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Psalms 39:5-6

Context

39:5 Look, you make my days short-lived, 1 

and my life span is nothing from your perspective. 2 

Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor. 3 

39:6 Surely people go through life as mere ghosts. 4 

Surely they accumulate worthless wealth

without knowing who will eventually haul it away.” 5 

1 tn Heb “Look, handbreadths you make my days.” The “handbreadth” (equivalent to the width of four fingers) was one of the smallest measures used by ancient Israelites. See P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC), 309.

2 tn Heb “is like nothing before you.”

3 tn Heb “surely, all vapor [is] all mankind, standing firm.” Another option is to translate, “Surely, all mankind, though seemingly secure, is nothing but a vapor.”

4 tn Heb “surely, as an image man walks about.” The preposition prefixed to “image” indicates identity here.

sn People go through life (Heb “man walks about”). “Walking” is here used as a metaphor for living. The point is that human beings are here today, gone tomorrow. They have no lasting substance and are comparable to mere images or ghosts.

5 tc Heb “Surely [in] vain they strive, he accumulates and does not know who gathers them.” The MT as it stands is syntactically awkward. The verb forms switch from singular (“walks about”) to plural (“they strive”) and then back to singular (“accumulates and does not know”), even though the subject (generic “man”) remains the same. Furthermore there is no object for the verb “accumulates” and no plural antecedent for the plural pronoun (“them”) attached to “gathers.” These problems can be removed if one emends the text from הֶבֶל יֶהֱמָיוּן (hevel yehemaun, “[in] vain they strive”) to הֶבְלֵי הָמוֹן (hevley hamon, “vain things of wealth”). This assumes a misdivision in the MT and a virtual dittography of vav (ו) between the mem and nun of המון. The present translation follows this emendation.



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