Remarks on the English Psalter

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I was struck some years ago with the fact of there existing in English two authorized translations of the Psalms of David, that of the Prayer Book, and that of the Bible. This fact, and another connected with it; viz., that so far from being identical, these two authorized versions differ widely the one from the other, both impressed me.
I had no leisure then in which to follow up the subject.
My lot had been cast providentially where the English language had sway, and I had received the authorized version as a gift from God in His grace and providence. But to that same providence I owed the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek and Latin, and felt called upon, whenever I could, to examine God's book as He wrote it, and to see how far man had, in any measure, mingled anything with the unsullied transparency of the Word. God's truth is so divine and unique, that it will shine forth even out of a defective translation. But this would not justify anyone in preferring, for any reason whatsoever, a bad to a good version of the same.
The painful impression (referred to above) was deepened when I had leisure to examine the books referred to on the' previous page. It was also confirmed by the new translation into German in the recent Elberfeld Bible, &c.
I began to look at the question seriously, and this little book is one result thereof.
1. I have, in my prefatory remarks, set forth the test and touchstone, to which every statement as from Scripture must be submitted.
2. The correctness of this is confirmed by the Authorized Version. Its weak points and failures grew up out of comparative ignorance in the learned translators of the subject of Old Testament prophecy; viz., man, the human being, after the fall, in which the race was ruined, under the providence and government of God. He was tried as to whether he could restore himself. If they had seen that as the subject, they never would again and again have put the New Testament assembly forward in the Old Testament as that in which the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled. For the Old Testament presented man' failed and failing while trusting to himself; the New Testament presents God's great salvation in Christ. Nor would they, if they had understood God's subject in the New Testament (viz., the Man that was Jehovah's fellow, winning, as the only obedient One, all things for Himself), ever have made His Church, as set up at Pentecost, to be the means of introducing the millennium instead of its ending in Babylon. Then will He come forth, His heavenly saints already with Him in heaven, and set up the kingdom on earth in Israel. God has used and honored their translation. I bless His name for it. Yet through it would I go on toward something better.
Much, of course, turns upon the right understanding of what has been called by the Rabbis moods and tenses. Can I present the difficulties in this part of the subject to the mere English reader? I judge it might be done, and done in a way that the thoughtful would see, first, the difficulty on the Hebrew side of the question; and secondly, by carefully comparing it with a supposed representative in English of the Hebrew Psalter, get valuable help, or at least food for thought.
In trying to do this, I would (with as little alteration as possible) use the English Bible translation; drawing out from it words, and marking in English what will correspond with the Hebrew as to its moods and tenses; this representation of the Psalms carrying in it the signs and marks of the table adjoined.
Hebrew grammarians tell us that there are but four moods (or modes) in Hebrew-the Indicative, the Infinitive, the Imperative, and the Participal forms.
And that it is only the Indicative which has tenses which mark times. The older writers call the first of these two the Perfect; and the second, the Future (now called by many the Present).
Table Of Signs And Marks.
Indicative Mood ... .. {p}—to mark the English word which represents the Hebrew word, which the Rabbis say is a perfect, and which carries the pronominal affix (or sign of the person) at its end.
{f}—to mark the English word which represents the Hebrew word, which the Rabbis say is a future, and which carries the pronominal prefix (or sign of the person) before it. The persons in both are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, sing. and plural.
Infinitive Mood ...  ... {b}—to stand before every infinitive.
Imperative Mood ... ..{c}—before every imperative.
Participial Forms ... ..{d}— before every participle.
" And" The Conjunction...{v}—to precede every "and," however translated, "and" being called in Hebrew vav.
Thus, Bible version:
Psa. 1:11Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1). Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
v. 3. And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Psa. 3 Title a Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom, &c. Psa. 1:11Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1). " Walk," "stand,” "sit," are in Hebrew perfects.
v. 3. "Do," "prosper," are futures.
Psa. 3 Title "fled" is an infinitive.
Which might be represented thus:
Psa. 1:11Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1). Blessed is the man that {p} has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, {v} and in the way of sinners {p} has not stood, {v} and in the seat of {d} the scornful {p} has not sat.
v. 3. {v} And all that {f} he does {f} shall prosper.
