Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 22 – Part 3

Psalm 22, continued

Verses 24-32 [23-31]

These verses represent the third (and final) section of the Psalm; the emphasis on lament and a plea for help has given way to one of praise and thanksgiving to YHWH, suggesting that God has provided (or is expected to provide) deliverance for the Psalmist. And, since this protagonist, whether or not understood as the king, represents the people as a whole, the individual salvation he experiences similarly represents the salvation God brings collectively for His people. This helps to explain the focus in verses 24-32 on exhortation to praise, and how the Psalmist’s own worship of YHWH blends with that of the “great congregation”. There may be an indication of a ritual or liturgical context for the composition preserved here as well, though one must be cautious in any attempt to reconstruct it.

Verses 24-25 [23-24]

“(You the one)s fearing YHWH, shout praise (to Him),
(you) seed of Ya’aqob, give weight [i.e. honor] to Him,
and (may) you be in awe from Him, all (the) seed of Yisra’el!
For He has not despised,
and did not treat as filthy,
(the) chanting of the oppressed—
(indeed) He has not kept His face hidden from him,
but in his calling to Him for help, He has heard!”

This initial portion begins and ends with a 3+3 bicolon (v. 24ab, 25b); in between there are lines of irregular meter—apparently a single 4-beat line (v. 24c) and a 2+2+2 tricolon (v. 25a), the rhythm of which I have tried to preserve visually above. The interplay of the singular (i.e. deliverance for the Psalmist) and plural (i.e. for the people collectively), noted above, is established in these lines. The case of the Psalmist serves as an example for the rest of Israel—as YHWH has saved him, so will God save all the faithful ones who call to Him for help (vb uwv) in their time of distress.

In the third line of the tricolon in v. 25a, there is a bit of wordplay—MT yn]u* tWnu$ (±§nû¾ ±¹nî), which would be a cognate expression (i.e., “oppressions of the oppressed”, “afflictions of the affliction”). I am inclined, however, to follow Dahood (p. 142) in reading twnu as derived from a separate root hn`u* (“sing, chant”), in which case it should presumably be vocalized as an infinitive, tonu& (or Piel toNu^), cf. Exod 32:18; Psalm 88:1. Dahood also suggests that ryT!s=h! in v. 25b should be understood as a reflexive (infixed-t) form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”), rather than a form of the root rt^s* (“hide”); this would alter the translation, but not the essential meaning of the line—i.e. God “turning away” his face vs. “hiding” it.

Verse 26 [25]

“From (what) you (have done) (comes) my shout in (the) great assembly,
(and) my vows (to you) I will make good in front of (the one)s fearing Him.”

This 4+4 couplet continues the theme of the Psalmist as an example for the people, as he performs his acts of gratitude and worship (i.e. his “shout” of praise, etc) in the public setting of the assembly (lh*q*). The initial word is problematic, especially with its second person suffix that seems to contradict the third person suffix at the end of the second line. However, the mixing of person in ancient poetry is not all that unusual, and we should not be startled by the sudden shift from addressing God directly, to speaking of Him indirectly, especially since the third person usage in the second line is likely a relic of a fixed expression regarding righteous as “the ones fearing Him”. The MT points the initial word as a prepositional expression—;T=a!m@, “from you”, presumably in the sense of “from [i.e. as a result of] what you have done”. Dahood (p. 142) offers the interesting interpretation of itam as a verbal form, a denominative derived from ha*m@ (“hundred”), in which case in context it would mean something like “my praise is to you a hundred (fold)”. This is an attractive solution, but perhaps rather unlikely, given the lack of any other clear examples of such a denominative in the Old Testament.

Verse 27 [26]

“The oppressed (one)s will eat and be satisfied,
they will shout praise to YHWH, (the one)s seeking Him—
may your heart live for (all time) until (the end)!”

Again there is a shift from the protagonist (i.e. individual salvation) to the congregation (“assembly”) of the people (collective). Clearly, however, it is the righteous and faithful ones who are in view— “the ones seeking [vb vr^D*]” YHWH—and not the entire people in a simple national/ethnic sense. These same righteous Israelites, faithful and loyal to God, are characterized as “oppressed”, using a plural adjective (<yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm) that would take on great importance as a religious self-identification for devout Jews in subsequent generations (including at the time of the New Testament). The promise is that these faithful ones will find salvation in their time of distress, and will enjoy a long and fulfilling life (expressed in the third line as a blessing). The implication throughout is that the oppression that the righteous experience is due, in large measure, to the very fact of their faithfulness to YHWH, which stimulates opposition from the wicked.

