Study Guide

Psalms Death

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Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human. (NRSV 9:20)

Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. (KJV 9:20)

God is immortal, and men are mortal—we get it. But here, the writers suggests that God remind people of this fact…by freaking them out. Are there people in Psalms who don't understand their mortality?

You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. (NRSV 39:5)

Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. (KJV 39:5)

Why does the KJV translate "mere breath" as "altogether vanity"? Remember, there was no Heaven back then in the way many people conceive of it today. By the time the KJV came around (1611), though, the afterlife was a big deal, so it was probably less daunting to think of life as meaningless.

For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more. (NRSV 103:14-16)

For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. (KJV 103:14-16)

The imagery of death is characterized here in terms of the natural, the beautiful, and the peaceful. Is that consistent with the rest of Psalms?

The dead do not praise the Lord,
nor do any that go down into silence. (NRSV 115:17)

The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence. (KJV 115:17)

Why can't the dead praise God? Does that put more pressure on the living?

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