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Psalm 119:65-69 (NASB1995)

65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word. 66 Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments. 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. 68 You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes. 69 The arrogant [b]have forged a lie against me; With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.

Psalm 119:65-69 New King James Version

65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word. 66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments. 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. 68 You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes. 69 The proud have forged[a] a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.

119:65-69 The Westminster Leningrad Codex

65 ט֭וֹב עָשִׂ֣יתָ עִֽם־עַבְדְּךָ֑ יְ֝הוָ֗ה כִּדְבָרֶֽךָ׃

66 ט֤וּב טַ֣עַם וָדַ֣עַת לַמְּדֵ֑נִי כִּ֖י בְמִצְוֺתֶ֣יךָ הֶאֱמָֽנְתִּי׃

67 טֶ֣רֶם אֶ֭עֱנֶה אֲנִ֣י שֹׁגֵ֑ג וְ֝עַתָּ֗ה אִמְרָתְךָ֥ שָׁמָֽרְתִּי׃

68 טוֹב־אַתָּ֥ה וּמֵטִ֗יב לַמְּדֵ֥נִי חֻקֶּֽיךָ׃

69 טָפְל֬וּ עָלַ֣י שֶׁ֣קֶר זֵדִ֑ים אֲ֝נִ֗י בְּכָל־לֵ֤ב׀ אֱצֹּ֬ר פִּקּוּדֶֽיךָ׃

When I read Psalm 119:67, it could mean any one of the following?

  1. In the past, I faced affliction which caused me to go astray, however, nowadays I obey God's Bible's Word
  2. When, in the past, I had a life with worldly comforts & joys it caused me to go astray, however, nowadays I obey God's Bible's Word.

For 2) point, "When, in the past, I had a life with worldly comforts & joys" corresponds to a time Before the time period of affliction.

Could someone please evaluate the Old Testament Hebrew translation for Psalm 119:67 , and provide a more elaborate and accurate interpretation/translation of Psalm 119:67 into English?

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  • 1
    Young's Literal Before I am afflicted, I -- I am erring,
    – Nigel J
    Aug 25 '21 at 15:39
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NIV Psalm 119:

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.

Here was the sequence of events in time:

  1. The palmist went astray.
  2. He was afflicted.
  3. He obeyed God's word.

71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

75 I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

These verses bear out that in the beginning, he went astray; in the middle, he was afflicted; in the end, he obeyed and no more affliction. The affliction was God's way to correct his behavior.

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There are many ways "in the past" was expressed in the Tanakh, but טֶ֫רֶם is not one of them.

מִתְּמֹ֥ל שִׁלְשֹֽׁם / מִתְּמֹ֥ול שִׁלְשֹֽׁום - "in the past," "for a long time" (the most common in the MT Tanakh)

בָּרִאשֹׁונָֽה - "at first," "in the past"

מֵאָֽז - "in the past," "since"

בַּעֲבֻ֛ר - "in the past"

טֶ֣רֶם has the idea of "not yet"

טֶ֫רֶם ... טְרוֹם, adv. of time, not yet, ere, before that -- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 382). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Ps 119 is a responsorial psalm in which the response, the second clause of each verse, is not a parallel of the first clause, the call. So the response to each call is not predictable from the call, almost to the point of non-sequitur, and must be learned by heart, and that is the charm of the psalm. The caller calls, and the respondant has to remember the response.

The common English translations are over-wrought an ruin the effect and the fun of the psalm, and some of the commentaries cited in the other answers to the OP are downright silly. Just look at the number of letters in the MT for these verses relative to the number of letters in the translations. What a pity! To a Hebrew speaker this Psalm is light-weight and fast-clipped and easily understood. Here is my rendition of the verses in question as a bilingual Hebrew/English speaker, keeping as close as possible to a linear translation, without regard to the historical English translations:

  1. You have done your servant good - God, as you said!
  2. Good sense and wisdom I learned - Because I believed in your commandments!
  3. Whenever I'm afflicted, it's after I err - But now I'll keep your word!
  4. Framed me with a lie, the rascals - [But] I will keep to your commands with all my heart!

Verse 67 is therefore an acknowledgement of God's justice for the caller's afflictions.

Note that verse 67 contains a converse of an expression from Isaiah 65:19 which was probably well worn at the time that the Psalms were written, with a play on the word אֶעֱנֶה:

...before they call, I will answer...

The MT for the corresponding phrases in these verses is, Isaiah:

טֶרֶם יִקְרָאוּ וַאֲנִי אֶעֱנֶה

and Psalms:

טֶרֶם אֶעֱנֶה אֲנִי שֹׁגֵג

That is, the two phrases have three words in common but differ in the fourth with a play on the word אֶעֱנֶה, which in Psalm 119 is to be read "I was afflicted" and in Isaiah 65 the same word is read as "I will answer". In Isaiah God is talking. In Psalms, the author is talking.

A more linear translation of the first clause for verse 67 would be:

  1. Before I am afflicted, I err

but besides being somewhat unclear, this linear translation of the idiom בטרם does not convey the sense of the conditional and definite "when" in English as well as the fuller "Whenever I'm afflicted, it's after I err". In this case it's better to translate בטרם (before afflication) as "after I err" (!).

