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Psalm 103:2 King James Version (KJV):

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.


My question: Does the singer command his soul to "Bless the LORD" , or is he saying that the LORD IS the soul within him?

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  • As written in the English language the semicolon (:) is a separator with the same indication as a period (.). Those are two separate parts the first to his Soul and the second is an adjective clause depicting what he considers his Soul to be. Other than that we cannot dissect His mind to elicit exactly what his thoughts were. – BYE Apr 23 '16 at 12:11
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    @BYE That's a colon. Regardless of KJV punctuation (which may or may not be informative with respect to the syntax), the Hebrew is clear; no mind dissection is required. ;-) – Susan Apr 23 '16 at 13:26
  • @Susan The question asked particularly about the KING JAMES version. Sorry I messed up and called a colon a semicolon. That happens sometimes when I write in a hurry. It's good you quoted the Hebrew, even if it does not answer the question which asked about he KJV passage. I've had my hands spanked several times on this site for not sticking to what the question asked in my answers, but you may get away with it. – BYE Apr 23 '16 at 23:52
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    Hm.... the OP asked about "the singer", whose intentions I understood as being most directly represented in the Hebrew text. (Quoting in English is pretty standard for convenience.) People don't generally suggest that we should be exegeting translations without regard for the original languages, but it's an interesting thought. In any case, the KJV translators had the Hebrew in front of them and it is pretty unambiguous on this point, so it seems reasonable to me to think that the good folks on the KJV translation committee were on board. – Susan Apr 24 '16 at 2:50
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The question boils down to whether "my soul" is:

  • a vocative, i.e. the one being addressed ("exhorting himself to bless..."); or
  • the object of the verb "bless", in apposition to (i.e. sharing a syntactical slot with) "LORD" ("referring to the LORD as the soul...").

In addition to the contextual clues noted by other answers, the syntactical markers that allow distinction between subject and object are (unusually!) clear in this Psalm:

  1. בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי
    bārᵃkı̂ napšı̂
    bless (impv. f. s.), my soul (f. s.)

  2. אֶת־יְהוָה
    ʾeṯ-yhwh
    [DO]-the LORD

  3. וְכָל־קְ רָבַי
    wᵉkol-qᵉrābay
    and all-of that-in-me

  4. אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשֽׁוֹ
    ʾet-šēm qodšô
    [DO]-his holy name

The subject should agree with the verb in gender and number. "My soul" is feminine singular, indicating that the second person subject of the imperative is also feminine singular, matching the inflection of the verb "bless". From this we conclude that "my soul" is the addressee: "o my soul".

The direct objects are marked in this case with the pre-posited "DO" = direct object marker (ʾet). There is only one verb1 in this verse: "bless". Thus, "the "LORD" and "his holy name" are objects of blessing.

Translating "my soul" (nepeš) as the addressee of an imperative yields English that is decidedly Biblio-speak. However, nepeš with a pronominal suffix ("my soul") is commonly considered to be a reflexive pronoun in Hebrew. English translations have never really found a way around this ("bless the LORD, o my self"??), which is unfortunate in that it makes normal Hebrew into odd English, but with respect to accuracy perhaps it's for the better:

Though נֶַ֫פֶשׁ is commonly said to be used as a substitute for the reflexive pronoun, a syntagmatic analysis of its usage suggests rather that it retains its lexical meaning to varying degrees.2


1. Not unexpectedly in the terse style of the Psalms, the repetition of "bless" in the line 3 is not explicit, being "gapped" from line 1.

2. Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma: Pontificio istituto biblico, 2006), 511. The citation in support of this is to Muraoka's 2005 work in French: Apports de la LXX dans notre compréhension de l’hébreu et du grec, et de leur vocabulaire, in J. Joosten and Ph. le Moigne (eds), L’apport de la Septante aux études sur l’Antiquité (Paris), 57-68.

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This passage is not a blessing upon God but rather an exhortation that David is making to himself. In this context, "soul" simply means "self". David is telling himself to:

  • speak wonderful things about God
  • speak wonderful things about God's name
  • remember the good ways God has enriched him
  • remember that God is the one who forgives his machinations
  • remember that God heals all of his sicknesses
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Does the singer command his soul to "Bless the LORD" , or is he saying that the LORD IS the soul within him?

David is saying this psalm to his creator. He is definitely not calling himself "The Lord." Saying that "The Lord is the soul within him" can almost be interpreted as being The Messiah. David was anointed so technically, he was "a messiah," but that's not what David is proclaiming here.

"The Lord" is an English term that was placed in the tanach (Old Testament) each time the creator's name is used -over 7,000 times- so there is no confusion: David is not referring to himself as "The Lord." In Hebrew, "The Lord" is referred to as "Ha Shem" ("The Name") and in ancient times, was written using the tetragrammaton, which means "four consonants." Those four consonants, in English, are YHWH (some say, YHVH). Here's what they look like in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The tetragrammaton is in paleo-Hebrew, though this is not Psalm 103.

enter image description here

David is praising his creator with everything he's got ("with all that is within me.") He was the second king of Israel and he underwent a great deal of strife. He is known for his amazing faith, and also for his sins. He had reason to praise YHWH.

Psalm 102:11-12, KJV

My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.

Psalm 103:1-3, KJV

[[A Psalm of David.]] Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.

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    Of note, your picture is Psalm 119 (you made it easy since all lines start with chet) rather than Psalm 103, and the script is square (not Paleo) except for yhwh (as previously noted) -- I'm not totally sure of the relevance. – Susan Apr 23 '16 at 11:29
  • Hi Susan, The photo is relevant because it shows the tetragrammaton, which has YHWH in paleo-Hebrew, and this was substituted with "The Lord." It's not meant to imply a specific psalm. Thanks- – Daisy Apr 24 '16 at 8:39

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