March 12 (1): Psalm 68:25-28

Strophe 7: Psalm 68:25-28 [24-27]

Strophe 6 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 25 [24]

“They have seen your goings (forth), O Mightiest,
(the) goings of my Mighty (One),
my King, in the holy place.”

Metrically, this opening couplet begins with a 3-beat line, and forms a 3+2+2 tricolon, thus reversing the more typical pattern (2+2+3) of this Psalm.

The idea seems to be that, following the victorious entry of God’s people into the Promised Land, YHWH now takes up His new dwelling-place in the “holy place” on mount Zion. Having gone forth from His dwelling on mount Sinai, He now proceeds to the new sanctuary. Possibly the Psalm itself, in this final part, is meant ritually to reenact and commemorate this event. The opening verb “they have seen” implies a general audience, without any specific persons in mind.

The final prepositional expression, vd#Q)b^, is slightly ambiguous. Properly, it means “in the holy place,” i.e., God is present in His dwelling, in the sanctuary. However, the preposition B= can carry the specific meaning “into”, implying YHWH’s entry into His dwelling-place, but also (on occasion) a meaning similar to /m! (“from,” i.e., from within).

Verse 26 [25]

“(Those) singing go in front,
(and those) playing strings behind,
(and) in between (are the) maidens drumming.”

This verse gives us a clearer portrait of a ritual event, with a procession of musicians—singers, those playing stringed instruments, and young women playing tambourines/timbrels—commemorating YHWH’s entrance into His dwelling-place (the sanctuary of the Zion Temple).

Metrically, there is here a return to the more common 2+2+3 pattern of the Psalm, the inverse of the 3+2+2 tricolon of v. 25.

Verse 27 [26]

“In (their) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) water dug for Yisrael.”

The “assemblies” here refer, not just to the musicians mentioned in v. 26, but to all the people who are gathered for the ritual event. The MT vocalizes the verb as an imperative, but a Piel perfect form (Wkr=B@) seems more appropriate to the context. If an imperative is correct—i.e., calling upon the people to honor and worship YHWH—then the verb in the opening line of the strophe (War) should also be parsed as an imperative (“see, look…!”).

The identification of YHWH as the “Mighty One” (la@, here <yh!l)a$), in line 2, has greater religious and theological significance than may appear at first glance. For ancient Israelites, especially in the earlier periods, it was an important tenet of their religious identity, that their God YHWH was to be identified with the Creator God °E~l (la@). In the Patriarchal period, the latter was the principal name of God, but the former (YHWH) came into prominence with the Exodus, and Israel’s long migration from Sinai into Canaan. It was important that the Yahwist religion (worship of YHWH) be seen as a legitimate extension of the earlier °E~l-worship.

The final line associates YHWH with the ‘source of water’ for Israel, presumably alluding to His providential sustenance of the people during their wanderings in the Sinai. Several key traditions deal specifically with the need for water, and God’s provision—Exod 15:20-27; 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13; 21:16-18. The noun roqm* literally means the “place dug” (i.e., for water), but can also refer specifically the water that comes forth (i.e., a “fountain”); on the religious-symbolic use of the word, cf. Psalm 36:10[9]; Isa 51:1; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 13:1.

Some commentators would emend roqm* to read instead, e.g., ar*q=m!, which has essentially the same meaning as lh@q=m^ in line 1, viz., an assembly, a group of people called to assemble, in a particular location; cf. Kraus, p. 47. Dahood (II, p. 148) interprets the line in much the same way, but without emending the MT, deriving rwqm here from a separate root rwq meaning “call”. This, admittedly, gives a sensible parallelistic reading to the verse:

“In (the) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) congregation of Israel.”

Verse 28 [27]

“(See) there (is) Binyamin,
(the) little (one), leading them,
(the) princes of Yehudah (in) their throng,
(with the) princes of Zebulûn,
(and the) princes of Naptalî.”

Similar to the procession of musicians in v. 26, here we have a procession of the leaders of the various tribes. Specifically, the northern territories of Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned together with Benjamin and Judah. The meaning of the word <t*m*g+r! in line 3 is quite uncertain; the noun (presumably, hm*g+r!) occurs only here in the Old Testament. It has been related to late Hebrew <g~r* (“to stone”), and cognate roots in Aramaic and Arabic; and cf. the noun hm*g@r=m^ in Prov 26:8. Others would cite Akkadian rag¹mu, “cry out”, and Ugaritic rgm, “say, speak”. The context suggests a noisy throng, uttering words of praise to YHWH.

If this strophe is meant to record an actual ritual event, it must have been a grand affair, including chief men (rulers/princes, <yr!c*) from at least three other tribes, joining with the crowd of Judeans. To avoid cluttering the poetry, I have left all four tribe-names transliterated above, rather than translating them.

The northern tribes uniting with the south, under the rule of Jerusalem, was a key theme during the Kingdom period. It took on even greater meaning after the great schism (between north and south), the ideal of reuniting the tribes lasting through the Exile, and helping to fuel Messianic expectations in the post-Exilic period.

Metrically, there are five lines to this verse, best viewed as a 2+2+3 tricolon, followed by an additional 2-beat couplet; it yields a 2+2+3+2+2 meter.

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).