The grammar in this psalm just slays me. Lots to fiddle with, lots to squint at cross-eyed to try to make it work. There’s violence ahead; please don’t blame me.
With psalms like this one, which makes no explicit connection to an event in the life of David, I try to imagine when and where in his life it would make sense for it to be composed. In broadest terms, David is opposed by the multitude and crying for God’s deliverance in the early half of his story (I Samuel 18-31) and so we should tie it to something in there. I’ll say it’s thematically linked to the wilderness years and being betrayed by the Ziphites to Saul.
“Nonne Deo” (Psalm 61)
 In finem, pro Idithun. Psalmus David.
Unto the end, for Idithun. A psalm of David. Continue reading Translating Psalms (61)
“Exaudi, Deus” (Psalm 60)
 In finem. In hymnis David.
Unto the end. In the hymns of David. Continue reading Translating Psalms (60)
The books of Samuel mostly depict David going from triumph to triumph as God gives him rest from all his enemies round about. This psalm recalls specifically the triumphs of David’s hand in II Samuel 8, immediately after his covenant-scene with God in the previous chapter. Of course the winning streak is going to get a little bit ugly in a few chapters after David’s epic sin with Uriah and Bathsheba…but we’re not there yet.
So what humiliating defeats does David have in mind when singing this psalm? When has God repelled him and fought against him? While David’s track record is pretty impressive, Israel’s is…less so. God often turns His hand against the Israelites in the books of Samuel. Even before Saul’s many crimes bring the Israelites repeated defeat, even before Saul even takes the throne, Israel loses the ark in battle against the Philistines. And don’t get started on the time before that, the time of the judges.
David sees in all these past humiliations of his people not divine indifference or abandonment, but direct divine chastisement. And if God’s hand can work so heavily against the people who sin against Him, how much more can that hand do on behalf of the people who serve Him with an undivided heart? So the king of Israel invites the King of Israel to march out, to lead the army, and to bring their trials to nothing. Pretty smart.
Drawing hope from the failures and punishments of the past…quite a psalm.
“Deus, repulisti nos” (Psalm 59)
 In finem. Pro his qui immutabuntur, in tituli inscriptionem ipsi David, in doctrinam,
Unto the end. For these who will be changed, unto an inscription of a title for David himself, unto teaching, Continue reading Translating Psalms (59)
Sauls sours on his servant David quite early on in the story. I Samuel 18, just one chapter after David slays Goliath and rockets to fame, recounts Saul’s growing bitterness and jealousy. In his fits of madness he tries to kill David, which David seems to write off as Saul’s typical insanity. He sends David on increasingly dangerous military assignments and then fumes when David returns more successful each time. When David seeks his daughter’s hand in marriage, Saul sends David on a suicide mission to slay a hundred Philistines (and bring back an unusual, symbolic proof of each kill). David seems oblivious to Saul’s efforts to kill him.
All that changes in I Samuel 19, when Saul sends assassins to surround David’s house and kill him. David escapes in the middle of the night thanks to the help of his wife Michal. He flees to Samuel at Ramah, and thus begins his epic exile that only ends with the death of Saul at the hand of the Philistines.
This psalm, I imagine, he composed while sitting quietly in his dark house anxiously waiting to see if Saul’s men would attack him or wait for him to fall asleep.
“Eripe me” (Psalm 58)
 In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem, quando misit Saul, et custodivit domum ejus, ut eum interficeret.
Unto the end, lest you destroy. For David in the inscription of a title, when Saul sent and guarded his house that he might slay him. Continue reading Translating Psalms (58)
A break from the psalms tied concretely to an event in David’s life. The opening line is a scorcher that would fit in nicely in a book like Proverbs or Wisdom of Solomon: if you dare even to speak about justice, make darn sure you judge rightly.
“Si vere utique” (Psalm 57)
 In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem.
Unto the end, lest you destroy. For David in inscription of a title. Continue reading Translating Psalms (57)
Once upon a time, while on the run from Saul, David hid himself and his men in a cave. By chance Saul and his men found that cave and decided to rest there as well. Imagine David and his band shrinking back deeper into the cave hoping that Saul’s men would not notice, and hardly believing it when they all went to sleep.
In that moment David had a chance to discern the hand of God’s providence–surely this must be God delivering my enemy into my hand! Surely this is how God will bring me home safe once more! David’s own men urge this…and instead he spares Saul and implores him to end his wicked pursuit.
