July 15, 2020

He Is Strong

O my [sic] strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.
Psalm 59:9

This is a very strange verse. At some point, modern translations seem to have agreed that "strength" must refer to God, and that the pronoun should be the first person singular. But the Geneva Bible (and the KJV after it) thought otherwise. Calvin himself preferred this translation: I will entrust his strength to thee... And, indeed, the Hebrew should not be rendered as modern translations seem to prefer, for it speaks of "his strength" not "my strength."*

The reason, as Calvin sees it, is that the psalmist in Psalm 59 is speaking of threat, and in this case, the threat is from Saul. This interpretation seems clear enough, but there's a problem: Verse 9 is the only place where the enemy is spoken of as he. Everywhere else, the enemy is they.

Still, I think I prefer the old translations, which are much closer to the Hebrew. Here's the whole verse as it appears in the 1599 Geneva Bible:
He is strong: but I will wait upon thee: for God is my defense.
When I translate it the way it appears to be intended, I can acknowledge the strength of another—and sometimes it's a strength that threatens me—but I can hand that strength over to God. God isn't just a bit of muscle or persuasiveness; God is an entire fortress of strength.

They are strong, Lord, but you are stronger. I know of their muscle, I acknowledge their silver tongues, but I entrust it all to you. Just as I pray that your will will be done in me, I pray that you will use others to accomplish your purpose. Whether their strength is benevolent, benign, or bad, it is yours to do with as you will. I pray this in the Name of him who taught me what prayer is: Our Father...
*I'll talk a little bit more about this tomorrow.

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