The main obstacle to understanding this psalm is verses 2-3, which have flummoxed scholars aslong as anyone can remember 2. The first difficulty is the verb
in 2b, whose meaning is unclear and debated, and will depend on how we interpret its context. The main difficulties, however, comefrom verse three, which imply some causal relationship between 3a and 3b, and then 3b and 3c. Atypical translation of the Masoretic Text here will read “from the mouths of babes and sucklings, youhave established strength on account of your enemies, to put at rest both foe and avenger.”3That leavesus with a number of questions. Who are these
babes and sucklings
and why do their mouths helpGod with
? What kind of strength is being drawn here, and for what purpose is it being used? What does
from the mouths...
come to add, if no action that is usually done orally(talking, singing, etc.) seems to be done here? Is it from the body part itself, somehow? Furthermore,who are these enemies, foes and avengers that God draws strength from the mouths of babes andsucklings to defeat? If this is a metaphor, what is it representing?Many answers have been presented to these questions, few of which have been found to betotally satisfactory. The problem is that the text itself is contradictory. According to the reading presented by the Masoretic text, any explanation must satisfactorily account for the fact the source of God's strength is the
babes and the sucklings
, a group which seems to represent the very opposite of strength. Both of the terms used here are used throughout the Bible to denote an especially helpless andweak victim that evokes more than a fair share of pity.4 Any answer, then, will be paradoxical by itsvery nature. Some scholars have no problem with that. Craigies's translation, for example, proposes
It seems to have become scholarly tradition, when attempting to explicate Psalm 8, to complain about how difficultverses 2-3 are.
Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate.
Psalms 1-50 (
Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004 )
Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1-41
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 156see for example Lamentations 2:11