October 29, 2006

Psalm 4

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 stringed instruments.
A psalm.
By David.

When I call, answer me, my righteous God!
In oppression you have relieved me;
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

Sons of man, how long will my glory become shame?
How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood?  Selah.
But know that Yahweh has separated the godly man for himself;
Yahweh will hear when I call to him.

Be angry and do not sin.
Speak in your heart on your bed and be still.  Selah.
Sacrifice sacrifices of righteousness,
And trust in Yahweh.

Many are saying, “Who will show us good?”
Lift up upon us the light of your face, Yahweh!
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than the time their grain and new wine abounded.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For you, Yahweh, alone will make me dwell in safety.

A couple of comments about this psalm:

(1) In line 2, when David says that God gave him relief “in oppression,” the idea is that David was oppressed and that God took away the pressure or, at least, the bad effects of it.  The word is often translated “distress,” but the term used here is related to the word for an oppressor and refers to a time of hard pressing and crushing.

(2) In lines 4-5, there are three questions, all introduced with “How long” in line 4.  It’s “How long will you A, B, C.”  To bring this out, I’ve repeated “How long” at the beginning of line 5 and added “and” in between the two things in line 5.

(3) In the last line, the word translated alone may refer to God (“You alone!”), but it’s possible that it refers to the psalmist: “You make me dwell alone.”  This isolation would then be a form of security.  So BDB takes the word here to mean “make me dwell solitarily, in safety” and refers to Deuteronomy 33:28, where there is this promise: “Israel will dwell in safety, the fountain of Jacob alone.”  Alone here is parallel to in safety.  Hirsch thinks that it means that Israel will be safe, no matter what the nations around are doing, because Israel has been isolated from them.

According to Hirsch, the psalmist would then be saying that God makes him safe by isolating his enemies (an external security) and then would add that he also dwells “securely” in the sense of being free from worry or fear (internal security).  He renders this line: “Thou, O Lord, wilt give me a place of safety and of peace.”  That seems quite plausible to me.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:46 am | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “Psalm 4”

  1. Joseph Forster Says:

    I noticed you translated vs. one to read “my righteous God” instead of “God of my righteousness” like all of the other translations I have seen. Are you fairly sure of this way of translating vs. 1? I would love to hear you comments about the translation of that verse.
    Joseph Forster

  2. John Barach Says:

    The Hebrew structure \”NOUN of NOUN\” is a very common way in Hebrew to do what we do in English with adjectives.

    \”Seed of holiness\” is a holy seed (Isa. 6:13). \”Covenant of eternity\” is an eternal covenant (Gen. 9:16). \”Eyes of loftiness\” are lofty eyes. \”Hill of holiness\” is a holy hill. And so \”God of righteousness\” is \”righteous God.\” This is called an adjectival construct chain.

    In these structures, when the second noun has a personal pronoun suffix, it actually modifies the whole thing. So here, in the sequence \”God\” plus \”my righteousness,\” the \”my\” actually modifies \”righteous God.\” Hence, \”my righteous God.\”

    The same is true, by the way, of the article. \”Cup of the silver\” is \”the silver cup.\” The article goes with the second noun in the chain, but it modifies the entire compound idea.

    Here\’s Kautzsch\’s Hebrew Grammar (with some transliterating and modification):

    When the genitive, following a construct state, is used periphrastically to express the idea of a material or attribute, the pronominal suffix, which properly belongs to the compound idea (represented by the nomen regens and genitive), is, like the article, attached to the second substantive (the genitive), e.g., HAR-QADOSHI prop. the hill of my holiness, i.e., my holy hill, Ps. 2:6, &c.; \’IR QADOSHEKA thy holy city, Dn. 9:24; ELILEY CASEPO his idols of silver, Is. 2:20, 3:22, 31:7; cf. Dt 1:41, Is 9:3, 28:4, 41:11, Ez 9:1f, Ps. 41:10, 150:1, Jb 18:7…. (p. 440).

    Hope this helps!

  3. John Barach Says:

    Argh! I don’t know why WordPress puts slashes in front of all quotation marks sometimes. Strange. Try to ignore them.

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