April 6, 2007

Psalm 8

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 the gittith.
A Psalm.
By David.

Yahweh our Lord, how supreme is your name in all the earth,
Who have set your splendor upon the heavens!
From the mouth of children and infants you have established strength, because of your oppressors,
To silence enemy and avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
Moon and stars, which you have set firm,
What is needy-man that you remember him,
And the son of Adam that you visit him?
And you made him lower a little while than the gods,
And with glory and honor you will crown him.
You will make him ruler over the works of your hands.

All things you have put under his feet:
Sheep and oxen — all of them,
And also beasts of the field,
Bird of heaven and fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Yahweh, our Lord,
How supreme is your name in all the earth!

Somehow I forgot to post this psalm earlier, so here it is now. A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) The word gittith in the title of the psalm may have something to do with the theme of the psalm or it may be a musical notation, but we don’t know exactly what it means. It may be the feminine of gitti, which refers to someone from Gath, and thus has to do with an instrument from Gath. Or it may be related to gath, a Hebrew word meaning “wine press,” and have something to do with treading out the grapes. Psalms with this heading seem to be joyful.

(2) The word translated “supreme” in the first and last lines of this Psalm is often rendered “majestic.”  But it occurs often in settings that emphasize Yahweh’s ability to overpower his enemies in battle (e.g.,

(3) In line 3, “oppressors” translates a word that is often rendered “enemies,” but which has to do with pressing hard. It’s not that Yahweh suffers oppression but that these people set themselves against Him, seeking to push Him away, and do so often by oppressing Yahweh’s people.

(4) In line 6, “set firm” renders a word that has to do with establishing something firmly. I would use “establish,” except that I’ve used it to translate another word earlier in the psalm. James Jordan has “fixed,” as in “fixed in place,” but I wonder if people wouldn’t hear it as “fixed” in the sense of “repaired.” So, though I’d prefer one word to two, I’ve gone with “set firm” for now.

(5) The word for “man” in line 7 usually refers to man as mortal and weak. Hence “needy man” in the translation.

(6) Line 9 says that Yahweh made man “lower than the elohim.” Elohim is the usual word for God, and so this verse may mean that man was created a little lower than God. But Hebrews 2:7 quotes the verse this way “You have made him a little lower than the angels.” I suspect, then, that the verse is saying that man is lower than the angels, who are sometimes referred to as “gods” because they reflect and represent God’s power at work in the world.

(7) As for “a little,” Hebrews takes it to mean “a little while.” If I had rendered it “a little lower,” it would seem as if it was indicating how much lower man is than the gods. By putting it where it is (“lower a little”), though it’s more awkward, I have hoped to preserve the ambiguity: Is it “a little bit” or is it “a little while”?  [Update: I’ve decided to go with “a little while,” for clarity. — JB]

For more on this Psalm, may I point you to my essay “The Glory of the Son of Man: An Exposition of Psalm 8,” in Peter J. Leithart & John Barach, eds., The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift for James B. Jordan (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, forthcoming 2010 … I hope).

[Revised, May 18, 2009 and Sept. 8, 2010.]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:05 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Psalm 8”

  1. John Says:

    If I were re-doing this psalm, I might rework the line that says “You made him a little lower than God.”

    The word I translated “God” here is plural (as it always is), and can be translated “the gods.” Hebrews takes this as a reference to the angels, who are sometimes refered to as “gods” elsewhere in Scripture.

  2. John Barach Says:

    And so I have reworked it. The comments about the translation of this psalm are from today, June 30, 2008, some time after the original translation.

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