Psa. 3 Title {b} his fleeing from, &c.
This may suffice for an illustration.
[What can be observed in any of the languages in which God has been pleased to write, I would state. Let others correct and add more.
1. Neither of the so-called tenses (both of which are in the Indicative Mood) has absolutely what we call a time of its own.
{p} The preterite, or perfect, naturally and properly refers man (but then it may do so in one way or another) to a past time; e.g. " In the beginning God {p} created the heaven and the earth. And the earth p was without form, and void." (Gen. 1:1, 21In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1‑2).) By "created" and "was" God marked a time past; and we have creation and its original state ere it was afterward formed to its state as fitted for Adam.
But then GOD says that He has a way of His own: "He calleth things which are not as though they were." (Rom. 4:17.) He does so sometimes. And to the mind of man, if humble and attentive, there is no mistake likely to arise. God is in eternity, and if He speaks His purpose and intention, and speaks of it thus: "{p} I have made thee a father of many nations," there is no mistake. To Him all time is. People around Abraham might jeer him for his credulity. But Abraham (as we see Rom. 4) knew the ground he was upon, and took God at His word. The fiat of God's word is a sure ground for faith to rest upon; and Abraham looked away from himself and his circumstances to God and His power and truthfulness. To this I may return again. But what the Rabbis called Pret. or Perf. is contingent, or dependent, as to its time, as noticed above. And the use of the term " tense," either as to it or the other form, is calculated to lead the mind in a wrong direction.
{f} has still more of this contingent, dependent character about it. In {p} there is its own distinctive characteristic as past; and my impression is that none of the apparent exceptions are exceptions at all. The law stands good; only the law has a wider range than man's range; for man is man, and on earth and in time; but this mode and style of speaking is found to have been adopted by men, holy and unholy, in Scripture. God speaks in the past, of that which is in counsel and purpose, and therefore as sure as if it were done already Man will be found in Scripture to have so spoken where his own mind was fixed and settled that so it should be-changing will, his own mortality, the power of circumstances being overlooked, and surcharging with uncertainties his " I have done it." God is God, and eternity and heaven are His; and His counsels, plans, fiats, stand within His circle, and cover over to faith (now that they are revealed to us) all difficulties. But {f}, as I said, is more absolutely contingent. " Whatsoever he {f} doeth shall {f} prosper." (Psa. 1:33And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:3).) Here we have apparently a present time and a future time. It could be said of Christ, "All that He does shall prosper." He, the corn of wheat, had to die, that it might bring forth much fruit. His cross here and the throne there above are inseparable. In many a Scripture the Spirit has put forward for the faithful the attributes and character of Jehovah-His actings, too, as prayer-hearing, or as having appointed certain things to be hereafter, as glory or judgment. Faith would naturally say, " Thou art my Father and my God," and as naturally adds, " Therefore I wait for Thy Son to come and take us home to Thy house. As to what faith has given, I am pardoned, God is my Father; as to what hope waits for, it is to see the Lord Himself." {f} would be a contingent; and unless I get away from Hebrew, or want to subject Hebrew idiom to the idiom of another language, I had better give up the term tense.
But I may have to return to this. I give now a summary of Psa. 1 and 2, a divine introduction to the Psalter:
Psa. 1 Here the demonstrative article is twice used; in v. 1 once, and in v. 4 once.
v. 1 describes the blessedness of " The or That individual," who alone never had a blot from association with any of man's wicked confederacies.
v. 2. He knows no delight but in Jehovah's law, and is wholly occupied with it, and
v. 3. the one ever prosperous one. There is but one whom this suits.
But (mark the contrast) v. 4: "The ungodly" as a class. Alas! save one, there is none righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:1010As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (Romans 3:10)); none have any stability here; none of them will have any standing in the judgment, any place among the righteous.
v. 6. Jehovah Himself is judge between the last Adam, together with those to whom He is a root, and the ungodly who turn their backs on Him.
Psa. 2. The one man dissociated from all evil down here (Psa. 1), has been rejected by man; but is here seen to be Jehovah's anointed.
vv. 1, 2. Vain and imbecile all men's efforts against Him whose cause is Jehovah's. (vv. 3-5). For He has said, Yet have I set Him king in Zion (v. 6). Himself; the earth-rejected one, reads out as Son from on high the decree and the promises to Him (7-9); and then in grace and mercy gives warning.
