The English Bible is a secondary source for Bible study. Originally, the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The overall purpose of these posts is to encourage the study of the Bible in the biblical languages. Copyright, Dennis O. Wretlind, 2013.
English translations of the Bible reflect the learning, skills, and
philosophies of the translators. With respect to translation philosophy, when
ambiguities appear in the original text, some translators slant the wording towards
a clearly-defined interpretation while others try to keep the wording as
ambiguous as the original language leaving the interpretation up to the reader.
The issue of ambiguity has both ethical and exegetical implications.
Ethically, when does a translator have the right to alter the
stated textual expression? There exists an assumption by the readers of the
English Bible that the translator has accurately transferred data from the
biblical language to English without adding to or subtracting from the original
meaning of the author. This assumption borders on foolishness stemming from
ignorance. No translation represents the original perfectly; all translations
exhibit varying degrees of loss from the biblical text. But when the translator
intentionally moves a text from obvious ambiguity to a clear interpretation,
unproven and perhaps unprovable in the context, has he or she not crossed over
an ethical boundary?
Exegetically, why do ambiguities in the biblical text arise? At
least two sources exist: (1) what was unambiguous to the ancient readers
becomes ambiguous to a later generation or people group because of culture and
distance. (2) Some ambiguities are intentional so that the text can be read and
applied variously—a feature common to all literary societies (technically called polysemy). What this means
exegetically, then, is that the baseline for translating ambiguities is to
leave them intact unless undeniablecontextual proof exists to
turn an “apparent” ambiguity into a clear statement.
Psalm 56:12a (English) is a case in point regarding textual
KJV and RSV — “Thy vows are upon me, O God”
— “Thy vows are binding upon me, O God”
NIV — “I am under vows to you, O God”
ESV — “I must perform my vows to you, O God”
— “I am obligated to fulfill the vows I made to
you, O God”
— “Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God”
Each of these translations struggles with the relationship between
the noun “vows” and the pronominal suffix “Thy” (only evident in the KJV, RSV,
and NASB). Is the suffix “Thy” (ךָ) appended to the noun “vows” (נְדָרֶ֑י)
subjective making the God the subject of the verbal idea
underlying the noun (vows made by God, KJV, RSV, NASB) or objective
viewing David as the object of the verbal idea in the noun and introducing
into the translation an unstated subject “I” (vows made by David, NIV, ESV,
Commentators struggle with this as well. Tate (Psalms 51-100, 65) paraphrases the sentence with an objective interpretation,
“I have bound myself with vows to you, O God.” A number of commentators follow
suit. But Gaebelein (The Book of Psalms,
235) takes the subjective viewpoint, “Upon me are Thy vows, O God,” which he explains,
“The very vows of God are upon him, which means that God Himself has vowed to
keep the feet of His Saints.” Clearly from the standpoints of translators and
commentators an ambiguity exists.
The approach to the problem of biblical ambiguity must begin with what is possible and then what is probable. If the literal Hebrew phrase
“Your vows” cannot reflect both objective and subjective ideas the
translator/interpreter has no choice but to follow what Hebrew allows. In this
instance, the genitive function in Hebrew allows both (see Williams, Hebrew
Syntax, 2nd ed., 11; Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar,
The investigation of probabilitymay begin first with
a question: Is God ever the subject of the verb meaning “to vow (נדר)”? Of the 31 occurrences of this verb in the Hebrew Bible, God
is never the subject.However, the
semantic meaning of “vowing” differs little if any from “making a promise,” (Koehler,
Baumgartner, Richardson, Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old
Testament, 674). The noun in Psalm 56:12 is a derivative from the verb,
therefore one cannot rule out the subjective idea.
Second, can the broader context of Psalm 56 justify the concept of
a divine vow/promise? With the emphasis on God’s word upon which David depends
and upon which he finds comfort and encouragement in his trials (English verses
4, 10, 11), the subjective idea finds adequate justification. But also the
objective interpretation can be supported by verse 12b where David clearly
states that he will give “thank offerings,” the clause being understood as a
parallel statement to or an extension of verse 12a.
