Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Psalm 88

Psalm 88 is the text I am working on for my exegetical (interpretative) paper in Hebrew this fall. For those unfamiliar with seminary-ese: we take two quarters to learn the rudiments of a Biblical language, and then a quarter to work on the process of researching and explaining a text ~ the work one would presumbably do before writing a sermon.

I chose Psalm 88 because it is the only of the 150 psalms of unrelieved anguish. Each of the other psalms of lament, of which there are many, at some point finds its way back towards an offer of praise to God, a sense of relief, of thanksgiving, of homecoming. Not 88.

It was the only Scripture I could stand to read or pray with for months after Josh died.

Walter Brueggemann, that famous scholar of the Hebrew Bible, calls Psalm 88 "audacious." I personally find much in the way of hope hidden between its lines; only a speaker who has at one time felt the near and intimate presence of God would cry out in such bold and accusatory heartbreak.

A big chunk of my research is complete, and I'm going to write more about it. For now, this is the translation I think I've settled on. I've tried to arrange it so that much of the literary technique jumps off the page. Or computer. Not sure what Blogger will do with it ~ this may take a few tries. (Nope ~ I can't make it work.)

1. A song; a melody; for a son of the Korahites. To the leader, according to Mahalath Leannoth. A maskil for Heman the Ezrabite.

2. Lord God of my salvation,
in the day I cry out, and
in the night, before you.

3. Let my prayer come before your face;
Incline your ear to my ringing cry.

4. For my soul is sated with troubles,
And my life touches Sheol.

5. I am counted with those who go down to the Pit;
I become like those with no help.

6. With those who have died forsaken,
as with those profaned;
Those who lie down in the grave
whom you do not remember,
for they are cut off from your hand,

7. You have put me in a pit of lowest places,
in the depths of dark places.

8. Your rage rests upon me,
and every breaker of yours knocks me down;
each of your breakers humbles me.

9. You have put those who know me far from me;
you have made me an abomination to them,
one who is shut up,
and I cannot go out.

10. My eye becomes dim from afflictions.
I call you, Lord, in every day;
I spread the palms of my hands toward you.

11. Do you do wonders for the dead?
Do ghosts rise up praising you?

12. Is your kindness recounted in the grave;
Your steadfastness in Abaddon?

13. Are your wonders made known in darkness?
And your righteousness in the land of oblivion?

14. But I cry out for help to you, Lord,
And in the morning my prayer confronts you.

15. Why, Lord, do you reject my life?
Hide your face from me?

16. I am wretched, and
I am one who has perished from my youth;
I suffer your terrors;
I am helpless.

17. Your rage has swept over me;
your terrors annihilate me.

18. They surround me like waters all the time;
They surround me completely.

19. You put far from me friend and companion,
Those known to me –



Daisy said...

The only thing I can think to say is:

"Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy."

That psalm pretty much lays it all out there, doesn't it?


Jennifer said...

It's a powerful translation.
Thank you.

Karen and Joe said...

As unrelenting as it is in its anguish, it is actually a comforting psalm. It tells me that God knows that pain too. It's in His word so that the truly devastated also have a touch point. Thank you for sharing your translation. It's very expressive.

Sophia said...

Powerful, Gannet. Thank you.

(And to think you thought you weren't good at Hebrew).

karen gerstenberger said...

WOW. Beautiful, strong, true, heartfelt. YES.

Thank God that He included this sort of thing in the Scriptures! Thanks be that some idiotic, squeamish one didn't take it out or try to make it "pretty" and sweet-smelling. It has the stench of decay and desolation, and yet hope... or why else would he still be crying out to God?
We get to see it and think, "Yes, that's it - that's my life, right now." It speaks the language that I think of as the cross, as Gethsemane. He knows, He understands; it's there in print. Thanks be to God.
And thank you for sharing it here.

Magdalene6127 said...

This is a powerful translation. Thank you GG.