PSALM 34 An Alphabetical Psalm
At all times I will bless the Lord
His praise will be on my lips continually.
Boasting in God with my life- breath
I hope modest people will hear and be happy.
Come magnify the Lord with me;
Let us applaud his name together.
Delivering me from all my fears
The Lord hears me when I seek him.
Every time you look towards him he will smile on you;
You will not be left to blush with shame.
For this poor man cried and the Lord heard him
And rescued him from all his troubles.
God’s angel sets up camp around those who fear him
And he rescues them.
Have a taste and find that the Lord is good;
How lucky is the man who trusts in him.
If they lack prey the young lions will go hungry
But those who seek the Lord will want for nothing good.
Join me, my children, listen to me
And I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Keen to grasp life and desiring the days
In which you may gain some good?
Leash your tongue and lips;
No evil and deceptive talk.
Move away from evil and do good;
Desire peace and run after it.
Never does the Lord turn his eyes from the just
Or his ears from their cry.
Opposed to evildoers, the Lord has set his face
To cut off their memory from the earth.
People who do justice cry out and the Lord listens
And rescues them from all their troubles.
Quick to the side of the broken – hearted
The Lord helps those whose spirit is crushed.
Real evils afflict just people
But in all cases the Lord rescues them.
Surely He keeps their bones from harm,
Not one of them is broken.
Those who do evil will die by evil;
Those who hate the just will be destroyed.
Unceasingly the Lord ransoms the lives of his servants;
Those who trust in him will not be destroyed.
(translated emmock 2015)
If you have only read published translations of the Bible you will not have read this psalm in its true form as an alphabetical poem. I’m sure others have done what I’ve tried to do here, but if so, their efforts are hard to find, while bland, official translations occupy published versions of the Bible. This is a disgrace, showing the gross laziness and bad faith of most published versions whose authors cannot be bothered to attempt any reproduction of a definite Hebrew genre.
I am not commending my version as in all points better than published versions, but I am accusing their authors of a failure which would not be tolerated in secular translation, that of utterly ignoring the form of the original, a failure which is only tolerated because churches think that the Lord will not be concerned with the precise form of his Word, only the words themselves. If however we remember that the word of God is always a human word spoken or written by human beings, we will not be happy to dispense with their chosen form, any more than we would dispense with the form of a sonnet by Shakespeare or a song by the Beatles.
In this case the chosen form reminds us that the psalm is playful and that it wants to communicate a completeness of meaning, of which the alphabet is the image. I haven’t managed this in English because our alphabet has more letters than the Hebrew has. Of course here and there I’ve had to add a word or miss one out in order to stick to the alphabet, but I’m sure that the artifice which I’ve highlighted in English is also evident in the Hebrew.
In this case complete wisdom envisages a God who is biased towards the poor and the just, and against the rich, unjust people who are the top-dogs in society. The intimacy of the Lord’s commitment to his true servants is expressed by the words, “Surely he keeps their bones from harm,” even if we suspect that the words are used because the author knows He has not protected their flesh and blood.
As often, entering into a psalm is entering an argument about God’s management of the world.