A strength of the subjective interpretation is the contextual
emphasis on God’s word from which David gains encouragement and strength. A
strength of the objective interpretation is the preposition “upon me” (עָלַ֣י) that begins verse 12
and may be a preposition of “obligation” (Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2nd
ed, p. 52). Another source of strength for the objective view is a parallel in
Psalm 50:14, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving And pay your vows to the
Most High” (NASB, a psalm by Asaph). The apparent ambiguity dilemma in Psalm 56:12 leads
to these conclusions:
The subjectiveinterpretation . . .
a basis in the contextual emphasis on God’s word as a source of strength for
finds strength in the non-parallel structures of verses 12a and b—David could unambiguously
have written, אֲשַׁלֵּ֖ם תּוֹדֹ֣ת לָֽךְ/נְדָרַילך אלהים אדּר, “to
You, O God, I will pay my vows / I will render thank offerings to You.”
objective interpretation . . .
support in the prepositional phrase “upon me.”
well with the parallel passage of Psalm 50:14.
If polysemy, intentional ambiguity, exists in this
verse, a real possibility, the readers can take away both the truth (1) that
God’s word is the source of encouragement (subjective) and (2) that God Himself
is the object of praise (objective). But whether intentional or not, the fact
of textual ambiguity has ethical and exegetical aspects that every
translator must consider. In the above translations of Psalm 56:12a (Hebrew
verse 13a) the KJV and RSV may best reflect the ethical and exegetical concerns
discussed by maintaining a level of ambiguity.
NASB with alterations (The
Hebrew Bible includes a one verse superscription that is not part of the Psalm
proper. Therefore, the numbering in the Hebrew Bible is one verse ahead of the
English Bibles.For convenience, the following
discussion will follow the English verse numbers. The brackets  represents the
author’s translation changes.)
1 God be gracious to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us—Selah.
2 That Your way[s] may be known on the
Your salvation among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let the peoples praise You, [all of
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy;
For You will judge the peoples with [fairness]
And guide the nations on the earth. Selah.
5 The peoples [will] praise You, O God;
The peoples [will] praise You, [all of
6 The earth [will yield] its produce;
God, our God, [will bless] us.
7 God [will bless] us,
That all the ends of the earth may
of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
superscription of Psalm 67 provides no indications of historical background or
authorship. The contents of the psalm, however, best looks to a time when all peoples
of the earth will praise God for his salvation and equitable rule. This
situation will be in evidence in Christ’s kingdom reign in the millennium. Arno
Gaebelein (The Bookof Psalms, 263 and 65) writes that the psalm pictures
“prophetically the condition of the earth and the nations during the coming age
of the Kingdom. . . .When the King has
come, when He occupies the throne of His glory and rules over the nations, . . .”
Tate (Psalms 51-100, 159) declares, “Thus the psalm invites a messianic
perspective which looks forward to an age when the relationship between Yahweh’s
saving-work in Israel and his blessing-work in all creation will no longer be
obscure but will lead the peoples of the world to rejoice and sing of his
judgments and guidance.” This forward-looking time frame means that the verb in
the metric center (verse 4b, תִשְׁפֹּט)should be translated as an English future tense as seen in the NASB, KJV,
and NKJV. Psalm 67 looks beyond the present to the future, a future for which Christians
worldwide eagerly await!
psalm develops in seven stanzas, the centerpiece of which is verse 4 (Tate,
155). Verses 3 and 5 “bookend” this central verse with identical words but not
necessarily identical syntax (word function). The verb for “praise” (ידה) uses the same form for both the precative/jussive
(strong desire or wish) and the imperfect aspect
(future). Therefore, based on the future-oriented context beginning at verse
4b, verses 5-7 coordinate with that perspective.
the metric center (verse 4b) focuses on the 2nd person (“You”)
whereas the surrounding clauses (verses 4a and c) are focused on the 3rd
person (“they”), effectively isolating the central clause. This centerpiece,
the metric center, has two principal points: it states the cause (“for”)
of the peoples’ rejoicing by describing the equitable nature of the
divine Judge (“You will judge the peoples with [fairness]”). Verse 4c
defines that fairness (“And guide the nations on the earth”). Some further clarifications
are necessary, however, to explain and tie the last clause (4c) to the metric
1 is a prayer of Israel with the clear allusion to the priestly blessing of
Numbers 6:24-26 as noted by most commentators. Verse 2 broadens the focus to “all nations” who can, like
Israel, come to know God’s ways and salvation. The term “ways” (דּרכי, reading the plural with several Hebrew manuscripts) refers to
the “required conduct” by God (Koehler, Baumgartner, Richardson, and Stamm, The
Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 232) as expressed in “the
progressive realization of His counsel” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, V, 440),in other words, in his revealed word. And this
revelation of God is the standard whereby he will “judge” and “guide” not only
Israel but all people (“guide,” נחה, is a correlative of “way,” דרך, in verse 2; see Koehler, Baumgartner,
Richardson, and Stamm, 231 and 685 respectively). Tesh and Zorn (Psalms, 449, italicsmine) tie the two words together, “It signifies conducting
one in the right way.” In short, God will evaluate everyone on
the same standards of conduct found in his revealed word, “with [fairness]”without national bias. Verses 6 and 7 again refer to Israel (verses
6b and 7a) and to the entire world (verse 7b). But the entire world also
includes earth itself as seen in verse 6a, “The earth [will yield] its
produce.” This also will occur in the future when the earth will experience the
longed-for redemption of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-21).
