For years, Psalm 27 has been one of my favorite Psalms. Many years ago, I experienced some dark nights of the most horrific terror; I remember once calling my mother in the middle of the night looking for some answers, and she directed me to this Psalm. As I think Luther and Gerhardt would advise, I took to saying, singing, sometimes shouting the Psalm until the terror receded. The words still bring great comfort to me:
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
That is how the New King James translates it. Psalm 27 also happens to be the appointed Psalm for this week, and singing it in Matins the other day, I grumbled upon discovering that the English Standard Version (the translation used by the Lutheran Service Book) botched (so I thought) the translation. It reads:
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
So, I went to the Hebrew to see for myself. Maoz is defined by both BDB and Harris (TWOT) as "place or means of safety"; but my new and favorite Hebrew lexicon, HALOT (Koehler-Baumgartner) give as the primary meaning, "mountain stronghold, place of refuge." Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, it is used for a fortress or a fortified city.
Strength implies force, energy, power, and seems to me to be an offensive image; it seems to be what Luther was running with in translating it, "Der HERR ist meines Lebens Kraft." but the real comfort, in terror, temptation, and the attacks of Satan, is knowing that you are protected from those assaults by one stronger than yourself. "Stronghold" is a defensive image, which can bring great comfort to the afflicted soul. Thus the Vulgate renders it, "Dominus protector vitae meae a quo trepidabo." (Now, if only someone would teach me Latin so I would know what that means...) How odd that I favor the Vulgate and the ESV over the NKJ and Luther here! But of course, Luther understands this too, right well: Ein' Feste Burg indeed!