February 18, 2008

Psalm 55

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.
On stringed instruments.
By David.

Give ear, God, to my prayer;
And do not hide from my supplication.
Attend to me and answer me;
I roam in my thought and I make an uproar.
Because of the voice of the enemy,
Because of the pressure of the wicked;
For they bring down upon me trouble;
And in anger they oppose me.

My heart writhes within me;
And terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come into me;
And shuddering covers me.
And I said, “Who will give me a wing like a dove?
I would fly away and settle down.”
Look, I would wander afar;
I would lodge in the wilderness.  Selah.
I would hasten my escape
From rushing wind, from tempest.

Swallow up, Lord!  Divide their tongue,
Because I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they surround her upon her wall;
And trouble and distress are within her.
Destructions are within her;
And there will not depart from her street oppression and deceit.

Indeed, it is not an enemy who reviles me,
Or I could bear it.
And it is not one who hates me who magnifies himself against me,
Or I would hide from him.
But it is you, a man my equal,
My confidant and my acquaintance,
With whom together I enjoyed sweet counsel;
In the house of God we walked in the throng.

Desolations upon them!
They will descend to Sheol alive,
Because evils are in their dwellings, within them.

As for me, I call to God;
And Yahweh will save me.
Evening and morning and noon, I think and roar;
And He hears my voice.
He will redeem my soul in peace from the war against me,
Because many are against me.

The Mighty One will hear and answer them,
And he who sits from of old (Selah)
Will answer those to whom there are no changes,
And who do not fear God.
He has stretched out his hands against those at peace with him;
He has profaned his covenant.
Smooth are the butterings of his mouth
But war is in his heart.
Softer are his words than oil,
But they were drawn swords.

Cast upon Yahweh your burden, and he will sustain you.
He will never give shaking to the righteous.

And you, God, will bring them down to the pit of corruption;
Men of bloodshed and deceit will not live half their days.
But as for me, I will trust in you!

A multitude of comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 4, the verbs aren’t clear.  The first verb has to do with roaming or restlessness.  The second is often taken to mean “make a noise,” since it is related to a word for an uproar.  It may mean that he makes an uproar (see Micah 2:12).

(2) In line 14, David says that he will “fly and dwell.”  The word for dwelling has to do with settling, with finding a place to live, and so it also implies resting.

(3) In line 19, “swallow up” is a cry for the Lord to destroy, to wipe the wicked out.

(4) In line 25, the word for “man” implies frailty, mortality.

(5) Line 31 is impossible to translate exactly.  The verb is plural (“whom together we sweetened counsel”), but that doesn’t work in English.  I thought the singular form might work better. “To sweeten counsel” means to enjoy sweet counsel and fellowship.  The idea here is also that they were close enough to say things that were confidential.

(6) Line 32 mentions “the throng.”  This terms implies noise, and “throng” sounds noisier to me than “crowd.”

(7) Line 41 says that there were many “with me,” which might make one think that there were many people siding with David. It actually means that there were many contending with him, that is, many against him.

(8) In line 43, “sits” probably has the sense of sitting enthroned, sitting as king.  Lines 43-45 are complex and hard to reproduce in English, not least because of the interjection of “Selah” in the middle of the second sentence.  To make the thought clear, I supplied the words “will answer” in line 44.  I don’t know what “there are no changes” means for the wicked here.

(9) For an explanation of “smooth are the butterings” in line 48 and why the word has to be taken as a participle and not as a comparison (“smoother than butter”), see Alexander’s commentary.  Basically, it’s because the comparison would have different vowel pointing.

(10) In line 53, “not forever” could mean “never,” which is how virtually all translations put this.  Maybe that’s just the Hebrew idiom for “never.”  But it seems to me (without regard now for Hebrew idioms) that “not forever” expresses something different from “never.”  Is this line saying that God never sends shaking to the righteous?  Or is it saying that when he does send things that shake the righteous, he sees to it that the shaking is not forever, that it lasts only for a time?  I don’t know Hebrew well enough to say for sure.  Thoughts?

Posted by John Barach @ 4:48 pm | Discuss (0)

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