verb of verse 6a translated “[will yield]” (נָתְנָה) has been a source of
difficulty for numerous scholars. Bratcher and Reyburn (A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, 576) state, “In verse 6a most translations take the perfect tense of
the verb (literally “has given”) to refer to past action: “The land has produced” . . . . Some, however, contend that this is
an example of what is called the precative perfect”—a perfect aspect verb used
for a strong desire or wish and translated “May the earth yield
. . . .” However, if the millennial future fits the context better the verb
could more clearly be labeled a “prophetic perfect” or a “perfect of certitude”
(Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2nd ed., 30; Tesh and Zorn, 449-50) and translated as a future.
conclusion, Psalm 67 moves from the present to the future and ends where it
began—a focus on God’s blessings on Israel as a catalyst for the entire world to
know His ways, find salvation, praise Him, and fear Him.
NASB (The Hebrew Bible includes a one verse
superscription that is not part of the Psalm proper. Therefore, the numbering
in the Hebrew Bible is one verse ahead of the English Bibles.For convenience, the following discussion
will follow the English verse numbers.)
1Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
Preserve my life from dread of the
2 Hide me from the secret counsel of
From the tumult of those who do
3 Who have sharpened their tongue like a
They aimed bitter speech as their
4 To shoot from concealment at the
Suddenly they shoot at him, and do not
5 They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose;
They talk of laying snares secretly;
“Who can see them?”
6 They devise injustices, saying,
“We are ready with a well-conceived
For the inward thought and the heart
of a man are deep.
7 But God will shoot at them with an arrow;
Suddenly they will be wounded.
8 So they will make him stumble;
Their own tongue is against them;
All who see them will shake the head.
9 Then all men will fear,
And they will declare the work of God,
And will consider what He has done.
The righteous man will be glad in the
LORD and will
take refuge in Him;
And all the upright in heart will
of the Metric Center on the Psalm’s Development
Psalm 64, a Lament of the Individual
(Westermann, The Psalms, 55), typically includes the following
Lament (“I,” “they,” “You” elements)
Expression of Confidence
As with all Psalms, however, the typical
pattern gives priority to the situation in life. Psalm 64 develops in
Lament (“they” only), 3-6
Expressions of Confidence, 7-9
Psalmist begins with the petitions concerned with his own safety. The reason
for his fears lies in the rather extensive descriptions of the adversaries
including their arrogant sense of security (v.5, “Who can see them?”),
their consummate planning (v.6a), and the depth of their wicked soul (v.6b).
His confidence, however, arises as he expresses assurances that God will act on
his behalf (v.7), that the wicked will reap the effects of their sins upon
themselves (v.8), and that God’s actions willbecome evident to all (v. 9). The psalm concludes with a declaration of
praise for Yahweh’s deliverance (v.10).
metric center of the psalm (5b) records the hubris of the opponents—they can do
what they want because no one sees them ("them" refers to the speakers, the snares, or both), an
attitude that stems from deep within their evil heart. Tate argues that verse 6b
equals the pivotal expression in the psalm, “The inward nature and the human
heart—how deep they are!” (Tate, Psalms,
132). One can
agree with Tate that this equates to the theological
center of the psalm but the
metric center is the outward, arrogant expression
of that inward state.
The connections between the verses preceding
the center and those following are numerous and tie the psalm into a coherent
2, 9—The works (פּעלי) of the wicked and the work (פּעל) of God
3, 7—The arrow of the wicked (חץ) and the arrow
(חץ) of God
3, 8—The tongue (לשֹׁון) of the wicked
5, 7—The sudden (פּתאם) shooting (ירה) of an arrow by the wicked and by God
The overall message of the psalm highlights the
psalmist’s anxieties over the cutting, secretive speech and hidden plots of the
wicked (verses 1-6), the activity of God in response to the arrogant (verses
7-9), and praise of Yahweh by the “upright in heart” (verse 10).