Verse of the Day 10.18.17 — Psalm 78:4
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.1
4 לֹ֤א נְכַחֵ֨ד׀ מִבְּנֵיהֶ֗ם לְד֥וֹר אַחֲר֗וֹן מְֽ֭סַפְּרִים תְּהִלּ֣וֹת יְהוָ֑ה וֶעֱזוּזֹ֥ו וְ֝נִפְלְאוֹתָ֗יו אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָֽׂה׃2
We will not conceal them from their descendants. To the next generation, we will declare the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD and his might, and the wondrous works He has done.
The word translated “conceal” (כָחַד | kāḥad) is written in the Piel stem, which is “used to express an intensive type of action with an active voice.”3 Many other versions translate this verb as “hide” (NRSV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NLT). I could not think of a more intensive form of the English verb “hide”; I opted for “conceal”, a la the NASB, as the word means to refuse to make something known.4 I suspect “we will not keep our lips sealed” would have been to colloquial.
The word translated “declare” is the verb סָפַר (sāpar), a cognate of the word for “writing” or “book” (סֵפֶר | sēper) as well as “scribe” (סֹפֵר | sōpēr). Usually the word’s usage pertains to “general mathematical activity.”5 It is usually translated “count,” “be counted,” or “take a census.”6 However, since it is also written in the aforementioned Piel stem, in this case, it means “recount” or “tell” .”7 I opted for “declare” as it is a bit more forceful than either of these two words, but I did want to mention the numerical etymology of the word. Apparently, singers of this Psalm were promising to give an accounting of the LORD’s teachings (Psa 78:1-3) with exclamation.
Wonder-Working or Wondrous Works?
The word translated “wondrous works” (פָּלָא pālāʾ) means “be marvellous, wonderful”)8 or “show oneself marvelous, display awesome power.”9 The verb is in the Niphal Stem, which usually denotes a passive or reflexive action.10 I doubt the verb should be translated passively (i.e., being made wonderful) since the LORD is already full of wonder. So, I presume that it should be understood reflexively (i.e., the LORD showing Himself to be wonderful — through wondrous works).
It seems challenging to try to translate what is said in Hebrew into English and do it justice. In actuality, the Niphal verb is in the form of a participle — a verbal adjective or verbal noun (e.g., teach –> “teaching position”, “teaching is fun”).11 Thus, it appears to read like “the showing Himself to be wonderful that He has done” or “the wonder-working He has done.” In English, it seems to make more sense just to say “the wondrous works He has done.” Many translations opt for just “wonders” (NIV, NRSV, ESV, NLT), but I aimed to preserve some semblance of the participle, a la the NASB, HCSB, and the KJV, as “work” is both a noun and a verb.
Context and Commentary
One reads much about such wondrous works in Psalms, works often understood to be miracles (cf. Psa 78:11).12 And, many of these miracles are recounted in the remainder of this Psalm — the second longest after Psalm 119. From Moses to David, the psalmist recounts over five centuries of Israelite history,13 which is ultimately the story of His wondrous works.
The point of recounting the wondrous works of the LORD, and passing them on to the next generation, is found in verse 7:
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.14
“The purpose of the psalm: to clarify the riddle of the past so that it becomes a lesson for present and future,”15 so that the future generations will trust the LORD.
Similarly, in my view, it is imperative for the people of God in the 21st century to know their history. This history should include not only the accounts found in the biblical texts, but also the history of the Christian church. Moreover, I find it wise to recount the history of the wondrous works of God in our own individual lives. Remembering His story of wondrous works, and proclaiming these accounts to the next generation, can help prevent theological amnesia. Furthermore, this can help us continue to put our faith (active trust) in the LORD (cf. Pro 3:5) — faith that produces loving obedience to God (Jn 14:15, 15:14; Rom 1:5, 16:27; 1 Jn 5:3).
Memorize Psalm 78:4 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How To Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 78:4.
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Ps 78:4.
- Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 309.
- “In distinction from the other Hebrew words rendered “hide” or “conceal” (ḥābāʾ, ṭāman, sātar, and ʿālam, which see), kāḥad has to do with refusing to declare something” John N. Oswalt, “972 כָחַד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 436.
- R. D. Patterson, “1540 סָפַר,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 632.
- “i.e., quantify the amount of a collection using numbers as a unit of measure” James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- Victor P. Hamilton, “1768 פָּלָא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 723.
- James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
- “The Niphal stem is used to express simple action with either a passive or reflexive voice.” Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 289.
- Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013).
- “Wonderful deeds (or things) is a single Hebrew word, particularly frequent in the Psalms, used especially of the great redemptive miracles (e.g. 106:7, 22), but also of their less obvious counterparts in daily experience (cf. 71:17), and of the hidden glories of Scripture (119:18).” Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 86.
- Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God, ed. J. A. Motyer, vol. 2, The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 25.
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 78:7.
- J. A. Motyer, “The Psalms,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 535.