April 24, 2008

Psalm 60

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
On the lily of the testimony.
A michtam.
By David.
For teaching.
When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah and Joab turned and struck Edom in the Valley of Salt,
Twelve thousand men.

God, you have rejected us.
You have breached us.
You were angry.
Restore to us!

You made the earth shake.
You split it.
Heal its cracks, because it totters!
You made your people see a hard thing;
You made us drink wine of staggering.

And you gave to your fearers a banner for lifting
Because of truth.  Selah.

In order that your beloved ones may be delivered,
Save with your right hand and answer us!

God has spoken in his holiness.
I will exult.
I will divide Shechem,
And the Valley of Succoth I will measure.
To me belongs Gilead
And to me belongs Manasseh.
And Ephraim is the strength of my head,
Judah my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
At Edom I will throw my shoe.
Over me, Philistia, shout aloud!

Who will bring me into the fortified city?
Who led me as far as Edom?
Is it not you, God, who rejected us,
And who, God, did not go forth with our hosts?

Give us help from oppression;
And vain is the salvation of man.
In God we will gain power;
And he himself will trample our oppressors.

Some comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 2, “breached us” has to do breaking down a wall, making a breach in a wall, so that the enemy can attack.  David is likely saying that God has broken down Israel’s defenses.  This expression may mean “You broke out upon us.”

(2) Line 4 (“Restore to us!”) sounds a bit strange.  It’s not “Restore us!” as if we were the ones who needed to be restored.  The phrase is “to us” or “for us,” and probably refers to the things that God took away from Israel (e.g., safety, peace, victory in battle, and especially his presence, protection, and help).

(3) Hirsch suggests that line 9 should be translated “You have made us drink bewilderment like wine.” He points out that the word for wine is not in the construct state, and therefore it is not “wine of staggering.”  The staggering indicates confusion or bewilderment.  It would then be “You made us drink wine, namely, staggering/bewilderment/confusion.”

(4) In line 10, the word translated “raising” here is related to the word for a banner.  This phrase could be rendered “banner for bannering,” that is, for doing what you do with a banner, raising it up so people can see it and soldiers can rally to it.  Any suggestions for a better translation that gets this play on words across?

(5) In line 17, “measure” refers to measuring out a land prior to dividing it up.  Hirsch gets the point across by using the word “apportion.”

(6) In line 21, the word for “scepter”is the same one used in Genesis 49:10.  The term can also refer to a ruler or leader.  Because it is related to the word for statutes, some translate it “lawgiver.”  But because all the other imagery in this passage is thing imagery, I’ve opted for “scepter.”

(7) Line 24 is a bit puzzling.  It may be ironic (“I have conquered these others; now, Philistia, let’s see you manage to shout in triumph over me”) or it may be a summons to Philistia to rejoice and acclaim David’s sovereignty, to rejoice over having David as king.

(8) In line 25, the word translated “fortified” may mean “besieged.”  Both are true here: David is besieging the city, which in turn is fortified.

(9) In line 31, the phrase translated “gain power” is used in the Bible for getting the upper hand and winning a military victory (Num. 24:18; 1 Sam. 14:48).  The phrase could mean “gain wealth” or even “do valiantly” (since the word translated “power” here is the same as the word translated “valor” in the phrase “a mighty man of valor”), but I’ve opted for “gain power” to get the idea of winning the battle across.

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Posted by John Barach @ 10:57 pm | Discuss (0)
April 22, 2008

Henry More: Holier Than Thou

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

I was reading C. S. Lewis’s letters the other day and came across some fascinating stuff about the seventeenth century theologian Henry More, whose writings on ethics Lewis was particularly interested at the time (1924).  Lewis writes:

He told me a great many curious “facts” in natural history.  You never knew that the leader of a flock of cranes carried a large stone in his mouth when in flight: the reason being, that when they alight, all the others go to sleep, but the leader, as soon as he does, is awakened by the sound of the stone falling.  Or who would have thought that elephants had a religion and performed purificatory rites to the new moon?  He was a very holy man, this More: his contemporary biographer tells us that his body “at the putting off of his cloathes, exhaled sweet herbaceous smells, and his urine had the natural savour of violets” (p. 623).

