Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 3)

Psalm 105, continued

For discussion of the first five strophes, see Parts 1 and 2.

Strophe 6: Verses 29-36

The relation of verse 28 to the account of the Plagues in vv. 29-36

The reference to the plague of darkness, which is the penultimate (9th) plague in the Exodus account (10:21-29), here at the beginning of the account in Psalm 105, has proven difficult for commentators to explain. One possibility is that Psalm 105 preserves a different tradition regarding the ordering of the Plagues, in which the plague of darkness comes first, perhaps as an ominous portent of the disasters to come. In the Exodus ordering, it portends the great disaster of the final plague—the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Even if the Exodus-order has been altered by the Psalmist, the darkness may have served the same literary purpose noted above—viz., to anticipate the disastrous evils that will come upon Egypt, symbolized by YHWH sending forth darkness.

Also problematic is the wording of the second line of v. 28. The MT reads, “and they did not rebel against His word”. The LXX and Peshitta (Syriac) omit the particle of negation (al)), presumably in an attempt to explain an otherwise difficult line; the omission makes the line refer to the hardness of the Egyptians (Pharaoh’s heart, etc) in refusing to obey YHWH’s word (delivered through Moses). However, this reading is most unlikely in the context of v. 28 in the Psalm. I find the explanation by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 63), relating the line to Exod 10:24, to be unconvincing.

My handling of the Psalm has mitigated these difficulties somewhat, by treating verse 28 as the closing couplet of a strophe, one dealing primarily with Moses and Aaron as servants (and prophets/spokesmen) of God. I thus understand Moses and Aaron as the plural subject of the verb in line 2. In contrast to the Israelite people during the Wilderness/Wandering period, Moses and Aaron did not rebel against YHWH’s word (Kethib, “words”, plur.), but were faithful servants in carrying out the things YHWH commanded them. They would announce the plague, and YHWH would bring it about. Several other commentators (Delitzsch, Hupfeld & Nowack, E. Haglund) have offered a similar explanation regarding the second line.

The climactic position of the darkness plague (in the Exodus account) makes it suitable as a reference for the climax of the strophe. Moreover, as I noted, the darkness-motif may indicate a subtle allusion to the Creation account (Gen 1:3); as with the light, YHWH commands the darkness to come, and it is so.

Th. Booij, in his article “The Role of Darkness in Psalm cv 28” (Vetus Testamentum 39 [1989], pp. 209-14), offers the intriguing suggestion that the verb in the second line should be singular (hr*m*, “he/it did [not] rebel”), instead of the plural (Wrm*, “they did [not] rebel”). He notes the Codex Sinaiticus of the Greek, which has the verb in the third person singular (ou) parepi/kranen), being followed by the Latin Vulgate (iuxta LXX). A singular verb would allow for “darkness” (Ev#j)) to be the subject: viz., “it [i.e., the darkness] did not rebel against His word”, but obediently came forth upon Egypt. Booij also understands darkness as the subject of the second verb of the first line “he/it caused darkness”; that is, the darkness sent by YHWH made the land of Egypt dark.

Verse 29

“He turned their waters into blood,
and (so) brought death to their fish. “

In my division of the Psalm, this couplet begins a new strophe, and so marks the beginning of the account of the Plagues (Exod 7:14-25). See above on the reference to the plague of darkness in v. 28. The wording of line 1 generally follows Exod 7:20 (also v. 17); the death of the fish is mentioned in v. 21 (and 18).

Verse 30

“He made their land teem (with) frogs,
(even) in (the) chambers of their kings.”

This second couplet summarizes the second plague (Exod 8:1-15). It is best to read the verb (Jr^v*) in the first line in a causative sense, even though the MT has a Qal-stem form rather than a Hiphil (causative) form; this would make YHWH the subject. Dahood (III, p. 60f) notes that verbs in the Qal stem can sometimes carry a causative meaning, even though he would vocalize the verb here as a Piel form (Jr#v#, instead of Jr^v*). This interpretation avoids the gender disagreement that would otherwise be present if “their land” were the subject, since Jr#a# (“land”) is feminine, and the verb form is masculine; the Qumran manuscript 11QPsa apparently has a feminine form of the verb, to agree with Jr#a#. If “their land” is, in fact, the subject, then the implication is that the presence of the frogs was caused by the first plague—viz., the waters turning to blood led to the frogs coming out onto the land, so that “their land swarmed (with) frogs”.

The expression “in the chambers of their kings” should be understood as “in the royal chambers”, the noun rd#j# referring to an inner room (chamber). On the specific syntactical form of this phrase, utilizing a double plural in a genitival phrase, see GKC §124q (also Joüon’s Grammar §136 o; cf. Allen, p. 53). The line makes more explicit (dramatically so) the reference in Exod 8:3 (see also vv. 9, 11).

