Psalms

Punctuation Matters

I've heard the opening lines a thousand times in the King James version, so pretty to listen to, so hard to keep straight:

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." (Psalm 121:1, KJV)

I honestly never heard it any other way, even if I did read it in another version. I never raised my voice at the end of the line to suggest a question. It was like one of those hymns you've heard since childhood and never stopped to think through for a moment. I didn't even stop to wonder if the psalmist really meant that help came from the hills, and if so, what that suggested about God.

This all changed when I read the version of the Psalm in The Message:

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?
   No, my strength comes from God,
      who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

Punctuation matters. Is the beginning of the psalm a question? Or is it a promise that God will ride in like the cavalry?

All little girls who were fans of Maria Von Trapp may remember that she loved this verse and that she believed the Alps saved her, leading her to the Abbey that led her later to her family and then to America. I can hear it that way.

But I can also hear it as Peterson writes it. The mountains are not a superstitious connection to a higher level, a door to heaven. They are part of all that God has made, and real strength comes from the Creator of all things.

Huh.

Makes me wish Hebrew had been a requirement. Almost.

3 thoughts on “Punctuation Matters”

  1. I remember this Psalm mostly as a song written by a denominational worship guy. He gets it. The first two lines in his song are:
    I life my eyes to the hills;
    From where does my help come?

  2. Couldn’t the KJV/other translations difference be a case of newer manuscript evidence coming to light since the time of the KJV (thus causing it be more necessarily interpreted as a question)?
    The NRSV phrases it as a question as well:
    I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?

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