Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 62 (Part 1)

Psalm 62

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (v. 13 [12])

This Psalm has a curious structure and thematic development. In this instance, the Selah (hl*s#) pause marker appears to be a structural indicator. The markers divide the Psalm into three stanzas. The first two stanzas have similar openings, especially in the first two couplets. In these lines, the familiar theme of divine protection is emphasized. We have seen how many of the Psalms feature the covenant-theme of the protection YHWH provides for the righteous, with the specific idea (often framed as a prayer-request) that God will deliver the Psalmist from his ‘enemies’ and from the danger of death.

The first stanza, however, has an expanded form, in verses 4-5 (cp. vv. 8-9), which are heavily influenced by Wisdom-traditions. These Wisdom-elements feature even more prominently in the final stanza, which functions as a coda—a didactic section containing proverbial material. We have seen how Wisdom-traditions shaped many of the Psalms, giving a new (communal) framework to the ancient royal/covenant themes. This is very much the case in this Psalm as well, though the structuring of the material overall is a bit peculiar.

The superscription marks this Psalm as another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), and specifically identifies it as a musical composition (romz+m!). The term romz+m! last occurred in Psalm 51, not being used in Pss 52-61, though it is perhaps implied in Ps 61.

The precise meaning of the expression /WtWdy+-lu^ is uncertain. /WtWdy+ (Y®¼û¾ûn, Jeduthun) was the name of a Levitical musician who served in the Tent-shrine during the reign of David (1 Chron 16:41-42; 25:6). A musician with the same name served in Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron 5:2), and the name seems to refer to a family of Priestly musicians. In the heading of Psalm 39, Jeduthun may be identified as the musical director; however, here the use of the preposition lu^ (“upon”) suggests a particular musical style or mode (i.e., in the manner of Jeduthun); cf. also 77:1. Possibly it could refer to a specific melody (cf. 60:1, etc), or even (less likely) to a kind of instrument (cf. 61:1, etc).

Stanza 1: VV. 2-5 [1-4]

Verses 2-3 [1-2]

“To (the) Mightiest alone (I go, to my) strong tower,
(O) my soul, from Him (comes) my salvation!
He alone (is) my rock and my salvation—
my place up high, I will not at all be shaken!”

The first two couplets are essentially repeated at the beginning of the second stanza (vv. 6-7), with slight variation (discussed below).

I follow Dahood (II, p. 90-1) in viewing the noun hY`m!WD as essentially equivalent to hm*WD in v. 6, but deriving not from the root <Wd (= <md), “be silent,” but rather as being cognate to Akkadian dimtu, denoting a tower or other strong/fortified location. That would appear to be the meaning of hm*D% in Ezek 27:32, and it is much more suitable to the context here than the idea of “silence”. This is confirmed by the parallel of rWx (“rock”) in the first line of the second couplet. The basic motif is of a secure (fortified) location on a high rock, as a way of emphasizing the security and protection that YHWH provides for the righteous.

The parallel in verse 6 suggests that –la# here is equivalent in meaning to the prefixed preposition l= there. Dahood (II, p. 92) regards the latter as an emphatic element, and this would be consistent with the overall theme (of YHWH Himself as the Psalmist’s protection). It might also, however, be possible to read la#/l= as a true preposition, in which case the line would be something like: “To (the) Mightiest along (do I go)…,” emphasizing the idea of the Psalmist seeking protection (i.e., going to find refuge) in YHWH (cf. on v. 9 below). I have tentatively opted for this sense in my translation above.

Also with Dahood, I include yv!p=n~ (“my soul”) as part of the second line, thus producing a pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets. As for the particle Ea^ that begins each couplet, it can be read in an asseverative (“indeed”) or restrictive (“only, alone”) sense; I have opted for the latter, but the former would work just as well.

The locative noun bG~v=m! in the second couplet, which literally means something like “place up high,” again emphasizes the motif of a secure location high on a rock; it occurs frequently in the Psalms, as part of the vocabulary of Divine protection (of the Psalms we have studied, cf. 9:10; 18:3; 46:8, 12; 48:4; 59:10, 17-18). The verb fom (“slip, [be] shake[n]”), in a negative sense (i.e., “will not be shaken”) also occurs frequently in the Psalms, in the context of the protection and deliverance God provides. The adjective hB*r^ (lit., “much, great”) would seem to be used here in a simple emphatic sense—i.e., “I will not be shaken at all”).

Verse 4 [3]

“Until when will you rush against a man,
(to) dash (him) to pieces, all of you—
like a wall bending (down),
(or) a fence th(at is) pushed down?”

