Psalm 119, The Hebrew Letter נ (Nun), And A Prayer

Psalm 119, The Hebrew Letter נ (Nun), And A Prayer July 27, 2014

As Christians around the globe adopt the Arabic letter ن‎ (nun) as their profile pictures on social media, in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, I was led to read Psalm 119.

Truth be told, it was unintentional. I had seen somewhere that Psalm 117 was the shortest of the psalms, and went to look it up in The Catholic Youth Bible.

A blurb on the page told me that the 119th psalm was the longest, and I thought since I was in the neighborhood, I should take a look at it too.

Folks who are in the know on the scriptures will remind you that this longest of the psalms is an acrostic, where all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet get an eight line stanza, with each line starting with the same letter of the alphabet.

It doesn’t work out that way when the verses are translated into English, though the version of the Vulgate translated by Ronald Arbuthnot Knox gives it the old college try.

Sticking with נ (nun), here is what he came up with.


No lamp like thy word to guide my feet, to shew light on my path.

Nun_HebrewNever will I retract my oath to give thy just commands observance. 

Nothing, Lord, but affliction, never the saving help thou didst promise me? 

Nay, Lord, accept these vows of mine; teach me to do thy bidding. 

Needs must I carry my life in my hands, yet am I ever mindful of thy law. 

Nearly the snares of the wicked caught my feet, yet would I not swerve from thy obedience.

Now and ever thy covenant is my prize, is my heart’s comfort.

Now and ever to do thy will perfectly is my heart’s aim.


I appreciate Fr. Knox’s efforts to stick with the acrostic style of the original Hebrew, but I have to admit that I prefer the stylings of the translators of the Revised Standard Version instead.

I am also struck by how appropriate this portion of the psalm is as a prayer for those who are under the threat of the ungodlike strongmen of ISIS.



Thy word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.

I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to observe thy righteous ordinances.

I am sorely afflicted;
    give me life, O Lord, according to thy word!

Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
    and teach me thy ordinances.

I hold my life in my hand continually,
    but I do not forget thy law.

The wicked have laid a snare for me,
    but I do not stray from thy precepts.

Thy testimonies are my heritage for ever;
    yea, they are the joy of my heart.

I incline my heart to perform thy statutes
    for ever, to the end.

LORD, hear our prayer. Amen.

photo (3)

Browse Our Archives