Lewis is paraphrasing, probably from memory, Richard Ward’s Life of the Learned and Pious Dr Henry More… (pp. 123-124).  And lest it worry you excessively, let me tell you in advance that “flavour” here has the meaning of “savor” or “scent”:

He hath told us … That not only his own Urine, had naturally the Flavour of Violets in it, but that his Breast and Body, especially when very Young, would of themselves, in like manner, send forth flowry and Aromatic Odours from them; and such as he daily almost was sensible of, when he came to put of his Clothes, and go to bed. And even afterwards, when he was Older, about the end of Winter, or beginning of Spring, he did frequently perceive certain sweet and herbacious Smells about him; when yet there were no such external Objects near, from whence they could proceed.

If these things are the measure of our holiness, then I guess I fall short.

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:42 pm | Discuss (0)
April 21, 2008


Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Yesterday, I came across this in C. S. Lewis’s diary entry for June 24, 1924:

Barfield had to go to a theatrical garden party of all things, and Harwood to his work.  I dawdled about for a bit, got my suitcase … and then, driven by thirst and curiosity, went for the first time in my life to a soda fountain — and the last.  A more disgusting drink I never tasted (All My Road Before Me, p. 340).

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Posted by John Barach @ 7:18 pm | Discuss (1)
April 19, 2008

Psalm 59

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I have prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
Do not destroy.
By David.
A michtam, when Saul sent,
And they watched the house to kill him.

Deliver me from my enemies, my God,
From those rising up against me lift me up.
Deliver me from workers of trouble,
And from men of bloodshed save me,

For look!  They lie in wait for my soul;
Strong ones assemble against me.
Not for my rebellion and not for my sin, Yahweh;
Without my liability, they run and set themselves.

Awake to meet me and see!
And you, Yahweh, God of hosts, the God of Israel,
Wake up to visit all the nations.
Do not be gracious to all trouble-making traitors.  Selah.

They return at evening;
They howl like a dog;
And they go around the city.
Look, they gush forth with their mouth;
Swords are on their lips,
Because who hears?

But you, Yahweh, will laugh at them;
You will mock at all nations.
Because of his strength, I wait on you,
Because God is my high place.
My God — his loyalty will meet me;
God will make me look on my foes.

Do not kill them, lest my people forget!
Make them wander by your power and bring them down,
Our shield, O Lord!

The sin of their mouth is the word of their lips.
And they will be taken in their pride.
And for the cursing and the lie they tell.

Consume in anger!  Consume!  And they will be no more.
And let them know that God is ruling in Jacob
To the ends of the earth.  Selah.

And they return at evening;
They howl like a dog;
And they go around the city.
They themselves wander to eat;
If they are not satisfied, they stay the night.

But I myself will sing of your strength,
And I will shout at dawn your loyalty,
Because you have been a high place for me
And a refuge in the day of my oppression.
My strength, to you I will psalm,
Because God is my high place,
My loyal God!

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 2, “lift me up” has to do with putting David in a high and inaccessible place.  It implies a prayer for protection.  The same idea is seen throughout when God is referred to as a “high place.”

(2) In line 8, “run” and “set themselves” are military terms, describing an army that runs forward to scale a wall.  David’s enemies  are attacking him, even though he has not rebelled or sinned or incurred liability.

(3) In line 12, I’ve used “troublesome traitors” to translate a phrase that refers first to these people as faithless, people who don’t keep their commitments, and then as people “of trouble,” that is, people who cause trouble and harm.

(4) In line 24, to “look on one’s foes” means to see them defeated.

(5) In line 27, “Our shield, O Lord!” is a reference to God, who is both the shield of Israel and David’s master and king.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:19 pm | Discuss (0)
April 1, 2008

Psalm 58

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
Do not destroy.
By David.

Do you, mighty ones, really speak righteousness?
Do you judge uprightly, sons of Adam?
No, in heart you practice injustices;
On the earth, the violence of your hands you weigh out.

