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There are many different takes on how this verse should be translated. Does the LORD delight in the godly man's path or does the godly man enjoy his own path?:

Translations for Psa 37:23

KJV

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.

NKJV

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.

NLT

The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.

NIV

The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;

ESV

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;

CSB

A person’s steps are established by the LORD,

and he takes pleasure in his way.

RVR60

Por Jehová son ordenados los pasos del hombre, Y él aprueba su camino.

NASB

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.

NET

The LORD grants success to the one whose behavior he finds commendable.

RSV

The steps of a man are from the LORD, and he establishes him in whose way he delights;

ASV

A man’s goings are established of Jehovah; And he delighteth in his way.

YLT

From Jehovah are the steps of a man, They have been prepared, And his way he desireth.

DBY

The steps of a man are established by Jehovah, and he delighteth in his way:

WEB

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.

HNV

A man's goings are established by the LORD. He delights in his way.

VUL

[Vulgate 36:23] mem a Domino gressus viri firmantur et viam eius volet

WLC

מֵ֭יְהוָה מִֽצְעֲדֵי־גֶ֥בֶר כֹּונָ֗נוּ וְדַרְכֹּ֥ו יֶחְפָּֽץ׃

LXX

(LXX 36:23)παρὰ κυρίου τὰ διαβήματα ἀνθρώπου κατευθύνεται καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ θελήσει

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What follows is an analysis taken from a technical commentary by John Goldingay who provides his own translation directly from the Hebrew: Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms: Psalms 1-41.

I think the reason why different translations don't agree with the pronoun assignments, or leave the pronoun purposely ambigious, is because the Hebrew itself is inherently ambiguous. So your question is definitely legitimate. But Goldingay leans toward interpreting God delighting in the faithful's way, although not conclusively. Psalm 37 is an alphabetic psalm, so verses 21-22 start with Hebrew consonant 'l', 23-24 with 'm', and 25-26 with 'n'.

Here's his translation for verses 21-26:

  21 The faithless person borrows and cannot repay,
     but the faithful is gracious and gives,
  22 For the people blessed by him/who bless him take possession of the land,
     but the people belittled by him/who belittle him are cut off.

  23 By Yhwh a man’s steps have been made firm
     when he delights in his way.
  24 If he falls, he is not hurled headlong,
     because Yhwh upholds [him with] his hand.

  25 I have been young and now I am old,
     but I have not seen a faithful person abandoned
     or his offspring seeking bread.
  26 Every day he is gracious and lends,
     and his offspring are a blessing.

Here's Goldingay's commentary on verses 21-22:

The l lines introduce the topic of borrowing (lāwâ), which is also related because the bad times are the times when people have to borrow. I take the faithless person’s defaulting on a debt not as a sign of wickedness but rather as a further sign of receiving the due reward for faithlessness, because the defaulting will threaten harsh consequences (see 2 Kings 4:1; Neh. 5; Amos 2:6–7). Faithless people will never be able to get out of the poverty trap. The second colon then offers the contrast that the faithful will be in a position to be gracious and generous -— in lending (cf. v. 26) and even in giving what one does not expect to be paid back.

The companion line explains the difference between these two destinies in the familiar terms. The “him” is presumably Yhwh, who is the one who blesses and belittles or is blessed and belittled; the word for belittle (qālal) is less fierce than the more technical word for cursing (ʾārar). Blessing is a word that results in an event; in the case of the opposite verbs, cursing refers more to the powerful word, belittling more to its aim or result. The act of blessing adds to people, making them prosperous and fertile; the act of cursing cuts them down, making them unsuccessful and unproductive. Thus the result of blessing and belittling/cursing is the usual antithesis, ability to enjoy ongoing possession of the land or being cut off from it.

And here's his commentary on verses 23-24:

The m lines lead to an opening that refers to Yhwh (myhwh, “from Yhwh”) but goes on to another m word, a rare word for steps (miṣʿădê). Yhwh enables people to keep a firm footing, because of “delighting” in them (ḥāpēṣ). In other contexts such delight might issue simply from God’s grace, but in the context of this homily, it is likely that the people Yhwh delights in are the faithful, mentioned (for instance) in the l and n lines on either side. This point would be explicit if the colon refers to the man’s delighting in Yhwh’s way, but the pronouns are again ambiguous.

The image of steps continues in v. 24, the two lines being parallel, aba′b′. The homily is not wildly unrealistic. It recognizes that the faithful do fall; to make sense in the context, EVV have “stumble,” but the word is nāpal, the regular verb for “fall.” But the faithful do not fall in such a way that they fail to get up again, or they do not get hurled out of the land (cf. this verb, ṭûl, in Jer. 16:13; 22:26, 28). How is that? The second colon explains; “upholds” (the participle sōmēk) recurs from v. 17. Yhwh takes the hand of people who fall and lifts them up, or gives them a hand, supports them with a hand.

