Psalm 47.4 reads (BHS):
יִבְחַר־לָ֥נוּ אֶת־נַחֲלָתֵ֑נוּ אֶ֥ת גְּאֹ֨ון יַעֲקֹ֖ב אֲשֶׁר־אָהֵ֣ב סֶֽלָה׃
Let’s take this one word at a time:
יִבְחַר (yiḇḥar) is the third person Kal imperfect of בָּחַר (bâchar), to ‘test’, ‘select’, or ‘elect’. 1
לָ֥נוּ is made up of the preposition לְ (lamed) which, among many other uses, can signify the dative of advantage (Holladay, §7, p. 168), ‘indicating the person for whose … advantage an action is performed’; and נוּ (nû) the 1st person plural pronominal suffix, ‘us’. So, ‘for us’.
Hebrew has only two ‘tenses’ or forms, and the imperfect does not of itself ‘specify the period of time within which a given action must have happened’. 2 Generally, some of the older commentators took יִבְחַר as future – ‘He will choose’: 3
He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved. Selah (KJV)
– while more recent commentators and translators tend to view it as present – ‘He chooses’: 4
He chooseth our inheritance for us, The glory of Jacob whom he loved. Selah (ASV)
– or even past – ‘He chose’: 5
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah (ESV)
Thus far we have:
He will choose/chooses/chose our inheritance for us...
אֶת־ (et-) is the marker of the direct object. It indicates that the noun that follows is the object of a transitive verb.
נַחֲלָתֵ֑נוּ (naḥalāṯēnû) is composed of the noun נַחֲלָה (naḥalāh), meaning ‘hereditary possession, heritage’, in its construct state with the tav ending; and the 1st person plural pronominal suffix נוּ (nû), ‘our’.
אֶ֥ת (et) is unusual, being one of only three cases in the holy scriptures where את carries the segôl vowel point (the three dots) without being joined to the following noun with a maqqēf (־). The connective accent merkha (֥ ) to the left of the segôl effectively takes the place of the maqqēf, indicating that it is to be taken with the following noun גְּאֹ֨ון (geʾōn), so that אֶ֥ת is again the marker of the direct object, and again of the same verb יִבְחַר (yiḇḥar).
גְּאֹ֨ון (geʾōn) is גּאוֹן (gʾōn) in its construct state. גּאוֹן means ‘height’, ‘loftiness’, ‘pride’, ‘arrogance’. ּBDB gives the meaning here as ‘exaltation’, ‘majesty’, ‘excellence’. So גְּאֹ֨ון in the construct state means, say, ‘pride of’ or ‘excellence of’.
Then comes יַעֲקֹ֖ב , (yaʿaqōḇ, Jacob), which is in the construct relationship with גְּאֹ֨ון . So, גְּאֹ֨ון יַעֲקֹ֖ב means, say, ‘pride of Jacob’. The phrase is in apposition to ‘our inheritance’, so that we now have, so far:
He will choose/chooses/chose our inheritance, [that is,] the pride of Jacob...
The inheritance was the land of Israel: 6
אֲשֶׁר is the particle of relation. Here, where the pronoun is omitted, as it often is, אֲשֶׁר is equivalent to the relative pronoun ‘whom’.
אָהֵ֣ב is the qal perfect third person singular of אָהַב meaning ‘like’, ‘love’. Although the perfect generally conveys the idea of completed action, it ‘may be translated in the present tense when it represents a verb of perception, attitude, disposition, or mental or physical state of being’. 7 For example, when Rebekah tells Jacob that she will make choice food for his father, of the kind which he loves, the qal perfect אָהֵ֣ב is used. It is food which he has loved in the past, and continues to love today, so that the present tense is required in an English translation.
Here, if we render in English as ‘Jacob whom He loved’, then we naturally think of the man Jacob. If it is ‘Jacob whom He loves’, we probably think of Jacob the people. But the difference is not too important. The LORD had loved Jacob, and continued to love his descendants, the people of Jacob, the people of Israel. This is what the psalmist was saying. Here are three more versions:
He chooses our inheritance for us, The glory of Jacob whom He loves. Selah. (NASB)
He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. (NIV)
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah (RSV)
Israel replaced by the Christian church
In Brian Simmons’ book ‘The Psalms: poetry on fire’, it is no longer Jacob, whether man or people, who is the object of God’s love:
He’s marked out our inheritance ahead of time, putting us in the front of the line, honoring those he loves.b Pause in his presence
Before examining the footnote, I would like to point out that:
a) not everyone will read the footnote;
b) it is very unlikely that the footnote would be included in a church or public reading;
c) Simmons does not read the footnotes in the Audiobook version which he himself narrates.
Without the footnote, there is no indication that it is Jacob whom God loves. This is quite outrageous. Without ‘Jacob’ in the text, the 1st person plural possessive pronoun ‘our’ and pronoun ‘us’ are not anchored to Israel, and so the reader naturally takes him or herself to be the one with the inheritance, the one whom God loves. It is true that Christians can quite legitimately understand the Psalm to be speaking to us about our spiritual inheritance in Christ, and about God’s wonderful love for us, but this is quite another matter to altering the text to exclude its primary application to Israel.
As for Simmons’:
putting us in the front of the line
this seems almost certainly to come from Eugene Peterson’s Message:
He set us at the head of the line, prize-winning Jacob, his favorite.(The Message)
So much for translating from the Hebrew text, as Simmons claims to be doing:
Simmons’ footnote reads:
and is placed at the end of the sentence:
Where is the reader to insert ‘the pride of Jacob’? After ‘honoring’, as the position of the footnote marker might suggest? Of course not. But how then is the reader meant to work out that he or she has to remove:
[ahead of time,] putting us in the front of the line, honouring those
the pride of Jacob
then insert in addition:
to finally get:
He’s marked out our inheritance, the pride of Jacob, whom he loves. Pause in his presence
which wouldn’t be too awful, although ‘mark out’ is not quite the same as ‘choose, select’, and is not given in the lexicons as a meaning of בָּחַר (bâchar)?
- English equivalents are from William L. Holladay, ‘A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament’ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) unless otherwise stated. ↩
- S. R. Driver, ‘A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew’ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892) p. 29. ↩
- See, for example, George Phillips, ‘A Commentary on the Psalms’, Vol. 1 (London: Williams & Norgate, 1872) pp. 357-8. ↩
- See, for example, the note by John Forsyth in C. Moll, ‘The Psalms’ (New York: Scribner et al., 1872) p. 305. ↩
- See, for example, A. F. Kirkpatrick, ‘The Book of Psalms’, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: University Press, 1895) 260. ↩
- Alexander Maclaren, ‘The Psalms’, vol. 2 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1893-4) p. 88. ↩
- Page H. Kelley, ‘Biblical Hebrew’ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) p. 86. ↩