Q&A: Can the Hebrew word למו ever be translated in the singular?

Not really. The word appears in 56 verses in the Hebrew Bible[1]—in 52 of them, it serves as the archaic/poetic Hebrew equivalent of the more familiar lahem, meaning ‘to them’.

There are two verses in the Book of Genesis (which happen to be consecutive—Gen. 9:26,27) where you might think that it’s in the singular (‘to him’):

ויאמר, ברוך יהוה אלוהי שם; ויהי כנען, עבד למו.
(vayomer, barukh Adonai Elohei Shem, vayehi Cna’an eved lamo)

which the King James Version translates as: “And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant,” and:

יפת אלוהים ליפת, וישכון באוהלי-שם; ויהי כנען, עבד למו.
(Yaft Elohim leYefet, vayishkon be’ohalei-Shem, vayehi Cna’an eved lamo)

translated: “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”

—but which in reality are both generic references—i.e. … ‘shall be a slave to them’ – namely, the descendants of Canaan being a slave to the descendents of Shem and of Japheth.

The other four instances are in the Book of Job (which is a fount of archaic Hebrew in general), where the word is actually /lemo/ (with the stress on “mo“)) not /lamo/) (with the stress on “la“)—meaning ‘to [my/their] own’—e.g.: Job 4:40:

הן קלוֹתי, מה אשיבך; ידי שמתי למוֹ-פי.
Hen qaloti, mah ashivekha; yadi samti lemo-phi.

Meaning: “Indeed, I am unworthy; what shall I answer thee? I shall put my hand to my own mouth.”

Footnotes

[1] חיפוש בתנך – למו

2 thoughts on “Q&A: Can the Hebrew word למו ever be translated in the singular?

  1. What about Isaiah 44:15 – that’s the only one that I have of the 56 that is rendered in the singular.
    vhih ladm lbyr viiqk mhm vikm af-iwiq vaph lkm
    af-ipyl-al viwtku ywhu psl visgod-lmo
    And it will be for a human, for kindling, and to be received from them, and for heat, indeed, ignited, and to bake bread.
    Also to work a god, and worship it, making a graven image, and paying homage to it?

    Liked by 1 person

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