Psalm 6:3 (BHS/WHM 4.2)
3חָנֵּ֥נִי יְהוָה֮ כִּ֤י אֻמְלַ֫ל אָ֥נִי רְפָאֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י נִבְהֲל֣וּ עֲצָמָֽי׃
Psalm 6:3 (LXX)
3ἐλέησόν με, κύριε, ὅτι ἀσθενής εἰμι, ἴασαί με, κύριε, ὅτι ἐταράχθη τὰ ὀστᾶ μου,
Psalm 6:3 (VGCLEM)
3Miserere mei, Domine, quoniam infirmus sum ;sana me, Domine, quoniam conturbata sunt ossa mea.
1. It is difficult to convey the nuance of the words into English. The first imperative may be either mercy or gracious. The first ailment means to be bowed down, but it has a hint of physical illness. The second imperative is heal which is matched to a status of existential terror; thus, “heal” seems almost to light a request (but see notes below).
2. The Hebrew conveys a sense of utter dread and helplessness before God. It is difficult to convey the sense into English. First, there is the problem with the trivialization of the language: shivering terror is the right sense of the passage, but the word “terror” is both too light a word (the use of exaggeration in much speech has made powerful words trite, e.g., wonder, awe); and too political a word, terrorism. Horror as the same problems, if anything compounded with the movie genre.
An expanded line which seeks to bring out the horror with more words loses the punch of the poetry and dilutes the sense of pain: a man in horror and wracked with pain will not also be longwinded: his prayer will strike sharp.
The ESV’s “I am languishing” perhaps betters describes the condition than the NASB’s “pining away” (which sounds like a disconsolate lover) or the NIV’s “faint” (which is too light an idea). The idea seems to be collapsing in weakness and fever: it is a life-threatening affliction.
The Hebrew has four syllables ’umlal ’ani (an iamb & trochee, granted Hebrew poetry does not use Greek metrics).
3. The weakness which ends the first clause seems almost to suggest the “heal” of the second clause, which leads to the Kierkegaardian dread of the final phrase. The translator all have “heal” for the second imperative. The trouble with the bones is translated “shaking” (NET, HCSB), “agony” (NIV 84), “dismayed” (NASB95), “troubled” (ESV) and “vexed” (KJV).
“Bones” is idiomatic in the Hebrew for one’s most essential existence – as opposed to just the physical items of bone in one’s body.
4. The utter panic of these words would indicate that the prayer of the previous verse is to be relieved of God’s chastisement – as opposed to a prayer for correction without anger. David does not seem to be in a position to make “nice” (in the old fashioned sense) distinction. A man on the verge of utter collapse and death does not parcel out degrees of pain.
5. Delitzsch comments, “[T]herefore the effect that is produced by terror, which puts one into a state of mental confusion, and by excitement, which renders one unstable and weak.His soul is still more shaken than his body. His affliction is therefore not merely bodily sickness, in which only a coward becomes faint-hearted. God’s love has hidden itself from him. God’s wrath appear to be about to destroy him altogether. It is an affliction beyond all afflictions.”
6. Perowne, “The chastisement has been so heavy, and has endured so long, and his own sense of sin is so grievous, that he begins to fear lest God should shut up his tender mercies in displeasure, and should consume him in His wrath.”
The psalmist’s cry of anguish (6:2–4). The anguished cry with which the psalm begins reflects the psalmist’s experience of physical illness and spiritual travail. The psalmist has become feeble and weak as a result of the course of his illness, though the poetic language of the psalm does not permit the identification of the disease. Both the inner and the outer person have been affected; the double use of the same verb (נבהל “be disturbed”) indicates that both the bones (representing the physical being) and the soul (representing the inner or spiritual being) have been profoundly disturbed.
Peter C. Craigie, vol. 19, Psalms 1–50, 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004), 92.
Qal imperative, direct object “I”: to show favor, compassion.
The word is used is as the first attribute of God’s name in Exodus 33:19. In Numbers 6:25, it is an element of the priestly blessing (a silver amulet containing the blessing, dating to the late 7th century was found: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/01/06/The-Blessing-of-the-Silver-Scrolls.aspx).
David uses the verb to describe his hope that God would be merciful and permit the first child of Bathsheba to live, 2 Samuel 12:22.
The LXX favors mercy as a translation, yet in Psalm 4:2 the translation is compassion. The English translators are split between “Be gracious” and “Have mercy”.
Jouon on causal and explicative clauses: “The most common conjunction is , one of whose many meanings is that of because, for, Gen. 3:14….In comes cases what follows is not a logical cause for an event or circumstance, but evidence of, or an argument, for the preceding assertion ….”(Jouon & Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew §170 d &da; 638).
