February 6, 2008

Psalm 53

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.
Upon mahalath.
By David.

A fool says in his heart, “No God.”
They act destructively and they do an abominable wrong;
There is no doer of good.

God from heaven looks down upon the sons of Adam
To see if there is one who acts wisely,
Who seeks God.
All of them have turned back;
Together they have become corrupt.
There is none who does good,
Not even one.

Do they not understand, the workers of wickedness,
Who eat up my people?
They eat bread;
On God they do not call.

There they fear a fear, where there was no fear,
Because God has scattered the bones of your besieger.
You have put them to shame,
Because God has rejected them.

Oh that from Zion would come salvations for Israel!
When God returns the captivity of his people,
Let Jacob rejoice!
Let Israel be glad!

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In the title, “mahalath” may be the name of a particular tune to which the song is sung.  But it doesn’t appear anywhere else.  The word itself appears to be related to a word for sickness, and perhaps “upon mahalath” means “on the occasion of sickness.” We don’t know what maschil means.

(2) This psalm is a variation on Psalm 14.  It’s interesting to compare the two.  Notice, for instance, that Psalm 14 uses the name “Yahweh” but this psalm says “God” (Hebrew: Elohim).  There are some more significant differences, too.

(3) The first line is often rendered, “There is no God.”  But it’s not just a denial of God’s existence; it’s a denial that God is relevant.  God’s response is an echo of these words: “No one doing good.”

(4) “They eat bread; on Yahweh they do not call” may mean that they eat David’s people like bread.  Or it may indicate that they feast on bread but don’t call on the Breadgiver, as Israel did in the wilderness.

(5) “Fear a fear” is a typical Hebrew expression, using the same word as a verb and as a noun for emphasis.

(6) “Oh that …” is literally “Who would grant … ?”  It’s an expression of a great wish: “If only someone would give me what I long for!”

(7) The phrase “return the captivity” is used when God restored Job’s fortunes.  It may refer to a return of captive people, but it may also refer to the restoration of anything that was lost.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:52 pm | Discuss (0)

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