November 23, 2016

A good reason to compare Bible translations

A former pastor often said, “Great sermon, wrong text” concerning those who had truth to say but used a Bible verse out of context or poorly interpreted to say it. In some cases, the problem exists because of the translation used. The oldest have been improved, but some of the newer ones are not translations per se. They read more like commentaries.

Today, Chambers’ thoughts end with one of the best things he says in his devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” but the rest of his words are based on a poor translation. He used the first verse of this passage where I have put the poorer translation in parenthesis . . .

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt (we are exceedingly filled with contempt). Our soul has had more than enough of (is exceedingly filled with) the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. (Psalm 123:3–4)

A careful reading shows that the psalmist is asking for mercy because others who are proud and live a life of ease have shown great contempt toward him and his people. However, the older translation makes these verses seem to mean that the psalmist and his people are themselves filled with contempt against those who are at ease, etc. which is an entirely different interpretation. Because he used that one, Chambers goes on to warn his readers to watch their attitude of mind.

If using a better translation (I checked the Hebrew), these verses are a great comfort for those who are persecuted by people who make sport of their humble state as believers in God. Instead of fighting back, they are asking for mercy from God in their situation because they have had all they can handle.

By turning the issue around and making the recipients of scorn guilty of contempt, the psalm becomes a prayer of repentance rather than a request for God’s mercy to lift them from the contempt of others.

Chambers gives the writer of this psalm a presumed response to his tormentors. Instead of seeing him as an innocent victim, he sees him with thoughts of contemptuous retaliation. His ‘sermon’ warns his readers to guard against doing that, to keep a quiet mood before God rather than be distracted by anything, including the negative treatment of others. In this case he conveys a good message, but from the wrong text.

This devotional ends with what I think is the best line from this man’s book. Chambers jumps from his warning to speak about how I must react to lack of spirituality in others. He says “When we discern that people are not going on spiritually and allow the discernment to turn to criticism, we block our way to God. God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.”

Those two sentences have had a huge impact on my life. I still can be critical, but my prayer life is much deeper because of the truth in Chambers’ words. Yet I wish he’d used the psalmist as an example of what attitude to have, instead of pulling this verse out of context and using it to make the psalmist guilty of the contemptuous vindication that he tells me to avoid.

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