October 29, 2007

Psalm 42

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.
By the sons of Korah.

As a deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, God.
Thirsted has my soul for God, for the Mighty One of life.
When will I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my bread day and night,
While they say to me all the day, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out within myself my soul
For I went in the crowd; I walked with them to the house of God,
With a voice of joy and praise — a festal uproar.

Why are you cast down, my soul, and making an uproar within me?
Wait for God, because I will yet praise him for the salvations of His face.

God, within me my soul is cast down.  Therefore I will remember you
From the land of Jordan and the Hermons, from Mount Mizar.
Deep to deep calls at the voice of your waterspouts;
All your breakers and your rollers have passed over me.

Daily, Yahweh will command his loyalty
And in the night his song is with me, a prayer to the Mighty One of my life.
I will say to the Mighty One, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I walk about begrimed because of the enemy’s oppression?”
With murder in my bones my foes have taunted me,
By saying to me all the day, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, my soul?  And why are you making an uproar within me?
Wait for God because I will yet praise Him as the salvation of my face and my God.

A few comments about the translation of this rather difficult psalm:

(1) Maskil in the title seems to have to do with understanding and may mean “to give understanding, insight.”

(2) In line 3, God is referred to as “the Mighty One of life,” which means that He’s the living Mighty One.  In line 17, however, it is “the Mighty One of my life,” which may mean “my living Mighty One” or “the Mighty One who preserves my life.”

(3) Lines 7 and 8 are hard to understand. “I pour out within myself my soul” could refer to grief as the psalmist remembers how he used to go up to God’s house.  Or it could be translated “I will pour out” as a pledge that he will remember his tears and sadness when he comes to God’s house in the future.

(4) In his essay, “The Oddness of the Feast of Booths” (Biblical Horizons 90), James B. Jordan says that the word translated “crowd” here, sak, should not be rendered “throne” or “multitude” (or “crowd” as I have it).  Rather, he says, it refers to the booths of Israel at a festival, which identifies it as the Feast of Booths.  I need to think this through some more.

(5) In line 10, the word for “making an uproar” could be translated “groaning” or “making a noise.”  It’s the root of the word for the festal uproar in line 9.

(6) In line 11, “the salvations of his face” are the salvations that come from God’s face lifted up to bless the psalmist, or, to put it another way, the deliverances wrought by God’s presence.

In line 23, however, the wording is different.  It’s “the salvation (singular) of my face and my God.”  It sounds as if “my face” and “my God” are somehow parallel, but the parallel isn’t clear to me. It isn’t “the rescue of my face (which was in danger) and of my God (who was also in danger),” after all.  But perhaps I’m simply thinking as an English-speaker here.  Perhaps what I see as two very different senses of a genitive construction would still be seen as good parallels by a Hebrew speaker.  Perhaps it’s “the salvation of my face and by (another sense of “of”) my God.”

At any rate, the psalmist is praising God for his salvation or even, perhaps, as the one who is both (a) the salvation of his face and (b) his God.  Any help in understanding this last line would be greatly appreciated.  I find the commentaries I’ve looked at singularly unhelpful here.

(7) In line 12, “I will remember you” may refer to memorializing God, of doing what God has commanded so that God remembers and acts.  Perhaps that’s also true of the earlier reference to “remembering.”

(8) In line 13, “the Hermons” may refer to the region around Mount Hermon or to the Hermon mountain range.

(9) In line 14, “waterspouts” refer to waterspouts or gutters (2 Sam. 5:8), here perhaps the gutters of heaven as the water pours down.  In line 15, “breakers and rollers” are waves which roll and break things apart.  I wonder if our English word “breakers” for waves is due to the use in this psalm.

(10) In line 19, “begrimed” has to do with becoming dark and is used here for mourning, probably because in mourning one would sprinkle dust and ashes over one’s head.

(11) In line 20, “murder in my bones” probably refers to extreme pain, the pain of one who is close to death.

(12) Finally, I should point out that Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 are very closely related.  Psalm 43 uses the same refrain that closes Psalm 42, which indicates a clear reference.  Does it mean, as many suggest, that Psalms 42 and 43 were once one psalm?  Maybe, but I’m treating them separately for now.  (If they were one, why did they get split apart?)

Posted by John Barach @ 3:27 pm | Discuss (0)

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