October 20, 2007

Psalm 41

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.

Happy is the one who acts insightfully toward the poor.
In the day of evil, Yahweh will deliver him.
Yahweh will guard him and keep him alive;
He will be called happy in the land,
And you will not give him to the desire of his enemies.
Yahweh will support him upon the couch of sickness.
His whole bed you transform in illness.

As for me, I said, “Yahweh, be gracious to me.
Heal my soul, because I have sinned against you.”

My enemies speak evil of me:
“When will he die and his name perish?”
And if he comes to see me, falsehood he will speak.
In his heart, he gathers mischief to himself;
He will go out; to the street he will speak it.
Together against me they whisper — all who hate me.
Against me they plot — evil for me.
“A thing of Belial is poured into him,
And he who lies down will now arise no more.”
Even my man of peace — in whom I trusted, who ate my bread —
Has exalted against me his heel.

And now, Yahweh, be gracious to me and raise me up,
And I will repay them.

By this I know that you are pleased with me,
Because my enemy does not shout triumphantly over me.
And as for me, in my integrity you uphold me
And you stand me before you forever.
Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel,
From everlasting and unto everlasting.
Amen and Amen.

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In lines 1 and 4, the word translated “happy” is often translated “blessed.”  But the idea is that people are proclaiming this person to be truly happy, as in Genesis 30:13.  Of course, this true happiness comes from Yahweh’s blessing, so the two ideas go together.

(2) Line 16 sounds a bit awkward in English, but it tells us both that they are plotting against the psalmist (“against me they plot”) and that what they are plotting is harm that will befall him (“evil for me”).

(3) In line 17, “a thing of Belial” is hard to understand.  “Belial” sometimes means “worthlessness” or even “destruction,” so that this could refer to something evil, some destructive illness.  But the term translated “thing” may also refer to a word, perhaps a charge that David himself is worthless, and that charge is seen as sinking into his inner parts.

(4) In line 19, “my man of peace” is a man with whom David was at peace, a close friend.  He exalts (or lifts up) his heel to crush David (… as if it was David who was a serpent?).

(5) The psalm is a chiasm with five sections.  It opens and closes with sections dealing with the happiness of the man whom Yahweh delivers and supports and whom Yahweh does not give over to his enemies so that they triumph over him.  The second and fourth sections are a prayer for Yahweh to “be gracious” (the same phrase is used in each section), though with a contrast: the second section speaks of the psalmist’s sin, but the fourth section asks for the opportunity to repay his enemies.

The center section is an extended description of the behavior of his enemies as they come to David and speak all kinds of nice words, words of hypocrisy and falsehood, and then go out and blab to everyone in the street the harmful words they have been saving up in their hearts.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:41 pm | Discuss (0)

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