NRSV Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
KJV Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
This first verse of this well-known psalm describes the beings that give homage to God, but there's just one problem: it has been translated a number of different ways: the King James Version translates it as "ye mighty," HarperCollins goes with "sons of God," and the NRSV chooses "heavenly beings." What's a Sunday School kid to do with all these differences?
Answer: consider who's translating the text and why they would translate it that way. (Looking for an even more interesting and controversial instance of this translation phenomenon? Check out Genesis 6:1-4.)
Translating the words as "sons of God" gives the impression that God has offspring. If that idea doesn't fit into the translator's vision of the text, then they'll probably choose to render the words a bit differently.
"Ye mighty" isn't an incorrect translation, but it does take a certain license with the text. Like in Psalm 23, this license can create new and beautiful ways to read the words, but it can also create confusion about the author's intentions, worldview, and meaning.
Yeah, the Bible can be tough.
NRSV The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
KJV The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
Here God goes again, asserting his power over nature. But here, God has particular power over water, thunder, and the flood. In the ancient world, storm gods were often the most powerful—just look at Zeus.
What we get in this psalm is an older conception of the Israelites' God. By the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 580 BCE), the writers of the Bible had to rethink their worldview: maybe God wasn't just a storm god, but had larger powers, too. This is helpful for scholars, who often date the different psalms by how closely they identify with the storm god mythos.
Want to feel like you're living in biblical times? Well, in this psalm, we get a pretty good sense of the geopolitical world in which the Israelites lived. The psalm mentions Lebanon, Kadesh, and Sirion, right? Sure gives you an idea of just how small the world was to an Israelite writer: God's mastery extending a hundred miles north is a huge deal, worthy of its own psalm.
This is a far cry from our sense of scale today, of course, but it's important to remember that the entire area that Psalms deals with is about the size of a smallish U.S. state.
And check this out: when God is done doing what he does, the party is in his temple. Once again, God has an address, which definitely gives Jerusalem a certain clout. Imagine you were a farmer in ancient Israel; you've never seen a city before, and suddenly you see God's home. Not too shabby.
NRSV The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!
KJV The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever. The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.
More flood imagery, and God is on top.
Yes, this is a reference to Noah and the flood in Genesis.
Actually, it's a pretty weird image if you think about it. God sits enthroned over all this destruction through the flood, and in the next verse, he promises peace to his believers. What a wild ride.