Does the use of the term פתל of God in Ps. 18:26 or the use of תפל in 2 Sa. 22:27 imply that God acts deceptively or does wrong?
Note: The MT of Ps. 18:26 reads תִּתְפַּתָּֽל while the MT of 2 Sa. 22:27 reads תִּתַּפָּֽל. 1. Keil and Delitzsch seem to think that the latter is a form of the former word (2:689), and Youngblood adapts this view with the thesis that a play on the name Ahithophel is being made (Youngblood, 581-82). 2. Others think that Ps. 18:26 perserves the correct reading and that 2 Sa. 22:27 reads as it does due to scribal error (McCarter, 458-59; Firth, 514). 3. Steinmann holds that תפל is the correct reading in 2 Samuel 22 and פתל is the correct reading in Psalm 18 but that the meaning of the word in this context is the same as פתל (424-25). A decision between these options is difficult to make.
1. The word פתל/תפל is best translated “perverse” and it refers to God’s judicial actions toward sinners (Clement of Alexandria, in Blaising and Hardin, 140; Luther, 123-24; Calvin, 286-87; Poole, 27; Gill, 597-98; Keil and Delitzsch, 2:689; Ross, 1:453).
a. Ps. 112:10 and Isa. 47:10-11 teach that God “turns everything for [the wicked man] opposite of what he hoped for” (Luther, 123-24).
b. Lev. 26:21-24 teaches that God will “walk contrary” to those who “walk contrary” to him (Calvin, 286-87; Poole, 27; Gill, 597-98), and Proverbs 3:34 teaches that God will scorn the scornful (Poole, 27).
c. God “can match them in their capacities, twisting their wickedness around to come back upon them” (Ross, 1:453)
2. The word תפל/פתל refers to “cunning” or “wisdom”, and it refers to God meeting sinful cunning with wise judgments that will “entangle and ensnare” the wicked (Spurgeon, 263; also Kidner, 111; Bratcher and Reyburn, 175-76; Omanson and Ellington, 1131; Wilson, 346; Harman, 193; Youngblood, 681-82; Longman, 115).
a. This view recognizes a play on words that harmonizes the sin with the judgments (cf. Bratcher and Reyburn, 175-76).
b. “Here the repeated reciprocity between noun and verb is broken at last-perhaps as an illustration of the broken relationship created by human ‘crookedness.'” (Wilson, 346).
c. Examples include God’s dealing with Jacob through Laban, or his dealing with Balaam (Kidner, 111).
3. The word פתל/תפל is best translated “perverse” and it refers to how God “seems” to sinners (Augustine, 172; Faussett, 140; Hoffner, in loc).
a. “This is an appropriate translation of denominative Hithpael forms, i.e., those whose root is nominal or adjectival (GKC §54e; IBHS §26f).”
b. This translation avoids saying that God is “perverse.”
4. The word פתל is best translated “acts corruptly” and indicates that God causes the wicked acts of the wicked to return to their own judgment (VanGemeren, 208).
3. The word תפל/פתל is best translated “perverse” and it refers to how God “seems” to sinners.
a. According to GKC §54e and IBHS §26.2f, the Hithpael stem can indicate showing oneself to be a certain way or feigning or pretending to be a certain way. However for God to “show himself” perverse is view 1. For God to “pretend to be” perverse is not the same as seeming to be perverse.
b. The passage is thus best understood as God being or acting in a certain way toward the crooked rather than him just seeming to be such.
4. The word פתל is best translated “acts corruptly” and indicates that God. causes the wicked acts of the wicked to return to their own judgment.
a. The word פתל does not mean “act corruptly” (see BDB, CHALOT, DCH).
b. This translation impugns the character of God.
1. The word פתל/תפל is best translated “perverse” and it refers to God’s judicial actions toward sinner.
a. “Perverse” is probably not the best translation of פתל, but it does capture what is taking place in this verse.
b. Lev. 26:21-24; Ps. 112:10; Isa. 47:10-11 are illuminating cross-references that rightly reveal how God opposes the wicked.
2. The word פתל/תפל refers to “cunning” or “wisdom”, and it refers to God meeting sinful cunning with wise judgments that will “entangle and ensnare” the wicked.
a. This view picks up on the meaning of פתל the best.
b. This view picks up on the word play in which God meets wicked cunning with holy cunning.
c. This view picks up on the literary device of breaking the “reciprocity between noun and verb” due to crookedness (Wilson, 346),
Conclusion: View 2 is the best view, but the passages cited by adherents to view 1 (Lev. 26:21-24; Ps. 112:10; Isa. 47:10-11) are helpful cross-references that illuminate God’s opposition to the wicked.
Bibliography: BDB; CHALOT; DCH; Psalms Commentaries: Augustine, On the Psalms, ACW; Blaising and Hardin, ACCC; Bratcher and Reyburn, UBS Handbook Series; Calvin, Commentary; Faussett, in JFB; Gill, Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 3; Harman, Mentor; Kidner, TOTC; Longman, TOTC; Luther, Works, vol. 10; Poole, Annotations on the Holy Bible, vol. 2; Ross, KEL; Spurgeon, Treasury of David; VanGemeren, REBC; Wilson, NIVAC. Samuel Commentaries: Firth, AOTC; Hoffner, EEC; Keil and Delitzsch; Long, TOTC; McCarter, AB; Omanson and Ellington, UBS Handbook Series; Steinmann, CC; Youngblood, REBC.