“strips the forests bare”
Sometimes I wish I knew the original language of the Bible. Sometimes. But even if I did, I doubt that, given its many hundreds of translators through thousands of years, I could add much of anything to what’s already been said.
Oddly enough, another noteworthy difference in translation occurs in the second half of this single verse. The KJV has deer giving premature birth in the first clause, where the NIV has oaks being twisted. In the second half, where the NIV has “strips the forest bare,” the KJV has “the voice of the Lord. . .discovereth the forests.”
The advent of Freudian criticism in the study of literature made all of us lit teachers seem a bit too prurient at times, perhaps; but even the most guileless reader can’t help but note that both translations point toward something, well, sexual. Stripping the forests bare, metaphorically speaking, prompts a blush of course, but even “discovers” the forest suggests the falling away of something or other covering up essences. No matter which version you read, something’s newly naked.
But lest we go too far on this romp, I’ve got another idea.
In a way, I was born and reared in the woods. I grew up in a town so close to
Lake Michigan that, on some of its unruly nights, we
could hear it roar. Those woods were
sometimes a half mile wide, a playground for adventurous boys, a Old West
wilderness, a place where we lugged our BB guns, bows and arrows, and even
firecrackers. In the woods, we were, it
seemed, miles from our parents and the town’s sharply pointed church steeples. The woods were wild and free.
Woods and forests have always provided some kind of sanctuary, a place to hide. To the Lakota,
South Dakota’s Black Hills was a
sacred place, not because they rise so miraculously from the otherwise level
playing floor of the Great Plains, but because
they offered shelter from prairie winds and otherwise despicable winters. It seems wrong to say it this way, but the Black Hills were, to Native people, a vacation wonderland. In the woods, warriors turned to lovers, so it's no wonder they hated Custer, who staked
out a claim on those hills for the white folks streaming west.
Per Hansa’s wife, Beret, in the prairie classic Giants in the Earth, simply cannot handle the shameless openness of the Plains, a malaise that, in those early years of European prairie settlement, apparently affected many. There were no dark corners on an ocean of grass, no places to hide. There were no trees.
Personally, I prefer the KJV here for two reasons: first, we’ve already been over “strips the forest bare.” In the “voice of the Lord” litany David is almost finished singing, we’ve already seen oaks blasted and twisted. It’s more of the same.
But I like the additional element “discovereth the forest” adds to what he’s been singing because it reminds me of the difference between my boyhood forests and Great Plains where I now live. The voice of the Lord, David says, penetrates our secrecy, divines all our dark corners.
I don’t care if you’re surrounded by Douglas fir, sequoias, or the mightiest of oaks, when the voice of the Lord rides on the air you’re on the Great Plains, brother. You’re bare naked, and out here--trust me--you’re going to get seen because there ain’t no place to hide.
“Count on it,” David says, “there ain’t no place to hide.”