November 12, 2007

Psalm 44

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.

God, with our ears we have heard,
Our fathers have recounted to us,
The work you worked in their days,
In the days of old.
You, with your hand, displaced nations and planted them;
You smashed peoples and spread them out.
Indeed, not by their sword did they possess the land,
And their arm did not save them,
For it was your right hand and your arm and the light of your face,
Because you favored them.

You are he, my king, O God!
Command salvations for Jacob!
In you our oppressors we will gore;
In your name we will trample those who rise up against us,
Because not in my bow will I trust,
And my sword will not save me,
For you have saved us from our oppressors,
And those who hate us you have shamed.
In God we have praised all the day;
And your name unto eternity we praise.  Selah.

But you have rejected and disgraced us
And you do not go out with our armies.
You make us turn back from the oppressor,
And those who hate us plunder for themselves.
You give us like sheep for food,
And among the nations you scatter us.
You sell your people with no gain;
And you have not increased by their price.
You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
A mockery and a joke to those around us.
You make us a byword among the nations,
A shaking of the head among the peoples.
All the day my disgrace is before me,
And the shame of my face has covered me,
Because of the voice of the reproacher and reviler,
Because of the face of the enemy and avenger.

All of this has come upon us and we have not forgotten you,
And we have not dealt falsely with your covenant.
Our heart has not drawn back,
Nor have our steps turned away from your path.
But you have crushed us in a place of dragons,
And you have covered over us with death-shadow.

If we have forgotten the name of our God
And spread our hands to a foreign Mighty One,
Will not God spy this out?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
But for your sake we have been killed all the day;
We have been reckoned as sheep for slaughter.

Awake!  Why do you sleep, Lord?
Wake up!  Do not reject us everlastingly!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and our oppression?
Indeed, bowed down to the dust is our soul,
Stuck to the earth is our belly.
Rise up as a help to us!
And redeem us for the sake of your loyalty!

A few comments about the translation of this Psalm:

(1) We don’t know what the word maschil means in the title.

(2) In lines 5 and 6, “them” refers to the fathers (line 2) in contrast to the nations which were displaced when Israel took the Promised Land.

(3) In line 11, “You are he, my king, O God,” may mean something like “You are he who did all of this.”

(4) In line 41, “dragon” is my translation of tannin.  Some translations have “jackals” or something similar, but the word is used in Scripture primarily to refer to sea monsters and first appears in Genesis 1, when God created the great sea-monsters on the Fifth Day.

(5) I haven’t studied this psalm carefully, but what puzzles me initially is when the psalm could have been written.  When was Israel defeated by enemies without having sinned against God?  That is, when could Israel say, “All of this has come upon us and we have not forgotten you and we have not dealt falsely with your covenant,” and so on?  Certainly not during the time of the Judges, and likely not during the time of the later kings.  So what’s the occasion?  Probably a glance at any commentary would reveal some possibilities, but … any suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 10:53 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Psalm 44”

  1. Mike Says:

    I just did a paper on this and it seems likely to be post-exilic – with it making the most sense to me that it was written late in the exile, perhaps when the people had returned to God and were not delivered as of yet. They were in exile for 49 years, longer than they wandered the desert, so that makes the most sense. The truth, however, is that we simply don’t know. Scholars date it from the Monarchy to the Maccabees – a 500 year spread. There is argument that it was written by a King given the reference going from plural to singular in the early psalm, and an argument against that saying that it was normal part of the liturgy to do so and this makes more sense dated to the time of the Persians when there was struggle for control of the temple. It’s worth a study, for sure. The lingering, unanswered question is, “Why is God allowing the faithful people to receive an unjust punishment?” Folks argue that they must have sinned or it would not have happened, but one only need look at Job to see a just man unfairly persecuted (by our standards). Ultimately, I think we probably don’t understand “good” and “bad” from God’s vantage point. The things we see are bad tend to help us grow and the things we see as good tend to make us complacent. Perhaps that is the starting point…have a great day.

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