May I have my ear back, please?
I think it can be useful to look at what went wrong here.
The Root of the Problem
Hebrew has at least two words for “hear/listen.”
The first is shama. We find it, for example, in the imperative in the famous passage from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear [shma], Israel…”
The second is he’ezin. As it happens, that verb shares a root with the word “ear,” ozen. Accordingly, some translators (wrongly, in my opinion) feel the need to translate the word into an English word or phrase that contains the word “ear.” That’s where we get, for example, the odd “give ear, O Shepherd of Israel” for Psalm 80:1 (a.k.a. 80:2) in the KJV and others.
The reasoning is flawed.
English happens to have an expression “give ear” (or so I’m told — I know Shakespeare used it, but outside of Bible translations I don’t think I’ve heard or seen it recently), but the appearance of “ear” in the expression doesn’t make it the right translation for he’ezin.
Modern Hebrew also has a verb he’ezin, and everyone knows that it means “listen.” In fact, a radio announcer will frequently address an audience as ma’azinim — “listeners.” “Ear givers” is quite clearly wrong. (As it happens, as with “ladies and gentlemen,” the Modern Hebrew expression is frequently “ma’azinim and ma’azinot” — male and female listeners.)
In Biblical (and Modern) Hebrew, the word for “spy” (m’ragel) shares a root with the word “foot” (regel), yet no translation that I know of ventures into “foot soldier” (or “foot spy” or “footer” or “foot maker” or “foot giver”).
And in fact, even if we take the flawed reasoning seriously, we still might end up with “hear,” not “give ear.” After all, “hear” contains the word “ear.”
Accordingly, many translations avoid the now archaic “give ear.” Returning to Psalm 80, we find “listen” or “hear” in the NAB, NIV, NJB, and NLT. (I was disappointed to see “give ear” in the NRSV.)
We frequently find the verb he’ezin in parallel with shama, and this creates a little more complexity, because we need two different words to convey the parallelism.
For example, Moses’ great speech in Deuteronomy 32 opens with the double parallelism “he’ezin/heaven” and “shama/earth.” The KJV renders this as “give ear/heavens” and “hear/earth.” Other translations prefer “listen/heavens” and “hear/earth,” which I think works much better.
On the other hand, Psalm 78 is a real challenge, because there he’ezin is in parallel with hatu oz’n’chem, literally “incline your ear.” To “incline the ear” is a Biblical Hebrew expression, but I don’t believe we have it in English, Bible translations notwithstanding.
So to translate Psalm 78, we need two words or phrases, one only tangentially related to the ear, the other more specifically about the ear. It’s true that the ESV’s solution accomplishes this dual goal with “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” But I fear it does so at the expense of intelligibility.
Any suggestions for a better way of translating Psalm 78?