November 6, 2007

Psalm 43

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!

Judge me, God!
And argue my case against a nation that is not loyal.
From a deceitful and evil man rescue me!

For you are God, my fortress.
Why have you rejected me?
Why do I go begrimed because of the enemy’s oppression?

Send out your light and your trustworthiness!
They will lead me.
They will bring me to your holy mountain and to your tabernacles.

And I will come to the altar of God,
To the Mighty One, the joy of my rejoicing.
And I will praise you with a harp, God, my God.

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

Some comments on this translation of this Psalm:

(1) Psalm 43 may be the last part of Psalm 42.  They have the same refrain, and Psalm 43 is the only psalm in Book 2 of the Psalms that doesn’t have a title.

(2) The opening lines ask God to judge (which here implies vindicate) the psalmist and to “argue his case.”  Both words in this last phrase, “argue” and “case,” are the same and have to do with a lawsuit.  If you have a better suggestion, that captures both the lawsuit language and the repetition, please let me know.  “Lawsuit my lawsuit” and “Case my case” don’t work for me.(3) In line 2, the psalmist speaks about “a nation that is not loyal.”  I’ve chosen to use the word “loyal” as a translation of the Hebrew word chesed because the word seems to be used for a special kind of covenantal loyalty and commitment or the behavior that flows from that bond.

So, for instance, David shows chesed to Jonathan by caring for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth.  The action is mercy, but what’s underlying the mercy is the promise that David made to Jonathan, so that this mercy is a fulfilling of the covenantal commitment.

David doesn’t, however, show chesed to Uriah the Hittite, but instead seduces his wife.  Here, “mercy” doesn’t work at all as a translation.  But again, the idea is that of covenantal loyalty.  The king is bound to his warrior and is precisely bound not to harm his marriage.

Here, the term may mean that the nation is “ungodly,” as some translations put it.  That is, they are not maintaining their proper behavior toward God.  But it’s equally possible, I think, that it means that they are not maintaining chesed toward the psalmist or toward Israel.  That is, they are being disloyal and are breaking the bonds they have toward Israel instead of acting in terms of them.  The phrase could imply, too, that they are failing to provide the mercy and care that they ought to.

(4) Line 4 literally reads something like “you are God of my fortress,” but the implication is that God is the psalmist’s fortress.  The Hebrew genitive can often work that way.  Though it may look as if a phrase should be translated “Daughter of Zion,” it’s actually the case that Zion is the daughter.  So, too, here, I suspect: It isn’t “God of my fortress” but rather “God, my fortress.”

(5) In line 6, “begrimed” is a word that has to do with becoming dark.  The sense here is that the psalmist is mourning, perhaps putting dust and ashes on himself and “darkening” or “begriming” himself that way.  Perhaps I’ll go through all of these psalms and replace “begrimed” with “mourning” or something like that to get the point across better, but I wanted to do something to keep the sense of darkening that this word has in Hebrew.  Suggestions?  Does “Why do I go about darkened?” work?

(6) In the last line, which is an exact echo of the last line of Psalm 42, the phrase “the salvations of my face and my God” probably identifies God as the one who saves (more than once!) the psalmist’s face and who is also his God.

As always, I invite your comments and suggestions for improving my translations.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:04 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Psalm 43”

  1. Tawni Says:

    on 2, would “pursue my lawsuit” work? that would at least repeat the root…

  2. John Says:

    Hmmm…. That’s not too bad. Let me think about that. Thanks, Tawni!

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