Translation commentary on Psalm 90:5 - 90:6

These two verses are not clear in Hebrew, and there are different explanations of the text. The verb in verse 5a appears in this form nowhere else in the Old Testament; K-B says only “unexplained”; Holladay defines it “stop, put an end to life.” Revised Standard Version has sweep; Biblia Dios Habla Hoy “you drag men away violently”; New Jerusalem Bible “you engulf men in sleep”; and New Jerusalem Bible “you flood them with sleep.” The expression sweep men away must not be rendered so that the reader pictures God busy with a broom. In the same way Good News Translation‘s “carry … away” may produce a picture of God carrying people away in his arms. Other expressions may be used; for example, “You bring people’s lives to a sudden end” or “You cast people aside as if they were nothing.” See Bible en français courant “You put an end to human life.”

The word translated dream is literally “sleep” (see 76.5 and comments), and some translate the Hebrew “You make an end to them in their sleep” (New American Bible; similarly Dahood). Most, however, interpret as do Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation, comparing a human being’s frail and transitory existence to a dream that is quickly gone. Good News Translation uses the exclusive plural “us” and “we” in verses 5-6 for greater ease of understanding, and also to be consistent with the first plural in verses 7-12.

The author reaches for another image of brief human life, which he finds in a fragile grass that withers between morning and evening. Grass, that is, weeds, last only one day, sprouting in the morning and dying in the evening. See similar language in 37.2; see also 103.15-16; Job 14.1-2.

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 .