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  • "Before I was afflicted, I went astray" suggests to me that the Psalmist previously knew God's laws but perhaps didn't take them as seriously as he should have. Then, after God lowered the boom, he got serious. Aug 28 '21 at 3:00
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    @CoryHaffly Yes and no. The word טרם, "terem" or "taram" has a conditional sense, and the tense is indeterminate, not necessarily past tense, so the sense in English is "whenever", implying that multiple errors, and possibly future errors. The response is an expression of resolve, which is not directly connected to the theme of the first clause. The word for "before" in a chronological sense is usually לפני "lifnei", but the initial letter ל doesn't fit the acrostic which requires a ט. Sounds like "Whenever I get cavities it's because I eat chocolate, but now I'll brush my teeth regularly".
    – user17080
    Aug 29 '21 at 6:15
  • If that's what the Hebrew actually means then I can't argue, but that leaves me confused. Oh, well. Aug 30 '21 at 20:38
  • @CoryHaffly The Hebrew of this verse is very simple language, there is no heavy religiosity. The first clause admits God's justice when the caller has troubles, the second clause expresses an enthusiastic determination to to better. That's it.
    – user17080
    Aug 31 '21 at 12:25
  • @abu-munir-ibn-ibrahim I would argue that sometimes the second clause of the verse is somewhat predictable in terms of how it correlates to the preceding first clause of the said verse, and sometimes it does Not. For example, (Psalm 119:53) "Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, Who forsake Your law." The second verse's emphasis on forsaking of God's law correlates with reasonable predictability with the first verse's reference to those responsible for said violation who in this case would be the wicked
    – crazyTech
    Aug 31 '21 at 13:33
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The BSB gives the best sense of Ps 119:67:

Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now I keep Your word.

Note the position of the comma - the sense appears to be that the Psalmist went astray and affliction brought him back to God. That is, the author is thankful for the affliction which turned his mind to heavenly and spiritual things and made him keep God's word.

Thus, it was not affliction that caused the Psalmist to go astray - it was affliction that brought him back to God's word. Thus, the second of the OP's options appear closest to the senss of Ps 119:67

Benson observes this:

Psalm 119:67-68. Before I was afflicted I went astray — As men too generally do in their prosperity. Thou art good — Gracious and bountiful in thy nature; and dost good — To all men, both good and bad, (Matthew 5:45,) and in all things, yea, even when thou afflictest. Teach me thy statutes — Which is the good I chiefly desire.

The Pulpit commentary is similar:

Verse 67. - Before I was afflicted I went astray. "Sweet are the uses of adversity." The psalmist feels end confesses that the afflictions, which he has suffered (see comment on ver. 65), have been good for him. They have made him less apt to "go astray" than he was (comp. ver. 71). But now have I kept thy Word (comp. vers. 51, 56, 87, etc.). Psalm 119:67

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Several bible commentators, including Rashi, explain that אֶעֱנֶה is referring to study. (I believe this is related to the word עונה-season/time - meaning studying and reviewing cyclically.)

  • Before I studied your laws, I erred. Now [that I have studied] I keep your laws.

Radak defines אֶעֱנֶה as submissiveness, from the root of כנע

  • Before I humbled myself before you, I erred.
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Sin afflicts our soul. When we commit sin of slander, adultery, cowardice etc., we afflict and damage our soul, cast it to unbearable torments of pangs of conscience, sometimes even to the thought that it was better to have died than to have sinned.

Thus, the correct reading of this passage is: before I felt the horrible affliction in my soul, the pangs of conscience, I went astray, that is to say, I have sinned. It is cause-effect thing: me going astray, i.e. sinning (adultery, theft, slander etc.), ensues in me undergoing affliction, the pangs of my conscience.

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  • The words "horrible", "soul" "pangs", "conscience", "sinned", "adultery", "theft", "slander" aren't anywhere in the original text. There is only "afflicted" and "erred". The conclusion "Sin affects our soul" can't be back-read into this verse because there is no mention of soul in the verse or in the stanza.
    – user17080
    Aug 26 '21 at 16:08
  • @AbuMunirIbnIbrahim The only serious affliction even worthy of being mentioned is affliction of soul, so why to deny to the Psalmist a seriousness and reducing him to an everyday, narrow understanding of affliction, be it anything else than damage of soul that comes from sin. So, if Psalms speak about eternally important things, then I am right, if not (and I do not see any reason why not) then I can be missing point. Eternally important thing is to keep soul, self, conscience (you name it) intact from sin, for sin deprives us of presence of divine grac in us, which is torment and affliction. Aug 26 '21 at 16:24
  • There are no words in the Hebrew of this text that even vaguely suggest the ideas that you present. The psalms don't necessarily speak of eternally important things. That is an article of faith that we choose to impose on the text or not. This stanza of the psalm is a simple and light expression of faith, as are many others, without heavy "eternal" messages. Remember that this whole psalm is an acrostic game.
    – user17080
    Aug 26 '21 at 16:58
  • @Munir Ibn Ibrahim Psalms are texts inspired by the Holy Spirit, thus, they primarily belong to the Inspirer rather than the inspired; thus, the deeper and properer meaning you find (the two being the same), closer you are to the intent the Holy Spirit wanted to convey through that verse. Aug 26 '21 at 17:45

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