October 9, 2007

Psalm 39

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.
For Jeduthun.
A psalm.
By David.

I said, “I will guard my way
From sinning with my tongue.
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle
While the wicked one is before me.”
I was mute with silence;
I was quiet even from good.
And my pain was stirred up.
Hot was my heart within me.
In my meditating, the fire burned.
I spoke with my tongue:

Make me know, Yahweh, my end,
And the measure of my days — what it is,
That I may know how frail I am.
Look, as handbreadths you give my days,
And my lifespan is as nothing before you.

Surely, entirely vapor is every man standing firm.
Surely, as a shadow does a man walk.  Selah.

Surely, for vapor they clamor:
He heaps up and does not know who will gather them.

And now, what do I await, my Lord?
As for my hope, it is in you.

From all my rebellions deliver me;
As the reproach of a fool do not set me up.

I am mute; I will not open my mouth
Because it was you who did it.
Remove from upon me your plague;
From the opposition of your hand I have come to an end.

With rebukes for liability you discipline a man,
And you melt, like a moth, his treasure.

Surely a breath is every man.  Selah.

Hear my prayer, Yahweh!
And to my cry give ear!
To my tears do not be deaf,
Because a resident alien I am with you,
A sojourner like all my fathers.
Look away from me and let me be happy
Before I go and am no more.

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 3, “I will guard my mouth with a muzzle” could be rendered “I will keep a muzzle for my mouth.”  The verb usually refers to guarding or protecting something, not just to having something on hand, however.

(2) In line 13, the word translated “frail” means “ceasing.”  It’s likely, as Alexander argues in his commentary, that the point isn’t that the psalmist wants to know how frail he is in general, but that he wants to know specifically when his life will actually end.

(3) In line 17, the word translated “shadow” normally refers to an image, but it’s related to other words that refer to shadows.  The idea here may be that a man is merely an image of himself, just a shadow of the real thing.

(4) In line 18, the verb for making a noise is related to a noun which can refer either to a tumult or to wealth or riches, an ostentatious display, probably because the wealthy like to make a lot of noise about their riches.  So the psalm moves from making a noise to heaping up wealth in a way that may seem awkward to us, but doesn’t in Hebrew.

(5) In line 26, the word for “plague” refers to an affliction but is also related to the word for “touch.” The affliction or plague here is seen as Yahweh’s touch.  The same word is used for leprosy in Leviticus 13.

(6) In the last two lines, all the phrases are found in Job.  “Let me be happy” may mean “let me have some comfort” (as it’s sometimes translated in Job 9:27 and Job 10:20.  The related word in Amos 5:9 isn’t easy to translate.  Many versions (and Holladay’s lexicon) render it as “to flash, flare up.”  The KJV, viewing it in the light of its use in this psalm and in Job, translated it as “to strengthen.”  In any case, it seems to have to do here with a brief period of happiness or comfort or strength before death.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:14 pm | Discuss (0)

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