Saul is moved by David’s display and perfectly understands his debt to his former servant. He promises to stop his pursuit of David, which is why this psalm is one of rejoicing. Naturally, Saul breaks his word and resumes the hunt soon enough.
Check it out in I Samuel 24. David is a superhero in these chapters.
“Miserere mei, Deus” (Psalm 56)
 In finem, ne disperdas. David in tituli inscriptionem, cum fugeret a facie Saul in speluncam.
Unto the end, lest you destroy. In the inscription of a title for David, when he fled from the face of Saul into the cave. Continue reading Translating Psalms (56)
After stopping at Nob to receive support from the high priest Ahimelech, David flees to the city of Gath. Ho-hum, bereft of context I couldn’t care less. Well, Gath is one of the five Philistine cities and David is the most famous slayer of Philistines in the world. The song that used to drive Saul crazy? “Saul has slain his thousands [ed. of Philistines], David has slain his tens of thousands [ed. of Philistines]. Check out I Samuel 18 to see what bride price David, ahem, “acquired” in order to marry Saul’s daughter Michal.
Oh, and you know who was from Gath? Goliath. And David’s recent stop off at Nob? Yeah, he’s carrying Goliath’s sword now. We have yet to make the spaghetti western that matches this level of villain-shock when the protagonist rolls into town. Nor shall we ever.
This psalm seems to fill in some details missing in I Samuel 21. There, we jump straight to David feigning madness so that Achish will let him go. This psalm seems to describe the time immediately before that–something like an arrest and capture leading to his appearance before Achish. Just imagine David being led through Gath whispering to himself, “I will not fear what flesh may do to me.”
And that is why David needs God’s mercy.
“Miserere mei, Deus” (Psalm 55)
 In finem, pro populo qui a sanctis longe factus est. David in tituli inscriptionem, cum tenuerunt eum Allophyli in Geth.
Unto the end, for a people who have been made far from the holy things. In David’s inscription of title, when the Philistines held him in Gath. Continue reading Translating Psalms (55)
First psalm of the season that took a little time. Not only is it longer, but every verse has some point of grammar or another that I care about at least a little. It seems like the coordination of all my idiosyncrasies!
I take this psalm to be early in David’s flight from Saul’s assassins in I Samuel 19. The sorrow and isolation expressed herein is of someone whose world has just been turned upside down in most unexpected fashion. In those early days of exile his beloved friend Jonathan worked to reconcile David to his father Saul, so that David still had some connection to his home and people even while hiding in the loneliness of exile.
This one has enough going on in it that I should probably go for a full-length commentary at some point. The job below is half-done.
“Exaudi, Deus” (Psalm 54)
 In finem, in carminibus. Intellectus David.
Unto the end, in songs. An understanding of David. Continue reading Translating Psalms (54)
When David is on the run from Saul he is at his most heroic. He and his ragtag band of the disaffected of Israel split time between hiding in wilderness areas from Saul’s relentless searches and attacking the Philistines to protect Israelite towns–basically doing Saul’s job as king while he is wasting his time trying to kill an innocent man. At one point in that saga, the (non-Israelite) people of the wildness of Ziph betray David to Saul. You can read about it in I Samuel 23.
You can also sing David’s lyrical take on it below!
“Deus, in nomine tuo” (Psalm 53)
 In finem, in carminibus. Intellectus David,
Unto the end, in songs. An understanding of David, Continue reading Translating Psalms (53)
If you have a good memory (or just place them side-by-side), you should recognize Psalm 13 here. The similarity goes well beyond the famous line about the fool. There’s some kind of story to this text history, but how that story goes and just how early it is, I do not know. It would be interesting to know if the text corruption–or whatever it is–is pre-Septuagintal, but I doubt we have access to that information.
Since it’s been two years (!) since I translated Psalm 13 for this project, I’ve gone ahead and just re-translated from scratch without looking at my earlier work. You could amuse yourself by comparing my translation of the duplicated material to see what changes I’ve made.
“Dixit insipiens” (Psalm 52)
 In finem, pro Maeleth intelligentiae David. Dixit insipiens in corde suo : Non est Deus.
Unto the end, for Maeleth. Thoughts of David. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Continue reading Translating Psalms (52)