Translation commentary on Psalm 89:38 - 89:39

The third Good News Translation heading may be recast in some languages to say, for example, “The psalmist mourns because the king has been defeated” or “The psalmist laments because the king’s enemies have defeated him.”

In verses 38-45 the psalmist accuses God of having broken his covenant with the king and having caused his defeat and humiliation. In order to make it clear that the psalmist is addressing God, it may be well to say “But you, LORD, are angry….” Kirkpatrick notes that the harshness of the language of these verses scandalized many ancient Jewish commentators; one of them, Aben-Ezra of Toledo, Spain (twelfth century A.D.), reported that there was “a certain wise and pious man in Spain who would never read nor listen to this Psalm.”

Good News Translation has reversed the two lines of verse 38 for a more natural development of thought. For a similar expression of God’s anger, see 78.59, 62. “Your chosen king” translates thy anointed (see 2.2). There is no certain way of identifying the king. He has suffered military defeat, and Jerusalem has fallen to enemy forces and been ransacked (verses 40-41). The king has been deposed and stripped of his royal symbols (verses 39b, 44). It should be noted that some believe that these verses do not express a concrete historical situation but are part of a cultic act in which the king underwent a ritual degradation.

The boldness of verse 39 is extraordinary: God is accused of having gone back on the promise he made to the king: “You have broken your covenant with your servant.” The verb translated renounced occurs only here and in Lamentations 2.7b (“disowned”). In verse 39b Good News Translation “thrown” translates a verb which means “to pollute, defile, desecrate” (see its use in 74.7b, “desecrated”). The crown was the symbol not only of the king’s power but also of the holiness of his office, as the anointed of God. The Hebrew word here translated crown is not the usual one; nezer is related to the verb “to dedicate, consecrate,” and the Septuagint translates the word here “his holiness”; New Jerusalem Bible has “his dignity.” It may be well to follow the example of Traduction œcuménique de la Bible, “You have thrown his diadem to the ground and profaned it,” or Bible en français courant “you have dirtied his crown by throwing it on the ground.” In languages in which defiled his crown in the dust carries little or no meaning, it will be necessary to shift to another symbol and say, for example, “you have taken away his chief’s stool,” or to a nonmetaphorical rendering, “you have taken away his authority as chief” or “… removed the symbol of his authority.” In languages in which the leader’s symbols of authority are in objects very different from crowns, these symbols should be employed.

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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