- For the music leader. An enlightening psalm1 of Korah’s family.2
Long ago, God helped us
- 1 We’ve heard the old stories, our God.
Stories our family has passed on.
Stories of what you did a long time ago.
- 2 You pushed entire nations from our land.
Then you planted us in their place.
You tore into those other nations.
You scattered them high and low.
- 3 Our ancestors didn’t conquer the land.
They didn’t have the strength.
But you conquered the land, with a glance.
You were on our side.
- 4 You are my king, God.
So, give the command:
Jacob’s descendants will win.
- 5 With your help, we push back our enemies.
On your orders, we crush those who want to kill us.
- 6 But I’m not betting on my bow and arrows.
My sword won’t save me, either.
- 7 You’re the one who saved us from our enemies.
You’re the one who humiliated those who hate us.
- 8 We brag about God all day long.
We’ll be thanking him forever.
It’s your fault, God
- 9 But now you thumbs-down reject us,
Abandoning us to disgrace.
You go with our armies no longer
When they march headlong into war.
- 10 It’s your fault we had to retreat
And run for our lives from our enemies.
From invaders who hate our guts,
And who stole whatever they wanted.
- 11 You gave us away,
As sheep for lambchops.
You scattered our survivors
Among nations, regions, and kingdoms to come.
- 12 You sold us on the cheap,
Without profiting a shekel.
- 13 You made us an international punchline.
Nothing but a joke.
Neighboring nations treat us like trash,
Crushing us with their insults.
- 14 You made us into an example
Of how to get it wrong.
Folks from other nations
Get a good laugh at our expense.
- 15 Disgrace hangs on my neck all day.
Humiliation eats me up.
- 16 Hateful people hammer me with insults
While my enemy watches in revenge.
You destroyed our nation, God
- 17 In spite of all this misery,
We haven’t forgotten you,
And we’re keeping our promise
To obey the laws you’ve made.4
- 18 We haven’t turned our backs on you.
We haven’t stopped traveling the path you told us to walk.
- 19 Yet you destroyed our nation,
And abandoned our people to this land of wild dogs.
Now we cower under the shadow of death.
- 20 Listen, if we had forgotten God’s name
Or started worshiping a foreign god
- 21 Wouldn’t God have noticed?
After all, he knows our most private secrets.
- 22 But here we are, because of you, getting killed every day.
We’re no better than sheep getting led to the butcher knife.
Why are you still sleeping, Lord?
- 23 For heaven’s sake, wake up, Lord.
Why are you sleeping?
Don’t desert us.
Don’t leave us here forever.
- 24 You sure have made yourself scarce.
Why are you hiding from us?
Can’t you see how we’re suffering?
Can’t you see how these people are hurting us.
- 25 Here we are, face in the dirt.
Our bodies stretched out on the ground.
- 26 Come down and help us.
Show us your love
Show us your kindness.
The subtitle wasn’t part of the original psalm. “An enlightening psalm” is a guess. The original Hebrew word is maskil (mass-KEEL). Scholars say they aren’t sure what it means. They say they don’t even know if the word refers to the lyrics or the music. Maskil sounds a bit like another Hebrew word, askilkha, which means “let me enlighten you.” Some scholars associate maskil with a root word, sakal, which generates a lot of words with various meanings such as: thoughtful, instructive, wise, and proper. One theory is that the word relates to both lyrics and music. It could, for example, describe the lyrics as “thoughtful” and the music as a harmony fit for that theme.
Korah was a musical family in the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 tribes that made up the original nation of Israel. Levite families worked as priests and worship leaders and assistants for the Jewish nation.
The word in the original language of Hebrew is selah. Bible scholars haven’t figured out what it means yet, so all we can do is guess. It could mean “pause for effect,” “instrumental interlude,” or “choir singing ‘Amen.’” We’re offering a guess instead of selah. Though selah might be the better way to go because it’s always correct, it’s also always incomprehensible. “Instruments” has a good chance of being wrong, but at least we convey the idea that the Hebrew word behind it probably has something to do with enhancing the song.
This writer has the chutzpah, some scholars say, to argue that though the Jews kept their part of the ancient covenant agreement with God—to obey the laws summarized in Deuteronomy—God broke his part of the deal when he allowed Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq to erase the last surviving Jewish kingdom from the world map.