What is a Miktam?
When Bible translators render a Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word into another language like English they fall into different translation philosophies. Some employ Formal Equivalence, wherein they seek to find the equivalent words in English which take into account the appropriate grammar standard to deliver a translation more likely free of interpretation. Others utilize Dynamic Equivalence seeking to understand and render the thought and meaning of the original writer and while helpful, it is often subject to the translator’s bias.
But what do translators do when presented with a word they have no English equivalent for, or similar concept or even when they do not fully understand the term they wish to translate? Then, translators often will transliterate the original word without translating it.
This is the case with מִכְתָּם, transliterated as Miktam, or Michtam.
Miktam in Scripture
This term is found only in six places in Scripture, specifically Psalms 16, 56, 57, 58, 59 and Psalm 60. In the Septuagint, or LXX, it is rendered by a word meaning “tablet inscription” or a “stelograph”, meaning to stamp or engrave. So it is viewed as being so precious it required lasting preservation. Some have rendered it as “a golden Psalm”, from the word kethem, relating to fine or stamped gold. However, some have also suggested that Michtam may relate to a literary or musical term.
The practice stelography, writing on pillars, is also seen in passages like Deuteronomy 6:6-9.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9
So it may be that these Psalms written by David were regarded as being so precious by him that he either had them preserved in carved tablets, or engraved into the pillars around where he resided or worshipped for him and everyone else to see.
In each of the passages where we find the term Miktam being used there is a common theme.
In Psalm 16 we see David declaring the goodness of God and humbling himself before Him in praise. In Psalm 56 David is captured by the Philistines and pleading for God to protect him, confessing even though he is afraid he still trusts God. In Chapter 57 David flees from Saul into a cave and beseeches God to show him pity and that though his enemies seek to capture him he still sings of the glory of God. In Psalm 58 David condemns the wicked who harden their hearts and devise evil, but he proclaims that the righteous wait on God knowing He will make righteous judgments. Psalm 59 David asks the Lord to deliver him from his enemies and recognizes that God laughs at the plans of the wicked, and proclaims His steadfast love. In Psalm 60 David has won several amazing victories and had obtained the pinnacle of his power; his kingdom seemed firmly established and yet here he reflects back on all the adversity the nation of Israel had faced and still pleads for God’s deliverance, declaring his need for Him.
Through each of these instances a striking theme emerges: The enemies of God and His righteous people may rise up, they may do wicked things and see minor victories, but through it all God is the only true refuge and He will deal with the wicked for which His people will sing His praises.
Whether the term Miktam means a precious and engraved statement of faith and worship, or it is a musical direction or even a type of poetry these Psalms of David serve to inspire and build our faith in God, in moments of adversity and heartache as well praise Him as our deliverance.