Adjective: frail: here and the conjectural reading of Psalm 107:17. From the verb “to languish, droop”:
אָמַל or אָמֵל TO LANGUISH, TO DROOP, prop. to hang down the head. Kindred is אָבַל which see. In Kal part. pass. of a drooping heart, Eze. 16:30.
PULAL אֻמְלַל [“only in poetry”].—(1) to languish, prop. used of plants hanging down their heads, Isa. 24:7; hence used of fields, of a sick person, Ps. 6:3, where אֻמְלַל is for מְאֻמְלָל [“so Maurer”].
(2) to be sad, Isa. 19:8; of a land laid waste, Isa. 24:4; 33:9; of walls thrown down, Lam. 2:8. It is only found in poetic language. But in prose there is—
אֲמֵלָל m. languid, feeble, Neh. 3:34.
Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 58.
אמל: Akk. ummulu to be sad; → II אבל.
[qal: pt. f. אֲמֻלָה: Ezk 1630, → II.]
pul: (BL 285f; Bergsträsser 2:§20a): אֻמְלַל/לָֽל, אֻמְלְלָה/לָֽלָה, אֻמְלְלוּ/לָֽלוּ: —1. to wither, to dry out Is 168 244a.7 339 Jl 112 Nah 14.4 (for one of them rd. דָּלַל?), oil Jl 110; —2. to dwindle, to wither away: people 1S 25 Is 198 244b Jr 159 Hos 43, gates and walls Jr 142 La 28. †
Der. אֻמְלַל, *אֲמֵלָל.
II אמל: Arb. malla to be ill with fever, ill-tempered (Stummer VT 4:34ff; Zimmerli 338).
qal: אֲמֻלָה pt. pass. or adj. (BL 471u, w): hot with fever (alt. cj. אִמָּלֶה, → מלא and לִבָּה) Ezk 1630, Fitzmyer CBQ 23:460ff. †
Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 63.
The possible connotation of illness may suggest the following imperative heal. The LXX hints at a weakness/sickness connection with ἀσθενής εἰμι; as does the Vulgate, infirmus sum.
I: “The predicate occurs first in a dependent clause” (Ross, 417).
Note on accents:
2. ( ֫ ֥) עוֹלֶה וְיוֹרֵד ʿÔlè weyôrēd, a stronger divider than
3. (֑) ʾAthnâḥ (see above, I, 2). In shorter verses ʾAthnâh suffices as principal distinctive; in longer verses ʿÔlè weyôrēd serves as such, and is then mostly followed by ʾAthnâḥ as the principal disjunctive of the second half of the verse.
Fn: Wrongly called also Mêrekhā mehuppākh (Mêrekha mahpakhatum), although the accent underneath is in no way connected with Mêrekhā; cf. Wickes, l. c., p. 14.
Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 61.
Qal imperative, direct object marker: I: heal me.
987 בָּהַל (bā∙hǎl): v.; ≡ Str 926; TWOT 207—1. LN 25.251–25.269 (nif) be terrified, alarmed, i.e., pertaining to being in a state of great fear, even causing trembling (Ge 45:3); (piel) make afraid, terrify (2Ch 32:18); (hif) cause to terrify (Job 23:16+); 2. LN 25.288–25.296 (nif) be dismayed, i.e., be in a state of anguish, and despondency (Job 4:5; Ps 6:4[EB 3], 11[EB 10]; 30:8[EB 7]; 83:18[EB 17]+); 3. LN 30.1–30.38 (nif) bewildered, i.e., be in a state in which one cannot think clearly since one is overwhelmed by a situation (Isa 21:3+); 4. LN 24.77–24.94 (nif) be in agony, i.e., be in physical pain (Ps 6:3[EB 2]+); 5. LN 25.68–25.79 (nif) be eager, i.e., engage in an activity with zeal and intensity, so showing commitment or devotion (Pr 28:22+); 6. LN 27.1–27.26 (piel) alarm, alert, i.e., learn information and so respond (Da 11:44+); 7. LN 68.79–68.82 (nif) be in a hurry, i.e., do something in swift manner, with an implication of associated energy (Ecc 8:3); (piel) make haste, hurry (2Ch 35:21); (pual) be hastened, made to hurry, race along (Est 8:14+); (hif) cause to hurry (2Ch 26:20; Est 6:14+); 8. LN 68.79–68.82 (nif) be sudden, i.e., have a relatively brief amount of time pass. (Zep 1:18); (piel) be immediate (Est 2:9); (pual) be sudden (Pr 20:21+), note: Pr 20:21 K, see 1042; Ezr 4:4 K, see 1164
James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
nif: pf. נִבְהַל, נִבְהֲלָה, נִבְהַלְתִּי, נִבְהֲלוּ/הָֽלוּ, נִבְהָֽלְנּוּ; impf. אֶ/יִבָּהֵל, יִבָּהֲלוּ, יִבָּהֵ֫לוּן, תִּבָּהַלְנָה, pt. נִבְהָל (Sec. νεβαλ), Pr 2822 נִּבֱהָל (BL 211j, Bomberg נִבְהָל, MSS נִבְהַל), נִבְהָלָה: —1. to be horrified, to be out of one’s senses Ex 1515 Ju 2041 1S 2821 2S 41 Is 138 Jr 5132 Ps 611 308 486 8318 907 10429 Jb 45 216; hands Ezk 727, bones Ps 63, soul 64; with מִפְּנֵי in front of Gn 453 Jb 2315, with מִן Is 213 Ezk 2618; pt. נִבְהָלָה (|| כָּלָה) something dreadful Zeph 118;
Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 111.
