Gesenius’ Hebrew — Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament gives, among others, the following general meanings for the pronoun le, on pages 421-425:
(A) It denotes proper motion, or at least direction, and turning towards something.
(1) to, towards, unto.
(2) to, even to.
(3) into, used of something passing into another condition.
(4) It is the mark of the dative….
(5) as to, with regard to.
(6) on account of.
(7) concerning, about, of, used of a person or thing made the object of discourse.
(8) on behalf of any one, for any one. Isa. 6:8 “who shall go for us.”
(9) as applied to a rule or standard, according to. Gen. 1:11, “according to its kind.”
(B) More rarely le is used:
(1) of rest, or tarriance at a place, or in a place.
Several examples are given of this. Hosea 5:1 is given as “at Mispah,” which the New World Translation renders as:
a trap is what you have become to Mizpah.
This shows that even the translators of the NWT recognize there are several meanings for le. Curiously enough the King James Version renders this as:
ye have been a snare on Mispah.
This is odd because Gesenius is keyed off the King James Version. Other translations render Hos. 5:1 as:
But you have been a snare to Mizpah. Tanakh — The Holy Scriptures
a snare ye have been on Mizpah. Young’s Literal Translation
you have been a snare to Mizpah. The Interlinear Bible
Bible versions that say “at Mizpah” are:
You have been a snare at Mizpah. New International Version
you have been a snare at Mizpah. The Revised English Bible
you have been a snare at Mizpah. New Revised Standard Version
you have been a snare at Mizpah. New American Standard Bible
you have been a snare at Mizpah. The Jerusalem Bible
So here we have a case where le is rendered “at,” “to,” and “on.” The context and translator’s preference are clearly major factors in determining a rendering.
Gesenius gives many more possibilities for rendering le, but they are not relevant to this discussion.
Other bible verses are more straightforward in showing that le can be translated “for” or “at” or many other ways. Numbers 11:10 is rendered “at the entrance of” in all the above translations except the King James Version, which says almost the same thing, “in the door of.”
In Ezra 2:1 le-babel is rendered “to Babylon” in most translations, whereas The New World Translation uses “at Babylon” to give the same thought:
Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had taken into exile at Babylon. NWT
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried into exile to Babylon. Tanakh
See also Ezra 5:12.
The phrase “for us” in Hebrew is le-nul, which the New World Translation renders in Psalm 124:1 as: “Jehovah proved to be for us.”
Other places where The New World Translation renders le as “for” are:
Jer. 2:28 “for yourself” le-ka
Jer. 7:33 “for the flying creatures” le-‘oph
The passage at Jer. 51:49 is a particularly good example where a vague meaning in Hebrew is translated in many slightly different ways. Here, the NWT again renders the Hebrew le-babel as “at Babylon,” and gives its own unique meaning to the verse.
Not only was Babylon the cause for the slain ones of Israel to fall but also at Babylon the slain ones of all the earth have fallen. New World Translation
The literal renderings from two interlinear Hebrew-English bibles are:
As-Babylon is-to-fall (for)-the-slain-of Israel, so- for-Babylon shall-fall the-slain-of all the-earth. The Interlinear Bible
Indeed Babylon to-fall ones-slain-of Israel indeed because-of-Babylon they-fell ones-slain-of all-of the- earth. The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament
Other renderings are:
As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth. King James Version
Yes, Babylon is to fall [For] the slain of Israel, As the slain of all the earth Have fallen through Babylon. Tanakh — The Holy Scriptures
As Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel, so for Babylon the slain of all the earth shall fall. The Interlinear Bible
Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel, as the slain of all the earth have fallen because of Babylon. New Revised Standard Version
Indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel, As also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen. New American Standard Version
Not only hath Babylon caused the fall of the slain of Israel, By Babylon also have fallen the slain of all the earth. The Emphasized Bible
Babylon both was for the falling of the killed of Israel, and at Babylon fell the killed of all the earth. The Bible in Living English
Babylon in her turn must fall because of those who were slaughtered in Israel, just as through Babylon there fell men slaughtered over all the world. The Jerusalem Bible
Babylon, too, must fall, O slain of Israel, as at the hands of Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. The New American Bible
Babylon must fall for the sake of Israel’s slain, as the slain of all the world fell for the sake of Babylon. The New English Bible
Babylon in her turn must fall because of Israel’s slain, as the slain of all the world have fallen because of Babylon. The Revised English Bible
Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon. New International Version
Babylonia caused the death of people all over the world, and now Babylonia will fall because it caused the death of so many Israelites. The Bible in Today’s English Version
As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the land. American Standard Version
As Babylon had the dead of Israel put to the sword, so in Babylon the dead of all the land will be stretched out. The Bible in Basic English
And Babylon also must fall for the slain of Israel, As for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. Smith & Goodspeed’s The Bible: An American Translation
Just as Babylon killed the people of Israel, so must she be killed. The Living Bible
As Babylon caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all [her] land. The Amplified Bible
Even Babylon is to fall, ye pierced of Israel, Even they of Babylon have fallen, Ye pierced of all the earth. Young’s Literal Translation
and in Babylon the slain men of all the earth shall fall. Brenton’s Septuagint
From all the above renderings it is evident that there is much room for variation in translating the phrase le-babel from Hebrew. It can be rendered by many words, including “for” and “at.” On a textual basis only, there seems to be no definitive reason for preferring one rendering over another, as the various renderings above of “at, to, on Mizpah” and “at, for, of, because of, in, through, by Babylon” show.
(For a more thorough examination of these issues, see The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson.)