Verses 28-29 [27-28]

“They will remember and (re)turn to YHWH,
(from) all (the) ends of (the) earth;
and they will bow (down) before your face,
all (the) offspring of (the) nations—
for the kingdom (belongs) to YHWH,
and (is) ruling o(ver the) nations!”

This sequence of three couplets (with slightly irregular meter, 3+2 and 2+2[?]) has the common theme of YHWH’s position as king and ruler of the entire earth. The salvation He is able to bring for his people, in the face of oppression from the wicked (i.e. of the nations), is ultimately due to this sovereignty and power which He possesses. It is thus natural that the praise and worship of YHWH, in this setting, would turn toward the theme of His sovereignty.

The idea of the nations “remembering” (vb rk^z`) and “turning” (or re-turning, vb rWv) to YHWH can be misleading, if understood in the sense of Christian evangelism, etc. While there may be reflected here a tradition regarding the common worship of the one true God by all humankind (cf. Gen 10:32-11:1ff), the more proper meaning is that of the nations coming to recognize the truth of YHWH’s position as King over the universe, being forced to this point by the exercise of His power. This motif of all the nations coming to worship YHWH is rather more typical of the Prophetic writings in the exilic and post-exilic periods; however, it has its roots in older tradition, and cannot necessarily be used as a reliable means for dating the Psalm. Cf. for example, the similar thought and wording in Ps 59:14 [13].

Verse 30 [29]

“Indeed, to Him will they bow down, all (those) sleeping (in the) earth;
they will bend the knee, all (the one)s going down (into the) dust—
even (though) his soul does not remain alive!”

I understand these lines as a tricolon (with irregular meter), parallel in certain respects to that of verse 27 [26] (cf. above). On that basis, there is a clear contrast between the righteous ones of v. 27 and the rest of humankind here (i.e., the nations, following the thought of vv. 28-29). The righteous have their lives preserved by God, while the rest of humankind simply die off and are buried. This rather confirms that the “bowing down” of the nations to YHWH is compulsory, and not necessarily reflective of a genuine conversion to true worship of God. At the very least, the nations who bow down (vb hj^v* reflexive) and “bend the knee” (vb ur^K*) do not have the same relationship to YHWH as do the righteous/faithful ones of His people. This is entirely in accord with Israelite religion and theology, however much it may conflict with later Christian ideals.

I follow the commentators (such as Dahood, p. 143) who parse the initial word wlka (MT Wlk=a*, “they will eat”) as ol Ea* (“indeed to him”), which better fits the context. The reading Wlk=a* may have arisen due to the parallelism with verse 27, and the opening word there; at the very least, there would seem to be some wordplay involved. Also problematic is the expression Jr#a#-yn@v=D!, which would appear to mean “(the) fat (one)s of the earth”; however, this does not fit the parallelism of the lines particularly well. A more likely parsing, it seems to me, recognizes the participial form yn@v@y=, “(the one)s sleeping” (vb /v@y`); this yields the appropriate parallel (cp. Dan 12:2):

    • “(the one)s sleeping (in the) earth”
    • “(the one)s going down (into the) dust”

The initial D! would then be explained as the old Semitic relative pronoun (yD!), which was preserved in poetry (and continued to be used in Aramaic), but otherwise disappeared from Old Testament Hebrew prose (where the relative particle rv#a& is far more common). Thus, if correct, the derivation  yn@v@y= + yD! = yn@v=D!; through elision/syncope the consonant y drops out (cf. Dahood, p. 143).

The meaning of the third line in verse 30 is also uncertain; however, based on the parallel with the third line of v. 27, it would seem that the contrast is between the life of the righteous being preserved (by God), and the inability of the rest of humankind to save their life (i.e. “soul”, vp#n#) from death and the grave.

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“(May my) seed (always) serve Him,
(and) give account of the Lord to (each) circle;
they will come and put His justice (out) front, (showing)
to people coming to be born, that He has done (this).”

These final couplets have a highly irregular rhythm; however, they serve as a fitting conclusion to the Psalm, emphasizing how each generation of Israelites has a duty to continue declaring (such as in performance of this Psalm-composition) how YHWH has acted to save His people, even as they themselves remain faithful to the covenant. The noun roD is often translated “generation”, but it literally means “circle, cycle, revolution”, i.e. a life-cycle or Age. The basic sense of “generation”, however, is correct, as the parallel between the 2nd and 4th lines makes clear—i.e., “circle” (roD) = “people coming to be born” (dl*on <u^). The noun hq*d*x= can also be difficult to translate precisely; it denotes “straightness, right(ness), rectitude”, often in the specific sense of “justice” (so translated above) or religious and moral “righteousness”. In a covenantal context, however, it can also connote loyalty—faithfulness and adherence to the binding agreement.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).


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