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Psalms 52:1 NIV

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

Psalm 52 King James Version (KJV)

52 Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually.

Psalms 52:1 MASB

¶ Why do you 1boast in evil, O mighty man? The 2lovingkindness of God endures all day long

.Psalms 52 HCSB

Why brag about evil, you hero! God’s faithful love is constant

Psalms 52:1 ASV

Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? The lovingkindness of God endureth continually.

The translation of the latter part of this verse in the NIV seems somewhat different from mostly other versions

How can we understand this translation?.

  • +1 Also Young's Literal What, boasteth thou in evil, O mighty one? The kindness of God `is' all the day.. – Nigel J Jan 24 at 8:27
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To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.” Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. (Psalm 52:1) [ESV]

לַמְנַצֵּחַ מַשְׂכִּיל לְדָוִֽד׃ בְּבֹוא דֹּואֵג הָאֲדֹמִי וַיַּגֵּד לְשָׁאוּל וַיֹּאמֶר לֹו בָּא דָוִד אֶל־בֵּית אֲחִימֶֽלֶךְ׃ מַה־תִּתְהַלֵּל בְּרָעָה הַגִּבֹּור חֶסֶד אֵל כָּל־הַיֹּֽום׃

One difference can be attributed to how the word חֶ֥סֶד is understood. It is found over 200 times and is most commonly translated as mercy, kindness, or lovingkindness (ESV, "steadfast love").

However, twice it has a negative meaning:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34)

צְדָקָה תְרֹֽומֵֽם־גֹּוי וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּֽאת׃

“If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. (Leviticus 20:17)

וְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר־יִקַּח אֶת־אֲחֹתֹו בַּת־אָבִיו אֹו בַת־אִמֹּו וְרָאָה אֶת־עֶרְוָתָהּ וְהִֽיא־תִרְאֶה אֶת־עֶרְוָתֹו חֶסֶד הוּא וְנִכְרְתוּ לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי עַמָּם עֶרְוַת אֲחֹתֹו גִּלָּה עֲוֹנֹו יִשָּֽׂא׃

In the Septuagint, either the translator(s) misread the text (ḥāmās "violence") or considered the use in Psalm 52(51) as another instance where חֶ֥סֶד should be understood as negative:

Regarding completion. Of understanding. When Doek the Idumean came and reported to Saoul and said to him, “Dauid came to the house of Abimelech.” Pertaining to Dauid Why do you boast in malice, O powerful one, of lawlessness all day long? (Psalm 52:1 [51:1-3] LXX NETS)

εἰς τὸ τέλος συνέσεως τῷ Δαυιδ ἐν τῷ ἐλθεῗν Δωηκ τὸν Ιδουμαῗον καὶ ἀναγγεῗλαι τῷ Σαουλ καὶ εἰπεῗν αὐτῷ ἦλθεν Δαυιδ εἰς τὸν οἶκον Αβιμελεχ τί ἐγκαυχᾷ ἐν κακίᾳ ὁ δυνατός ἀνομίαν ὅλην τὴν ἡμέραν

ἀνομία, means iniquity, unrighteousness, lawlessness. Since "God" is also missing from the Greek, a misreading seems less likely. Instead, the translator understood the opening (verses 1-4) as a condemnation directed to the lawless man.

So in that sense the NIV follows the LXX: The NRSV takes a similar approach:

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long (NRSV)

However, only the NIV repeats the phrase "Why do you boast..."

For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: “David has gone to the house of Ahimelek.” Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? (Psalm 52:1 NIV)

Without having an explanation or a translator note, I see two possibilities. One, the NIV sought to clarify the LXX. The statement: "Why do you boast in malice, O powerful one, of lawlessness all day long?" does imply two types of boasting, one in malice and the other of lawlessness. The other is, the translator understands the passage is describing both Doeg and David:

  • Doeg boasts of evil
  • David, who is a disgrace in God's eyes, boasts all day long

In this case Psalm 52 parallels Psalm 51 which has the inscription "For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba."

