October 3, 2007

Psalm 38

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!

A Psalm.
By David.
For memorializing.

Yahweh, do not, in your wrath, reprove me,
Nor in your anger chastise me.
Indeed, your arrows have descended into me
And your hand has descended upon me.

There is no sound place in my flesh because of your indignation;
There is no peace in my bones because of my sin.
Indeed, my liabilities go over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink, they have putrified,
Because of my foolishness.
I have been agitated, I have bowed down greatly;
All the day I have gone about begrimed,
Because my loins are filled with burning
And there is no sound place in my flesh.
I am numbed and crushed greatly;
I roar from the groaning of my heart.

My Lord, before you is all my longing,
And my sighing is not hidden from you.

My heart pounds; my strength has abandoned me;
And the light of my eyes — even they are not with me.
My lovers and my friends stand away from my plague;
And my neighbors stand afar off.

Those who seek my soul lay snares for me,
And those intent on my harm speak destructive words,
And deceits all the day they utter.

And I myself am like a deaf man who does not hear,
And like a mute man who will not open his mouth.
And I am like a man who does not hear
And there are in his mouth no objections,
Because for you, Yahweh, I wait —
You will answer, my Lord, my God! —
Because I said, “Lest they rejoice concerning me”;
When my foot slipped they magnified themselves against me.

Indeed, I myself am about to stumble,
And my suffering is before me continually.
Indeed, my liability I will declare;
I am anxious because of my sin.
And my mortal enemies are strong,
And multiplied are my deceptive haters.
And those repaying evil for good —
They oppose me for my pursuit of good.

Do not abandon me, Yahweh!
My God, do not be far from me!
To my help make haste,
My Lord, my salvation!

A few comments on this translation:

(1) The note in the title, “for memorializing,” indicates that this psalm is intended to call God to remember the suffering person who is singing this psalm.  It memorializes that person so that God remembers and acts.

(2) When the psalmist says that he has gone about “begrimed,” the Hebrew word has to do with darkness. He has grown dark, probably from the dust and ashes he has spread upon himself in mourning.

(3) The word I’ve translated “indeed” is sometimes tricky.  It’s the same word that I’ve translated “because” and that’s often rendered as “for” in many translations.  The term can cover things that we use a bunch of different words for in English, including causality (“because”) as well as emphasis (“indeed”).

It’s hard to tell sometimes exactly what the word means or what the flow of thought is in this psalm.  Sometimes the line introduced by this word seems like a reason for the previous line, and so I’ve used “because.”  But at other times, the connection isn’t clear to me, and so I’ve translated this word as “indeed” on the assumption that the word is used mainly for emphasis.

(4) In line 34, David says, “I am ready for stumbling.”  The word translated “ready” seems to have the sense of being prepared.  It’s in the passive voice here, but the active voice of this verb has to do with getting something ready, making something ready, and the passive voice often has to do with something being stable.

I don’t think David is saying that he’s stable so that he won’t fall.  The context would seem to indicate otherwise.  It’s possible that he means (as a quick read of the English might suggest) that he’s on the verge of stumbling.

But I wonder if this particular verb would be used for “being on the verge of” something or if the verb suggest, rather, that David is prepared to stumble and fall, perhaps in the sense that he is expecting it and is willing to declare his liability and so forth.  His stumbling will not take him by surprise because he knows what he has done to incur liability (which, by the way, seems to be the sense of this particular Hebrew word, which is often translated “iniquity”: the focus is often on the guilt incurred, rather than strictly on the act performed).

(5) In lines 38 and 39, David uses two parallel phrases which could be translated “my enemies of life” and “my haters of falsehood.”  The first one probably means “the enemies of my life.”  The second one indicates that these people who hate David act falsely or deceptively in their hatred.

[Revised: April 14, 2009.]

Posted by John Barach @ 12:14 pm | Discuss (0)

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