Psalm 20 and 21 — Messianic Psalms?

Greetings to all,

Two issues surfaced last night (our Friday night Bible study) for which I promised to provide some additional information.

The first was Psalm 20:9. The New King James and the New American Standard Version translate the verse somewhat as follows: “Save, LORD! May the King answer us when we call.” The New International Version, the Living Bible (Catholic Version) and the English Standard Version translated the verse somewhat as follows: “O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!” The question is whether the Psalm is a prayer for the king or a prayer to the King.

I do not have a definitive answer. The verse in the standard Hebrew text reads as a prayer for the king: “LORD, save the king. May he answer us in the day we call.” The Greek Septuagint, a Greek translation made before the time of Christ by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, reads similarly: “Lord, save Your king and answer us in the day we call upon You.” Normally, with the Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint reading the same, that would be the end of the matter.

However, there is a note with the word “king” in the Hebrew text where the editors state that the word “king” is transposed to this place. They do not state the basis for this conclusion, but most likely it is due to manuscripts where the word is found in the second line, not the first. Removing this tranposition would lead one to read the text as the New King James Version and the NASV read the text.

For fun, I checked the Tanakh, the English version of how Jewish Publication Society, to see how they translate the verse. I fully expected them to see this as a prayer for salvation for the king, rather than a reference to a divine King. To my surprise, I was wrong. Their translation is: “O LORD, grant victory! May the King answer us when we call.” I also was surprised to see them capitalize the word “King,” indicating they thought this was a reference to God. They add a note, however, that in the light of verse 7, one may choose to translate the verse: “O LORD, grant victory to the king; may He answer us when we call.” Because of different numbering, their reference to verse 7 is a reference to our verse 6, where the statement is made that the LORD will save His anointed and answer him.

So, the real meaning of this verse is up in the air, as I see the matter. I still lean towards the New King James translation, but only slightly.

The second issue arose in Psalm 21:5. The New King James version translates this verse: “His glory is great in Your salvation.” The New International Version translates this verse: “Through the victories you gave, his glory is great.” The Tanakh translates the verse: “Great is his glory through Your victory.”

The Hebrew reads: “Great [is] his glory in Your salvation.” The Septuagint reads identically: “Great [is] his glory in Your salvation.” The Hebrew word “yeshuat” is the word generally meaning “to save.” There, however, is no separate Hebrew word used in Scripture for the idea of “victory,” so the word “to save” is used for this idea as well. To save and to have victory are closely related concepts, so this is probably not a big deal.

Yet, I note in the Greek there are separate words for both concepts and the Septuagint uses the word “salvation” to translate the Hebrew word “yeshuat.” I prefer salvation over the more loose “through the victories you gave.”


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