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  • Great answer - very thorough. Many thanks. – Dottard Feb 26 at 21:25
  • Great answer. Clearly the NIV is not following the MT in this case. – S. Broberg Mar 3 at 0:37
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The different translations of this verse attracted a lot of attention.

Basically, we may divide the versions in two kind of translating the verse: (1) those which translate חסד with ‘loyal love’, or alike; and (2) those which translate חסד with ‘disgrace’, or alike (the latter backing their translating choices on Lev 20:17 and Pro 14:34).

As regards the verse of Pro 14:34, through the textual criticism we may conclude that the original term was not חסד but חסר, ‘to be short of’. If we are aware how graphically very similar are these terms, it is simple to understand how a scribe made a mistake.

In fact, Robert Alter translates this proverb: “Righteousness raises a nation, but offense leads to want [חסר implied] among peoples”, and after that, he comments so: “Following scholarly consensus and the Septuagint, this translation replaces the Masoretic hesed, ‘kindness’, with heser, ‘want’ […].” Also the Syriac version opts for a similar rendering, along with Jerome (in his Vulgate) “miseros facit”, and Luther “verderben”.

Anyway, is highly illogical that חסד encapsulates both those terms ‘loyal love’ and ‘disgrace’, possessing some quasi-antithetical meanings.

As regards the verse at issue (Psa 52:1) we have to focus our attention to the general concept of the verse. First of all, in this verse, king David sung about the uselessness to try to impede the fulfillment of God’s purpose towards David. The Creator undertook to bless David with his loyal love (חסד).

In Psa 103:17 David himself enhanced that the חסד of God, towards those who fear Him (including David), is עולם ועד מעולם, namely – literally – ‘from an indefinite (past) time to an indefinite (future) time’.

About three centuries later, God inspired prophet Isaiah to write: Isa 55:3: “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love [חסד] for David”, ESV.

Again, after about other three centuries: 2Chr 6:42 we read: “O LORD God, do not turn away the face of your anointed one! Remember your steadfast love [חסד] for David your servant”, ESV.

So, if God decides to bless someone there is nothing a man can do against this purpose.

Albert Barnes commented (bold is mine): “The goodness of God endureth continually - literally, ‘all the day’. That is, the wicked man could not hope to prevent the exercise of the divine goodness toward him whom he persecuted, and whom he sought to injure. David means to say that the goodness of God was so great and so constant, that he would protect his true friends from such machinations; or that it, was so unceasing and watchful, that the informer and accuser could not hope to find an interval of time when God would intermit his care, and when, therefore, he might hope for success. Against the goodness of God, the devices of a wicked man to injure the righteous could not ultimately prevail.”

Then, the sense of Psa 52:1 is ‘Do you [Doeg] not know it is useless to fight against God? What he blesses is blessed, what he curses is cursed.’

Moreover, notes the irony of David, when he called Doug ‘O mighty man!’.

John Gill commented (bold is mine): “‘O mighty man! referring either to his office, being the chief of Saul's herdmen, and set over his servants, 1Sa 21:7; or ironically, to the mighty deed he had done, in slaying the unarmed priests, and putting to death the very sucklings at the breast, and even the innocent sheep, oxen, and asses […].”

Similarly, Joseph Benson wrote: “‘O mighty man? — He speaks ironically. O valiant captain! O glorious action! To kill a few weak and unarmed persons in the king’s presence, and under the protection of his guards. Surely thy name will be famous to all ages for such heroical courage! It seems probable that Doeg, after he had massacred the priests, boasted of his loyalty to Saul, and of having prevented the treasonable schemes which, he artfully insinuated, had been concerted by David and the priests; and that he had been liberally rewarded by Saul on account of it; and that this is the reason why the Psalm begins in thus expressing a kind of contempt of Doeg’”

This manner of translating this verse, as Robert Alter does: “Why boast of evil, O warrior? – God’s kindness is all day long.” links – harmoniously – the Hebrew sense of the text and the personality of God, just as the Bible teaches us.

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