Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Psalm 128 verse 4

Lochner, c15th
Verse 4 of Psalm 128 speaks of God's coming judgment of those who fail to repent.

Psalm 128

Canticum graduum.
A gradual canticle.
1 Sæpe expugnavérunt me a juventúte mea, * dicat nunc Israël:
Often have they fought against me from my youth, let Israel now say.
2  Sæpe expugnavérunt me a juventúte mea: * étenim non potuérunt mihi.
2 Often have they fought against me from my youth: but they could not prevail over me.
3  Supra dorsum meum fabricavérunt peccatóres: * prolongavérunt iniquitátem suam.
3 The wicked have wrought upon my back: they have lengthened their iniquity.
4  Dóminus justus concídit cervíces peccatórum: * confundántur et convertántur retrórsum omnes, qui odérunt Sion.
4 The Lord who is just will cut the necks of sinners: 5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Sion.
5  Fiant sicut fœnum tectórum: * quod priúsquam evellátur exáruit:
6 Let them be as grass upon the tops of houses: which withers before it be plucked up:
6  De quo non implévit manum suam qui metit: * et sinum suum qui manípulos cólligit.
7 Who with the mower fills not his hand: nor he that gathers sheaves his bosom.
7  Et non dixérunt qui præteríbant: Benedíctio Dómini super vos: * benedíximus vobis in nómine Dómini.
8 And they that passed by have not said: The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we have blessed you in the name of the Lord.

Notes on the verse

4. Dominus justus concidit cervices peccatorum: confundantur, et convertantur retrorsum omnes qui oderunt Sion.
The Lord who is just will cut the necks of sinners:  let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Sion (DR).

Dóminus (the Lord) justus (just) concídit (he cuts) cervíces (the necks) peccatórum (of sinners)
confundántur (let them be put to shame) et (and) convertántur (let them be converted/turned) retrórsum (back) omnes (all) qui (who) odérunt (hate) Sion

The Septuagint/Vulgate version of this verse suggests that sinners have been punished (their necks cut off); the surviving medieval Hebrew version (reflected in the RSV) gives a rather obscure allusion to ‘cutting the cords’, perhaps to the ploughs (of the foreign invaders?) mentioned in the previous verse.  

The Coverdale translation attempts to make sense of the received Hebrew version as follows: "But the righteous Lord hath hewn the snares of the ungodly in pieces. Let them be confounded and turned backward, as many as have evil will at Sion."

Knox, however, offers perhaps a more PC translation of the sense of the verse: "but the Lord proved faithful, and cut the bonds of tyranny asunder.Let them be dismayed and routed, all these enemies of Sion."

justus -a, um just.
concido, cidi, cisum, ere  to cut, cut in pieces; to cleave, hew asunder
cervix, icis, f., the neck.
peccator, oris, m. (pecco), a sinner, transgressor; the wicked, the godless.
confundo, fudi, fusum, ere 3, to put or bring to shame, to discomfit.
converto, verti, versum, ere 3,  to turn, change, alter, bring back, quicken, refresh, restore,  convert, turn from sin
retrorsum, back, backward,. behind
odi and odivi, odisse; other forms, odirem, odiens; to hate. 

Many of the Fathers and Theologians see this verse as an encouragement to those who are faithful to the Church.  St Robert Bellarmine, for example, summarises the sentiment as: 'cheer up', for eventually God's justice will catch up with the impenitent sinner!  St Augustine, however, approaches the verse as a warning to us all, and that seems to me to fit better with St Benedict's reasons for placing this psalm here:

Which of us does not fix his eyes upon the earth, like the Publican, and say, Lord, be merciful unto me a sinner? Luke 18:13 If therefore all are sinners, and none is found without sin; all must fear the sword that hangs above their neck, because the righteous Lord shall hew the necks of the sinners. 

And you can find notes on the next two verses here.

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