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Bible Lexicons

Gesenius Hebrew Grammer

Part 151

§151. Desiderative Sentences.

A wish may be expressed not only by the simple imperfect (§107n), cohortative (§ 108, especially with נָא‎ §108c), jussive (§ 109; with נָא‎ §109b), imperative (§110a), perfect consecutive (§112aa) or by a simple noun-clause (§116r, note, and §141g) but also in the following ways:—

1. By exclamations in the form of interrogative clauses:[1] especially sentences with מִי‎ followed by the imperfect as being the mood of that which is still unfulfilled but possible, and hence also of that which is desired, e.g. 2 Samuel 15:4 מִֽי־יְשִׂמֵ֫נִי שֹׁפֵט‎ who maketh me judge? i.e. O that I were made judge! 1 Samuel 20:10, 2 Samuel 23:15. On the other hand, מִי‎ with the perfect (Genesis 21:7, Numbers 23:10, 1 Samuel 26:9, Isaiah 53:1, &c.) or participle (Psalms 59:8, Proverbs 24:22, &c.), rather expresses a rhetorical question, i.e. a denial, cf. §150d. Especially frequent is the use of מִֽי־יִתֵּן‎ (prop. who gives?) to introduce all kinds of desiderative clauses (see under b).—In Malachi 1:10 the desiderative clause proper is co-ordinated with an interrogative clause, מִי גַם־בָּכֶם וְיִסְגּׄר דְּלָתַ֫יִם‎ would that one were among you and would shut the doors, i.e. O that one would shut the doors!

Rem. Sometimes the original sense of מִֽי־יִתֵּן‎ is still plainly discernible, e.g. Judges 9:29 מִֽי־יִתֵּן אֶת־הָעָם הַוֶּה בְיָדִי‎ who gives this people into my hand? equivalent to, O that this people were given into my hand! cf. Psalms 55:7. In these examples, however, מִֽי־יִתֵּן‎ is still equivalent to O had I! and in numerous other instances the idea of giving has entirely disappeared, מִֽי־יִתֵּן‎ having become stereotyped as a more desiderative particle (utinam). Its construction is either—

(a) With the accusative (in accordance with its original meaning) of a substantive, Deuteronomy 28:67 would that it were even!... morning! Judges 9:29, Psalms 14:7 (53:7), 55:7; with an accusative and a following infinitive, Job 11:5; with two accusatives, Numbers 11:29, Jeremiah 8:23; with the accusative of an infinitive, Exodus 16:3, 2 Samuel 19:1 מִֽי־יִתֵּן מוּתִי אֲנִי תַחְתֶּ֫יךָ‎ would that I had died for thee (for אֲנִי‎ cf. §135f); of a participle, Job 31:35; of a personal pronoun (as a suffix), Job 29:2 (with a following ךְּ‎; but מִֽי־יִתְּנֵ֫נִי‎ Isaiah 27:4 and Jeremiah 9:1 with a following accusative is not simply equivalent to מִֽי־יִתֵּן לִי‎, but is properly who endows me with, &c.; cf. §117ff).—With a still greater weakening of the original meaning מִֽי־יִתֵּן‎ is used with an adjective in Job 14:4 could a clean thing but come out of an unclean! i.e. how can a clean thing come, &c.; similarly in Job 31:31 who can find one that hath not been satisfied!

(b) With a following perfect, Job 23:3 (cf. §120e); with a perfect consecutive, Deuteronomy 5:26 O that they had such an heart!

(c) With a following imperfect, Job 6:8, Job 13:5, Job 14:13; in Job 19:23 the imperfect is twice added with Wāw (cf. a above, on Malachi 1:10).

On the cohortative in the apodosis to such desiderative clauses, cf. §108f.

2. The wish may also be expressed by the particles אִם‎ (Psalms 81:9, Psalms 95:7, Psalms 139:19, Proverbs 24:11, 1 Chronicles 4:10; always with a following imperfect) and לוּ‎ (for which in Psalms 119:5 we have אַחְלַי‎, 2 Kings 5:3 אַֽחֲלֵי‎, from אָח‎ ah! and לַי‎=לוּ‎; both with a following imperfect)si, o si! utinam.[2] לוּ‎ is followed by the imperfect, Genesis 17:18, Job 6:2; by the jussive, Genesis 30:34 (rather concessive, equivalent to let it be so); by the perfect, as the expression of a wish that something might have happened in past time (cf. §106p), Numbers 14:2 לוּ מַ֫תְנוּ‎ would that we had died; 20:3 and Joshua 7:7 (both times וְלוּ‎); on the other hand, Isaiah 48:18 and 63:19 (both times לוּא‎) to express a wish that something expected in the future may already have happened.—On לוּ‎ with the imperative (by an anacoluthon) Genesis 23:13 cf. §110e. On the perfect after בִּי אִם‎ Genesis 40:14, 2 Kings 5:20, cf. §106n, note 2.

  1. The transition from a question to a wish may be seen, e.g. in Numbers 11:4 who shall give us flesh to eat? i.e. O that we had flesh to eat!
  2. Cf. a similar transition from a conditional to a desiderative particle, in consequence of the suppression of the apodosis, in the English, O if I had! and the like; e.g. Numbers 22:29 if there were (לוּ יֶשׁ־‎) a sword in my hand now had I surely killed thee!
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