Psalm 12:5-7

Trevor Peterson speederson at
Fri Feb 2 06:05:23 EST 2001

Ted wrote:

> Greetings all.

>    I just joined the list and this is my first post; I hope it's
> reasonably intelligent.
>    Regarding Ps.12:5-7, I recently read the following statement in a
> locally generated theological journal.  This was in reference to the
> providential preservation of the Bible issue:
> "... it is... probable that verse 7 ('Thou shall keep them... thou shalt
> preserve them') is not... referring to 'the words of the Lord' in verse 6.
>  The Hebrew term for 'them' (twice in v. 7) is masculine, while the term
> for 'words' is feminine.  Therefore, most interpreters and versions
> understand the promise of preservation in verse 7 to apply to the 'poor'
> and 'needy' of verse 5."
>    I wonder if this is also the consensus among the list members.

I don't know about consensus, but it's the way I would tend to take it. 
Beside the gender, I would point out the the number of the pronouns. 
Literally, it's keep *them* . . . preserve *him*--both masculine, as noted
above.  Now, it's not always easy to explain changes like this in poetry,
but I think there's a very plausible understanding of the shift here.  If
you go back to v. 5 (I'm sticking with the English verse numbering, which
your article seems to take), notice that "the afflicted" and "the needy"
are both plural, while the LORD declares that he will set *him* in
safety--singular.  Here it's certainly conceivable that the difference can
be accounted for as a movement from collective terminology to singular
reference.  Likewise, I would consider v. 7 an extension from v. 5, which
uses both plural and singular in general congruence with the shift that
has already been seen.  To refer v. 7 back to v. 6, about the closest you
could come is the fact that v. 6 relates the words to silver, which is
masculine singular.  But as the observed complexity of the situation
increases, I think there's going to tend to be a corresponding reticence
to accept an answer that doesn't find a place for all the pieces.  And in
all of this, we need to keep in mind that, even though it's not impossible
for a masculine pronoun to refer to a feminine antecedent, it doesn't seem
to be a common occurence between plural terms.  A simple shift from
feminine plural to masculine singular would probably be a good deal more
satisfying, although the possibility is still here.

In the end, I tend to favor context almost as much as anything in arguing
this issue.  It seems to me that the thrust is what the LORD does for
these oppressed people.  His pure words I would take as confirmation of
His character which moves Him to act, not something which in this context
needs particular preservation.

>    I also notice that there is what seems to me to be a considerable
> difference between the NIV and NASB on these verses.  What accounts for
> such significant variations?

I suspect that the NIV is trying to stress the reference of v. 7 to
persons, not the words in v. 6, and therefore shifts to first person to
leave no doubt.  I won't say I condone the move, and I can by no means be
certain that this was their reason.  But it's my best guess without
digging further.

Trevor Peterson

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