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Psalm 42:5 (and 42:11) vary greatly in English translations with regard to how they deal with the last clause. Is there no way to be sure what it is saying? What are the issues in rendering this accurately?

http://biblehub.com/psalms/42-5.htm

For example, YLT has this:

Psa 42:5 What! bowest thou thyself, O my soul? Yea, art thou troubled within me? Wait for God, for still I confess Him: The salvation of my countenance--My God!

This translation says that the countenance in question is God's, not the Psalmist's:

JPS Tanakh 1917 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why moanest thou within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him For the salvation of His countenance.

While the NIV has this which seems to ignore "countenance" altogether:

New International Version Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Other translation likewise are all over the map.

NOTES:

I came across this footnote in the NET Bible:

16 tc Heb “for again I will give him thanks, the saving acts of his face.” The verse division in the Hebrew text is incorrect. אֱלֹהַי (’elohay, “my God”) at the beginning of v. 7 belongs with the end of v. 6 (see the corresponding refrains in 42:11 and 43:5, both of which end with “my God” after “saving acts of my face”). The Hebrew term פָּנָיו (panayv, “his face”) should be emended to פְּנֵי (pÿney, “face of”). The emended text reads, “[for] the saving acts of the face of my God,” that is, the saving acts associated with God’s presence/intervention https://net.bible.org/#!bible/Psalms+42:4

And this is how they rendered it:

42:5 Why are you depressed, 13 O my soul? 14 Why are you upset? 15 Wait for God! For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention. 16

Does the Hebrew allow for the last clause to read like this?:

"...For I will again give thanks to my God BY his saving intervention."

My thought is that the Psalmist, being a son of Korah is probably a choir member and he is distraught because the enemy is preventing him from getting to the temple. This would then be an expression of confidence that God, by his saving intervention will make it possible for him to return to the joyful singing, and thanking God.

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    You might want to consider the understanding of this Psalm is connected to the meaning of the word יְשׁוּעֹ֥ת which is present in 42:5 and 42:11 (also 43:5 and 44:4). – Revelation Lad Jul 15 '16 at 15:04
  • Thanks. There seems to be an idiom at play rather than an ambiguous word which may be why it is so variously interpreted. – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 16:46
  • This story comes to mind: [Dan 1:15 KJV] 15 And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. – Ruminator Dec 27 '18 at 16:22
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The reason that the translations are all over the map is:

  1. Some Hebrew manuscripts connect the first word of the following verse with the last word of Psalm 42:5, yielding the phrase "My ever-present help, my God"

  2. The meaning of the Hebrew of Psalm 42:11 is uncertain.

The above is pointed out in the apparatus of the JPS Tanakh in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible (2nd ed.).

It might be worthwhile to appeal to the Greek Septuagint in this case. Although a translation, even Jewish scholars agree that the underlying Hebrew text is several centuries older than the one consulted by the Masoretes. In the Septuagint, Psalm 42:5 (41:5 LXX) is (Brenton translation):

Wherefore art thou very sad, O my soul?
And wherefore dost thou trouble me?
Hope in God; for I will give thanks to him;
He is the salvation of my countenance.

A more modern rendering is in the Orthodox Study Bible:

Why are you so sad, O my soul?
And why do you trouble me?
Hope in God, for I will give thanks unto Him;
My God is the salvation of my countenance

The Holy Transfiguration Monastery Psalter (found here) uses similar language

Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
And why dost thou disquiet me?
Hope in God, for I will give thanks unto Him;
He is the salvation of my countenance, and my God

The phrase salvation of my countenance [σωτήριον τοῦ προσώπου] - soterion tou prosopou does not appear to be an idiom. "Soterion" (a neuter noun) appears to be an older form of the word used in the New Testament - "soteria" (a feminine noun) - and appears only in the Greek Old Testament, but only here in combination with prosopou. The Oxford Jewish Study Bible commentators do not indicate that it is some sort of Hebrew idiom.

Although soterion and soteria are usually translated to mean "salvation", they are also used to mean "healing" (in fact, the Greek Fathers seem to often discuss salvation in terms of a sort of spiritual healing). Augustine understands the phrase in this context:

My God is the saving health of my countenance.

My “health” (my salvation) cannot be from myself; this it is that I will say, that I will “confess.” It is my God that is the saving health of my countenance. For to account for his fears, in the midst of those things, which he now knows, having come after a sort to the “understanding” of them, he has been looking behind him again in anxiety, lest the enemy be stealing upon him: he cannot yet say, “I am made whole every whit.” For having but the first-fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves; waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body [Romans 8:23]. When that “health” (that salvation) is perfected in us, then shall we be living in the house of God for ever.

Exposition on the Psalms

  • (+1) for useful information. Is "the salvation of my countenance" an established idiom for "he is the one who cheers me up"? – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 18:45
  • I researched further (see above). I don't think it is an idiom, but I think it means more or less what you indicate. – user15733 Jul 15 '16 at 19:57

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