Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Oh Mercy!

I don't usually whine about translations (and I like the ESV), but in sermon preparation for this sunday I find myself asking;

Why has the ESV chosen to translate /hanan/ as 'mercy' in Psalm 123?

It seems so obviously connected to other uses of the word (and related) i.e.

Ex. 33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Note here how it is related to but distinguished from 'mercy')

Num. 6:25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

Most of the time when translating the word the ESV goes for something to do with being gracious. Also, the few Hebrew wordy-books I've looked up always give a meaning more akin to being gracious than mercy. Mercy, certainly in our modern English usage, seems too narrow. It helpfully carries the idea of something being undeserved, but then so does 'graciousness'.

I suspect we usually associate mercy with 'not being punished even though you deserve it' rather than a broader concept of 'being shown undeserved compassion and favour' which is closer to /hanan/. Technically speaking 'mercy' can be used with this broader sense of an unmerited kindness (Sheila constantly performed small mercies for the poor in her neighbourhood) though I feel that's a little archaic and foreign to most people nowadays.

All of this makes the preacher's job harder.


Mort said...

Pete, The only reason I can think of is that the ESV is heavily dependent on the RSV, and this is the way the RSV translates /hanan/ in Psalm 123.

Celal Birader said...

Hello Pete,

The other day my devotional reading was ,Isaiah 30:18.

I could not get my head around why or how God's great desire to show Israel 'hanan' was in any way connected to Him being a God of justice, which is what the verse explicitly says.

I thought, if justice had anything to do with it, God should zap or smite the Israelites since that is what they 'justly' deserved , didn't they ?

After praying and asking God to give me His wisdom, I realised that it must have to do with the fact that God has covenantally bound Himself to Israel so that it would in fact be unjust if He wasn't seeking to show them 'hanan' every day. God is so great and wonderful !!
Ah, but are they (or we) ready to receive it ?

I don't know about making a preacher's job easier or more difficult but all this seems to tie in nicely with what you are alluding to in your post and more widely to NT Wright's thesis in that book of his called 'What Saint Paul Really Said'.

It also seems that the ESV's rendering is a better one, what do you think ?

Peace and Blessings .... Celal

P.S : Could you email me a photo of yourself please at celal777atyahoodotcom ?This may seem like a strange request but there was more than one Pete who was a student at Oak Hill when i was there and i'm not sure which one you are :-) Cheers.

Pete said...

Thanks for that Celal. It does seem the translation in Isaiah 30:18 is suitably broad 9'mercy' is too narrow in common english usage I think, as I've said above).

I'm sure you are right (Wright?) in what you say about that verse. I'm sure God's righteousness certainly includes his covenantal faithfulness (therefore, his grace too), however I'm not sure I agree with Wright that the term is exhausted by that concept. For me the jury is still out. And of course, we are still left with the issue of how a God who is righteous in the sense of 'always does what is right' can be covenantally bound to show favour etc. to a sinful people.

I'll send the photo at some point.