Verse 31

“He said (the word), and there came a swarm,
gnats in all (the) cord of their (territory).”

The gnats (<yN]K!) and the swarm (br)u*) of flies, are usually treated as separate plagues—the third (Exod 8:16-19) and fourth (8:20-24ff), respectively. The precise insects referred to and intended by these terms are not entirely certain.

The same phrasing (“He said [the word], and there came…”) also occurs in verse 34. It emphasizes the sureness of YHWH’s word, and its creative power (echoing the Creation account); what YHWH says (vb rm^a*) comes to be. As noted above, this theology informs the phrasing of v. 28a.

On the noun lWbG= (“cord, rope”) as a designation for a piece/porition of land (i.e., territory), see below on verse 33.

Verse 32

“He gave (for) their rain-showers hail-stone(s),
(and) a fire of flame (falling) in their land.”

This couplet summarizes the seventh plague (Exod 9:13-26ff). The fire (here “fire of flame”, i.e. flaming fire) that accompanied the hail-stones (vv. 23-24) probably refers to lightning (note the references to thunder, vv. 23, 29, 33).

Verse 33

“And (so) He struck their vines and their fig trees,
and broke (down every) tree which (is in) their cord.”

The initial w-conjunction indicates here that this couplet relates to that of v. 32; indeed, in the Exodus account, the hail-stones have a destructive effect on the plants and trees (9:25, 31-32). The noun lWbG+ (“rope, cord”), as in verse 31, refers to the Egyptian territory—since a parcel of land is typically measured and/or marked off by a rope.

Verses 34-35

“He said (the word), and there came a locust-swarm,
and (the) locust—there is indeed no counting (it)!—
and it ate (up) every plant in their land,
and it ate (up all the) fruit of their soil.”

These two couplets, which syntactically form a single sentence, summarize the eighth plague (Exod 10:1-20). The terms hB#r=a^ and ql#u# probably represent two different ways of referring to the locust, rather than two different kinds of insect. The noun hB#r=a^, presumably denotes a swarm of many locust, while ql#y# refers to the locust (perhaps specifically the young [larval] form) in its destructive and devouring capacity (the root qql, from which it may be derived, means “lick up”).

Verse 36

“Then He struck all (the) firstborn in their land,
(the) top (portion) of all their (wealth and) power.”

The death of the firstborn is the last of the Plagues (Exod 11:1-12:29), and functions as the climax to the narrative, after which the Israelites are finally released and allowed to leave Egypt. The noun /oa essentially means “power”, often in the sense of creative or generative (i.e. reproductive) power; it also can connote the idea of “wealth”. Both aspects of meaning are appropriate to one’s firstborn sons. These sons are the “top” (or “first, best”) of Egypt’s wealth and power.

Strophe 7: Verses 37-45

Verse 37

“So He brought them out with silver and gold,
and there was no one staggering among his staffs.”

The plural suffix “them” no longer refers to the Egyptians, but back again to the Israelites (cf. Strophe 5), while the singular (“his staffs”) in the second line refers to Israel (Jacob) collectively, by way of his sons (i.e., the tribes). The noun fb#v@ (“staff, rod”) came to be used to designate the tribes of the Israelite confederacy, probably in reference to the leadership and ruling authority of the tribe. Following the account of the Plagues (strophe 6), this strophe introduces the theme of the Exodus from Egypt. The basic reference is to Exod 12:35-36. The idea expressed in the second line, which is not found in the brief Exodus narrative, probably relates to amounts of silver and gold the people were carrying (in addition to all their other baggage); even under this load, not a single person staggered or stumbled, due to YHWH’s protective and providential care over them.

Instead of the suffix “them” in the first line, the Qumran manuscript 11QPsa (also 4QPse) has the specific object “His people” (wmu), probably as an improvement (for the sake of clarity) of the MT.

Verse 38

“Egypt was glad at their going out—
for there fell (the) dread of them upon them.”

The Egyptians’ fear/dread (dj^P^) of the Israelites was brought about by the terrible plagues (Strophe 6). That they were glad (vb jm^c*) to see Israel leave is suggested by Exod 12:33-36.

Verse 39

“He spread out a cloud for (their) covering,
and a fire to give light (to them) at night.”

The “pillar of cloud and fire”, a theophanous demonstration of YHWH’s guiding and protective presence with His people, on their journey from Egypt, is a key element of the Exodus and Wilderness traditions. It is introduced in the narrative at Exod 13:21-22.

Verse 40

“He summoned and brought (forth) quail,
and with bread of heaven He satisfied them.”

