Psalm 37:23 - Who delights in whom?
The steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.This verse is one of many which have been set to music and I have often sung this verse. Sometimes the scripture chorus runs through my mind. It has been my desire to be the kind of person whose steps are ordered by the Lord.
Somewhere along the line--I can't remember when--I noticed that the antecedents of the pronouns of this verse are unclear. I realized that I could not tell from the English translation who delights in whose way. And from the little study I have done, it appears that this ambiguity is part of the original Hebrew.
Most translations teams have felt that the more likely original meaning intended is that God delights in the way (life) of a person whose steps are directed by God. The following versions make this meaning clear:
The LORD guides us in the way we should go and protects those who please him. (TEV)The CEV and TNIV translation teams have chosen the interpretation that the person whose life is directed by God takes delight in God's way:
The steps of a man are from the LORD, and he establishes him in whose way he delights (RSV)
Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way (NRSV)
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. (NASB)
A man’s steps are established by the Lord,and He takes pleasure in his way. (HCSB; the potential ambiguity in the NASB and HCSB is removed by their capitalization of pronouns for deity)
It is the LORD who directs a person's steps; he holds him firm and approves of his conduct. (REB)
If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm (NIV)
The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives. (NLT)
The LORD grants success to the one whose behavior he finds commendable. (NET)
When a person's steps follow the LORD, God is pleased with his ways. (NCV)
A person's steps are directed by the LORD, and the LORD delights in his way. (GW)
If you do what the LORD wants, he will make certain each step you take is sure. (CEV)Some versions are worded in a way that we are not able to tell which of the two interpretations their translation teams felt was more likely. In other words, the English wording displays the same ambiguity that the Hebrew text does. Among these versions are:
The LORD makes firm the steps of those who delight in him (TNIV)
The steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. (KJV)Now, there are some who would say that when the original biblical language text is ambiguous, our translation of it should also be ambiguous. This is a reasonable position. However, it does not take into account that fact that humans often produce ambiguous language when their intended meaning is not ambiguous. Sometimes it is possible to guess, with varying degrees of certainty, what meaning an original author intended.
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way (ESV)
Please note that in this case it is entirely possible that the translators of the KJV and ESV believed that the psalmist intended to be saying that God is the one who takes delight in the life of a person who submits to God's directions. It is possible that the ambiguity in the KJV and ESV was not intended by their translators. We cannot know the intentioned meaning of the KJV translators who are all gone. We may be able to find out from the ESV translators if they intended one of the options for who takes delight in whom in Psalm 37:23.
My own personal preference in cases where it is not fairly clear from the context that ambiguity was intended is that a translation not display ambiguity. Having ambiguity in translation wording indicates to me either that the translators overlooked an ambiguity which they did not intend to communicate, or that they felt they needed to preserve an ambiguity in the biblical language text which may or may not have been intended by its author. (Some word plays in the biblical text clearly demonstrate intentional ambiguity.)
I like the approach taken in this and many other cases in the NET Bible. Its translators chose the interpretation they felt most likely to be that of the biblical author, but then they footnoted a wording which gives an alternative translation:
Heb “from the Lord the steps of a man are established, and in his way he delights.” The second line qualifies the first. The man whose behavior is commendable in God’s sight is the one whose ways are established by God. Another option is that the second line refers to the godly man delighting in God’s “way,” namely the lifestyle which he prescribes for men. In this case one might translate, “The Lord grants success to the one who desires to obey his commands.”I like such transparency in translation. This approach, that of making translation choices guided by sound exegesis, based on lack of certainty that an original ambiguity was intended, but allowing the reader to know other translation options seems to me to be ideal for most English Bible readers. Most such readers do not have the background that well trained exegetes do to be able to determine which of several possible interpretations is most, or more, likely to have been the meaning intended by the biblical author.
I fully realize that others claim to prefer to leave all exegetical uncertainties in the translation text itself. And this is, as I stated earlier, a reasonable position. I cannot dismiss it. Of course, in actuality, even those who prefer to leave exegetical choices to the reader make many choices for their readers.
Do you think that the psalmist more likely wanted to communicate that God delights in the lives of those who submit to his direction, or that it is more likely that those who delight in God's directions have their lives specially helped by God?
And do you prefer Bible versions to leave all possible biblical language text ambiguities ambiguous in translation whether or not the biblical authors intended that ambiguity?