errors (no others in the text, but in things like the Protestant order of books, etc.)

  5. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Jacob, interesting. I purchased a hardbound OSB from my parish’s bookstore as soon as it was available. I had not hear that that an Errata sheet was offered with the leatherbound edition.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I just looked at the “slop” verse. Quite unfortunate. I still like mine.

  7. Adam Avatar

    Interesting. I own the leather and never received an Errata sheet. Unfortunately I have yet to start reading through the OT other than reading some of the Psalms. Though it is on my list of things I plan on doing in the near future.

  8. John S. Bell Avatar

    The errata sheet can be downloaded at http://orthodoxstudybible.com/uploads/OSB_Errata.pdf . I’m still waiting for my copy from Amazon.

  9. Theodora Elizabeth Avatar
    Theodora Elizabeth

    Adam, below is a link that will be helpful with reading the OT in the OSB. It’s plan for reading the OSB OT from a friend’s parish, St. Innocent’s (OCA) in Olmsted Falls, OH, a Cleveland suburb.


    The OT reading plan is partway down the page.

  10. jacob Avatar

    Here is the Errata sheet:


    (FYI, the “slop” verse correction is re: Luke 10:2)

    E R R A T A
    Page xiii, the list of books in the Protestant Old Testament canon
    should read
    . . .
    . . .
    Page 313, first paragraph under Background, third sentence should
    read “During a time of famine in Israel, Naomi and her Israelite
    family moved to Moab as a matter of survival.”

    Page 319, second paragraph under Major Themes, last sentence
    should read “. . . His miraculous gift of a son to a barren
    woman, . . .”

    Page 1261, heading at top of page should read “Daniel 12:21.”

    Page 1385, Luke 10:2 should read “Then He said to them, “The
    harvest truly is great, . . .”

    Page 1767, the reading for Wednesday of Cheesefare Week should
    read “Joel 2:12-26; Joel 4:12-21.”

  11. secondlady Avatar

    It is so inspiring. I come from a Christian country in Asia where religious leaders are divided in their approaches to deal with corruption and injustices in the government. It’s a blessing to reminded once again that evil does not rule this world forever.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    Actually one could hope for no errata, but I know as someone who has edited things before, that it happens. And this is a massive project. This is actually a very few errata, that will obviously be corrected at some point in the future.

    In the mean time, read your Bible.

    But the question remains, “What does this do to Biblical inerrancy?” 🙂

  13. Cuthbert Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    As an Anglican, I am overjoyed to see a new English translation of the Septuagint. I have a Ph.D. in Semitic languages (and so professionally I have a vested interest in the Masoretic Text), but as I read the Fathers, increasingly I began to question its use in the Church, given that, as far as I can tell, until Jerome virtually everybody was quoting the Septuagint.

    My personal favorite translation is the Jerusalem Bible. If only the JB translators had based the “narrow canon” books on the Septuagint!

  14. Fr. Benedict Avatar
    Fr. Benedict

    Unfortunately there is another error in Ps. 69, which is missing the second half of verse 2.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    Apparently, the Amalekites are in the details. 🙂

  16. jacob Avatar

    Fr. Benedict Says:
    April 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Unfortunately there is another error in Ps. 69, which is missing the second half of verse 2.


    I compared the new OSB Psalms 68 (69) and 69 (70), the first 3 verses of each, with Rahlfs LXX and don’t see anything missing from verse 2, other than the fact that the number “2” verse number is not printed for Psalm 68 (69). The OSB numbering conforms to Rahlfs. Brenton differs by 1 verse number.

    I noticed in Psalm 68 (69) that they include the word “sea” in the first half of verse 3 (“I am stuck in the mire of the sea, and there is no place to stand;”), when the word thalassa (“sea”) only occurs in the Greek text in the second half of the verse (“I came into the depths of the sea, and the storm overwhelmed me.”). I would think the translators should have used italics when they insert words into the text that aren’t there, but are implied by it or added for meaning’s sake, just like the KJV and NKJV and NASB do.

    Also, the OSB translation misses the play between buthou (“depth/deep”) in the first half of the verse and bathê (“depth/bottom/deep water”) in the second half of the verse by leaving any word for “deep” out of the first half of the verse. I.e., they translated “mire of the deep” as “mire of the sea” and created a non-existent repetition of “sea” when what they should be showing is a repeated wordplay with “deep/depth.”

