July 31, 2012

Psalm 73

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

I have 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!

A psalm.
By Asaph.

Surely good to Israel is God,
To the pure of heart.
And as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps nearly slipped,
Because I envied the arrogant;
The peace of the wicked I see,

Because there are no bonds of death,
And robust is their strength.
In the toil of men they are not,
And with mankind they are not afflicted.
Therefore haughtiness necklaces them;
A garment of violence wraps them.
Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginings of the heart overflow.
They mock and speak with evil;
Oppression from on high they speak.
They set their mouth in the heavens,
And their tongue walks on the earth.
Therefore he turns his people here,
And waters of abundance are poured out for them.
And they say, “How can the Mighty One know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Look, these are the wicked,
And carefree forever they increase wealth.

Surely in vain I cleansed my heart,
And washed my palms in innocence,
And was afflicted all the day,
And my chastisement came in the mornings.

If I said, “I will recount like this,”
Look, the generation of your sons I would have betrayed.
And I pondered to know this;
A trouble it was to my eyes,
Until I came to the holy places of my Mighty One;
I understood their end.

Surely in slippery places you set them;
You make them fall down to ruins.
How they are brought to desolation in a moment!
They come to an end; they are finished because of terrors.
Like a dream upon waking, my Master;
When you rouse yourself, their image you will despise.

When my heart was embittered,
And as for my kidneys, I was pierced,
As for me, I was brutish and did not know;
Like cattle I was with you.

But as for me, I am continually with you;
You grasp my right hand.
By your counsel you guide me;
And toward glory you take me.
Who do I have in heaven?
And beside you, I desire no one on earth.

Wasted away are my flesh and my heart;
The rock of my heart and my portion is God forever,
For look! Those far from you will perish;
You destroy all who go whoring from you.
And as for me, the nearness of God is good to me;
I make my Master, Yahweh, my refuge,
To recount all your works.

A few comments about the translation of this difficult psalm:

Line 3: “Stumbled” here (as in NKJV; cf. Hengstenberg, Tate) is an attempt to capture the sense of this verb, which is found also in Psalm 62:3, where it has to do with a wall that is leaning and about to fall.  There, I translated it “leaning,” but that doesn’t work so well here.

Lines 3-4: “Almost” is literally “like a little” and “nearly” is literally “like nothing,” that is, it was so close to happening that it was as if nothing was keeping it from happening.

Line 4: “Slipped” may be the sense of the word here, but it’s literally “poured out” or “spilt” (like water).

Line 5: “Arrogant” translates a word that comes from a root that has to do with shining (halal).  Hirsch renders it “those that seemed resplendent.”  See its use also in Psalm 5:5.

Line 7: For “bonds,” compare the use of the word in Isaiah 58:6, and for similar language to “bonds of death” see Job 11:17; Psalm 18:6.

Line 8: For “strength,” compare the use of the word in 2 Kings 24:15 and Job 21:7.  The word rendered “robust” here means “fat,” but not here in the sense of corpulent, overweight.  Perhaps you’d prefer “stout is their strength”?

Line 10: The word translated “afflicted” here is used also for “touch,” and in particular is used in the Bible for the “touch” or “affliction” that we (wrongly) call “leprosy” in, e.g., Leviticus.

Line 13: Hirsch, interestingly, takes the subject to be “violence” (from the previous line) and renders it: “It stands out from the fat of their eye” (which means that he takes “fat” with “their eye” as a construct chain).  The parallel would be interesting: Their haughtiness or violence goes forth from the fat of their eye (line 13) and “The imaginings of their heart overflow” (line 14).  I’m tempted….

Line 17: “In the heavens” could be “against the heavens” (NKJV; Hirsch), but it seems to me that the parallel with “on the earth” in the next stich argues for “in the heavens” here.

Line 19 is extremely tough to translate.  First, you have to decide if you’re going to go with the Qere: Is the verb qal or hiphil?  If it’s the latter (which is how I’ve translated it), then who is the subject?  God?  He hasn’t been the subject yet in this psalm.  The clearest antecedent is the proud person, and so perhaps, if we go with this reading, taking the verb as causative (as usual with hiphil), we get the proud person turning his people hither.  Or thither.  Or whatever word you choose.  For this approach, see Hengstenberg.  Or, if you take the verb as qal, then you have the people themselves turning (back) thither.  In any case, this isn’t a good thing, it appears.

Line 20 is also hard to translate.  What are “waters of fullness” or “waters of abundance” or “waters of satisfaction/satiation”?  It’s possible, as Hirsch points out, that the noun here should be taken as an adjective: “The waters of the satisfied one.”  That is, the people want to drink the water of the one described earlier in the psalm who is full, satisfied, wealthy and lacking nothing.  “They, too,” says Hirsch, “desire to have some portion of his happy lot.”

The verb, here rendered “poured out,” is used for the draining out of the blood of a nearbringing in Lev 1:15; 5:9; in the qal, it is also used for Gideon squeezing out the fleece (Judges 6:38) and for draining a cup dry (Isa 51:17; Ezek 23:34; Ps 75:9).  So the idea, it seems to me, is that the waters are given to them in order for them to drink.

Line 36: “Ruins” seems to work with Psalm 74:3; I’m not sure that “deceits” (Hirsch; cf. Tate) works there.

Line 40: It’s possible that the word translated here “When you rouse yourself” should actually be “in the city” (cf. Hengstenberg, Hirsch; Alexander mentions it as a strong possibility, though he doesn’t use it in his translation).  That’s how this word is always translated elsewhere.  For it to be “when you awake,” it would have to be an infinitive of ‘ur, but it would also have to be intransitive, whereas ‘ur is always transitive everywhere else (with the possible exception, says Alexander, of Job 8:6; Ps. 35:23).  Still, while “in the city” is possible, “in awakening” or “when you rouse yourself” seems to fit the context better.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:09 pm | Discuss (0)

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