Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Tour through Ps. 119: Taw

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

The final letter in the Hebrew alphabet is Taw (or Tau), and it looks very much like the letters He and Heth, which look a lot like the Greek letter Pi.  But Taw has a squiggle on the left leg, so that's how I've been distinguishing it from the other two in my head. (For the record, He's left leg stops a little short of the cross bar...that's the difference between He and Heth...).

Taw begins each of the last eight verses in the Psalm, and the NIV 84 has translated that passage so:

May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD,  and your law is my delight.
Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.  Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.

We are finishing up with a set of verses that have a very poetic structure...the first 5 verses all follow the same format.    The Hebrew interlinear I was consulting showed  the letter Taw in front of the first word on all those verses, and I took that letter to somehow indicate the word 'Let' or, as the NIV translated it, 'May'.

[Let] my ringing cry come near your presence, Yahweh; by your word give me understanding.
[Let] my supplication come into your presence; by your word rescue me.
[Let] songs of praise pour out of my two lips, for you have taught me your statutes.
[Let] My tongue testify of your word because all your commandments are righteous.
[Let] it be your hand helping me, because I have chosen your precepts.
[I] have longed for your salvation, Yahweh, and your law is my delight.
[Let] my soul live and praise you, and [let] your judgements help me. 
[I] have wandered off like one of the flock that has strayed; seek your servant, because I have not ceased to care for your commandments.

Verse 174 uses a word, ta'ab,  which is translated as 'long for' that is used only twice in the whole Old Testament...and both times are in Ps. 119 (the other use is back in verse 40).  That makes me wonder what was unique to that word that it was used so specifically and so deliberately.  As a fledgling songwriter, I know my word choices sometimes have more to do with making the rhyme scheme/prosody work than with being the best word for the thought...but I also know that sometimes I will change the rhyme scheme to fit the perfect word. Hebrew poetry doesn't rhyme, per se, but there are structural elements that may influence word choices.  Generally speaking, I wouldn't use an obscure word if I were writing a song that would be published somehow.  Ta'ab must have something unique to it that made it THE choice for those two verses.

Because, you know, we're still singing these altered versions, to be sure, but we're still singing them. 

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