Tonight I want to write about Psalm 68 verse 4, the second line. Some of you might have noticed that it is translated in at least four significantly different ways.
- סֹלּוּ, לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת
Extol him that rideth upon the heavens KJV
Make a way for him who ascendeth upon the west: D-R
Lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; ESV
Extol him who rides on the clouds NIV
The root ערבה can legitimately have several different meanings, as desert or wasteland, as the evening, or the clouds in the sky. The translation has depended strongly on context, that is, first, the verb which precedes this noun; and secondly, other expressions occurring in this psalm. In the KJV the line has been translated to accord with verse 33,
לָרֹכֵב, בִּשְׁמֵי שְׁמֵי-קֶדֶם
To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old;
The word for “ride” means to ride on an animal or in chariot, while ערבה has been variously translated in these ways in the different translations.
heavens – Pagnini, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishop’s, KJV, JPS (skies)
clouds – RSV, (T)NIV, NET, HCSB, NRSV, CEV
evening, setting, going down – LXX, Vulgate, Wycliffe (going down)D-R (west)
desert – Jerome’s Hebrew Psalter, Luther, NASB, ESV
These are the three translations which have influenced the different choices.
Vulgate (from LXX)
iter facite ei qui ascendit super occasum.
[make way for him who ascends on the setting]
Jerome’s Hebrew Psalter
Praeparate viam ascenditi per deserta
[Prepare a way for him who ascends through the desert]
Exaltate eum qui equitat super coelos
[Exalt him who rides (a horse) on the heavens]
What is really fascinating is to see that the Bishops’ Bible demonstrates its dependence on the Pagnini translation by explicitly mentioning “riding on a horse”.
- Magnifie hym that rideth vpon the heauens as it were vpon an horse Bishops’
Only the Latin of Pagnini refers to a horse. The others simply reflect “riding” on something. There seems to be no way to know absolutely which translation is correct. When it comes to Hebrew, I tend to simply accept the authority which I read or heard speak most recently. However, at least with the KJV you can know that the translation has its origin elsewhere in scripture, it is there, if somewhere else.
I can’t come close to suggesting which translation is the most accurate, but I find it a good exercise to go through something like this and learn more about the process of translation over the centuries.