Seerveld: Psalm 51

Posted: 22nd May 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

Voicing God’s Psalms
Calvin Seerveld
William Eerdmans Publishing Company (2005)
ISBN 0-8028-2806-X

There has been quite a bit of discussion of Psalm 51 lately, especially on Better Bibles by Suzanne, David et al., so I thought I would add one more late voice to the chorus. A few days ago, I received my copy of Seerveld’s translation of some three dozen or so psalms and other passages from the OT and NT.

Those who read my post on Seerveld’s translation of Song of Songs will know that his approach to translation is to explore as fully as possible the original message and then present it in American English in “a format that is accessible today but may also seem a touch quaint or unusual in the current tongue, so one catches a little of the otherness in what is being articulated anew.” (p.xxiii)

Included in the present collection is Seerveld’s take on Psalm 51:

God! be merciful to me in your covenantal love!
In your boundless motherly compassion undo my violating act!
Scrub me utterly clean of my guilty wickedness!
Make me pure from my wasteful sin!

Yes, I know intimately my dirty deed myself, I do.
My spoilsome sin is ever in front of my face.
I have sinned against you; especially against you have I sinned, O God.
I did evil while you looked on –
You are perfectly just in your accusation;
You are utterly right in your judgment.
It’s true, I was born perverted.
When my mother conceived me, I was already crooked.
I know, you want truth in the gut:
quietly now teach me that wisdom deep down, O God.

Purge me with hyssop that I become pure;
Wash me until I become whiter than snow.
Make me cheerful and happy again.
Let my very bones you have broken move joyfully once more –
Turn your face away, O God, from my wasteful sin.
Wipe out all my dirty deeds.

Create in me a clean heart, O God!
Give me a steady, fresh spirit inside.
Do not expel me from your presence.
Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!
O God, bring back to me the joyful experience of your help again.
Prop me up – make me a willing obedient spirit.

Then I will teach rebels your ways of doing things
so that sinners will be turned around to come back to you –
Deliver me, God, O God of my salvation, undo the blood-guilty deeds!
so that my tongue may jubilate at your trustworthily coming through.
O, my Lord, let me lips be opened
so that my mouth may shout out your praise!
A sacrifice is not what you want
– even if I were to give you a burnt offering
it would not smell sweet to you.
My offering, O God, is a chastened spirit.
O God, a chastened, yielded heart you will not despise, will you?

Do good to Zion in your grace, O God.
Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you shall take pleasure in offerings of right-doing,
in offerings that go completely up in smoke, the “total” kind of offerings
– that’s the festive time when people will offer whole young bulls on your altar!

  1. Suzanne says:

    thanks this is fascinating.