The initial verb form “he requested”, which is singular in the MT, is plural in the ancient Versions, and so most commentators would render it. Dahood (III, p. 62) would accomplish this, without emendation, by parsing the consonantal text abywlav as ab@Y`w~ Wla&v* (“they asked and He brought”), with a single w letter where morphology would require two. This makes good sense, since it was the people who requested food (in a roundabout way), according to Exod 16:2-3. However, I am inclined to follow Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 64) in retaining the singular form of the initial verb, with YHWH as the subject. This is consistent with all of the prior couplets, and those which follow in the strophe. Such an interpretation requires that the verb la^v* here means something like “summon”. The phrase “He summoned and brought…” echoes the earlier “He said (the) word, and there came…” in vv. 31, 34.

The joint manna/quail tradition is found in Exodus 16 and also Numbers 11. The specific designation of the manna as “bread of heaven” comes from Exod 16:4 (cf. also Neh 9:15), and was used famously by Jesus in the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse (John 6, vv. 31-33, 41, 50-51, 58); cf. my recent study on John 6:27ff.

Verse 41

“He opened (the) rock and waters flowed (out);
they went into the dry places (like) a torrent.”

The motif of a river-stream (rh^n~) flowing into “dry places” suggests the natural phenomenon of a seasonal torrent rushing through a dry/desert wadi (lj^n~). The tradition of the water from the rock is narrated in Exodus 17:1-7 (cf. also Num 20:2-13); cp. Psalm 78:20. The supernatural provision of water, like the manna and quail from heaven, signifies (once again) YHWH’s covenantal protection of His people.

Verse 42

“For He had in mind (the) word of His holy (bond),
(made) with Abraham His servant.”

The protection and blessing YHWH provides for His people, is, indeed, reflective of the binding agreement (covenant) He made with Abraham (and his descendants). This was the theme of vv. 6-11 (see the discussion in Part 1), and it has continued to run through the remainder of the Psalm, interwoven throughout the historical summary. The use of the noun rb*D* (“spoken word”) to designate this agreement repeats that of verse 8. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Sinai covenant episode (Exod 19-24) in the historical summary; yet here, at the place where one might expect it, there is an allusion to the covenant. Indeed, the covenant at Sinai represents, in many ways, an extension and continuation of the earlier covenant with Abraham.

Verse 43

“So He brought forth His people with rejoicing,
with (songs) ringing out among His chosen (one)s.”

The reference here to rejoicing and songs “ringing out” is general, but it could allude specifically to the Song of Moses (Song of the Sea) and the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15.

Verse 44

“And He gave to them (the) lands of (the) nations,
and they possessed (the fruit of the) peoples’ toil—”

This is a summary reference to the conquest and possession of the land of Canaan by the Israelite people, according to the covenant promise made generations earlier by YHWH to Abraham (see above).

Verse 45

“(that,) in passing over, they would guard His decrees,
and keep watch (over) His instructions.
Praise YH(WH)!”

Contrary to many translators, I render rWbu& with its verbal force (“pass/cross over”), as referring to Israel crossing over into the Promised Land, rather than with the abstract meaning “on account, in order that”, etc. The noun qj) denotes something engraved, often in reference to the inscribed decree of a sovereign. It was used earlier in verse 10, with regard to the binding agreement (covenant) made by YHWH with Abraham (and his descendants). Often, however, it refers specifically to the statues and rules, etc, of the Torah—viz., as written or inscribed (“engraved”) decrees—the Torah regulations representing the terms of the covenant for Israel; the people are faithful to the covenant, fulfilling its obligations, when they observe and perform the Torah regulations. For poetic concision, I translate the plural of qj) above as “decrees”.

Like Psalm 104, this Psalm ends will the traditional acclamation Hy`-Wll=h^ (Hal®lû-Y¹h), calling on people to give praise to YHWH.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2011).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 1)

Psalm 105

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (vv. 1-11, 25-26, 28-31, 33-35, 37-39, 41-42, 44-45); 4QPse (vv. 1-3, 23-25, 36-45)

This lengthy Psalm, much like the earlier Psalm 78 (study) and the following Psalm 106, presents an essential account of Israelite history, in verse form. The history serves a didactic (teaching) purpose, with the goal of exhorting the Israelite people to remain faithful to the covenant with YHWH. Indeed the theme of the covenant (and covenant loyalty) is particularly prominent in this work.

Because of the length and purpose of this Psalm, it is to be expected that the poetry would tend to be relatively simple and prosaic (prosodic) in character. The meter is 3+3 throughout, only on occasion departing from a 3-beat couplet format. Structurally, the seven-strophe division established by A. R. Ceresco (“A Poetic Analysis of Psalm 105…” Biblica 64 [1983], pp. 20-46) is sound and worth following as a guide (as other commentators generally do, cf. