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Psalm 6:5[4]:1

‏שׁוּבָה יְהוָה חַלְּצָה נַפְשִׁ֑י הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי לְמַעַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ׃ (BHS)

Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
      save me because of your unfailing love. (NIV)

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
     save me for the sake of your steadfast love. (ESV)

In my basically English2 way of thinking, these are very different.

  • because of = on account of = due to; i.e. introducing the cause
  • for the sake of = for the benefit of (noun) | in order to (verb) = (by extension) in order to demonstrate (noun); i.e. introducing the effect

The latter is how the common phrase לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ “for his name’s sake” seems to be generally understood and translated (including NIV), but “because” is also a well-attested meaning of לְמַעַן. “Because” makes a little more sense to me in the immediate context of Psalm 6:5[4], his ḥesed (≈"steadfast love”) being cited as a motivation for the act of saving. On the other hand, I suppose the ESV rendering means something like “in order to demonstrate your ḥesed”, which is also conceivable and would be consistent with the sense of the “for your name’s sake” refrain.3

Is the intended meaning that God’s ḥesed will motivate him to deliver or that he will deliver in order to demonstrate his ḥesed? Or am I the only one who feels like those are different?


1. Basically the same issue applies in 44:27[26], with פדה for ישע.
2. And this is most likely the problem.
3. It’s also possible that I don’t understand what “for your name’s sake” means. For the most part in the Psalms it seems possible to construe it either way (due to the nature of your name=character | in order to demonstrate/advance your name=reputation/glory). There are a bunch of these in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah (mostly "... my name") that are also very confusing to me.

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    [למען] is a spectrum of meaning whose median does not meet with the median of "for sake of". First you need to understand [ען] or [לען], and then, the intensive [מען], which leads to its subsequent infinitive [למען]. Otherwise you'd be like trying to understand the word [אשר], as though it is assured a 1-1 mapping to the English conjunctive relative adjective. Without even understanding the root meaning of [אשר]. – Cynthia Avishegnath Sep 25 '15 at 7:16
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I think in this case it's not possible to decide between the two meanings.

By way of comparison, take a look at 1 Kings 11:12.

אַךְ־בְּיָמֶ֙יךָ֙ לֹ֣א אֶעֱשֶׂ֔נָּה לְמַ֖עַן דָּוִ֣ד אָבִ֑יךָ מִיַּ֥ד בִּנְךָ֖ אֶקְרָעֶֽנָּה׃

NIV:

But, for the sake of your father David, I will not do it in your lifetime; I will tear it away from your son.

Does this mean, “because of what a great guy David was”, or “so that I don't destroy David's reputation”? Both are fair readings of what I would propose as the most neutral translation, “because of David”.

Back to Psalm 6, I think it's similarly not possible to decide whether the intention behind “because of your love” means “because of what your covenant love [or whatever] requires” and “for the sake of the reputation of your covenant love”.

Certainly a reading where the love motivates the action is possible. In Psalm 69:18 we have:

קָרְבָ֣ה אֶל־נַפְשִׁ֣י גְאָלָ֑הּ לְמַ֖עַן אֹיְבַ֣י פְּדֵֽנִי׃

NET:

Come near me and redeem me! Because of my enemies, rescue me!

That's clearly “because of my enemies” and not “for the sake of the enemies.” But I think it would be quite a stretch to say that that is the only possible meaning of לְמַ֖עַן .

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    Perhaps in English we can use "considering", which covers both these aspects: "considering your father David, I will not do it" and "considering my enemies, rescue me". It isn't very readable though. – user2672 Dec 21 '17 at 7:20

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