Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Psalm 7 - rereading toil and work

It could be that I am about to fall into another translation trap - what fun!

But there is a trap in Psalm 7 - the last section is a trap for the one who has work to do and the one who bears toil (`amal) עמל. Those words - work and toil I have seen and partially responded to. Toil is a theme in Qohelet - almost half of its uses in the Writings are in this book. I missed 'work' in Job where the word (pa`al) פָעַל is a theme. This word is often paired with iniquity - as in 'workers of iniquity', but it is also used in phrases like - 'wonderful works'. Does פָעַל become significant in its usage as distinct from that other word (`asah) עָשָׂה which is frequently used for fashion, work, make or do? פָעַל is rarer in usage. Here are some rough counts:
PsalmsJobRuthLamentationsSongQoheletEsther
Work פָעַל261100000
Make עָשָׂה1103510243746
Toil עמל138000210

I associate the doing of wonderful works with the record of God's deliverance of Israel and through the Elect, of all humanity. E.g. as the refrain in Psalm 107 (his wonderful works for the children of dust) or Psalm 111. I am not alone in this association. It appears that the word for 'works' ἔργον in John's Gospel 'the works that the Father has given me to finish' is reflecting in Greek the connotation of פָעַל.This forms my thoughts when I read the last section of Psalm 7 where it is not clear who is the intended subject of some of the verbs. It seems to me that 'he' chose to create, complete, and consume evil by falling into the trap that the wicked set for themselves. So I would not let God be the subject of some verbs and not others. I have left the subject of the verbs as uncertain in English as it is in Hebrew. Resolving such uncertainty is a translation trap I prefer to avoid.

This psalm was repeatedly presented to me last night as I dreamed and as I awoke. My literal translation and diagram is a bit more complete now and may be found here. The chart to the right shows the words that repeat more than twice.

Here is a reworked English translation.

A reel of David who sang to יְהוָה about the words of Cush of Benjamin
יְהוָה my God in you I have sheltered
save me from all my persecutions and deliver me
or he will seize my throat like a lion
tearing apart and there is none rescuing

יְהוָה my God if I have done this
if there is injustice in the palm of my hand
If I have paid back evil to one who is at peace with me
and have withdrawn empty from one who troubles me
let an enemy persecute me and slit my throat
and take and trample my life on earth
and make my glory to dwell in the dust
selah
Arise יְהוָה in your anger,
be lifted up in the outbursts of my foe
and awake my God
judgment you command
So a congregation of people encircle you
and for her to the heights return

יְהוָה shall judge the peoples
Judge me יְהוָה for my righteousness and my completeness in me
Mature, I pray, the evil of the wicked
and steady the righteous
and test hearts and vital centres
O God of righteousness
My shield is of God delivering the upright of heart
God judges right and God is indignant every day

If he will not turn he will sharpen his sword
his bow he bends and will aim
and for him he has prepared
consuming means of death
his arrow for burnings he will make

Behold he will bind sorrow and has conceived toil
and will bear falsehood
A pit he will dig and will explore it
and will fall into the depths that he worked
He will return his toil on his head
and on his scalp his violence will descend

I will praise יְהוָה for his righteousness
and I will sing the name of יְהוָה on high

I found this post while looking for Habakkuk 3 -  it relates to this psalm.