Psalms 1-2

This post is the beginning of something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: a translation of the Psalms in two forms, a formal, literal translation and a more informal, dynamic translation. This set of translations is from the Hebrew, though with particular reference to the Greek Psalms of the Septuagint especially, which is my own canonical tradition. I use the Greek primarily to find the overlapping semantic range of words in Hebrew and Greek, narrowing down the potential meaning. Here are the first two psalms.

Psalm 1
Formal translation:
Blessed is the man
who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
who in the way of sinners has not stood,
and who in the seat of scoffers has not sat.
Rather in the Law of the LORD is his delight,
and on His Law he meditates day and night.
For he is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which gives forth its fruit in its season,
and its leaves never wither.
For all that he does succeeds.
Not so the wicked:
for they are like the chaff which the wind scatters.
Therefore the wicked will not arise in judgment,
nor the sinners in the council of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
and the way of the wicked will perish.

Informal translation:
Blessed is every one
who has never followed the advice of wicked people,
who has never participated in the actions of sinners,
and who has never associated with scoffers,
but rather who finds delight in the Law of the Lord,
and thinks about His Law day and night.
Such a one is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which always gives its fruit in the right season,
and its leaves never wither and fall.
For all that such a one does will succeed.
Not so for the wicked,
for they are like chaff scattered on the wind.
The wicked will never stand to receive a good judgment,
nor will sinners be counted in the community of the righteous.
For the Lord is watching the ways of the righteous,
but the ways of the wicked will only get them lost.

Psalm 2
Formal translation:
Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and rulers counsel together against the LORD,
and against his Anointed:
“Let us burst their bonds,
and cast from us their cords.”
He sitting in the heavens laughs,
my Lord derides them.
Then will He speak to them in His fury,
and in His wrath He will terrify them:
For I have installed my king,
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
Let me relate the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my son.
Today I have begotten you.
Ask Me, and I will give the nations as your inheritance,
and as your possession, the ends of the earth.
You will shatter them with a rod of iron,
and like a potter’s vessel break them into pieces.”
Now, kings, understand;
be corrected, judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD in fear;
rejoice in trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He become angry,
and you perish,
for quickly kindled is His wrath.
Blessed are those seeking refuge with Him.

Informal translation:
Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples of the world plot useless schemes?
The kings of the earth array themselves,
and various rulers conspire against the Lord
and His Chosen ruler, saying,
“Let’s revolt from their rulership,
and have freedom from them.”
The One enthroned upon the heavens laughs!
My Lord holds them in scorn.
He will speak to them in His fury,
and terrify them in His wrath, saying,
“I Myself have installed My King
on Zion, My holy mountain.”
Let me recall the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my Son.
Today, I have begotten you.
Ask and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
everything to the ends of the earth as your possession.
You will shatter them with a rod of iron,
like a potter shatters a useless pot.”
Understand, you kings of the earth,
and be corrected, you judges of the world.
Serve the Lord, fearing His greatness.
Worship Him joyfully, trembling with humility.
Give all honor to the Son, His chosen ruler,
lest He become angry and you perish,
for His anger is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all those seeking refuge in Him.

Commentary
One of the most interesting things about Psalm 2 is the presence, explicitly, of the Messiah, in verse 2. Many would say that we should not be reading a Christian “Messiah” here, but that this rather refers to the ruler in Jerusalem, the Son of David. The trick is that it is actually both. The Messianic expectation as exemplified in the prophets and their supporters, whose archive the Bible is, was rooted even in the times of the monarchy in Judah and Israel to a coming perfect exemplar of the ruling Davidic line, all of whom were anointed as king. The “Son of David” to come was understood to be the fulfillment in several ways, of sacrificial suffering in various ways (particularly in the Suffering Servant in Isaiah) and of great power and rulership being awarded to him by God, Who considered him His Son. Various groups understood the coming Son of David in different ways, but the ideal shows itself even here in Psalm 2: a universal ruler of extraordinary power, both Son of David and Son of God. Seeing application of this psalm to Jesus is only a stretch if one would deny Jesus and the first century apostles and disciples any kind of continuity with the culture which produced the Hebrew Bible and lived its history and dreamt its dreams. They had been waiting for the Son of David even while various unsatisfying Sons of David were still ruling, and even moreso once deprived of independent local rule. And God made certain to inspire various prophets to keep the hope alive through the use of such ambiguous, multivalent phraseology. While the messianic hope may have become misunderstood as a solely political issue, which is unfortunate, the hope was present even from pre-exilic times, quite obviously, though it grew stronger afterward. And with wider dissemination of the Scriptures and their translation into Greek, others were able to find a trail of promises and prophecies throughout, a kind of Great Tradition that wound its way through all the Scriptures. A Christological reading of the Old Testament, when understood that the Anointed is the Son of David, is not at all far-fetched, but rather a part of the fabric of the Scriptures themselves, just as we see in the hope for universal rulership, authority, and power for the Anointed Son of David in Psalm 2.

