● Why does the New World Translation render Psalm 90:2 so differently from other translations?—B. B., United States.
According to the Revised Standard Version Psalm 90:2 reads: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” The New World Translation of this verse reads: “Before the mountains themselves were born, or you proceeded to bring forth as with labor pains the earth and the productive land, even from time indefinite to time indefinite you are God.”
The Hebrew word for the first of these expressions is the passive voice of yalad and, according to Hebrew lexicographers, it means to be begotten, born, and relates to the ordinary birth process. Yalad is applied to both the father’s and the mother’s part, as can be seen from Job 14:1 (“Man, born of woman”) and Psalm 2:7 (“I have become your father”).
The Hebrew word for the second verb in Psalm 90:2 is entirely another verb and is used in connection with the birth process to call attention to the pain and travail thereof. It is the Hebrew word hhil, which, according to Hebrew authorities, means basically, “to have labor pains.” The form of this verb in the Hebrew text here has a sort of reflexive force in which the performer of the act suffers the accompanying sensations. In other words, he experiences the labor pains or childbirth pains. That is why the word is also defined as “to bring forth (in pain).”—Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible.
This same word is found at Deuteronomy 32:18, which reads: “The Rock who fathered you, you proceeded to forget, and you began to leave God out of memory, the One bringing you forth with childbirth pains,” without doubt referring to the miracles Jehovah wrought in Egypt in connection with the deliverance of the nation of Israel. Also, we find this Hebrew term at Isaiah 51:2, where we read: “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gradually brought you forth with childbirth pains.” Also at Proverbs 25:23: “The wind from the north brings forth as with labor pains a downpour.”
From the foregoing references we can see the use of these words particularly in poetic writing, and we see that they are full of meaning, expressive indeed. Modern translations hide the force of these expressions by their free renderings.
Regarding the use of these terms in Psalm 90:2, it might be said that, judged by human standards, the producing of this earth and the productive land with all its complicated mechanisms and chemistry would certainly call for a great deal of effort, painful effort, as measured even by scientists today. The psalmist here speaks from a purely human standpoint and thereby shows both an active imagination and great respect for the amount of work involved for Jehovah to create these things; with what expenditure of time, of course, we do not know.
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