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Translating Psalm 46

One of the things I find difficult to present to lay audiences is the range of options that a translator has in dealing with any passage. In particular poetry offers may options. One is not presented with just a couple of binary yes/no choices; rather, one is presented with a huge range of options, each of which will convey some of the meaning and feel of the passage and ignore other elements.

Hebrew poetry is a good example of these problems. This week I was led to Psalm 46 in my devotions, and after spending some time studying it in Hebrew I started to play with translation options.

I’m not going to discuss this extensively, as I’ve discussed most of the questions in my book (What’s in a Version?), or in materials on my web site about translation (Bible Translation Selection Tool is a good starting place). Here I simply want to link to some translations and also provide some of my own showing what Psalm 46 looks like based on some of these possibilities. Please bear with me as these are part of my own devotional work and are not designed to be literary masterpieces. In fact, one good thing to comment about would be suggestions for improvement, which could help me (and other people) get an idea how to convey this type of thought.

Here are the options I’ll be illustrating:

  • Interlinear (my translation)
  • Literal (ESV)
  • Modernized (my translation)
  • Modernized and simplified (CEV)
  • Rewritten in poetic form in target language (my translation, if it can be called a translation)

I recommend reading it in The Message, but I do not have an online source to link to, and due to copyright considerations I’m not going to quote that much here. It is nicely modernized, but somewhat less daring than some of Peterson’s other translations. Before you start reading these various versions, re-read the Psalm in your favorite version just to fix in your mind what you’re used to.


Hebrew transliteration is using my loose transliteration system. This is not intended to be precise, but just enough to hang the interlinear on.

in the earth

lamenatseach libney qorach al-;alamoth shir
To the director, for the sons of Korah, on high notes, a song.
elohiym lanu machaseh wa;oz  
God for us a refuge and strength  
;ezrah betsaroth nimtsah meod  
(a) help in trouble found much  
;al-ken lo niyra behamiyr erets  
on this not we will fear when moved the earth  
ubemot harim beleb yamim  
or when moved mountains in heart of seas  
yehemu yechmeru memayw  
roar are troubled waters-its  
yir;ashu hariym begaawathow selah  
will shake mountains at sound-its  
nahar pelagayw yesamchu ;iyr elohiym
(there is) a river streams-its make glad city of God
qodesh mishkeney ;elyon
holy (place) of sanctuary(ies) of (the) most high  
elohiym beqirbah bal timot  
God in middle-its not it will be moved  
ya;zereha elohiym lipnowth boqer  
shall help her/it God before morning  
hamu goyim matu mamlekoth  
were troubled nations were moved kingdoms  
nathan beqolo tamug arets  
he gave with voice-his melts earth  
YHWH tsebaoth immanu  
YHWH of hosts (is) with-us  
misgab lanu elohey ya;aqob selah
place of refuge for us (is) God of Jacob
lechu chezu mip;aloth YHWH  
come see wonderful works of YHWH  
asher sam shamoth baarets  
which he set desolations  
mashbiyth milchamoth ;ad qetseh haarets
making cease wars up to end of the earth
qesheth yeshabber weqitsets chanith  
bow he will shatter he will break spear  
;agaloth yisrof baesh  
chariots he will burn with fire  
harpu ude;u kiy anokiy elohiym
be quiet/still and know that I (am) God
arum bagoyim arum baarets  
I will be exalted in the nations I will be exalted in the earth  
YHWH tsebaoth immanu  
YHWH of hosts (is) with us  
misgab lanu elohey ya;aqob selah
refuge for us God of Jacob


The ESV rendering of Psalm 46 is comfortably conservative and will sound fairly familiar to those acquainted with the KJV. The reason is that the translation philosophy and most of the approach of the ESV is similar to that of the KJV.

My Modernized Translation

I’m still following the general structure of the Hebrew, and not introducing elements of English poetry, except for trying to keep the lines a bit similar in length. I’ve taken liberties with repeated words and been fairly free with rewording, and in one case reordering lines.

(To the director, for the order of Korah, on high notes, a song)
1God is our safe hiding place,
Easy to find when danger strikes.
2We won’t fear

When the world is broken,
When mountains crash into the sea.
3When roaring waves crash over us,
As mountains shake at the sound.

4There is a river, with streams that make God’s city glad,
The holy place where lives the Highest God.
5God is there, right in town!
The city won’t be moved.
Early in the morning,
God will help.
6Nations are troubled!
Kingdoms totter!
God shouts!
Earth trembles!

7YHWH is here with his army.
Our parents’ God is our high ground.

8Come! See what YHWH has done!
The kinds of places he’s wiped out.
9He stops wars anywhere-now!
He splinters bows and breaks spears!
He burns chariots!
10Calm down. Know that I’m God.
All nations will know that I am boss.
The world will know that I am in charge.

11YHWH is here with his army.
Our parents’ God is our high ground.

Modernized and Simplified (CEV)

The key element of the CEV is simple vocabulary, simple structure, and a close attention to ease for public reading. I find the style a little bit informal, but some will like that.

Psalm 46 as an Italian Sonnet

For this you need to go to my poetry and fiction blog, the Jevlir Caravansary, where I have posted the sonnet version. I think I got most of the thoughts into the sonnet, though of course the form is substantially different, and things are not in the same order.

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  1. I’ve been trying to understand the difference between the Hebrew words used that are sometimes translated “refuge”, i.e., the word used in verse 1 is different from the word used in verses 7 and 11, yet, some translations render both words “refuge.” Which word is synonomous with the name of the place we call Masada?

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