Psalm 4

Dear Reader,

 I am continuing my look at the psalms and their psalter versions. For some background see here.

This is how I would translate Psalm 4:

“When I cry, answer me, God of my righteousness.

In distress  you enlarge me; pity me and hear my prayer.

Sons of man, how long [will you turn] my glory to shame, will you love vanity, will you seek a lie?

But know that the Lord sets apart the godly [man] for Himself.

The Lord will hear when I cry unto him.

Tremble but do not sin. Speak in your heart upon your bed and be silent.

Sacrifice sacrifices of righteousness and trust the Lord.

Many are those who say, ‘Who will show us good?’

Lift over us the light of your face, Lord.

You give joy in my heart, more than the time when corn and new wine are multiplied.

In peace (shalom) together I will lie down and sleep for you, Lord, alone securely will make me dwell.”

A few notes on the translation:

1. In v.1, “God of my righteousness” could be “my righteous God.”

2. Also in v.1., I have translated “enlarge me” most literally. The sense is that God will enlarge one’s boundaries and give one room to live. It is perhaps our sense of “breathing-room.”

3. In v.2, there is no verb in the first clause. In Hebrew it would just read “Sons of a man, how long my glory to shame.” In English of course we need to supply something in there though we interpret a little at least as we do so.

4. In the latter part of v.2, it is not clear that the question (“how long”) is continued. It could simply read “You will love vanity; You will seek a lie.” Based on the context, however, I have chosen to include these as part of the question.

5. “Tremble” in v.4 often means to tremble in anger, as we often take it.

6. Hebrew has no word for think, but when one thinks one is said to “speak in one’s heart” (v. 4). Thus this verse says both to speak (in the heart) and to be silent but these are not contradictory.

I don’t have a lot to say about the psalter selections of this psalm. The one point I want to address is the repetition in 4A.  At the end of each musical verse, the last line is repeated. I am not sure how to take this sort of thing. On the one hand, Hebrew poetry relies on parallelism (do I sound like a broken record yet?). So by adding repetition where there is none, we are altering the flow of the psalm and potentially affecting its meaning. If I tell you something more than once, hopefully, if you are paying attention, you get that it is somehow important or at least important to me. Even why I just repeat myself, I am adding content by the mere fact of the repetition.

 On the other hand, while this kind of repetition is not natural to the Psalms, it is very familiar to us in  English songs. So I wonder if our minds maybe just skip over the repetition anyway. We expect repetition in songs so perhaps the effect is minimized for us. It fits a form in our heads so we analyze it as part of the form rather than viewing it as content if that makes any sense. It is like use “dear” and “sincerely” in letters. We write dear to a lot of people, including people we do not know or are angry at, but they do not usually think that we hold them dear because of it. Nor do they think that we are particularly sincere just because we sign our letters that way.

So I guess mt conclusion is that this kind of repetition at the end of a line bothers me less at least than it initially did. But if there is a good alternative without the added repetition, I would prefer that version.


One response to this post.

  1. […] Our psalm for this past week was Psalm 4. (For an introduction to how we study the psalms see this post. For an earlier post on Psalm 4 see here.) […]


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