“You have raised up my horn like a tower;
I poured out as with fragrant oil.”
(Psalm 92:11 [verse 10 in English])
This verse is a little awkward to translate and as such, there are various renderings in our various English Bibles. To understand this verse, though, you need to break it down a bit and understand some of the key terms. The first word is that of the horn, or in Hebrew, N®rRq (qeren). This can refer to a simple ram’s horn or a vessel in which oil is contained, but when used metaphorically, it typically refers to strength or that which holds the oil that spiritually strengthens the believer.
Connecting the horn to the oil is fairly obvious given the second line of the verse, but we still have the word MEa√r (re’em), which I am rendering as “tower” though many of our translate as “wild ox.” The term itself is highly debated amongst scholarship, but many see the language of the horn in the verse as the guiding interpretive feature. And, on a level, such a rendering makes sense if we see the horn as a sign of power and the strong wild ram or ox on the mountain as a symbol of strength. Yet, such a translation does not seem to take into account the language of the oil later in the verse.
The term can also be rendered as the word “Tower,” a high place that also serves as a refuge for the believer to worship. Given the language of the raising up earlier in this verse, such a translation seems to make more sense, seeing also a tower as a sign of strength against one’s foes.
The next term in dispute is that of the pouring out. Many of our English translations render this phrase as “You have poured…” or “I have had oil poured…”. The problem with both of these renderings is that the verb in question, llb; (balal — to pour out) is in the first person singular in the Qal stem. That means that “I” must be the subject and the verb is active, not passive…thus dismissing both major translational option. Rightly translated, it is “I poured…”. Some would argue that in poetry one is given some degree of grammatical freedom, but granting free reign here just adds complexity to the meaning rather than presenting the simple meaning of what the text says.
So, what is this fragrant oil that is being poured out? Most of the translations (by rendering the verb as a passive or as a second person) presume that the psalmist is being anointed with the oil in question, yet that is not what the text states. Instead, the psalmist is pouring out his oil that has been lifted up to this tower — on this high place. Rightly understood, it seems better to understand this pouring out to be a kind of drink offering that is being made by the psalmist in honor of his God who has lifted him up and has protected him from his enemies. Again, remember the context of this psalm is worship, if we get too far from God being the subject of our affection and focus more on God’s affection toward us, we lose that spirit or tone of worship before our creator and sustainer.
Thus, may we too be quick to raise up an offering of praise to our God, both in public and in private worship. May he be glorified and honored in all that we do. Our strength comes from him, let us return that strength to him in offerings of praise.