The perspective of the stanza suddenly shifts, matched by a shift in meter. From the idea of YHWH as a place of protection for the Psalmist, we have the portrait of the wicked as attacking/assailing others (including the righteous)—thus emphasizing the need for God’s protection. This depiction continues the military imagery (of the fortress/stronghold). Without YHWH’s protection, a man is vulnerable to being attacked by enemies (i.e., the wicked)—they will rush on him (vb tWj, occurring only here) and dash him to pieces (vb jx^r*, “shatter,” spec. “slay, murder”). The dual motif of the bending wall and pushed-down fence is best understood as describing the man without protection. Instead of YHWH as a strong fortress, the person without God’s protection, has but flimsy walls and palisades that will easy be pulled down by wicked assailants.

The opening compound particle hn`a*-du^ (“until when,” i.e., for how long…?) seems to be addressed to the wicked, as a kind of condemning taunt, but it perhaps better applies to the victim—i.e., how long will you let yourself be attacked without going to YHWH for protection? Even so, the Wisdom-themed contrast between the righteous and the wicked occurs frequently in the Psalms, and is certainly present here.

Metrically, in this verse, we have a single 3-beat line, following by a triad of 2-beat lines (2+2+2).

Verse 5 [4]

“Only deceptions against him do they plan,
to drive (him) away, they take pleasure in lie(s)!
With their mouth they bless,
but with what is inside them they curse!”

The contrast between the righteous and wicked continues here, bringing the stanza to a close. From the imagery of a military assault (implying violence), the focus here in v. 5 is attack with the mouth—i.e., using the weapons of lying (bz`K*) and deception (ha*WVm^). The commentators are surely correct who read the consonantal text here (wta?m) as ota)V%m= (“deceptions against him”), rather than the MT ota@c=m! (“from his height/elevation” [?]).

The sense of treachery is brought out by the contrast between what the wicked seem to say (blessing), with what they actually intend in their heart (cursing).

Metrically, in this verse we have a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a 2-beat (2+2) couplet.

Stanza 2: vv. 6-9 [5-8]

Verses 6-7 [5-6]

“To (the) Mightiest alone (I go, to) my strong tower,
(O) my soul, from Him indeed (comes) my hope!
He alone (is) my rock and my salvation—
my place up high, (and) I will not be shaken!”

The opening couplets of the second stanza are largely identical with those of the first stanza (vv. 2-3, cf. above). The differences are relatively slight, and may be summarized:

    • In the first line: the prefixed preposition l= is used instead of -la#, but apparently with the same meaning (“to[ward]”); as noted above, Dahood would read the l here as emphatic.
    • Again in the first line, the noun hm*WD (with first person suffix) is used instead of hY`m!WD (suffix implied), but with identical meaning (“fortress, tower,” cp. Ezek 27:32)
    • In the second line, the noun hw`q=T! (“hope”) is used instead of hu*Wvy+ (“salvation”); possibly the latter in v. 2 could be a scribal error (influenced by the same word in the first line of v. 3).
    • The particle yK! could be a secondary addition; but, if original, it is used as a emphatic (“indeed”).
    • The final line is missing the adjective hB*r^ (“much, great”) in v. 3; possibly this is a scribal omission, which alters slightly the rhythm of the line.
Verse 8 [7]

“Upon (the) Mightiest (rests) my safety and my worth,
(the) rock of my strength, my shelter (is) in the Mightiest.”

The parallelism in this couplet is chiastic:

    • Upon the Mightiest
      • my salvation / my worth
      • my rock of strength / my place of shelter
    • in the Mightiest

The corresponding verses (vv. 4-5) in stanza 1 depict what happens to a person without God’s protection. Here, in the second stanza, the image is of YHWH’s protection being maintained for the righteous. YHWH Himself is the place of protection (hs#j=m^) for the Psalmist, again being described as a fortified location high on a rock—the specific expression is “rock of my strength” (i.e., my rock of strength, yZ]u%-rWx). The locative noun hs#j=m^ occurs frequently in the Psalms (14:6; 46:2; 61:4; 71:7; 73:28, etc).

The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of the value or worth of something. Here it is used parallel with uv^y# (“salvation, safety”). The idea seems to be two-fold: on the one hand, the person who trusts in YHWH for protection will come through safe and with his/her own worth intact; on the other hand, the salvation God provides, understood in terms of military victory, also leads to honor for the one who trusts in Him.

Verse 9 [8]

“Seek protection in Him at all time(s),
O people, pour out before Him your heart,
(for the) Mightiest (is the) place of shelter for us.”

Continuing the same theme, the stanza ends with an exhortation for God’s people (i.e., the righteous of Israel) to seek protection in YHWH, trusting in Him at all times (tu@-lk*B=). The verb jf^B* is a keyword in the Psalms (occurring 46 times), fundamentally referring to the act of trusting in YHWH for safety and protection. It is more or less synonymous with the verb hs*j*, also frequent in the Psalms (the derived locative noun hs#j&m^ occurs again here in v. 9, cf. above). The colorful act of “pouring out” one’s heart is used as an idiom for trust.

(The remainder of the Psalm [the third stanza] will be discussed in next week’s study.)

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

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