This week I began to translate and write a small commentary on Ps. 9 for an upcoming class that I will be teaching. Psalm 9 is an interesting psalm that focuses on the rule of YHVH as it relates to justice. The psalmist rejoices and celebrates the execution of YHVH’s wondrous deeds that he enumerates throughout the text.
The rule of YHVH is symbolized by the throne of YHVH (cf. 1 Kgs 16:11). This may be similar to how Americans refer to the office of the president or the desk of the president. The desk or office symbolizes the actions carried out by the occupant of that space. However, I feel that some English translations obscure the literary quality of the language found throughout Psalm 9 by how they render the verb ישׁב, especially at it relates to the throne of YHVH.
The word ישׁב (yashav) can be translated as inhabit, settle, marry, crouch, meet, restore, reigns, or sit. In my view, this Hebrew word should be translated as sit throughout this psalm. Using sit throughout the Psalm reinforces a concept that is first introduced in verse 4, which is the notion of YHVH working justice from his throne. When this rendering is carried throughout the passage it will continue to recall the posture of YHVH in relation to his place of rule.
ישׁב is used three times within this psalm (verses 4, 7, and 11), but is handled inconsistently in many versions. Below I have included the Hebrew text, some not so stellar readings, and finally my rendering, which I feel is more preferable to the other English versions listed.
Ps. 9:4 (Qal perfect 2ms)
BHS: כִּֽי־עָ֭שִׂיתָ מִשְׁפָּטִ֣י וְדִינִ֑י יָשַׁ֥בְתָּ לְ֝כִסֵּ֗א שׁוֹפֵ֥ט צֶֽדֶק׃
NLT: For you have judged in my favor; from the throne you have judged with fairness.
NET: For you defended my just cause; from your throne you pronounce a just decision.
My Translation: For you worked justice (for) me and my legal claim. You sat on a throne [as] one who judges [with] righteousness.
Ps. 9:7 (Qal imperfect 3ms)
BHS: וַֽ֭יהוָה לְעוֹלָ֣ם יֵשֵׁ֑ב כּוֹנֵ֖ן לַמִּשְׁפָּ֣ט כִּסְאֹֽו׃
NASB95 – But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne forever.
NIV84 – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
TNIV – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.
NKJV – But the LORD shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment.
My Translation: But YHVH forever sits. He established justice from his throne.
Ps. 9:11 (Qal participle 2ms)
BHS: זַמְּר֗וּ לַ֭יהוָה יֹשֵׁ֣ב צִיּ֑וֹן הַגִּ֥ידוּ בָ֝עַמִּ֗ים עֲלִֽילוֹתָֽיו׃
NASB95 – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among His people his deeds.
NLT – Sing praises to the LORD who reigns in Jerusalem. Tell the world about his unforgettable deeds.
NKJV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare his deeds among the peoples.
NRSV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples.
My Translation – Sing to YHVH, [who is] sitting [in] Zion. Declare among the nations his deeds.
Reigns is the most appropriate reading offered by the well-known versions listed above. Reigns certainly gets the idea of YHVH’s rule across, which appears to be intended by the author. Yet, I find it unsatisfactory.
The majority of folks who read the Bible in translation do so because they don’t have a choice. Those without access to the original languages would have no clue that the repetition of this verb ישׁב exists in the text by reading most English versions. By using words like dwell, abide, endure, or even reigns, the translator betrays the audience and symbolism of the text that is centered on the concept of YHVH ruling in the posture of a king on his throne. I don’t think that our western culture is too far removed from the symbolic currency of a royal throne that we need to obscure the seated or enthronement language with our translations.
 Most of the semantic ranges were taken from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages – Hebrew.