Study these two Psalms in themselves, and then study them in the Gospels and Acts and Epistles, according as the Holy Spirit there casts light on them through the Lord and His apostles and prophets. If you find enough to humble you, you will find enough, too, of light given to you about Himself who is the subject of them to make you worship and adore].
The portion above between brackets ( [ ]) is no formal grammatical dictum, but a statement of impressions made upon my own mind while working through the whole Psalter, so as to observe the force and power of the Rabbis' moods and so-called tenses, and tested by their current use therein, and the doctrines they lead to, and how far they agree with God's subject as before referred to. I have marked all the occurrences in Hebrew of vav (which is equivalent to our " and "), so that everything may be tested by that which is given in English. In working out this, my mind has perhaps formulated a theory which might admit of a clear statement. But if there is a theory coming to the birth, I would try and prove it ere I state it. But up to this moment I am still only learning.
As to the statement of " the law of vav conversive " (for so it was taught me)-that the introduction of a fresh "and" connected with a verb could turn a future into a past or a past into a future-I have long given it up. It could not be so. Nor if (misled by the Will-o'-the-Wisp light of "tenses") you admit it, will you find that it solves the difficulties. Ina moss or bog you look out for an " and " to put you right, and find none; or, forgetful of your "and" occurrent, you go on sound in doctrine, because you have overlooked it, but know not what to do with it now that you have found it.
A law to be a law must be universal and undeviating. Such is not the case with the statement I have referred to, and it is no law. This Professor Lee and others have shown. To pull down is easier than to build up. Other statements have been made as containing the law of the so-called tenses, but not kept to by their own makers.
My present attempt is neither a new translation of the Psalms nor "a word for word" translation. But if I, sitting down to my Hebrew Psalter with the Bible (English) in my hand, can so far remould it (the English) "clause for clause," according to the Hebrew-the English bearing remembrancers of all the "ands" occurrent, and of all the moods and other various verbal forms in Hebrew-it will, in the measure in which it at once retains, and recalls to mind the old treasure in English, and yet presents the Hebrew idioms, be of interest, and may be of value. Such a book as a young converted Hebrew, knowing Hebrew well, but English only colloquially, could understand, is just that at which I aim.
My intentional departures from the English Psalter were such as these:
1. To change Old English words whose meaning was formerly different from what it now is. The old word now misleads. For instance, "leasing" (Psa. 4:2; 5:62O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. (Psalm 4:2)
6Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:6)
) is not gleaning, but "lying;" "discomfit" (Psa. 18:1414Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. (Psalm 18:14)) for "discomfort." So "prevent" (Psa. 21:3; 59:10; 79:8; 88:13; 119:147, 1483For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head. (Psalm 21:3)
10The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies. (Psalm 59:10)
8O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:8)
13But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. (Psalm 88:13)
147I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. 148Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word. (Psalm 119:147‑148)
) is equivalent to our modern word "anticipate." So Psa. 29:99The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory. (Psalm 29:9), "discover" for "uncover, lay bare." So "quick" (Psa. 55:15; 124:315Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them. (Psalm 55:15)
3Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: (Psalm 124:3)
) is "alive" (and not quickly), &c.
2. To mark the demonstrative article or pronoun by writing "the" with a large T-thus, "The" or "That" and this even if it does not stand the first word in a sentence.
3. To put in italics all the words supplementary to the sense; but this is what the Authorized Bible Version has done.
4. To omit the " O's " (" 0 Jehovah," &c.). They are contrary to Hebrew custom and mind. A hundred " O's in a modern prayer would tell of feeling in him who prays, and of weakness; not of faith. Look at the New Testament.
5. To translate into English the titles at the heads of some of the Psalms, and any Hebrew word left in them, as Selah, Higgaion.
6. To render the word "Go-i" in Hebrew always Nation; and its plural, "Go-im," as Nations. "Gnam," People; and "Gnammim," as Peoples. "L'ummim " (a plural), as, side-nations, "Ohm," singular; and "Urnmim," plural (which do not occur in book 1.)
G. V. W. 5.1.77, Motuiki.