    For comparison, the NETS, more accurately reflecting the Greek where “deep” and “sea” are used, translates it: “I was stuck in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I came into the depths of the sea, and a tempest overwhelmed me.”

  17. Fr. Benedict Avatar
    Fr. Benedict

    In Psalm 69 (70), the Greek text (from the Psalter published by Apostoliki Diakonia – sadly, my Rahlfs is in a box in the garage) has:

    O Theos, eis ten boethian mou proskhes
    Kyrie, eis to boethesai me speuson.

    OSB has:

    O God, make haste to help me.

    (And then it continues with verse 3: May those who seek my soul . . .)

    This omits the second half, “O Lord, hasten to my help.”

    This is unfortunate, as this is rather a famous verse, being recommended by St. John Cassian as material for unceasing prayer, much like the Jesus Prayer. St. Benedict also recommended it as the beginning for most of the canonical hours in his Rule for Monasteries.

    By the way, Fr. Stephen, I heartily agree that the Amalekites are in the details. Still, all in all, I have been greatly impressed by the new OSB so far. The commentary on Ruth was excellent, and I’m now getting into I Kingdoms (I Sam.) and finding the commentary equally helpful.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think I need to start a special section with a Bible passage for the day. The commentary and exegesis here is quite helpful. Indeed.

  19. mic Avatar


    Fr. Stephen, the first thing i did when i got my OSB was turn to Isa. 9:6 to see if there was commentary on it, only to find that the portion of 9:6 that i was looking for (…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.) this portion was either omitted or relocated.

    So, i guess what i am asking Fr., do you know whether it is omitted or relocated? and if it has been relocated, do you know where to?

    i know that we use this particular portion of Scripture during service, or at least during Great Compline, so it strikes me as odd if it were in fact completly omitted.


  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    What you find there is indeed the correct translation of the LXX. Apparently the Hebrew or something else has played a role in the Hymn we sing at Great Compline. Boy I’m learning more every day here.

  21. mic Avatar

    thank you Fr.

  22. Kevin P. Edgecomb Avatar

    Mic and Fr Freeman, it is present in its Septuagintal form in verse 5. The versification there follows that of the Hebrew, which differs from English, as is the case (messily) in various chapters throughout the Old Testament amongst traditions. You’ll see there that the Greek (thence English) translator of Isaiah translates the Hebrew text (or another very close) phrase for phrase, but oddly:
    Wonderful Counsellor=Angel of Great Counsel [which is not bad actually, as the Hebrew for “wonderful” is a noun pele’ and “counsellor” a participle: “a wonder counselling” or “a wonder, a counselling one”]
    Mighty God, Everlasting Father=for I shall bring [here, it seems the translator switched grammatical point of view, taking Mighty God as the speaker, and then construing the Hebrew for Everlasting Father, aviad, as avi’: I will bring]
    Prince of Peace=peace upon the rulers, peace and health by him [that last phrase being left hanging without any Hebrew to explicitly support it, though the Greek translator all those ages ago may have considered it necessary]

    So, everything is there, it’s just a little different.

  23. Kevin P. Edgecomb Avatar

    In fact, looking at it again, the Greek translator almost certainly took the aviad as two separate words, avi’ (I will bring) and ad (to), which led to the reading of the next phrase, sar shalom, Prince of Peace, as the necessary continuation of that phrase, so: “I will bring to a prince peace,” with the form of this being construed to connote “to every prince” thus it’s rendered plural: “I will bring peace upon the princes.” This would mean that the “peace and health to him” is perhaps a secondary, alternate, translation, related to the original singular “prince”, with the meaning of shalom expanded to “peace and health”, and this is placed in parallel with the other translation (these double translations happen quite a bit in the Septuagint), so: “I will bring peace upon the princes / peace and health to him.” The OSB’s “by him” is, I suppose, also possible, but not as obvious. The Greek seems to relate it back to the boy/son born. Interesting stuff!

  24. yokoue Avatar

    please pray for me for spiritual growth and finance .i am living in abidjan cote d’ivoire.

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