Read the Bible Through: Psalm 95, 97-99
Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, ESV Light dawns for the righteous, gladness for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, CSB
The majority of English translations render the Hebrew verb zarah in Psalm 97:11 as sown, and they make it passive– Light is sown.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is the lone outlier, translating “Light dawns for the righteous.” The Hebrew word here is zarach.
As you can see, there is only one letter difference between the two words. The text footnote in the ESV tells us that just one Hebrew manuscript has zarach, along with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and Jerome’s translation into Latin.
It’s possible that Jerome mistranslated the similar word. It’s also possible that he had Psalm 112:4 in mind, which is very similar:
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)
Here, the word is zarach– light dawns.
I’m thankful to have both, because they are both true.
Light is Sown in Season
I love the image that light and joy are things that are sown by God–the sower–into our lives. I love that it doesn’t say “The righteous sow light and joy,” or that light and joy is sown by the righteous. We can’t make ourselves be joyful. We can try, but the results will be superficial and fake. Like a ficus tree. No, joy has to be sown into our lives. And the promise of Psalm 97 is that it is. God is constantly sowing joy into our lives. Planting seeds isn’t something that is done once for most plants. Seeds are sown consistently and seasonally.
Seeds are also sown extravagantly. Remember Jesus’ parable of the seeds in Matthew 13? Every seed of light and joy God sows brings a harvest 30, 60, or a hundredfold.
Now, you know that a gardener has to be patient. Not all light and joy will be seen in this season. If you are in a time of darkness or sadness, it could be that the light and joy just hasn’t bloomed yet. Springtime is coming. The winter doesn’t last forever.
Light Dawns Every Day
And that’s why I love the translation choice of the CSB. “Light dawns” instead of “light is sown.” You see, I’m not a great gardener. For me, if I plant something, it’s a coin toss as to whether I will ever see anything grow from the seeds I sow. On the other hand, I am 100% sure that the sun will come up tomorrow. Lamentations 3:21-23 is one of the great promises of Scripture:
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Beloved, trust that God is a much better gardener than you and I could ever be. Trust that what He sows, He also reaps. And consistently, seasonally, extravagantly, and patiently, He is sowing light and joy in your life.
But if you need a little extra boost of faith today, or if your own experiences with gardening make the whole “sowing seeds” image a little harder to accept, then you have the CSB to lean on: Light and joy will dawn in your life.
As sure as the sun rises.