Psalm 121 – Translation

Psalm 121 is remembered for its first verse.  It’s overall theme is the assurance we can have in the face of adversity because the Lord is our guardian.  There are a couple of interesting translation points.

Psalm 121:1-8 ESV
    A Song of Ascents.

    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
        From where does my help come?
    [2] My help comes from the Lord,
        who made heaven and earth.
    [3] He will not let your foot be moved;
        he who keeps you will not slumber.
    [4] Behold, he who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
    [5] The Lord is your keeper;
        the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
    [6] The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.
    [7] The Lord will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.
    [8] The Lord will keep
        your going out and your coming in
        from this time forth and forevermore.

The ESV retains the 6 fold repetition in English of the Hebrew verb shamar.  The first three uses are as participles, forming a kind of title “he who keeps” and the second three uses are verbs in the imperfect, indicating actions.  The ESV retains KEEP, KEEPS or KEEPER helping the English reader see the repetition.  The NIV for contrast uses WATCHES for the first three, and KEEP and WATCH for the second three uses.

Some translations try to retain the verbal repetion, which is not natural in English (JB,NEB). Others vary the repetition, which makes it harder to notice the central theme of the psalm (NIV, TEV).

We prefer the continuity of the ESV, but this illustrates the value of having more than one translation.

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