For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 73. I will focus on four verses: v 4, v 10, v 17, and v 24.
In the King James Version, v 4 states: "For there are no bands in their
death: but their strength is firm." The New American Standard Version,
however, translates the second half of the verse as "and their body is
fat". Both are understanding the words in the phrase u-vari ulam differently.
I can see merit in pieces of both translations of the verse. I can understand why the NASB translates bari as "fat", for that is what the word most often means in the Hebrew Bible (see here). The only place where the KJV translates it as "firm" is in Psalm 73:4.
But I can also understand why the KJV translates ulam as "their strength". The word ul
only appears in two places in the Hebrew Bible: in Psalm 73:4, and in
II Kings 24:15, where it refers to the mighty in the land (and mighty
equals strength). As I checked the BDB and William Holladay's Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, I could not find a justification for translating ul as "body". Keil-Delitzsch, however, noted the Arabic parallel allun, which they say means "body". Perhaps the idea is that the body is strong because it is a structure. In any case, even though I think that (from a linguistic standpoint) "their strength" makes more sense for ulam and "fat" makes more sense for bari,
I have to admit that "their strength is firm" and "their body is fat"
make more sense to me as an English reader than "their strength is fat".
that's not why Psalm 73:4 stood out to me. The reason that this verse
caught my attention is that it affirmed that there are no bands when the
wicked die. The word translated as "bands" (which, in the Hebrew
Bible, only appears in Psalm 73:4 and Isaiah 58:6, where it refers to
the oppressive bands of wickedness) is understood by many translators to
mean pain, their idea being that Psalm 73:4 is a lament that the wicked
do not feel any pain when they die. The Septuagint and the Targum,
however, have a different idea: that the verse is saying that the wicked
are not "dismayed and daunted" (to draw from Edward Cook's translation
of the Targum) when they die. Either way, Psalm 73:4 stood out
to me because it appeared to contradict the overall theme of Psalm 73 as
a whole: that the Psalmist is sad that the wicked prosper, but the
Psalmist then learns that God will kill the wicked. But why should the
Psalmist be consoled that the wicked will die, when he says in v 4 that
their death is not painful, or that the wicked do not even fear death?
are at least two solutions to this problem that have been proposed.
One is that Psalm 73 is not about God's punishment of the wicked in this
life, but in the afterlife. I will look more into this viewpoint in my
discussion of Psalm 73:24. The other solution is that le-motam ("to their death") is actually lemo tam,
which means "to them whole". The idea here is that Psalm 73:4 should
be translated as follows: "For there are no bands to them; whole and fat
is their body."
2. Psalm 74:10 says in the KJV:
"Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung
out to them." My literal translation of this verse is, "Therefore his
people will return (or, in the kethib, will bring back) here, and waters
of full will be found to them."
This is a difficult verse. The
Septuagint renders it (and here I am using Lancelot C.L. Benton's
translation), "Therefore shall my people return hither: and full days
shall be found with them." The LXX's Hebrew manuscript must have ve-yemei ("and days of") rather than u-mei ("waters of"), and it has "my people" rather than "his people".
The LXX for this verse is probably affirming that, because the wicked
have angered God, God will return his people Israel to the Promised Land
and give them full days.
But what if Psalm 74:10
is about the wicked rather than God's people? According to translators
and commentators, the idea is that the people admire the wicked who are
prospering. Either the fullness of water refers to the
prosperity of the wicked, or the phrase is indicating that people keep
returning to drink up the wicked people's words, for they admire the
wicked on account of their rich life.
I thought that some of the Christian sermons that I heard on this verse were pretty pathetic, to tell you the truth.
They applied this verse to celebrities and how people admire them and
drink up their words, even when these celebrities (supposedly) don't
know what they are talking about. One preacher mentioned Harry
Belefonte's criticism of the Iraq War, saying that Belefonte singing
"Day-O" does not make him an expert on foreign policy, and that
Scripture calls Belefonte a fool for speaking out without knowing all of
the facts (as if the Bush Administration knew all of the facts when it
launched the war in the first place). And another preacher
lamented that people were holding a vigil for Heath Ledger after his
death, when he was in the pro-gay movie Brokeback Mountain. I
found these remarks to be one-sided, judgmental, and ridiculous, for
Belefonte is not wicked when he stands up for what he thinks is right,
and there is nothing wrong with lamenting the death of Heath Ledger, who
(by many accounts) was a decent guy. But I still take from
Psalm 74:10 the lesson that I should resist the temptation to admire the
prosperous people who do what is wrong, as if their prosperity makes
them worthy for me to emulate.
