God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: Who is bowing down in Psalm 97:7?

From the About page comes this question:

The NET Bible does not render imperatives in Psalm 97:7, while others do. Their footnote is helpful, but not enough for me to opine on which is right. What light can you shed on this?

The phrase here is hishtachavu lo kol elohim. The last three words mean, “to-him all gods.” As chance would have it, though, the verb that starts the phrase could be either an imperative plural or a third personal past plural form. (Except for 2nd person masculine singular future and 3rd person feminine singular future, this doesn’t happen a lot in Hebrew. Usually the role of a Hebrew verb is clear from its form.) For example, in Psalm 96:9, the word hishtachavu is imperative; in Jeremiah 8:2, 3rd-person past.

Furthermore, the word order is ambiguous because — unlike English — the post-verbal phrase in Hebrew can be a subject of any sort.

Finally, even context doesn’t help here.

So the Hebrew means either “all the gods bowed down to [God]” or “all you gods, bow down to [God].”

We do get a clue from the LXX — which translates hishtachavu as an imperative here — but the LXX is generally very unreliable when it comes to disambiguating Hebrew.

So in Psalm 97:7 we have that rare instance of a truly ambiguous text.


December 27, 2009 - Posted by | Q&A, translation practice | , , , , ,


  1. Thank you for that analysis.

    In the title of your response, you also anticipated one of my other question… who is bowing down to whom?!

    The gods to God?
    The angels to God?
    The gods to David?
    The angels to David?

    This verse is usually taken to be what is being quoted by Hebrews:

    Heb 1:6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

    The LXX has a title indicating that this is to be the kingdom of David, and I guess the LXX says that David is the KURIOS that reigns over the land:

    1 ¶ (96:1) For David, when his land is established. The Lord reigns, let the earth exult, let many islands rejoice.
    2 (96:2) Cloud, and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the establishment of his throne.
    3 (96:3) Fire shall go before him, and burn up his enemies round about.
    4 (96:4) His lightnings appeared to the world; the earth saw, and trembled.
    5 (96:5) The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
    6 (96:6) The heavens have declared his righteousness, and all the people have seen his glory.
    7 (96:7) Let all that worship graven images be ashamed, who boast of their idols; {1} worship him, all ye his angels. {1) Heb 1:6}

    Is the writer of Hebrews reading this Psalm as referring to the seed of David, and God commanding the angels to worship him?

    If so, where did LXX get the title?

    In the past I thought that Hebrews 1:6 referred to this:

    Deut 32:
    43 Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; {1} rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people. {1) Ro 15:10}

    I know of no other candidate for Hebrews 1:6. Which do you think he is quoting, and is it a legit quote?


    Comment by WoundedEgo | December 27, 2009

    • In the title of your response, you also anticipated one of my other questions…. Who is bowing down to whom?

      The simple answer is that the elohim are bowing down to adonai, referenced indirectly by lo, “to him.” The antecedent is in verse 5.

      The question of who the elohim are is more complex. In light of the start of the verse (with ovdei fesel, “image worshipers,” and elilim, “false gods” or “godlets”) a good guess is that the elohim here are what we would now call false gods. The LXX translates aggeloi, but that’s probably either fudged (to remove any hint of gods other than God) or a literal translation.

      Comment by Joel H. | December 27, 2009

    • I know of no other candidate for Hebrews 1:6. Which do you think he is quoting, and is it a legit quote?

      I think a better bet is that Hebrews 1:6 is quoting Deuteronomy 32:43 in its original form. The current Hebrew of Deut. 32:43 is probably corrupt; the LXX and DSS, however, match Hebrews 1:6 more closely.

      (Romans 15:10, too, seems to quote the LXX of Deuteronomy 32:43 but not the surviving Hebrew.)

      Comment by Joel H. | December 27, 2009

      • Apparently the Peshitto agrees with the DSS and LXX against the Masoretic on this passage as well.

        This dovetails, of course, with my position in the discussion of “the best translation of The Bible” – that there really is not “The Bible” – every “translation” being an original work, based on pick and choose from various manuscripts.

        This also makes highly suspect that the latter part of Jeremiah 33 is “original” since it does not appear in the DSS or the LXX. I’m wondering now if it appears in the Peshitto.

        Ditto for the bulk of Isaiah 9:6 – a highly appealed to verse.

        Comment by WoundedEgo | December 27, 2009

      • What I meant was that the Peshitto, I’m told, agrees with the LXX and the Hebrews 1:6 reading of Psalm 97:7, against the Masoretic and DSS.

        My head hurts…

        Comment by WoundedEgo | December 27, 2009

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