Therefore, his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. Psalm 73:10 ESV
Turn back – Sometimes the biblical text that we have doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Alter notes that this cryptic verse “has almost certainly suffered mangling in scribal transmission.” Alter follows the proposed emendation of Hans-Joachim Kraus, changing the Hebrew to read (in translation) “they lap up their words” rather than “and find no fault” (ESV), “waters of a full cup are wrung out to them” (KJV), “waters of abundance are drunk by them,”(NASB), or “drink up waters of abundance” (NIV). Alter is probably right. In this case, it’s guesswork. There is little to commend the ESV. The other translations are attempts to make what seems unintelligible at least passable. About all we know for sure is that the Hebrew verb shuv (to turn back) opens the verse. In this case, we really don’t have any idea what Asaph meant.
If this is so, why even write about it? Why not just avoid the tangle altogether and accept any one of the half dozen proposed translations as good enough? The reason for our investigation is not to help us understand the text. It is to confront the undeniable linguistic evidence that the Bible we have today has passages that are unintelligible.
Does this bother you? Does it make your doctrine of inerrancy or inspiration shake? Do you feel as if you have just lost one of the tent pegs holding up your faith? In the conservative evangelical Christian world, we might feel as if we must defend the absolute reliability and unimpeachable accuracy of the Bible in order to maintain our belief in God. We anxiously seek some impenetrable bulwark of certainty. We end up defending the words of the Bible as we have it in order to believe in the “Word of God.” We have been so bombarded with the false dichotomy between faith and science that we grip the Bible as God’s last line of defense. When we run across verses like this one, we feel a doctrinal earthquake.
But we shouldn’t. Asaph knew what he intended. He wrote what he wanted to communicate about God. The problem is not with God’s involvement with Asaph. The problem is that Asaph’s words were transmitted to us by other men. And men make mistakes. Men alter texts. Men are not perfect recording machines. The fact that we don’t really know what Asaph meant doesn’t mean that he wrote gibberish. It just means that we can’t figure it out.
Is your trust in God solid enough to allow textual mangling? Is your experience with the living Christ deep enough to keep you secure through the billowing waves of textual criticism? Or are you wedded to a security that depends on the certainty of words on a page?
Topical Index: turn back, shuv, emendation, Psalm 73:10
 Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, p. 254.