Translation commentary on Psalm 72:8 - 72:9

Verses 8-11 may be understood as a statement (Good News Translation, Bible de Jérusalem, New Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch) or as a petition (Revised Standard Version, Bible en français courant, New Jerusalem Bible, Biblia Dios Habla Hoy, Dahood); New English Bible, New American Bible, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, and Weiser translate verse 8 as a petition and verses 9-11 as statements. The context seems to favor that all four verses be read as petitions.

The psalmist prays that the extent of the kingdom be from sea to sea; Exodus 23.31 suggests “from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean” (Good News Translation); others think it means “from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean”; Briggs proposes “from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.” Anderson suggests it may mean simply “the whole earth.” Many languages will find it awkward to speak of something extending from sea to sea, particularly where no seas are known. In such cases the translator must substitute a known extension that represents the greatest distance between two points, or shift to some expression such as “from one end of the land to the other” or “from where the sun rises to where the sun sets.”

In verse 8b the River is the Euphrates. Translators are advised to follow Good News Translation and other modern versions which specify the River as the Euphrates. In most cases it will be necessary to say “from the river called the Euphrates,” so that Euphrates is identified as a river, and it should be found on an accompanying map in the Bible.

For the ends of the earth, see comments on 2.8; 59.13. To the ends of the earth must often be recast in other forms; for example, “to the setting of the sun” or “to the place where the rivers disappear.”

Verse 8 is identical with Zechariah 9.10.

“The peoples of the desert” (Good News Translation; see jmp RSV footnote|prj:RSV.PSA.72.9jmp* ) translates a word whose meaning is not clear. The Septuagint translates “the Ethiopians” (so New English Bible); Dahood and New International Version “the desert tribes”; New Jerusalem Bible “desert-dwellers”; Traduction œcuménique de la Bible “nomads.” But the word is used also of animals (see 74.14) and of demons (see Isa 13.21; 34.14) that inhabit the desert. So Bible de Jérusalem and New Jerusalem Bible have “the Beast,” which is interpreted as defeated pagan nations. Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, and Bible en français courant prefer to emend to his foes (so Briggs, Weiser, Anderson), parallel with his enemies in the next line; this is possible but not necessary.8-9 Hebrew Old Testament Text Project does not emend but refers to 79.14, where the same word appears, and says that in both passages it may mean “dwellers of the desert” or “navigators.”

If the translator follows Good News Translation‘s “peoples of the desert,” in some languages it will be difficult to express the idea of “people who live in deserts,” since “desert” may have been described in the New Testament as an uninhabited place. Sometimes it is possible to say “people who live out where the wild animals live.” This also may be unclear since in many areas such animals live in heavily forested areas. Since the parallel reference is to enemies in verse 9b, the best solution may be to employ “enemies” in verse 9a and “they” in verse 9b.

In verse 9b the expressive lick the dust is a figure of defeat and submission. Lick the dust should not be used literally, unless it is a genuine idiom for defeat. Some languages distinguish between dust that is on the ground, dust that is in the air, and dust that has settled on objects. In recasting this metaphor to a nonmetaphor, it may be necessary to introduce the agent; for example, “may the king put his enemies low” or “may the king defeat his enemies.”

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on the Book of Psalms. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1991. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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