Bible blog 2335

Continuing my translation with comment on Psalms 90-106

Psalm 102

The prayer of someone oppressed, when she grows faint and pours out her lament before Yahweh.

Hear my prayer Yahweh

And let my howl approach you.

Do not turn your face away from me in my time of trouble;

Lean towards me and listen:

Answer me quickly when I call.

For my days go up in smoke

And my bones are burned like kindling;

My heart is so blighted and withered like grass

That I forget my food.

With the clamour of my grieving

My bones stick to my skin.

I am like the pelican of wild places,

Like the little owl of lost cities;

Awake at night I am a bird alone on a housetop.

All the time my enemies taunt me,

Mockingly making my name their curse.

I eat ashes like bread

And mingle my wine with my weeping

Because of your savage anger-

Yes, you took me up and tossed me away.

My days draw out like the dusk

And I am shrivelled like a leaf.

But you, Yahweh, are seated on high forever

And held in honour by all generations.

You will rise up with room in your heart for Zion;

The time to be kind to her, the set time has come.

Yes, your servants take pleasure in her stones;

Her very dust to them is dear.

Then nations will fear the name of Yahweh

And all the monarchs of earth his majesty

When Yahweh builds up Zion and is seen in his majesty.

He turns towards the prayer of the poor

And does not despise their entreaties.

Write this down for a generation to come

That a people yet unborn may praise Yahweh:

He leaned out from his holy height,

Yahweh looked down from the heavens to the earth

To hear the cries of the captive

And open the door of those condemned to die

So that Yahweh’s name may be announced in Zion

With a paean of praise in Jerusalem

When the peoples are gathered together

And the kingdoms, to serve Yahweh.

He has weakened my strength midway

He has cut short my days.

O my God, I pray, do not pluck me in the midst of my days

While your years last for all generations.

In former times you founded the earth

And the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will die but you will endure;

They will all wear out like a garment,

Like clothing you will change them

And they will be changed;

But you are the same and your years have no end.

Your servants’ children will survive here

And their offspring will be fixed in your favour.

The comparison of personal and political history is common in the Psalms in which the faithful person and faithful Israel are made models of each other. A psalm which seems to be simply about personal misfortune often hints at the misfortunes of Israel. In this psalm the two dimensions are kept distinct, although there are links between the sections. The desperate state of the individual suggests the near-death condition of Israel. But does the rescue of Israel also suggest the rescue of the individual?

The psalm seems to suggest that only the corporate rescue is assured, and individual lives may be disposable.

The personal sections are very vivid, and rich in similes. The birds to which the writer compares himself are disputed by scholars, and any translation is a guess. Once I found out from a modern bird book that Pelicans were common in North Galilee I decided to keep the ancient Greek translation. The psalmist’s complaint that God took him up and tossed him away is bold and of course might be applied to Israel also.

The Israel sections of the Psalm are more conventional in their diction, but fresh in places, such as Yahweh leaning out of heaven, or opening the door of those on death row. The most powerful language however is found in the section where the creation itself is reduced to status of an old wardrobe, while Yahweh remains the same God. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be reassured about Yahweh’s care of persons.

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