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Psalm 27: 5

butterflyTHE RIGHT WORDS at the right time are, as the Bible text expresses it, 'like apples of gold in settings of silver' (Proverbs 25: 11, New International Version (NIV)).


Language is complex and it takes effort to discover the words that are both accurate and elegant. Modern diplomacy can succeed or fail on nuances of expression: international treaties are a minefield of misunderstandings, especially when a single concept must be translated into many languages. Skilled translators spend long and tedious hours in crafting such documents. Scientific and technical areas of knowledge have cultivated their own terms of art, unique words that convey a specific thought to those acquainted with the discipline. Careless use of terms can have serious and unfortunate consequences, as in the case of the doctor who instructed the nurse to prepare the patient's 'right' ear for surgery: in this case the 'right' correct ear was the left one!

New vs. Old

Today's English is quite different from that used in the Middle Ages or even that of the Victorian Age, when flowery salutations and compliments were in fashion. One barrier to understanding the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), published in 1611, lies in the meanings of the words as used then, contrasted with their meanings today.


For example, 'prevent', which we now take to mean 'to stop [something] from happening', was used in the KJV to mean 'precede' or 'anticipate': Psalm 88: 13— 'But unto thee have I cried, O Lord; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.'


Compare this with the rendering in the NIV: 'But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.'


In 1 Thessalonians 4: 15, the Apostle Paul writes to the church about the resurrection of the sleeping saints at the Second Advent of Jesus. The KJV renders the verse: 'For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.'


The NIV reads: 'According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.'


'Cunning', now a derogatory term, is used in the KJV to convey the thought of 'skilful'. In Exodus 26: 1, giving instructions on the embroidering of a pattern for the curtains for the Tabernacle, the KJV reads '. . . cherubims of cunning work.' The NIV has it as 'cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.'


Taking Shelter

None of this is meant to imply the superiority of one version of the Bible over another. Where accuracy of translation is prized over poetic merit, a literal translation is best. But sometimes the literal translation can seem stilted and dull. The translators of the KJV have in many instances combined both accuracy and beauty into their text and, unintentionally, provided us with supplementary food for thought. Psalm 27: 5, our main text, is an instance, from which we may draw a useful lesson.

Psalm 27: 5 is translated in the NIV as follows:


                        For in the day of trouble

                       [God] will keep me safe in his dwelling;

                        he will hide me in the shelter of his

                       tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.


This version is accurate and workmanlike. Compare the same text as rendered in the KJV:


                         For in the time of trouble

                        he shall hide me in his pavilion:

                        in the secret of his tabernacle shall he

                      hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.


This is a slightly more ornate version, though it says the same thing in one word less (30, compared to the 31 of the NIV).


Both versions exhibit the literary device of parallelism, a common feature of the Hebrew text, in which a single thought is repeated in different words. For example, the NIV version uses 'dwelling' (line 2) and 'tabernacle' (line 3). The KJV translation has 'pavilion' (line 2) and 'tabernacle' (line 3, the same as the NIV). Both words are translated from different Hebrew words which suggest a temporary structure cok (pron., soke), 'a hut'; and ohel, 'a tent'. The term, 'tabernacle of the congregation', in Exodus 33: 7, can properly be translated, 'tent of meeting', more prosaic than 'tabernacle', but quite accurate.


There are words that so resemble the thing they capture, such as sound, that they are described as onomatopoeic. Examples are ‘boing’ (a coil spring), ‘cuckoo’ (the bird), or ‘swish’ (a rushing sound). Likewise some words evoke the images they describe. Some languages are better at this than others.


The butterfly is a singular example of delicate beauty and grace in motion. The English word somewhat captures the image. Even better, the Spanish term, maraposa, nicely conjures up the lightness and delicacy of this creature. Perhaps the French term, papillon, with its soft, barely audible nasal ending, is most apt.


The English word, 'pavilion', used in the KJV, refers to an ancient form of tent made of cloth and stretched over poles, which in shape resembles the butterfly. The word is derived from the Latin, papillo, which means 'butterfly'.


A Solid, Secure Shelter

This Psalm expresses not only David's trust in Jehovah but his complete dependence on Him. No matter what adversity might assail him, David had no doubt that his God was up to the task of delivering him and defeating his enemies. We must admit that King David was not a shining example of godly living. The Bible does not pretend that he was. He collected a number of enemies, due in part to his indiscretions. But he had a penitent heart and loved God first and foremost and was identified early in his career as a 'man after God's heart' (Acts 13: 22). As with so many heroes and characters of the Bible it was David's faith that endeared him to God.


The Christian faith is under severe attack in 21st-century Britain. Scepticism stalks the land. The fact is, a large number of the British people probably the majority have, at best, ever been only nominally attached to the principles of the Christian religion. The steady erosion in the influence and relevance of the Church of England and other main denominations, coupled with the undermining of social values once cherished by the population at large, are a cause of distress to the sanctified Christian, who finds true happiness not in a mere observance of religion, but in a heart-felt fellowship with the Father God through the Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing can beat the justification which comes by faith, the knowledge of sins forgiven! Unfortunately, this message finds a cool reception in many circles in our land.


The intimacy of the Christian's relationship with the Saviour can be truly understood only by those who have it. Nominal, or 'worldly' Christianity, is a mere shell, a rational code of ethics which does little more than regulate the outward behaviour no doubt a very useful and laudable system, and one essential to keeping a civilised society ticking over, but a far cry from the Christianity of the Scriptures. Now that all pretence to righteousness is being jettisoned, the Christian must take stock of his or her consecration and appeal to God's grace and protection for security in these troubled times, especially as our faith comes under attack.


So, the next time you are hard pressed or discouraged by failure and self-doubt, think on this verse and the refuge that you have in the lavish hospitality of God's pavilion. Unlike the gauzy flimsiness of its namesake, this one is solid and secure and stands forever.


For in the time of trouble

he shall hide me in his pavilion:

in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me;

he shall set me up upon a rock.



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