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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English style in translation

In my morning reading the text was Isaiah 6:1-7:9. I have read it many times. But today I read the text in the ESV. One verse stood out as awkward English.

Isaiah 6:11

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,

The bold words are the ones in question. It seems like something is missing, i.e. “cities lie in waste” or “cities lie wasted.” The exact same phrasing occurs in ESV at the following places:

Isa 33:8 

The highways lie waste;
the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
cities are despised;
there is no regard for man.

Isa 34:10 

Night and day it shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
none shall pass through it forever and ever.

Other English Translations

So I checked Isaiah 6:11 in other translations (none of ~30 translations I checked had what ESV has).

NAS (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,

NKJV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,

HCSB (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And He replied:
Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,
houses are without people,
the land is ruined and desolate,

NIV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

NET (Is. 6:11)

I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,
Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,
and houses are uninhabited,
and the land is ruined and devastated,

NLT (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?” And he replied,
Until their towns are empty,
their houses are deserted,
and the whole country is a wasteland;

I have studied the issue of English in translation in many contexts. I think that translations such as God’s Word offers a good example; the translation team had a full time (qualified) English advisor. The task of this advisor was to examine both written and oral choices and offering editing changes. Any of the above translations provide adequate good English style for this text.

Recommendation

I would recommend that the ESV translation team revisit these three Isaiah texts to produce a more meaningful English rendition.

English translations and word choices

Some translation oddities

Reading the daily lectionary, I have found some odd translation choices in terms of English usage in some different translations. The following readings come from today’s (Sep. 21) readings. With earlier readings from other days I noticed other odd or awkward phrasings. My goal is not to extensively deal with each text, but look at the English word choice and style used to translate the Hebrew.

Nehemiah 5:6-7 

Hebrew: וַיִּמָּלֵ֨ךְ לִבִּ֜י עָלַ֗י, roughly “my heart was counseled upon me.”

NAS  I consulted with myself

ESV I took counsel with myself

NRSV After thinking it over

NAB After some deliberation

HCSB After seriously considering the matter

NIV  pondered them in my mind

NET I considered these things carefully

NLT After thinking it over

GW After thinking it over

Lutheran Study Bible using the ESV has this alternative in a footnote: “mulled over in his mind what to do” (p. 745).

NAS and ESV maintain the Hebrew sense, but in the process provide an awkward/unusual rendering in English to do so. Most of the other translations adapt the thought into common English usage.

Nehemiah 6:16

Hebrew: וַיִּפְּל֥וּ מְאֹ֖ד בְּעֵינֵיהֶ֑ם, roughly “their eyes fell greatly”

NAS  they lost their confidence;

ESV  fell greatly in their own esteem

NRSV (so also RSV-RCC) fell greatly in their own esteem

NAB our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations

HCSB lost their confidence

NIV lost their self-confidence

NET they were greatly disheartened

NLT they were frightened and humiliated

GW lost their self-confidence

Note that ESV/NRSV/RSV-RCC use an odd way to express the Hebrew text. Most of the others show the reflexive (Niphal) sense, with “lost confidence.” NAB is unique in that the focus is not their own eyes that matter, but the eyes of the nations.

Psalm 55:19 

Hebrew:  יִשְׁמַ֤ע ׀ אֵ֨ל ׀ וְֽיַעֲנֵם֮, roughly “God hears and will afflict them”

NAS  God will hear and answer them (footnote: “afflict them”)

ESV (so also RSV-RCC) God will give ear and humble them

NRSV God…will hear, and will humble them

NAB God…will hear me and humble them

HCSB God…will hear and will humiliate them

NIV God…he will hear them and humble them

NET God,…will hear and humiliate them

NLT God…will hear me and humble them

GW God will listen. The one…will deal with them

Most translations offer a readable and understandable English rendering of the Hebrew. But notice ESV and RSV-RCC “God will give ear.” Aside from the original RSV and now lately ESV, I have never heard the use of “God will give ear.” My first humorous thought is “how many ears does God have.” With some practice, a reader might catch what is written. But what of an oral reading (i.e. in worship), will that communicate clearly and easily?

