Translating Psalms (56)

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)

[1] 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.

[2] Miserere mei, Deus, miserere mei, quoniam in te confidit anima mea. Et in umbra alarum tuarum sperabo, donec transeat iniquitas.

Have mercy on me, God, have mercy on me, for in You do I entrust my soul.  And in the shadow of Your wings will I hope, until injustice may pass by.

[3] Clamabo ad Deum altissimum, Deum qui benefecit mihi.

I will cry to God the Most High, God Who works good for me.

[4] Misit de caelo, et liberavit me; dedit in opprobrium conculcantes me. Misit Deus misericordiam suam et veritatem suam,

He has sent from heaven and freed me; He has given into shame those trampling me.  He has sent, has God, His mercy and His truth,

[5] et eripuit animam meam de medio catulorum leonum; dormivi conturbatus. Filii hominum dentes eorum arma et sagittae, et lingua eorum gladius acutus.

and He has rescued my soul from the midst of the lion cubs; I have slept though surrounded by the mob.  Sons of men, their teeth arms and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

[6] Exaltare super caelos, Deus, et in omnem terram gloria tua.

Be exalted above the heavens, God, and into all the earth Your glory.

[7] Laqueum paraverunt pedibus meis, et incurvaverunt animam meam. Foderunt ante faciem meam foveam, et inciderunt in eam.

A snare have they prepared for my feet, and they have bent my soul.  They have dug before my face a pit and they have fallen in it.

[8] Paratum cor meum, Deus, paratum cor meum; cantabo, et psalmum dicam.

Readied my heart, God, readied my heart; I will sing and a psalm will I speak.

[9] Exsurge, gloria mea; exsurge, psalterium et cithara; exsurgam diluculo.

Arise, my glory; arise, psaltery and lyre; I will arise at daybreak.

[10] Confitebor tibi in populis, Domine, et psalmum dicam tibi in gentibus;

I will confess You among the peoples, Lord, and a psalm will I speak to You among the gentiles;

[11] quoniam magnificata est usque ad caelos misericordia tua, et usque ad nubes veritas tua.

for it is magnified even to the heavens, Your mercy, and even to the clouds, Your truth.

[12] Exaltare super caelos, Deus, et super omnem terram gloria tua.

Be exalted above the heavens, God, and above the earth Your glory.


v. 5 conturbatus I normally like to go for as formal a translation as possible but this word just delights me too much.  I’m digging back into the etymology all the way to turba, crowd, mob, uproar.  The con– prefix just makes it gathering, encompassing.  Perfectly captures David’s life over these chapters.

v. 6 exaltare I don’t think I’ve ever tried to make this verb come to life before but suddenly that seems very important.  Altare is a verb linked to the adjective altus, so it means to lift up, to raise high, etc.  But if you have a scrap of liturgy in you, you should also recognize altar–the way we lift offerings high to the gods/God.  Exaltare then carries within it the idea of rising up and out of an altar as the smoke of an offering.  Normally what rises up from the altar is going to God; here it is God Himself doing the rising–an easy Eucharistic connection.

v. 9 psalterium et cithara I think I usually see this as “string and harp” in English, which is ok.  It’s two different words for stringed instrument.  I dimly recall commenting on this problem in a psalm over the last few years but I am a bit too busy to dig through those to find it.  “Some day” when I am “less busy.”

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