In Psalm 29, the psalmist tells us to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” (NIV) Reading this got me to wonder exactly what the Hebrew is for “ascribe” in this translation. It is one of those verbs that is a bit nebulous and does not always have an exact word to describe its meaning in another language. “Ascribe” in the Oxford Dictionary is defined as “regard as a quality belonging to.”

The Hebrew is interesting. The word in the original is הָב֣וּ  (Habu). It comes from יָהַב (yahab) which means to give. In this form it is in the imperative masculine plural, which gives the word a meaning something like “you all must give.” So it would literally mean “we must give the Lord glory and strength.” Obviously, glory and strength are qualities that are inherent in God, and not something we can give to God.

I think there is a lot of room for nuance in yahab. It is well to note it is not the most common form of the verb “to give”. The most common form is נָתַן(nathan). So yahab would probably have special connotations. In fact, it is variously translated as “ascribe”, “choose”, “place”, “give”, and even “provide” in the New American Standard Bible (via Bible Works). Most modern translation have it as “ascribe”, though some say “give” and others “honor to God for”.

So, what this really means is that we can come to an understanding of God’s power and glory and proclaim this power and glory after reading the rest of Psalm 29. After all of this analysis, I have to think that the NIV’s “ascribe” is a pretty good translation and conveys most closely the original meaning of the passage.