March 1, 2007

Psalm 10

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!

Why, Yahweh, do you stand at a distance?
Why do you hide in times of trouble?
In the pride of the wicked, he burns after the afflicted;
They are trapped in the schemes they devised,
For the wicked boasts about his soul’s desire;
And the greedy he blesses.

The wicked reviles Yahweh, in the loftiness of his nose:
“He does not seek! There is no God.”
Such are all his thoughts.
His ways prosper at all times.

On high are your judgments, far from him.
All his enemies — he snorts at them.
He says in his heart, “I will not be moved;
For a generation and a generation I will not be in trouble.”

With a curse his mouth is full — and lies and oppression;
Under his tongue are trouble and evil.
He sits in the lurking-place of the villages;
In the secret places he murders the innocent.

His eyes hide for the victims.
He lurks in a secret place, like a lion in his thicket;
He lurks to catch the afflicted;
He catches the afflicted when he draws him into his net.

And he crushes, he crouches;
And the victims fall by his strong ones.
He says in his heart, “The Mighty One forgets.
He has hidden his face. He will never see.”

Arise, Yahweh! Mighty One, lift up your hand!
Do not forget the afflicted!
Why does the wicked revile God?
He says in his heart, “You will not seek.”

You have seen.
Indeed, trouble and provocation you yourself consider, taking it into your hand.
To you the victim entrusts himself,
For the fatherless, you yourself are a helper.

Break the arm of the wicked and evil man!
Seek his wickedness that “you will not find.”
Yahweh is King forever and ever;
The nations perish from his land.

The desire of the afflicted you hear, Yahweh;
You strengthen their heart; you incline your ear,
To judge the fatherless and crushed,
That man from the earth may not keep terrorizing any more.

Some comments on this psalm.  Psalms 9 and 10 appear to have originally been one psalm, though it does divide neatly into two parts.  It is an acrostic psalm, each section starting with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, though not exactly in order.  The variations, as James Jordan has argued in his “Studies in the Psalter,” may reflect the “topsiturviness” of things in the world, which is what Psalm 9-10 is about.

Some of the divisions between verses in this version of Psalm 10 are different from what you’ll find in other translations, and that’s related to the acrostic nature of this psalm.  On occasion the word at the end of one line starts with the letter you’d expect for the acrostic to work, and so it’s likely that that word originally wasn’t at the end of that particular line but at the beginning of the next.

I have to admit that I haven’t been completely consistent with this practice, however: It seems to me that the word I’ve rendered “with a curse” would then have to go with the preceding.  Perhaps (as Jordan has it) it means that he makes this boast (“I’ll never be in trouble”) with a curse, swearing an oath.  For now, pending further thought (and your wisdom, which I welcome), I’ve left it where it is.  That breaks up the acrostic pattern in the Hebrew, unfortunately, but it seems to me to flow better.

That’s just one of the challenges in this psalm.  I vaguely recall planning to preach this psalm back when I was in my first internship (in what was then called Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Grande Prairie), but changing my mind when I realized how hard it was to translate and how much every commentary seemed to disagree with every other one.

It’s still a bear to translate, but I hope this translation comes close.  There are lots of mysteries, though.  The section in the middle which begins (in my translation) “And he crushes…” is notoriously difficult to translate.  The word here means “crushes,” but many seem to think that it can also mean “crouches,” I suppose because crouching is a matter of crumpling up your body, but that meaning of the word is unattested elsewhere.  The next word does appear to mean “he crouches,” though it could mean “he stoops.”  It’s possible, as some translations have it, that this whole line is referring, not to the wicked attacker but to the victim: “He is crushed, he stoops down, he falls…”

It’s interesting to note that the word “helper” at the end of the Psalm is the same word used in Genesis 2 for the woman who is created to be man’s “helper.”  Here, God is man’s “helper.”  The term, therefore, certainly doesn’t imply inferiority or servility.  Rather, the helper is someone man can’t do without.  Man needs God to rescue him from his enemy, and man needs woman or he won’t be able to carry out his calling in the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:37 pm | Discuss (0)

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