March 6, 2007

Psalm 11

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.
By David.

In Yahweh I have taken refuge.
How can you say to my soul,
Flee to your mountain, bird!

For look! The wicked bend a bow;
They set their arrow upon the string
To shoot in the darkness at the upright of heart.

If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous one do?

Yahweh is in his holy temple;
Yahweh in heaven is his throne.

His eyes see,
His eyelids test the sons of Adam.
Yahweh tests the righteous one.

But the wicked and the lover of violence his soul hates.
He will rain upon the wicked coals of fire and sulfur,
And a wind of rage will be the portion of their cup,

For righteous is Yahweh;
He loves righteous deeds;
The upright will behold his face.

As James Jordan points out, this psalm is a chiasm.  The second and sixth sections deal with “the wicked,” the third and fifth with “the righteous one,” and the fourth, central section announces Yahweh as king enthroned in heaven, which is the pivot on which the whole psalm turns, giving rise to the confidence of the person (sections one and seven) who takes refuge in Yahweh.

There are some challenges in translation here.

1.  “Flee to your mountain, bird!” in the first section could be “Flee to your mountain like a bird.”  But as Hirsch points out, it could be “Flee!  Your mountain is a bird,” meaning that your mountain in which you trust is as unstable as a bird.  That seems like a stretch, though.

2.  The phrase “the righteous one” is used twice in this translation, but it could be used three times.  The last section could start “For the Righteous One is Yahweh.”  In fact, Jordan points out that the phrase could apply to Yahweh all through the Psalm.  The question in section three could be rendered “If the foundations are destroyed, what will the Righteous One do?” or even “What is the Righteous One doing?”  Then the answer would be given in the fifth section (which corresponds to the third section chiastically): “Yahweh, the Righteous One, tests.”  In times of upheaval, Yahweh, the Righteous One, is testing people, leading to him punishing the wicked, as this psalm says.

3.  The word I’ve translated “coals” here looks exactly like the word for “snares,” and that’s how some translate it, often breaking the verse in two at this point: he rains snares (end of line) and then fire and sulphur and a wind will be their portion.  It’s possible to break the line there, but the pointing in the Hebrew suggests that this word (“coals” or “snares”) goes with “fire” which is linked immediately with “and sulfur,” so that these three words are combined as one phrase, namely, the things that Yahweh rains on the wicked.  In that context, snares doesn’t seem to make much sense.  The word for charcoal is almost identical to the word for snares, and I suspect that’s what’s in view here.

4.  The last line of the psalm is a challenge.  There is what appears to be a plural ending to the word for “face”: “their face.”  Some (e.g., Hirsch) rework the sentence so that it reads: “Their face will behold the Upright One.”  In that case, “upright” is applied to David and those with him in verse 2 but to Yahweh in verse 7.  Alternatively, it’s just possible that this is an unusual case of a plural ending being used for the singular, so that it means “his face.”   Alexander thinks there may be a hint at the personal distinction in the Triune God here: “The upright will behold their face.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:19 pm | Discuss (0)

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