The instances of terror are instructive: Exodus 15:15: having heard of God’s triumph over the Egyptians, Edom will be dismayed. Judges 20:41: The men of Benjamin when they realized they would be destroyed in battle. 1 Samuel 28:21, Saul when he received the warning from Samuel (the witch at Endor). 2 Samuel 4:1, Ish-boseth when he realized that Abner had been killed. Isaiah 13:8, how one should respond when he realizes the day of the Lord is near. Psalm 6:11, how David’s enemies will be when God turns to them. Et cetera. These are each instances of existential terror: it is the moment when one realizes that death will come in its full fury.
My bones. The phrase is used 9 times in the OT. On three occasions is used of a kinship covenant: Gen. 29:14, 2 Samuel 19:13-14. On five occasions, it is used in conjunction with devastating pain: Psalm 6:2, 32:3, 102:6; Job 19:20 & 30;17. On one occasion is used of the formation of a baby in the womb, Psalm 139:15. The phrase thus means what is existential or most essential to the person. The combined phrase, terrified to my bones means a dread which overwhelms, a fear for one’s very existence.
It is interesting to think how to balance the adjectival phrase with the imperative (heal me). Healing seems almost too small a thing when viewed from a modern Western perspective: getting sick does not seem like a life threatening event (most often) and thus healing seems like a small thing. However, illness which lies beyond medicine does pose a peculiar threat because it cannot be countered in any overt,conscious physical manner: A debt could be paid with more money; an enemy can be defeated with more strength; a virus cannot be stopped by any volitional action: yes the immune system may respond, but there is nothing I can do as a matter of purposeful response.
For my bones are afraid. This confirms what I have just now observed, namely, that, from the very grievousness of his afflictions, he entertained the hope of some relief; for God, the more he sees the wretched oppressed and almost overwhelmed, is just so much the more ready to succour them. He attributes fear to his bones, not because they are endued with feeling, but because the vehemence of his grief was such that it affected his whole body. He does not speak of his flesh, which is the more tender and susceptible part of the corporeal system, but he mentions his bones, thereby intimating that the strongest parts of his frame were made to tremble for fear. He next assigns the cause of this by saying, And my soul is greatly afraid. The connective particle and, in my judgment, has here the meaning of the causal particle for, as if he had said, So severe and violent is the inward anguish of my heart, that it affects and impairs the strength of every part of my body. I do not approve of the opinion which here takes soul for life, nor does it suit the scope of the passage.
John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), Ps 6:2–3.
A reference could here be shifted to “soul”.
Rather than expand the phrase to draw out more meaning, I have decided to use ellipsis and short active construction to underscore the pain. “Break” is not the standard translation, but the degree of fever and drooping seem to suggest an emotional state of giving in completely, breaking.
I kept “heal” because there is other good translation. In the final clause I change “my bones” to “my soul” which is more idiomatic and English and moves the concept out of the purely physical. I couple the noun to a physical verb “quake”, a mismatch of imagery to keep from drawing the picture into a purely emotional/intellectual realm.
I like the NASB95 “dismay”; but a long “a” at the end of the verse is too weak. The word “quake” does capture something of fear (cf. NET, “shaking” bones). Moreover, the sharp k and the rhyme with “break” tie the lines together and stop them abruptly.
The other way to draw out the emotional effect would be “figures of amplification” (see, http://rhetoric.byu.edu/ ) such as exergasia (http://rhetoric.byu.edu/Figures/E/exergasia.htm) – David has already drawn the concept out into two separate colons which are still reflected in the translation. However, to add significantly to the text would be to add to the Bible.
Accordingly aposiopesis seems the best method for pathos:
Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion.
http://rhetoric.byu.edu/Figures/A/aposiopesis.htm, accessed September 14, 2012.
Mercy Lord – I break
Heal Lord – my soul does quake