Bible blog 2156

This blog continues my translations of Psalms 42-72, along with brief commentaries.

PSALM 56

For the choir leader. To “A Dove on distant oak trees.” A Miktam for David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Turn to me, God, for a man is hunting me

all day long trying to devour me, he presses upon me;

my opponents hunt me all day long, many of them,

wanting to devour me in their pride.

In the day of my fear, I put my trust in you:

In God whose word I praise

In God I put my trust;

I will not be afraid!

What to me is flesh and blood?

All day long they damage my concerns;

All their cunning is against me:

They attack, then hide;

they mark my tracks;

like hunters in wait for my life.

For this crime, will they escape?

Bring these peoples down in your anger, God!

You have tallied my trembling;

Place my tears in your flask;

Are they not in your accounts?

Then in the day when I cry out

my enemies will retreat.

This I know, that God is for me.

In God whose word I praise

In God I put my trust;

I  will not be afraid.

What to me is flesh and blood?

I must keep my promises to you, O God;

I will recompense you with thank-offerings;

For you have delivered my soul from death,

Yes, my feet from slipping,

that I walk before God in the light of life.

This is another psalm of complaint, and here the double reference to individual troubles and the sufferings of Israel is clear, especially in the phrase that identifies the enemies as peoples or nations. That does not invalidate its reference to individual troubles, but it gives the complaint a broader perspective.

The language of the psalm is alive and subtle, containing some words rarely used in biblical Hebrew. I think I am right in noticing that all the verbs describing the actions of the enemy in the first few lines have common roots in the vocabulary of predation.

The vocabulary of trust in God is also subtle. Trust is  expressed both directly and in more complex ways: the little repeated quatrain for example contrasts trust in God, with the threat of “bashar = flesh and blood”, a biblical distinction well-known in Scotland,  in Maitland of Lethington’s epitaph on John Knox:

Here lyis one that neither feared nor flattered ony fleshe.

The psalmist encourages himself and Israel to know the difference in scale between the power of human beings and the power of God. Another subtlety is evident in the strange and intimate words about trembling. There is intensive word play in the Hebrew of which I have only been able to reproduce a little. For example the Hebrew for trembling and for flask are almost identical. The word for tallied and the  word for accounts have the same root. The plea to God to place the psalmist’s tears, and by implication the tears of Israel in his wine flask have an intimacy almost unparalleled even in the Bible.

It is out of the intimacy of profound trust that the psalmist restates the confidence of individual and people: This I know: that God is for me. This is not the arrogance of “God is on the side of the big battalions” but rather what the Catholics quaintly call “God’s preferential option for the poor”. The oppressed people know that God is their rescuer.

The last three lines are a very simple, classically lovely statement of that rescue.

I have added here another slightly less literal version.

Turn to me, God:

there’s a man hunting me

hoping to devour me

Pressing me all day;

all day they hunt me

many of them, enemies,

wanting to devour me

filled with pride.

In the day of my fear

I trust you, God.

I praise God’s word

If God is near

Can flesh and blood

cause me to fear?

All day they damage

my dear concerns

all their cunning

is turned upon me.

They attack, then hide,

they mark my tracks

To trap my life.

For this, their crime,

will they go scot-free?

In your anger, God,

lay low these nations!

You have tallied my trembling:

Now add my tears

to your flask; are they not

kept in your ledger?

In the day when I cry out

my enemies retreat;

for this is my faith:

that God is for me.

I praise God’s word.

If God is near

can flesh and blood

cause me to fear?

I must keep my promises to you my God:

I will repay you with thank- offerings.

For you have delivered my soul from death

Yes, you have kept my feet from slipping,

so I walk before God in the light of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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