Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 65

Psalm 65

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is typically characterized as a hymn to YHWH, emphasizing His role as Creator and providential Overseer of the created order. It is one of a number of Psalms specifically designated as a “song” (ryv!). In a sense, virtually every Psalm could be so designated, being a musical  composition (romz+m!) with lyrics. It may be that the term ryv! is meant to indicate that the Psalm was intended to be sung in a cultic worship setting, in which case, its designation as a religious hymn would be appropriate. The term occurs in the heading of a few dozen other Psalms, including the next three in the canonical collection (66, 67, 68).

I generally follow the division of the Psalm used by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 137), inasmuch as I agree with that three-stanza approach. The first stanza (vv. 2-5) focuses on the relationship between the faithful worshiper and YHWH—beginning with the Psalmist, and widening to encompass all of the righteous ones among God’s people. From a ritual setting of worship (including confession of sin and sacrifice), the scene shifts to the heavenly realm, anticipating a dwelling for the righteous with God in the blessed afterlife.

In the second stanza (vv. 6-9), the Psalmist (representing the righteous) calls on YHWH to answer his/their prayer, displaying the same awesome power by which He created (and now governs) the universe. The third stanza (vv. 10-14) specifically focuses on the fruitfulness that YHWH brings to the earth, through the rain that He provides from heaven. Some commentators would interpret this stanza specifically as a prayer for rain.

Metrically, Psalm 65 is irregular, though, at least through the first two stanzas, a 3+2 couplet format is more common than not. In the final verses (12-14) of the third stanza, a 3-beat (3+3) meter is used.

VERSES 2-7a [1-6a]

Verse 2-3a [1-2a]

“To you one <fashions> praise,
O Mightiest, in ‚iyyôn,
to you shall be fulfilled (the) vow,
(the One) hearing prayer.”

The MT of the first line is problematic, involving the the vocalized word hY`m!d% (“silence”); as it has come down to us, the MT here makes very little sense: “to you silence (is) praise…(?)” The LXX apparently reads a form of the verb hm*D* (I), “be like, resemble,” which can be used in the specific sense of “think, imagine, devise”. This would require a Piel verb form, which matches the verb in the third line. The idea of ‘devising’ praise to YHWH would, of course, be most appropriate for the Psalmist, and provides a fitting parallel to the third line, of fulfilling (vb <l^v*) one’s vow (rd#n#) to God. Both are actions of a faithful and devoted worshiper. More to the point, in prior Psalms, praise and the fulfilling of a vow are closely connected—cf. 22:26[25]; 50:14; 56:13[12], etc. Here the Psalm itself could be understood as the fulfillment of a vow to YHWH.

According to my interpretation, verses 2 and 3a combined form a pair of 3+2 couplets. For God to “hear” (vb um^v*) prayer, of course, means to answer it. The Psalmist made a vow to God contingent upon his prayer being answered; this song (psalm) is a fulfillment of the vow he made.

Verses 3b-4 [2b-3]

“Unto you all flesh shall come (bringing)
words of crooked (deed)s (too) great to count,
our breaking (faith), you shall wipe them (away)!”

As it stands, if the MT is essentially correct, I would regard vv. 3b-4 as an irregular tricolon. The theme of worship in vv. 2-3a expands to include the theme of repentance and confession of sin, in a sacrificial or ritual setting. Here “all flesh”, presumably, refers to the community of the righteous, in a collective and comprehensive sense. Whether one parses the suffixed verb waby as a Hiphil or Qal form, the principal idea is of the people bringing their sins before God, perhaps tied specifically to bringing forward a sacrificial offering. The noun rb*D* (here in a plural construct form), literally means “word”, but can also be understood in the more general sense of “thing, matter, affair”; the rendering “words of crooked (deed)s” preserves the idea of confession of sin. These “crooked deeds” specifically entail acts of breaking the covenant bond with YHWH—this is the fundamental meaning of the root uvp, though the noun (uv^P#) is often translated “rebellion,” or more generally as “transgression”.

Note: I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 110) in reading ynm as a poetic infinitive form of the verb hnm (“count”); also possible is the related noun yn]m= (“number”), i.e., “…great (in) number”. Both are to be preferred over the MT yN]m# (“from/for me”).

Upon coming forward in repentance, confessing one’s sins to God, and fulfilling the necessary sacrificial ritual, the sin is forgiven and “wiped (over/out)” (vb rp^K*, Piel).

Verse 5 [4]

“(How) happy (is the one) you choose and bring near,
(that) he should dwell (in) your courts!
May we be satisfied by (the) good(ness) of your house,
(there in) your holy palace.”

