September 20, 2006

It’s Good To Be A Fat-Head

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

As I’ve been working on preparing versions of the Psalms for use in our church’s liturgy, I’ve not only looked at the Hebrew but have also compared various translations, including the ones Jim Jordan has been producing in his monthly newsletters for donors. It’s often interesting to see how various translations put things.

For instance, the New King James Version is intended to be a very literal translation.  And yet from time to time in the Psalms, I notice that it renders the word “Rock” as “strength.”  It doesn’t do it consistently and I can’t figure out why it does it at all.  (Possibly different translators worked on those different psalms?)

So, for instance, at the end of Psalm 19, the New King James has “O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.”  Why do they capitalize “Redeemer” and not “Strength”?  I dunno.  But the word for “strength” here is simply the word for “rock.” 

More surprising perhaps is this: The word for “redeemer” here is actually the word for a kinsman.  Now it’s true that a kinsman would redeem.  But that isn’t all a kinsman would do.  Kinsmen would also avenge.  They would marry childless widows.  Besides, we’re used to hearing about God as a redeemer.  What’s surprising here is that the psalmist proclaims that Yahweh is his kinsman, his relative.

There’s usually at least one “revelation” like that in each psalm I work on.  This week, I was working on Psalm 23 and once again discovered something “new.”

The word usually translated “anoint” in verse 5 is not the word that’s ordinarily used for anointing (e.g., in connection with anointing a king or a priest).  Rather, it’s a word that elsewhere has to do with fatness.

Often a form of the word has to do with (fatty) ashes associated with sacrifices (e.g., Ex. 27:3; Lev. 1:16; 4:12; 6:10; 11:4; Num. 4:13; 1 Kings 13:3, 5; Jer. 31:40).

In several passages (Prov. 11:25; 13:4; 15:30; 28:27; Isa 34:6), it has to do with making fat.  The resulting adjective (“fat”) appears frequently (Ps. 22:29[30]; 92:14[15]; Isa. 30:23) as does the noun (“fat”: Jud. 9:9; Job 36:16; Ps. 36:8[9]; 63:5[6]; 65:11[12]; Isa. 55:2; Jer. 31:14).

In Ps. 20:3 (or 4 in Hebrew), the verb is often rendered “accept,” but it refers to “making fat.”  How do we get from there to acceptance?  Well, the point is that Yahweh will regard the king’s Ascension offering as fat, fat being Yahweh’s own portion.

Here in Psalm 23, then, we aren’t speaking about anointing kings.  It’s the kind of anointing you’d have at a banquet, where oil is poured on one’s head as a form of refreshment.  But again, this word doesn’t simply mean “refresh.”  It appears that oil is added to one’s head to, um, make one’s head fat with it.  Perhaps, as in Psalm 20, the idea has something to do with dedication to Yahweh and acceptance by him.  I don’t know and I’d appreciate your suggestions.

But for now, it seems to me that we could render this line like so:

You fatten my head with oil.

And this would be one time when it’s good to be a fat-head.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:35 am | Discuss (4)

4 Responses to “It’s Good To Be A Fat-Head”

  1. Doug Roorda Says:

    I, for one, am relieved that I am finally accepted.

    Fat Cat in Pella

  2. Jamie Says:

    You may wish to be careful in using words like “render” when you are talking about a fat head… 🙂

  3. Jim Jordan Says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. I think it probably means that David’s headship, his rule is fattened, increased. In the context of the coming battle, far from shrinking David’s kingly rule, God intends to increase his head.

  4. Kata Iwannhn » Psalm 23 Says:

    […] What’s in view here?  Fat is God’s portion of the offerings, and so to make someone’s head fat might mean to make that person’s head acceptable to God.  That’s part of the purpose of the anointing with oil.  Alternatively (or in addition), as James Jordan suggests, it may imply here that David’s headship will become fatter; that is, his rule will expand to include more territory, perhaps as a result of the battles mentioned in the psalm. Posted by John Barach @ 2:21 pm | […]

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