Pharaoh and His Bicycle Horses
At dusk, the people of Israel are fleeing slavery in plague-torn Egypt and stop dead on the shores of the sea. Now what?
Suddenly, they turn at the sound of ... thundering hooves? An entire army appears at their heels! They're trapped!
I'm reading this account from Exodus 14 in Hebrew while listening to Nigerian translators read their Waja translation aloud before translating it back into English so I can understand it. Our Skype connection is a bit choppy, but we're each following the desert drama despite the geographic and linguistic distance.
The Israelites start to panic. It reads something to the effect of, "We're going to die!!!" (Exodus 14:10-12, my paraphrase)
Sure enough, behind them Pharaoh and his terrifying bicycle-horses sound the charge!
Lost In Translation?
Don't remember these in the epic movie renditions of Exodus?
That's because it's straight from their English back translation. Like a game of Telephone, "bicycle-horse" is the English translation of the Waja translation of the original Hebrew.
The Waja word for "bicycle-horse" is borrowed from another African language and is the closest concept for them to the Hebrew word for "chariot." Think about it. It's a two-wheeled vehicle powered by a horse in which a warrior could ride to battle. Of course!
Translators Translate, Consultants Consult
The Waja translators know their language and their audience. For them, the bicycle-horses phrase conjures the correct image of a chariot, or something very close.
My job as consultant-in-training is to make sure that understanding is consistent with the source text (in this case, Hebrew). Although bicycle-horse sounds strange to me, it checks out.
Imagine if your only Bible was in a foreign language and God's own words made no sense to you. I've come alongside this team as part of a calling to use my gifts to help others receive his words in their heart language.
A Way Forward
You already know how Exodus 14 ends with one of the most breathtaking miracles in the Bible. God makes a way through the sea where there was no way.
Translating the Bible is another impossible feat without his help.
As the Israelites gingerly stepped onto the dry sea bed, so each translation team moves slowly forward in faith, trusting him and leaning on the strengths he's given each one of us.
We each have a vital role to play in making it to the other side.
Please pray that the Waja translation of passages from Exodus is clear and accurate.
Pray that the translation will reach people's hearts with its timely message of hope in impossible circumstances.
Pray that our work can persevere to completion and that God would raise up others to join the effort.
Until All Have Heard,