Question: “At the beginning of Psalm 33 (in the Septuagint), which we hear often in the liturgical services, is the line “In the Lord shall my soul be praised.” This seems a strange way of putting things. What do you think this means? Are there other similar verses in the Scriptures?”
In the Boston Psalter (the translation we use liturgically), this verse is translated:
“In the Lord shall my soul be praised; let the meek hear and be glad.”
This is a very literal translation of the Greek Septuagint, which is a very literal translation of the Hebrew. The King James version translates this verse as:
“My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).
Which translates the Hebrew idiom in a way that more clearly conveys the sense of the Hebrew. A more literal translation of the Hebrew would read:
“In the LORD doth my soul boast herself, the humble hear and rejoice.”
By comparing different translations, you can often get a better idea of the range of meaning of the words in a text, and this is a good example of that.
The inscription of Psalm 33 , links this Psalm to David’s flight from Saul, and his deliverance from the Philistine King of Gath in 1 Samuel 21:10-15:
“And David arose and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said unto him, Is not this David the king of the land? did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands? And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath. And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?”
St. Basil the Great’s homily on this Psalm provides a good interpretation of the verse in question, which explains it in the light of this background:
“”In the Lord shall my soul be praised.” “Let no one,” David says, “praise my intelligence, through which I was preserved from dangers.” For, not in the power of man, nor in wisdom, but in the grace of God is salvation. “Let not,” it is said, “the rich man glory in his riches, nor the wise man in his wisdom, nor the strong man in his strength, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth” the Lord his God [Jeremiah 9:23-24]. If, however, someone is praised for beauty of body or renowned parentage, his soul is not praised in the Lord, but each person of such a kind is occupied with vanity. The ordinary professions, in fact, those of governor, doctor, orator, or architect who constructs cities, pyramids, labyrinths, or any other expensive or ponderous masses of buildings, do not merit to be truly praised. They who are praised for these things do not keep their soul in the Lord. It suffices us for every dignity to be called servants of such a great Lord. Certainly, one who ministers to the King will not be high-minded because he has been assigned to this particular rank of the ministry, and having been considered worthy to serve God, he will not contrive for himself praises from elsewhere, will he, as if the call of the Lord did not suffice for all pre-eminence of glory and distinction?”
Therefore, “in the Lord shall my soul be praised: let the meek hear and rejoice.” Since with the help of God, by deceiving my enemies, he says, I have successfully obtained safety without war, by only the changing of my countenance, “Let the meek hear” that it is possible even for those at peace to erect a trophy, and for those not fighting to be named victors. “And let them rejoice,” being strengthened to embrace meekness by my example. “O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness” (Psalm 131 :1 LXX]. Meekness is indeed the greatest of the virtues; therefore, it is counted among the beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek,” it is said, “for they shall posses the earth” [Matthew 5:4] (The Fathers of the Church: St. Basil, Exegetic Homilies,, Homily 16, trans. Sister Agnes Clare Way, C.D.P. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), p. 251ff).