3. Psalm 73:17 states in the KJV,
"Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end."
This is a crucial part of the Psalm, for it is in the sanctuary that the
Psalmist reverses his view that the wicked unfairly prosper and affirms
that they will come to an end. Why the Psalmist reversed his view is
not stated. Marvin Tate proposes three possibilities: that the Psalmist
had a vision in the sanctuary of God in God's majesty, as Isaiah had in
Isaiah 6; that the Psalmist heard from a temple prophet that the wicked
would come to an end, the sort of message that we see in Isaiah 40:7-8;
and that the Psalmist reached this conclusion in a state of meditation
and quiet contemplation. Tate observes that Psalm 73:16
indicates that the Psalmist was engaging in "strenuous intellectual
effort" to understand why the wicked prosper, and his insight in the
sanctuary may have been (at least in part) the fruit of this hard
But Psalm 73:17 has a difficulty. The word
that the KJV translated as "understood" is in the cohortative, and the
cohortative often carries the meaning of "let me" do such-and-such.
Moreover, the Septuagint uses the subjunctive for that word, and the
subjunctive often means "may I" do this. So must the word in Psalm
73:17 mean "let me understand"? What sense does that make?
is Psalm 73:17 saying? There are people who agree with the meaning
that the KJV sees in the verse. Rashi was a medieval Jew who knew
Hebrew, and he had no problem with interpreting Psalm 73:17 to mean that
the Psalmist went into the sanctuary and understood the end of the
wicked. And there is grammatical justification for that point-of-view.
For one, there is such a thing as a "pseudo-cohortative" (to use
Waltke-O'Connor's phrase), a cohortative that does not function as a
cohortative. We see this sort of thing in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Psalm
66:6). And, second, although the verbs in Psalm 73:17 are in the
future tense, scholars have argued that tense is not really significant
in Hebrew poetry----that the future tense can be used to describe a past
But there are other ways to interpret Psalm 73:17. One
view is that the Psalmist is saying that he will understand the fate of
the wicked only after God brings him to the sanctuary, for that will
signal God's intention to vindicate the Psalmist and to punish the
wicked. The grammatical justification for such a reading is that cohortatives are used in conditionals. Some
suggest that the issue in this verse is the restoration of Israel from
exile, but I suppose that an interpreter can make the case that it's
applicable to David, who was away from the sanctuary during his flights
from Saul and Absalom and wanted God to return him to it.
view is that the Psalmist in Psalm 73:17 is expressing resolve, for a
cohortative can indicate a firm resolution (as Waltke-O'Connor
document). In this case, the Psalmist is affirming that he will
go into the sanctuary, with the express intent of understanding the
true fate of the wicked. This coincides with a sermon point
that I heard: that we go to church to remind ourselves of what is right,
and to conform our thoughts to the truth. In the case of Psalm
73, according to this particular interpretation, the Psalmist thought
that the wicked prospered, but he went to the sanctuary to remind
himself of the truth that God is in control.
73:24 states in the KJV, "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and
afterward receive me to glory." Many Christian interpreters have
understood the "glory" here as the afterlife. Others, however, have
argued that "glory" is never used for the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible,
and that Psalm 73:24 is about a glorious outcome that God would bring
about in this life. Keil-Delitzsch wrestle with this issue, and they
bring v 25 into the equation: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there
is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. " They say that
we can only go to heaven with God, and that even heaven would not
satisfy the Psalmist if God were not there. In my opinion, the Psalmist
in v 25 is not necessarily talking about an afterlife but is saying
that----in the vast cosmos (heaven with its gods and earth with its
people)----God is the only one he can fully count on. But I don't mind Keil-Delitzsch's homiletical application of the verse.