February 20, 2007

Psalm 9

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.
Upon Muth-Labben.
A Psalm.
By David.

I will thank Yahweh with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders!
I will rejoice and I will exult in you;
I will psalm to your name, Most High!

When my enemies turn back,
They stumble and perish before your face,
For you maintain my right and my cause;
You sit on a throne judging righteously.

You have rebuked the nations; you have destroyed the wicked;
Their name you have blotted out everlastingly and forever.
The enemy — they are finished! Everlasting ruins!
And cities you have uprooted—
The very memory of them has perished.

But Yahweh sits forever;
He has established his throne for the judgment.
And he himself will judge the world in righteousness,
And he will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.

And Yahweh is a stronghold for the oppressed,
A stronghold in times of trouble.
And they will trust in you, those who know your name,
For you have not forsaken those who seek you, Yahweh.

Psalm to Yahweh, who sits in Zion!
Declare among the peoples his deeds,
For the Seeker of Blood remembers them;
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, Yahweh!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
You who lift me up from the gates of death,
That I may tell of all your praise in the gates of Daughter Zion,
That I may rejoice in your salvation.

The nations have sunk down in the pit they made;
In the net they hid their own foot has been caught.
Yahweh has made himself known.
Justice he has done,
By the work of his hands, striking down the wicked man.
Higgaion. Selah.

The wicked will turn — into Sheol,
All nations that forget God,
Because the needy will not everlastingly be forgotten;
Nor will the hope of the afflicted perish forever.

Rise up, Yahweh! Do not let man be strong!
Let the nations be judged before your face!
Appoint a teaching for them, Yahweh,
Let the nations know they are man. Selah.

A few comments about this Psalm:

1.  The phrase muth-labben may mean “death of a son” or “death to a son” or something like that, but we aren’t sure.  For that matter, we don’t know exactly what Higgaion means eitiher.  Let alone Selah.

2.  When the Psalm speaks of Yahweh as “sitting,” the idea is that He is enthroned.  In fact, “Yahweh who sits in Zion” could be translated “Yahweh, the Enthroned of Zion” (which is what Jim Jordan has in his versions of the Psalms).  He is also called the “Seeker of Blood,” because he remembers bloodshed and avenges those whose blood has been shed.

3.  The word translated “man” at the end of the psalm is the same as the name of Seth’s son in Genesis 4: Enosh.  The term enosh generally seems to present man as weak and frail, mortal man.  Here, the idea seems to be that God should not allow these mere men, these mortal, frail, weak men to become strong, that is, to prevail over the righteous.

4.  The word “teaching” at the end may be unexpected.  It’s a guess, I have to admit, following Jordan and sticking to the actual Hebrew text, which has a word which appears to be related to a verb meaning “to instruct, teach.” It’s possible, though, that the Hebrew word may mean “fear.”  Though the verb “to be afraid, fear” is one letter different, spelling in Hebrew is a little bit more flexible than in English.  To put it another way, two words that sound the same often turn out to be related, and so it’s possible that this word is a variant spelling of a word that means “fear.” Of course, the word in exactly this form does appear elsewhere in the Bible where it means “razor,” and so it’s also just possible that this is a metaphor: God’s judgment is seen as a razor being appointed to shave these people. Ain’t translation fun?

[Revised, June 6, 2009.]

Posted by John Barach @ 11:40 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Psalm 9”

  1. John Meade Says:

    I lost my last comment so I will make this one shorter. In short, the word in the Hebrew text never means “teaching.” The word “torah” from the same root means teaching or instruction. The word almost certainly does not mean “razor” because there are only three occurrences of this meaning and they all occur in the phrase, “and no razor will go upon the head” (Judges 13:5, 16:17; 1 Sam 1:11).

    This means that the word either comes from yrh “to teach” or yr’ “to fear.” The Hebrew word only occurs once in the Hebrew Bible. On its face, it would be parsed as a Hiphil ptc. f.s., “she who instructs.” Jerome and Aquila translated the word as coming from yr’, fear. This view requires that the aleph of “fear” has changed to a heh, but remained the same word. This is possible, but I do not think it happens anywhere else. The LXX, I think, makes the most sense of the form. Presumably he translated the form as a Hiphil ptc. m.s. from yrh. They have the same consonantal text, but they have a different vocalisation. Psalm 76:12-13 contains the actual word “mora’,” “fear.” The LXX translator translated it with “phobos,” fear. This means that the translator knows the difference between the prononciation of yrh or yr’.

  2. John Barach Says:

    John, thanks for your comments.

    I mentioned “razor,” not because I think it’s actually the meaning here, but because it’s the exact form of the word as it appears in the MT and because I could understand how it might fit poetically here. It is, I suppose, still a live exegetical option worth considering, though not the most likely one.

    The LXX seems to understand the text as referring to some sort of lawgiver or teacher, doesn’t it? It could mean “Appoint a teacher for them,” but it’s odd that “teacher” here would be feminine.

    But to get to “fear” or “dread,” we’d have to amend the text, wouldn’t we? I’d rather see if we can understand the text as it is.

    Thanks for the interaction.

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