Translating Psalms (72)

Obviously in some boring human sense it’s mere coincidence that I am translating this on Tuesday of Holy Week and publishing it on Spy Wednesday.  But it’s not only that; the coincidence of each of these psalms with their corresponding day in the Passion of Our Lord is some small, hidden corner of divine providence.  They are each of them, after all, written about Him.

Playing this in the background of His last day of ministry in Jerusalem, while Judas was plotting his betrayal, is downright operatic.

“Quam bonus Israel Deus” (Psalm 72)

[1] Psalmus Asaph. Quam bonus Israel Deus, his qui recto sunt corde!

A psalm for Asaph.  How good Israel’s God to them who are of right heart!

[2] Mei autem pene moti sunt pedes, pene effusi sunt gressus mei;

Whereas nearly moved were my feet, nearly spent were my steps;

[3] quia zelavi super iniquos, pacem peccatorum videns.

since I have been zealous over the unjust, seeing the peace of sinners.

[4] Quia non est respectus morti eorum, et firmamentum in plaga eorum.

Since there is no looking back to their death and the foundation in their net.

[5] In labore hominum non sunt, et cum hominibus non flagellabuntur.

In the labor of men they are not, and with men they are not lashed.

[6] Ideo tenuit eos superbia; operti sunt iniquitate et impietate sua.

Therefore it has held them, has pride; covered over are they with injustice and their impiety.

[7] Prodiit quasi ex adipe iniquitas eorum; transierunt in affectum cordis.

It has gone forth as if from fat, their injustice; they have crossed into feeling of heart.

[8] Cogitaverunt et locuti sunt nequitiam; iniquitatem in excelso locuti sunt.

They have thought and spoken wickedness; injustice in the high place they have spoken.

[9] Posuerunt in caelum os suum, et lingua eorum transivit in terra.

They have placed into heaven their mouth and their tongue has crossed over on the earth.

[10] Ideo convertetur populus meus hic, et dies pleni invenientur in eis.

Therefore it will be turned around, this My people, and full days will be found in them.

[11] Et dixerunt : Quomodo scit Deus, et si est scientia in excelso?

And they have said, “How knows God, and if there is knowledge in the high place?”

[12] Ecce ipsi peccatores, et abundantes in saeculo, obtinuerunt divitias.

Behold, the same sinners, and abounding in the age, they have obtained riches.

[13] Et dixi : Ergo sine causa justificavi cor meum, et lavi inter innocentes manus meas;

And I have said, “Therefore without cause I have justified my heart and I have washed among the innocent my hands;

[14] et fui flagellatus tota die, et castigatio mea in matutinis.

and I have been one scourged all the day, and my rebuke in the morning.

[15] Si dicebam : Narrabo sic; ecce nationem filiorum tuorum reprobavi.

If I was saying, “I will tell thus,” behold a nation of Your sons have I reproved.

[16] Existimabam ut cognoscerem hoc; labor est ante me :

I was pondering so that I might know this; a labor is it before me:

[17] donec intrem in sanctuarium Dei, et intelligam in novissimis eorum.

until I should enter into the sanctuary of God and understand  in their newest things.

[18] Verumtamen propter dolos posuisti eis; dejecisti eos dum allevarentur.

Nevertheless on account of deceits You have placed for them; You have hurled them down when they be lifted up.

[19] Quomodo facti sunt in desolationem? subito defecerunt; perierunt propter iniquitatem suam.

How were they made into desolation?  Immediately have they failed; they have perished on account of their iniquity.

[20] Velut somnium surgentium, Domine, in civitate tua imaginem ipsorum ad nihilum rediges.

Just as the sleep of the sleeper, O Lord, in Your city their image unto nothing drive back.

[21] Quia inflammatum est cor meum, et renes mei commutati sunt;

Since it is inflamed, my heart, and my spleen is all-changed;

[22] et ego ad nihilum redactus sum, et nescivi;

and I, unto nothing am I driven back and I have not known;

[23] ut jumentum factus sum apud te, et ego semper tecum.

so that a mule am I made before You and I ever with You.

[24] Tenuisti manum dexteram meam, et in voluntate tua deduxisti me, et cum gloria suscepisti me.

You have held my right hand and in Your will You have led me down and with glory have You upheld me.

[25] Quid enim mihi est in caelo? et a te quid volui super terram?

What indeed for me is in heaven? And from You what have I wanted over the earth?

[26] Defecit caro mea et cor meum; Deus cordis mei, et pars mea, Deus in aeternum.

It has failed, my flesh and my heart; God of my heart and my portion, God into the eternal.

[27] Quia ecce qui elongant se a te peribunt; perdidisti omnes qui fornicantur abs te.

Since behold who makes himself far from You will perish; You have destroyed all who are harlot from You.

[28] Mihi autem adhaerere Deo bonum est, ponere in Domino Deo spem meam; ut annuntiem omnes praedicationes tuas in portis filiae Sion.

Whereas for me to cling to God is good, to place in the Lord God my hope; that I may announce all Your prophecies in the gates of daughter Zion.


v. 2 pene This is paene, “nearly, almost,” in disguise.  I, uh, won’t go into what I first thought this line meant.  It’s one heck of an out-take and I don’t want to spoil the mood of Holy Week.  You can look up the word in an on-line dictionary if you want to snicker.  On a more serious grammatical note, mei…pedes is a pretty nice hyperbaton…which you can only see if you translate pene correctly.  Ahem, back to serious matters.

v. 4 et firmamentum…I think the idea is that we can see neither the end of the wicked–it always seems like they are going to win–nor the source or root of their machinations.  Firmamentum has a lot of options to it so this phrase can go a lot of directions.

v. 8 in excelso Back when the Israelites were playing the harlot and going after false gods–basically their entire history before the Babylonian exile–they would worship  Canaanite gods in excelsis–in the “high places,” the hilltops, the sites of local pagan worship.  By contrast, God’s temple is on the high place, the mountain of Jerusalem, overlooking His holy city.  In this psalm, when the wicked speak their slanders and deceits, they bring the idolatry of the in excelsis into the one, true in Excelso.  The echoes across Scripture are absolutely endless.

v. 28 praedicationes has a wide range of meanings–it’s just something spoken in advance or before something–but I’ve elected to play up the Christological side here even beyond the more mundane “preaching(s).”

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