Finaly, here's his commentary on verses 25-26:

The n lines are distinctive for comprising a tricolon as well as a bicolon and for making an assertion that often outrages Christians. The n word is “young man” (naʿar); in the first colon the preacher claims a lifetime’s experience on the basis of which to make the pronouncements in the second and third cola. Since the preacher has just referred to the fact that the faithful do fall, we should perhaps take the statement as hyperbole. It then still makes a declaration for the faithful to hold on to when Yhwh does abandon them for a while (see 22:1 [2]). If we read it in the context of that preceding recognition that Yhwh does let people fall but does not let them be finally thrown out of the land, this would fit the final colon’s reference to their offspring begging for food. The statement is another formulation of the promise that the weak will enter into possession of the land. They will therefore be in a position to feed their offspring and pass it on to them so that they continue to eat.

Verse 26 then puts the point positively. The faithful not only have enough for themselves and their families but are in a position to be gracious (cf. v. 21) and to lend (the hiphil of lāwâ “borrow” —- cf. v. 21). Lending properly involves simply lending—the Torah forbade making money through lending (e.g., Exod. 22:25 [24]). It is not a form of investment (see on 15:5). Lending might seem less generous than giving, though it might also offer more recognition of the other person’s humanity. Instead of making others the recipients of charity, lending gives them the opportunity to reestablish themselves and hold their head high. Yhwh’s support of the faithful enables them to play that role in the community. Like the negative point in v. 25, this blessing extends beyond one faithful person to the next generation. Because it inherits the land that Yhwh has enabled the faithful person to possess, it is also in a position to be a blessing, to be a means of the blessing of food coming to other needy people.

A dynamic (but faithful) NLT translation agrees with the pronoun assignments, translating Ps 37:21-26 (l, m, n) this way:

21 The wicked borrow and never repay,
    but the godly are generous givers.
22 Those the Lord blesses will possess the land,
    but those he curses will die.

23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

25 Once I was young, and now I am old.
    Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
    or their children begging for bread.
26 The godly always give generous loans to others,
    and their children are a blessing.
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I bring here the interpertation of (מצודת דוד) Metzudat David (Rabi David Althsuler) translated from Hebrew:

מה' מצעדי וגו'. מצעדי הגבר בתורה המה כוננו מה' ר''ל ה' מכונן ומיישר צעדיו : ודרכו. ה' חפץ דרכו ומצליחו בו

The man's stepps in the Torah (Bible) way are established by the Lord, (The Lord Straightens the man's steps); The Lord desires the man's way and makes him succeed in it.

  • Hi Efra and welcome to the site. This particular question would require a familiarity with the original language(s) because there are various English translations that don't agree. Do you have any facility in Hebrew? If not, please change your answer into a comment. If you do, please "show your work" by explaining HOW you came to that conclusion linguistically. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour – Ruminator Nov 19 at 16:28
  • 1
    You are right. I will edit the answer. – Efra Nov 19 at 17:39
  • Thanks. Can you please see if you can make it more readable by not making it one big paragraph? Also, can you give us a sense of what your facility is with Hebrew? Are you working from an interlinear or do you have some training? The reason I ask is that many try to teach biblical languages without actually knowing the language and the last thing we want here is misinformation that others might take as gospel. What is your Hebrew background, if I may ask? Thanks Efra. – Ruminator Nov 20 at 0:39
  • יֶחְפָּץ isn't passive - passive would be יֵחָפֵץ – b a Nov 20 at 0:51
  • My Hebrew is mother-tongue. I am also proficient in the high- level language of the Bible. I study it in Hebrew. – Efra Nov 20 at 19:15
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"Does the LORD delight in the godly man's path or does the godly man enjoy his own path?"

I think there are three options, actually:

  1. God delights in the path of the righteous man
  2. Man delights in his own path
  3. Man delights in the path of God

I think that all three are possible since they don't cancel each other. If the man delights in the path of God, then his own path (i.e. God's) is good, and if the man is following a good (God's) path, then God delights in the man too.

Considering most translation options (and the original Hebrew), I think here the main acting character is the man, who delights in the ways of God.

  • Hi Zee and welcome to the site. This particular question would require a familiarity with the original language(s) because there are various English translations that don't agree. Do you have any facility in Hebrew? If not, please delete your answer and when you have the points, turn it into a comment. If you do, please "show your work" by explaining HOW you came to that conclusion linguistically. Thanks. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour – Ruminator Nov 20 at 13:17
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In Psalm 37:23, who delights in whose way?

ASV A man’s goings are established of Jehovah; And he delighteth in his way.

Jehovah takes delight in his faithful servants that love him and says: "The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way."( NASB )

Jesus Christ likewise expressed particular delight that he and his Father have in those loving him, when he said:

“ If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him."John 14:23 (NET Bible)

Humans in their figurative heart, have the choice to decide their course in life - it is their responsibility, but if he seeks help, and allows the Lord to guide his steps, he is acting wisely, and are his delight.

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their step.

Proverbs 11:20 (NET Bible)

The Lord abhors those who are perverse in heart, but those who are blameless in their ways are his delight.

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