Translation commentary on Psalm 74:1 - 74:2

The psalmist opens with a strong complaint. God has cast … off his people, he is angry with them, and they do not know why (see similar language in 10.1; 22.1; 44.23-24; 79.5). There is no admission that the people’s sins might have been the reason for God’s anger.

In verse 1a cast … off translates a verb meaning “reject” (see its use in 43.2b; 44.23b). Cast us off in the sense of discarding something of no value is expressed in some languages as “to throw into the forest” or “to throw into the back place,” meaning the place where rubbish is discarded. In the Hebrew text for ever comes in line a; Good News Translation places it in line b. A good translation of line a is “O God, why have you rejected us? Will it be for ever?”

In verse 1b the expressive verb “cause to smoke” depicts God’s anger as smoke pouring out of his nostrils (see the same image in 18.8). In many languages anger is compared to heat or fire in figurative expressions, and in such cases line b may often be rendered “Why has your anger burned…,” or “Why are you hot with anger?” or “Why is your heart hot?”

“Your own people” represents the sheep of thy pasture (see 95.7; 100.3 and comments). Sheep of thy pasture refers to the flock which is under God’s care. Therefore Bible en français courant says “the flock of which you are the shepherd,” and Die Bibel im heutigen Deutsch “we are your flock and you are our shepherd.” Since the symbolism of sheep and shepherd occurs so frequently throughout the Bible, translators should keep this symbolism if possible. Languages which can maintain sheep of thy pasture should do so, provided the expression is fully meaningful to the ordinary readers. If not, it is best to follow Good News Translation‘s “your own people.” It is not recommended that a different animal be used to represent the biblical “sheep.”

In verse 2 two expressions are used to speak of Israel as God’s people: “your community” (Revised Standard Version thy congregation) and the tribe of thy heritage. For comments on heritage see 16.6. The tribe of thy heritage is a Hebraism that means “the tribe that is your heritage,” which does not mean that they are the tribe God inherited from some other god, but that they are the people he chose to be his own. See New Jerusalem Bible “Your very own tribe that You redeemed.” Both expressions stress the exclusive rights that Yahweh has over the people of Israel.

The request Remember thy congregation in translation should not imply that God has forgotten. The psalmist calls upon God to “think” about them and their common history. Consequently in languages where “Remember your people” will carry the meaning of “Remember who your people are,” one may say “Think about your people,” or idiomatically, “Put your people into your heart.”

The two verbs in verse 2b-c are somewhat parallel: “acquire” and “redeem” (Revised Standard Version gotten … redeemed). The first one can be translated “whom you made your own” or “whom you selected to be your own.” In the translation of the second one, care should be taken that an equivalent of “redeem” not carry the explicit sense of “to buy” or “to pay for,” since that raises questions about whom it was bought from and what was paid for the purchase (see comments at 25.22 and 69.18). A verb such as “save, rescue” is better, since the reference is to Yahweh’s delivering his people from bondage in Egypt. Both lines emphasize Yahweh’s initiative; it was his choice, his great act of liberation which made Israel his own people. Consequently he is responsible for them, and the people find it impossible to understand why he has now abandoned them. Of old (verse 2a) refers back to the time of the exodus from Egypt.

For Mount Zion see 2.6.

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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