Here again we have a pair of 3+2 couplets, as in vv. 2-3a (cf. above). The wish expressed by the Psalmist is for something more than forgiveness and blessedness in this life; indeed, it is the blessedness of the heavenly afterlife that he has in mind. This raises the possibility that the expression “all flesh” in verse 3b could allude to an afterlife (or eschatological) judgment scene. On such a judgment setting as providing the ancient religious background to the beatitude form, cf. my earlier discussion (as part of a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus). See also, the study on Psalm 1, where the same expression yr@v=a^ begins the opening line (of verse 1). Literally, it means something like “(O the) happiness of…”; for poetic concision above, I have translated “(how) happy (is…)”.

In vv. 3b-4, the faithful worshiper comes near to God, in repentance and with words of confession; now, in turn, God brings righteous one near (vb br^q*) to Him. This act of bringing near (into the blessed heavenly realm) also involves a choice (vb rj^B*) made by YHWH. The righteous person is specially chosen to be admitted to the heavenly palace of YHWH, to dwell in its courts (lit. enclosures). The blessedness of this life is indicated by the traditional motif of feasting on the “good” (bWf) found in the heavenly palace, at the royal table, until one is completely filled and “satisfied” (vb ub^c*).

Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“(With) fearful (thing)s may you answer us,
O Mighty (One) of our salvation—
(the One) making secure all (the) ends of (the) earth,
and (the) sea(s that are) far off”

In this stanza, the focus of the Psalm has shifted to a communal prayer offered to YHWH, presumably in the context of a prayer for deliverance (from adversity, enemies, etc), of the kind that we find frequently in the Psalms. The request is that YHWH will answer (vb hn`u*) the people’s prayer with great and wondrous (lit. “fearful”) deeds, implying the sort of miraculous actions by God recorded throughout Israelite and Old Testament tradition.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 112) in reading jfbm as a causative participle, setting the pattern for the participial clauses that follow in verses 7-8. The root jfb denotes being safe and secure—that is, under the protection that YHWH provides for those who are faithful/loyal to Him. This is a theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms, and the verb jf^B* is used often (46 times). Here, however, the specific idea of YHWH’s sovereign power and control over all creation is being emphasized.

Again, metrically we have in this verse a pair of 3+2 couplets.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“(the One) establishing the mountains by His strength,
being girded by (His) might;
(the One) calming (the) crashing of the seas,
(the) crashing of their waves,
and (the) cry of the peoples”

The 3+2 couplet pattern continues, except for the addition of a 2-beat line, for dramatic effect, in the second couplet. YHWH, as Creator, has control over the entire universe, governing it and setting it in order. The imagery here relates principally to His original act of creation, establishing the world’s order; it applies also, naturally enough, to His continuing maintenance and governance of creation. On the ancient Near Eastern cosmological tradition of God subduing the primeval waters, cf. my article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The motif of the raging sea as a symbol for the violent raging of the nations is also traditional (Isa 17:12; 57:20; Jer 6:23; Ezek 26:3; Zech 10:11; Rev 13:1ff, etc), and the parallel allows for humankind to be included as part of the created order over which YHWH has sovereign control.

Verse 9 [8]

“And they shall fear, (those) dwelling (at the) ends, from your signs;
(the) going forth of dawn and dusk you make cry out!”

The stanza concludes with a dramatic (4-beat) couplet, that essentially matches the thought expressed in the opening line (v. 6a, cf. above). The “signs” (totoa) to be shown by YHWH, reflecting His miraculous power over creation, are parallel to the “fearful things” mentioned in the opening line. People of the nations will rightly be in fear of what God will do, in answer to the prayer of His righteous ones. Here, “ends” is shorthand for “ends of the earth,” as in v. 6b.

This reaction of fear and awe will be all-encompassing, occurring all day long, from the break of dawn until the setting of the sun. This is another way of expressing God’s control over the entirely of creation.

Verses 10-14 [9-13]

Verse 10abc [9abc]

“You oversee the earth and give it abundance,
(with) much (rain) you enrich it—
(the) stream of (the) Mightiest (is) full of water!”

Following the theme of YHWH’s control over creation in the second stanza, the focus narrows here to the specific idea of God making fruitful (for humankind) the surface of the earth. For an agricultural and herding society, this fundamentally entails God bringing down rain from the heavens. In ancient Near Eastern cosmological tradition (cf. above), the ability to bring rain stems from the Deity’s control over the waters that surround the cosmos (heaven-earth); this was achieved during the Creation when God subdued the primeval waters. Those waters, in a dark and chaotic state, preceded the ordered universe that God established, and had to be tamed. It is possible to treat the perfect verb forms in this stanza as precative perfects, and the stanza itself as a prayer for rain (cf. Dahood, II, p. 109).