Estranged are the wicked from the womb;
They go astray from the belly, the ones speaking lies.
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent,
Like a deaf cobra that stops up his ear,
Who will not listen to the voice of a whisperer,
Of one charming charms, a most wise one.

God, break their teeth in their mouth;
The fangs of the young lions smash, Yahweh!
Let them vanish like waters which go away of themselves;
Let him ready his arrows as if they are circumcised.
Like a snail that melts, let him go;
Like a woman’s miscarriage, they have not beheld the sun.

Before your pots feel a thorn,
Whether raw or cooked, he will storm him away.

The righteous will rejoice because he beholds vengeance;
His feet he will bathe in the blood of the wicked.
And man will say, “Surely there is fruit for the righteous!
Surely there is a God who judges on the earth.”

Wow, this is a tough psalm to translate!  A few comments:

(1) The opening lines of this psalm are particularly difficult to translate.  The word I’ve translated “mighty ones” (elem) may be an condensed form of the regular word for “gods” (elim) which would refer here to rulers who are called “gods” because they rule for and represent God (see Ps. 82:1, where the rulers are identified as elohim, the term usually used for God).  They are the “mighty ones,” the “powers that be.”

But it’s possible that this word means “silence,” and either refers to these judges as “silent ones” (NKJV: “you silent ones”) or asks if they are silent when they ought to speak righteousness (Alexander: “Are you really silent when you should speak righteousness?”).  If we take the word to mean “silence” or even “muteness,” which is a possibility, it’s harder to know what to make of the flow of the verse.

(2) The next line may be translated as it is above, or it may be that “sons of Adam” are the people being judged: “Do you judge sons of Adam uprightly?”

(3) In line 13, “go away of themselves” is actually “go for themselves.”  This line may refer to the waters, which simply flow away and vanish.  But it is possible that this phrase is another wish of the psalmists and refers to the wicked: “Let them go their way,” that is, the direction their behavior is taking them.

(4) Line 14 is complex.  It is actually “Let him tread his arrows,” which compresses together a whole series of actions: treading on the bow to bend it so you can fit the arrow to it in order to shoot.  “As if they are circumcised”: the points of the arrows are cut off so they do no damage. Some translations have “cut off” here, which gets the sense but this word normally does mean “circumcised.” It is possible, though, that this is a different verb that is spelled the same so that the prayer is that God will wither the enemy’s arrows so they do no harm, though that image (withered arrows?) is harder to understand.

(5) The word translated “snail” in line 15 is somewhat doubtful.  “Snail” or “slug” is the traditional translation, but this is the only place the word appears.  It is possible that the word refers to a miscarried fetus, as in the parallel line that follows.  Kidner says that this word may mean “miscarriage” and that this meaning is “attested in the Talmud.”

It’s possible that both lines 15 and 16 should be translated with “let them be” supplied in the front: “Let them be like a snail that melts as it goes, a woman’s miscarriage that does not behold the sun.”  As well, I wonder why the word translated “woman” is in construct form here (esheth instead of ishah).

(6) Before line 17 makes sense to us, we have to understand that the thorn here is the fuel for the fire.  The cooking pots “feel a thorn” when they start to get hot from the fire of thorns under them.

(7) The next expression is really strange.  It looks as if it says, “Like living, like burning-anger,” and the word for “burning anger” is used elsewhere only for God’s anger.

But “living” is used for raw meat elsewhere in the Bible, and it is possible that “heat” here is an idiom for cooked meat, so the expression means “whether raw or cooked.”  The image appears to mean that, before the cook is even done his work, God will blow him (or possibly “it,” that is, the thorn under the pot?) away with his storm.

(8) The participle in the last line (“who judge”) appears to be plural, which is a little strange if it refers to God.  I don’t buy the idea that this is an expression in the mouth of pagans (“There are gods who judge on the earth!”). It might refer to human rulers, who are called gods (Ps. 82:1), in which case it would be a declaration that, in contrast to the wicked judges, God has executed judgment through human judges who are truly “gods judging on the earth,” because they are carrying out God’s judgment faithfully.  That’s possible.  It’s also possible that this is one way participles sometimes appear in connection with Elohim, God.  I’m open to more suggestions, though.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:56 pm | Discuss (0)