Concluding Thoughts

This is not an academic exploration but a simple look at translation choices and how that fits the register of understandable (and primarily oral) English. Over the past several years as I have reviewed translations, I have found that ESV is problematic in this specific area. And it follows the RSV, NRSV, and RSV (RCC) pattern. This also makes me more aware of how I preach and teach and at what level (vocabulary, etc.) I do so.

Hope to explore more on this topic.

Psalm 7:6 translation

In daily readings through the Bible, I also include the Psalm related to the day in multiples of 30 (7, 37, 67, etc.); so reading one Psalm a day I can cover the entire Psalmody in five months (days with 31 days I read Psalm 119). Yesterday (03/07) I read Psalm 7, and came across an unusual expression. Try reading aloud and see how it sounds, then ask others to listen (only).

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. (Ps. 7:6 ESV)

Surprisingly HCSB and NAB have the same:

awake for me; You have ordained a judgment. (HCSB)

Wake to judge as you have decreed. (NAB)

It is the last line that caught my attention, because it is awkward at best. It doesn’t even make sense in context, and seems incomplete at best (filling too many gaps required). English style does not lend itself to such a translation. So I checked some other translations of that last line:

And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment. (NAS)

Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded! (NKJV)

awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. (NRSV)

Wake up for my sake and execute the judgment you have decreed for them! (NET)

Awake, my God; decree justice. (NIV 2011)

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  (NLT)

Wake up, my God. You have already pronounced judgment. (GW)

Awake, my God, you demand judgement. (NJB)

My God who ordered justice to be done, awake. (REB)

Notice that several still use “awake” or “wake up” but add the intended recipient, i.e. God, which makes it a little easier to understand. I checked other uses of the Hebrew word (עור) and found most of them provide better translations in both ESV and HCSB.

This is not a major issue, but for readability and oral comprehension, I think a rewrite for ESV and HCSB is needed.

Ex. 14 and ESV

In my daily reading (today Exodus 13-14, using ESV), I came upon an unusual rendering in two places in Exodus 14.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. (Exodus 14:4 ESV)

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”  (Exodus 14:18 ESV)

I don’t remember that kind of translation (bolded text) in others (NAS, HCSB, etc.). So when I looked at the Hebrew I saw this: וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה, which is a Niphal form of the verb כבד, often translated as “to be heavy” or “glory.” But the Niphal form typically has a more passive sense of the verb, which the ESV does not suggest by its translation.

HALOT includes several options under the Niphal form of the word with some references.

1. to be considered weighty, to be honoured Gen 34:19; Num 22:15; Dt 28:58; 1 Sam 9:6; 22:14; 2 Sam 23:19, 23; Is 3:5; 23:8f; 43:4; 49:5; Nah 3:10; Ps 149:8 1Chr. 11:21,25,

2. to enjoy honour 2 Kg 14:10; 2 Chr 2519; to be held in honour 2 Sam 6:22

3. to behave with dignity 2 Sam 6:20

4. to appear in one’s glory (God) Ex 14:4.17; Lev 10:3 Is 26:15 Ezk 28:22 39:13; Hg 1:8

5. glorious things Ps 87:3; —Pr 8:24

In the Lev. 10:3 and Isaiah 26:15, ESV provides a more appropriate translation of the Niphalfor of כבד:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Lev. 10:3 ESV)

But you have increased the nation, O LORD, you have increased the nation; you are glorified; you have enlarged all the borders of the land. (Isaiah 26:15 ESV)

I checked the LXX translation of the Hebrew and saw that it, too, carries the passive sense of the Hebrew. ἐνδοξασθήσομαι “I will be glorified” (future passive)

ἐγὼ δὲ σκληρυνῶ τὴν καρδίαν Φαραω, καὶ καταδιώξεται ὀπίσω αὐτῶν· καὶ ἐνδοξασθήσομαι ἐν Φαραω καὶ ἐν πάσῃ τῇ στρατιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γνώσονται πάντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος. καὶ ἐποίησαν οὕτως. (Exodus 14:4, LXX)

So, it seems that ESV leaves a little to be desired in its translation of וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה in Exodus 14.

Just some early morning thoughts on the text. I probably have missed everything; that happens because I am old, slow, and confused, but at least I’m inconsistent.