Psalm 11 Who sees whom?

As I was reading devotionally yesterday I came across Psalm 11 (MEV), which I have included to see the context.

1 In the Lord I seek refuge;
how do you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain,

2 for the wicked bend their bow;
they make ready their arrow on the string,
that they may treacherously shoot
the upright in heart.

3 If the foundations are broken,
what can the righteous do?”

4 The Lord is in His holy temple,
His throne is in heaven;
His eyes see,
His eyes examine mankind.

5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but the wicked and one who loves violence
His soul hates.

6 Upon the wicked He will rain
coals of fire and brimstone and a burning wind;
this will be the portion of their cup.

7 For the righteous Lord
loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.

Hebrew (Psalm 11:7): כִּֽי־צַדִּ֣יק יְ֭הוָה צְדָק֣וֹת אָהֵ֑ב יָ֝שָׁ֗ר יֶחֱז֥וּ פָנֵֽימוֹ׃

I didn’t think much about it until I read it in NAS as well. The challenge was Psalm 11:7 (“His countenance beholds the upright” MEV and “The upright will behold His face” NAS). Who is the subject of the sentence (doing the action) and who is the direct object (receiving the action)? It depends on which translation you use.

God is the subject, “upright ones” are the direct object and hence “His countenance beholds the upright” (MEV joins KJV, NKJV, KJ21, REB)

Or:

People (“upright”) are the subject and God is the direct object and thus: “The upright will behold His face” (NAS joins most modern translations: ESV, NIV, HCSB, NET, etc.)

 

Some textual observations

Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms) offers this as an explanation for why he favors the second translation:

With the wicked disposed of in the previous verse, the psalm ends on this positive note of the upright beholding God—even as God from the heavens beholds all humankind. In the Hebrew, the noun is singular and the verb is plural; presumably one of the two (probably the verb) should be adjusted. The Masoretic text reads “their face,” with no obvious antecedent for the plural, but variant Hebrew versions have “His face.” (p. 34)

Leopold in his commentary (Expoistion of the Psalms) offers a different view of the data and favors the first option.

Since the whole emphasis lies in what God does and is, and that alone constitutes the solid basis of comfort, we have translated the last clause: “His countenance beholds the upright,” implying that same watchful care that was stressed above. The words could have been translated: “The upright shall behold His face.” But panemo, which equals panaw, His countence, being plural, can readily take the verb in the plural, yechesu, which is easier to construe than to regard the singular yahsar as a collective plural and so make it the subject of the verb. (p. 128)

As both authors note, the text is not as clear or simple as we would like. As I reflected further, I noticed that in Psalm 11:4-7, the emphasis on God’s actions, especially as He “examines mankind” (v. 4) and “tests the righteous ones” (v. 5) [God is the subject]. The wicked receive the crush of God’s disfavor (vv. 5b-6), and then the Psalm ends with a return to the “righteous ones.” The subject is God in vv. 4-6. It makes sense now in v. 7 that the same God who examined and tested the righteous now looks upon the righteous (“upright”) [same Hebrew word: צַדִּ֪יק [tzaddiq] used in v. 5 and v. 7.] without any judgment.

So What?

At this point I find that either option can work, but the first option (“His countenance beholds the upright/righteous”) seems more consistent with the flow of the entire Psalm. I think it also reflects the Aaronic benediction (Num. 6:24-26), specifically v. 25: The LORD make His face shine on you.”

An another point in favor of the first option is the application. What is more comforting? To look upon God’s face or to have God look upon us? From the prospective of God looking at examination of us (v. 5), it carries more weight that God looks again at us with no judgment attached.

Further study…

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About exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian
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