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9 Responses to Psalms 1-2

  1. Maureen says:

    Interesting post! I also enjoyed the messianic stuff.

    But isn’t it cheating to leave the non-deciduous tree imagery in the dynamic translation? I mean, the imagery is as much a figure of speech as the rest.

    Of course, all words are themselves figures of speech, and thus to reach their actual meaning they must be reduced further and further and further and….

    :)

  2. Hi Maureen,
    The tree is imagery for the person, but within that tree sentence, it would be rather silly to remove all the treeness of the passage, so you’d have something like “the person will always be healthy and alive.” I despise disambiguation because it is always eisegesis

  3. John Hobbins says:

    Kevin,

    I’m just catching up with online reading after a vacation in Italy. I thought of you while writing my “June in Tuscany” post. I wanted to note a good introduction or two to icons and how to look at them. But you would do better than I at this.

    I really like what you are doing here with the Psalms. The attempt to render the Hebrew-Greek semantic overlap is a worthy one. The offer of both a formal and informal translation is helpful.

    I know these Psalms by heart, and have tried my hand at translating them many times. It is not surprising, then, that I would wish to take issue with some of your choices. For example, “council” in Psalm 1:1, precisely on the basis of the Hebrew-Greek overlap, is better rendered “counsel.” I could go on in this vein, and I will if you ask me, but it might become tedious.

    As far as the historical and christological senses of Psalm 2 are concerned, I would distinguish them more emphatically than you do. I would argue that the psalm was probably read in view of a future fulfillment soon after the Davidic dynastic came to an effective end, perhaps as early as the 6th cent. BCE. Our positions are not that far apart.

    As you probably know, Tyler Williams, Wayne Leman, and I discussed this matter online not too long ago.

    John Hobbins
    http://www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

  4. Thanks, John, it’s good to have you back and posting. It sounds like you had a very nice vacation.

    You’re right about the council/counsel, of course. That’s an unintentional slip. Please do continue to contribute, if you like. The more, the better!

    I haven’t really tried my hand at the informal/dynamic style before, but thought it would be fun to try, especially with the LXX input as a guide. There’s too much lost in any translation (even my own!) for me to be truly satisfied with them, however. Also, I’ve never paid close attention to the LXX Psalms before, so this is an opportunity to see what’s going on there. The translation is remarkably literal.

    Christology in the OT should, I think, be looked at more in the context of the very strongly-worded Divine Sonship passages scattered through the Psalms and Prophets, which were likely originally composed/sung in a context referring to the Davidic King: the Son of David as Son of God. The postexilic development certainly continued to that of an eschatological Son of David to come, fulfilled in the appearance of Jesus, who appears as Son of God in a way not clearly foreseen at all in the earlier writings. That seems also to be the approach taken by the NT writers, to a more or less conscious extent. It’s an interesting direction to look, anyway.

    Thanks again for your very helpful comments!

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  6. SM says:

    I had a dream one night. All I can remember of it is Psalm 2 and 3 but I don’t recall the context or what the dream was about. The strange thing is that these have no relevance to me (I am not a Christian) and so I am surprised that these verses came in my dream. Like someone is asking me to read the verses. I read them in this blog but don’t understand the significance of it coming in my dream. Would anyone have any idea?

  7. Sorry, SM. Dream interpretation is outside my pay grade….

  8. Courntey Shelton says:

    I am reading through the Psalms. Can you rec a site? Thanks.

    • Hi Courtney,

      The Dynamic Horologion is a neat site for one who would like to read through the Psalms in the Orthodox Christian tradition. It also includes the reader’s service version (that is, a text adjusted to be read by a layman, without the parts that are said by the clergy presiding, whether bishop, priest, deacon, or abbot) of various Orthodox services, which if you click on it in your browser, it’ll bring up the service scheduled for that time of day. It’s really neat. That site uses the translation of the Septuagint Psalms done by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Mass. You’ll find it at the very least to be interesting!

      But on sites for reading the Psalms in general, aside from that, I don’t know of anything else. That site is just perfect for me, so I haven’t looked for anything else. Happy hunting!

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