January 8, 2008

Psalm 49

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.
A psalm.

Hear this, all peoples!
Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
Even the sons of Adam, even the sons of man,
Together the rich and poor.
My mouth will speak wisdom,
And the meditation of my heart understanding.
I will turn to a parable my ear;
I will open with a harp my riddle.

Why should I fear in the days of evil,
When the liability of my heels surrounds me?
As for the ones who trust in their wealth,
And in the multitude of their riches they boast,
A brother a man can surely not redeem;
He cannot give to God his ransom —
And costly is the redemption of their soul,
And he ceases forever —
That he should still live everlastingly
And not see the Pit.

Indeed, he sees that wise men die,
Together the fool and the stupid man perish,
And they leave to others their wealth.
Their inward thought is that their houses are forever,
Their dwellings to a generation and a generation.
They call by their own names their lands.
But man in honor does not lodge;
He is like the cattle that are silenced.

This is their way; folly belongs to them;
And their followers will delight in their mouth.  Selah.
Like sheep to Sheol they are appointed;
Death will shepherd them.
And the upright will rule over them in the morning,
And their form Sheol will waste away, away from their palace.
Only God will redeem my soul from the hand of Sheol;
Because he will take me.  Selah.

Do not fear when a man becomes rich,
When the glory of his house is multiplied,
Because when he dies he will not take anything;
His glory will not descend after him.
Though while he lives he blesses his soul —
And they will praise you because you do well for yourself–
It will go to the generation of his fathers.
For everlasting they will not see light.
Man who is in honor and does not understand
Is like the cattle that are silenced.

A few comments on this psalm, which is quite difficult to translate in parts (I’d really welcome suggestions on how to make this psalm smoother in English while keeping, as much as possible, the features of the Hebrew text):

(1) In line 3, the psalm uses two different words for man: “Both sons of Adam and sons of Ish.”  Some translations take this to refer to people of high and low degree, but there’s little evidence to support that.

(2) In line 10, “the liability of my heels” is really unclear.  “Heels” here may be shorthand for heel-grabbers, people who seek to supplant the psalmist.  (This is the same word that shows up in Jacob’s name.)  Or it may refer to the guilt and liability of wicked people as a snare, seeking to entangle the psalmist.

(3) Line 13 is awkward.  “A brother” comes first for emphasis, but “a man” is the subject of the sentence.  The verb here is doubled in the typical Hebrew style for emphasis: “not redeeming he will redeem.”  I’m not sure how to get that across.

(4) In line 14, the word for a “ransom” is related to the word for “covering” (which we often wrongly translate “atonement,” as in “Day of Atonement” which is actually “Day of Covering”).  These things are closer in Hebrew than most English translations show.

(5) I’m not at all sure what line 16 (“And he ceases forever”) means.  Perhaps it means that the person ceases to live forever because no ransom is found or that a person stops trying to provide a ransom because it is too costly.

(6) In lines 26 and 44, the “silencing” of the cattle refers to their destruction.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:15 pm | Discuss (0)

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