As you can tell by the block of text at the end of this entry, this is a long chapter and took a long time to read in Japanese. I’ll try to do another chapter tonight to catch up, since it is somewhat shorter than this one.
Thank heavens for footnotes, because it explains why there are a number of discrepancies between the NRSV and the NCT in this chapter. The NCT continues to follow the Masoretic text more closely than the NRSV, which likes the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially when the Scrolls are closer to the many different translations that were made in ancient times. I agree that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible that we have (that’s just fact) and that if ancient translations like the Samaritan, Septuagint, and Vulgate versions are closer to the Scrolls, that supports the idea that Masoretic was likely changed along the line, sometimes after those translations were made.
The NRSV is trying as hard as it can to get to the oldest version, which makes sense for a Christian text, since the oldest version would be the one Jesus knew. I’m not sure why the NCT is going primarily with the Masoretic version. I haven’t read all of the indexes and notes in my copy, and maybe if I do I’ll find answers there.
The first big difference between the Masoretic (MT) and Dead Sea Scrolls (Q) comes in verse 8, which reads “when the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods.” The MT has “the Israelites” instead of “the gods.” Here, for some reason, the NCT agrees with Q, saying “the sons of God,” translating bene elim. This parallels another omission, in verse 43. “[W]orship him [i.e. God], all you gods!” is missing in the MT, and in the NCT. Both of these differences together probably mean that somewhere down the line, rabbis got very uncomfortable with the references to other deities as real in the Hebrew Bible and decided to eliminate them. But as “sons of God” suggests, these weren’t really equal beings to God. They’re more like angels, or orishas, or Valar. God is Elyon, the Most High, the God-above-other-Gods, Eru Iluvatar. This is also has verse 9 make sense, since God seems to be giving other nations to the care of lesser deities, keeping Israel as his “own people” and “his allotted share.” Israel is special because THE God – the top God, the ultimate power – chose them for himself, personally, rather than delegating to one of his “children.”
Another place that the NCT follows the MT is in verse 10, where the NCT says that “The Lord discovered them in the wilderness,” as opposed to the NRSV’s “sustained.” What’s interesting about this difference is that the MT (and thus the NCT) are completely ignoring the exodus out of Egypt. God “found” a people wandering in the desert and chose them. So did all versions of the Israelite’s founding legend have the slavery in Egypt as part of it?
There are a number of other little differences, and in all of them the NCT follows the MT, which like I said, is very interesting to me. I wonder what convinced them to keep verse 8 the same? Is it just that verse 9 doesn’t make sense without it?
I don’t want to got any further into this, though, because there’s other things to talk about in this chapter. What I tried to keep in mind, as I read it, is what the previous chapter declared that this was supposed to be: something for Israelites to read when they were in times of trouble (and probably during the Exile). I decided that I should imagine reading it as someone in that situation to see how well it works.
First, it begins by reminding you how great God is. God is “the Rock” (more like “boulder” in Japanese – the NOAB suggests “Mountain” as another good translation), he is their father (v 6), a nesting eagle (v 11), their mother (v 18). God “guarded [them] as the apple [poetic for “pupil”] of his eye” (v 10), “nursed [them] with honey (v 13). So God is awesome and worthy of worship because of everything that he did for them.
Then people started to ignore God, to worship other gods, to forget God. God grows jealous (NRSV) or was provoked to anger (NCT, following the MT) and starts thinking of ways to punish them. He hides his face (i.e. removes his veil of protection) and it’s implied they’ll get in trouble with other nations (v 21). He decides they deserve to have disasters heaped on them, hunger, plague, war, and annihilation (v 23-26). But at the last minute he changes his mind (v 27). It’s not clear how much of his mind he changes. Did he visit the disasters and decide against wiping them out entirely? Or does he decide entirely against these punishments?
Well, God changes his mind because he realizes that while the Israelites may be foolish for abandoning a God who helped them so much, the other nations around them are just as stupid, and will likely attribute the destruction of Israel to their own greatness. Thus nobody would learn anything.
So instead God decides to rescue Israel instead. It ends with God promising to save the Israelites from their enemies and defeat them.
While it’s not clear whether God’s change of plans involves just annihilation, or if it also includes the disasters before that, I think this shows some growth in the author’s thinking about God’s thought-process. This chapter questions whether punishment actually works, whether getting other nations involved helps, and it certainly doesn’t depict God as enjoying the process of Israel’s downfall. If anything, God comes across as upset, anxious, even afraid. God wants to get his people back, and he’s actually thinking about what’s the best way to do that, rather than just threatening them beforehand.
Heck, this song itself could be imagined as a kind of long-term gambit: get people to return to you by placing within their tradition a song encouraging them to return to you. A way to influence people and determine outcomes without being coercively invasive.
The Japanese: shitataru “to drip, to dribble,” yuudachi “shower” (v 2), kise “attributed” (v 3), warifuru “to assign” (v 8), miidasu “to notice, to discover,” fumou “barren, sterile, desolate,” itawaru “to be kind to, to take care of, to comfort” (v 10), yuriugokasu “to rock, to sway,” tobikakeru “to fly, to soar” (v 11), kyuuryou “hill,” yashinau “to feed, to provide for” (v 13), gyounyuu “curds,” awadatsu “to bubble, to foam” (v 14), shirizokeru “to turn away, to withdraw” (v 19), mitodokeru “to make sure” (v 20), moetatsu “to blaze up, to burn up” (v 21), yakiharau “to reduce to ashes” (v 22), yaseotoroeru “to become weak and emaciated,” byouma “demon of ill health,” moudoku “deadly poison” (v 24), takaburu “to get haughty,” gokai suru “to misunderstand,” nashitogeru “to accomplish, to fulfill” (v 27), shiryo “prudence,” kakeru “to be deficient, to lack,” dousatsu suru “to discern” (v 28), mitomeru “to recognize, to acknowledge” (v 31), fusa “bunch of grapes” (v 32), takuwaeru “to store, to lay in stock” (v 34), yoromeku “to stagger, to misconduct oneself” (v 35), usesaru “to disappear, to be gone,” miseinensha “minor, underage person” (v 36), kirameku “to glisten, to gleam,” togu “to sharpen, to hone,” nigiru “to clasp, to grasp” (v 41).