The roots qwv (cp. qqv) and bbr (I) both denote being/having much, i.e., an abundance. Indeed, the plural noun <ybybr= (in v. 11, cf. below) is used to refer to an abundance of rain(drops), and almost certainly the adjective br^ here has a comparable point of reference (i.e., “much [rain]”). The rain also produces much fruitfulness for the land, indicated here by the verb rv^u* (Hiphil, “enrich”).

Verses 10d-11 [9d-10]

“You prepare (her) grain, for thus you have established her—
saturating her furrows,
(soak)ing down her folds,
with many (shower)s you melt her,
(and) her sprouting you bless.”

Assuming that the MT text is essentially correct, I understand verse 10d and 11 together as a poetic unit—containing an initial four-beat line, followed by a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain. The terse lines of v. 11 produce a staccato effect, giving a series of ‘shapshots’ describing the rains and their effect on the earth. The feminine suffixes refer back to the noun Jr#a# (“earth, land”) in 10a.

The initial line is a bit awkward, with its double-use of the verb /WK (and triple-use of the root /wk). The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, and doubtless two or more nuances are intended. For the first occurrence of the verb, I read it in the sense of “prepare, make ready”; for the second, the idea of “found, establish”. YHWH prepares the grain by bringing down the rains, because this is how he has established things for the earth/land in the order of creation (cf. above). On the form <ngd, I read the final mem (<-) as an enclitic element (cf. Dahood, II, p. 115; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 138); this stylistic device is relatively common in Hebrew poetry, and probably occurs more often than most commentators recognize; it can easily be mistaken for the marker of a plural noun (or a plural suffix).

The first two lines of v. 11 are synonymous, very close in meaning. The verb forms can be read either as infinitives or imperatives, depending on how one treats the stanza as a whole—either as a description of God’s creative work (in bringing the fructifying rain), or as a prayer for rain. I have opted for the former approach, which seems more in keeping with the overall tenor of the Psalm. The noun dWdG+ literally means “cut”, i.e., an inroad, something cut through, being here virtually synonymous with <l#T# (“furrow”); I have rendered the former as “fold” (i.e., a fold, implying a trench and ridge, in the surface of the earth).

Once the copious rains (pl. noun <yb!yb!r=, cf. above) have “melted” (vb gWm) the earth’s surface, watering it down, the ground can then sprout forth its plant-growth, the grain and fruit, etc.

Verse 12 [11]

“You crown the (mountain) peak (with) your goodness,
and your tracks drip (down) fatness (below);”

Each of verses 12-14 focuses on a specific area of the earth’s surface that is made fruitful by the rains YHWH sends. Verse 12 begins with the mountain heights, indicated both by the verb rf^u* (in the specific sense of “crown”) and the noun tnv. I follow Dahood (II, p. 116) in explaining the latter on the basis of the cognate Ugaritic word šnt; cp. also Arabic saniya, “be(come) high, exalted”.

The “goodness” (bof) that comes to the mountain peaks, refers both to the fructifying rain and the effect of it—i.e., the fruitfulness of the land. This is parallel with the “fatness” (/v#D#, i.e., richness, fruitfulness). The “tracks” are the pathways and channels by which the rain (and subsequent fruitfulness) “drips” down from the mountaintops to the areas below. It also alludes to the ‘tracks’ made by herd animals (cattle, etc) going to find pasture.

Verse 13 [12]

“the habitations of (the) outback drip,
and (the) hills surround (themselves with) joy;

As was alluded to in verse 12, here the pasture lands—lit. habitations, homes, dwellings—for the herds (and those tending them) are specifically referenced. They, in turn, “drip” with fruitfulness, just as the mountains do in v. 12. As a result, the surrounding hills twirl/spin with joy (lyg), and, in so doing, “surround” (vb rg~j*) themselves with joy. The joyfulness of the entire earth is implied.

Verse 14 [13]

“(the) rounds are clothed (with) flock(s),
and (the) valleys covered (with) field(s)—
they shout (for joy), indeed, and sing!”

The scene here shifts slightly, though still referring generally, in the first line, to the rich pasture-land. The noun rK* essentially means something round, almost certainly continuing the conceptual word-play from v. 13, involving the roots lyg (“turn/twirl/spin”) and rgj (“surround”). Here, the “rounds” refer to areas of pasture-land, probably also to be understood as valleys (cf. Dahood, II, p. 117) that are covered (lit. “clothed”) with an abundance of herd animals. Other “valleys” are used for farmland, and are similarly “covered” (vb [f^u*) with fields (collective noun rB*) of grain.

The subject “they” of the concluding line encompasses all of the areas of the earth covered in vv. 12-14, but also can be seen as referring to the entirety of creation (including humankind). They all shout for joy (vb u^Wr) and sing praise to God. The latter verb (ryv!, “sing”) is, of course, related to the noun (ryv!, “song”) in the heading of the Psalm.

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).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *