Word Study: Turn Captivity Captive “v’shavti veyish’vu”


Amos 9:14: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.  They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.”  NIV
Ephesians 4:8: “Wherefore he said, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
I will bring back my exiled people:  Hebrew – v’shavti veyish’vu:  Turn captive captive
Every English translation avoids the literal translation for good reason. A literal translation often does not make sense.   The phrase “I will bring back my exiled people” is in Hebrew “v’shavti veyish’vu.”   Look at that phrase closely; you don’t to be a Hebrew scholar to see there is a similarity in that expression that is not expressed in our English text.   This phrase literally means “turn captivity captive.”  Paul used the same expression in Ephesians 4:8 and most of our English translations from the Greek will render this literally as “He led captivity captive”.
What does that mean?    It means about as much to us as if we said to an English man, “Let’s bury the hatchet.”  He will probably respond: “I say old boy, where do you want it buried.”   Although our English friends speak the King’s English, they are not as well versed in our free and easy spin on English words creating what we call idioms.
“Turn captivity captive” is an old ancient Hebrew idiom.  In English we have our own idiom which is identical in its intended meaning.  Hence, I believe the best way to translate this idiom from the Hebrew is to insert our own idiom.   “I will turn the tables on my people in Israel.”    Now that means a little more than simply, “I will bring them back.”   It is implying God will turn the captors into the captive and the captive into the captors.
Are you being oppressed by someone?  Are they holding you captive emotionally, financially, socially or in any other way?   God has promised to not only deliver you from this oppression but He will turn the tables on the ones oppressing you and will not only free you but cause those who are oppressing you to be under the same oppression that you were under.    As another good old English idiom expresses it, perhaps a little better, God will “give them a taste of their own medicine.”  He is after all, a just God, and He is not above another idiom, poetic justice.