May 7, 2007

Psalm 20

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.
A Psalm.
By David.

May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob set you on high.
May he send you help from the holy place
And from Zion may he support you.
May he remember all your Tributes
And your Ascension may he count as fat. Selah.
May he give to you according to your heart
And all your counsel may he fulfill.

We will shout for joy in your salvation
And in the name of our God we will raise a banner!
May Yahweh fulfill all your requests!

Now I know that Yahweh saves his anointed one!
He answers him from his holy heavens with the saving strengths of his right hand!

These ones trust in chariots and these ones in horses,
But we will memorialize the name “Yahweh our God.”

They have knelt down and fallen,
But we rise up and remain upright.

Yahweh save!
May the king answer us in the day we call.

A few comments about Psalm 20:

1.  Notice how much of the psalm has to do with up and down.  (No, I didn’t notice this on my own.  Jim Jordan points it out in his essay on this psalm.)  The Psalmist talks about being “set on high.”  He mentions Ascensions (see below).  The righteous “rise up.”  But the wicked are driven to their knees and fall down.

2.  In line 5, “Tributes” refers to the grain presented as a gift to God, sometimes in the form of bread, as a a tribute.  It’s part of the results of man’s labor.  The word is often translated “grain offering,” which is indeed what this offering consists of, but the word itself doesn’t mean “grain.”  It’s the word for the tribute you present to a king.  And here the anointed king of Israel is said to have presented his tribute to Israel’s King.  The fact that God accepts this tribute is important: God accepts and delights in the king’s works.  And that’s true of our good works also, which is why the offering is an important aspect of our worship.

3.  “Ascension” (line 6) is the name of one of Israel’s three basic offerings.  Most translations of the Bible get this one wrong.  They translate it “burnt offering” or “whole burnt offering,” and certainly that describes part of what happens to the offering: the whole thing is burned up in the fire.  But the word itself doesn’t have anything to do with burning or with wholeness.  Rather, the word has to do with ascension, with going up.

In this offering, the worshiper killed an animal and then presented the whole animal to God so that all of the meat is consumed in the fire and turned into smoke which ascends up into God’s presence, mingling with the Glory-Cloud that fills the tabernacle or temple.  The offering represents the worshiper (in this case, the anointed king) being drawn near to God, ascending into God’s presence.  By accepting the offering, God has brought the worshiper on high.  If God remembers the king’s Ascension, he will respond by saving the king and setting him on high over his enemies.

4.  In lines 15 and 16, the term “memorializing” is related to a verb meaning “to remember.”  It’s making God’s name (“Yahweh our God”) be remembered.  God appointed that name “Yahweh” as his memorial name (Ex. 3:15), so that when his people call on him by that name he remembers them.  And when God remembers, he acts.  That’s the memorial theology that runs all the way through Scripture.  God remembers those who call on his name and he acts on their behalf.  Similarly, we pray in Jesus‘ name, and God remembers us and acts.

The contrast here is with those who rely on chariots and horses.  There’s no verb in line 15; rather, the verb comes from line 16 (“to memorialize”).  You could render the whole thing this way: “These [memorialize] chariots and these [memorialize] horses….”  I’ve supplied the word “trust” to get the sense of this line across, but it seems to be saying that these people memorialize their chariots and horses, calling on them to help instead of on Yahweh.

5.  The last couple of lines are a bit tricky.  The accents in the Hebrew text lead me to render it the way I have: a cry for Yahweh to save and then a cry for “the King” (who would be Yahweh Himself, probably) to answer the prayer.  But there’s also a space after the word for “the king,” so that it could be “Yahweh save the king!  May he answer us when we call.”  If that’s the case, then the prayer is for Yahweh to give the king victory in battle (which is what “save” means here) and then for the king, or perhaps for Yahweh (now in the third person for some reason) to answer the prayer.  I’m not sure, so I’ll let you wrestle with it to figure it out.  If you have a preference, let me know.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:42 pm | Discuss (0)

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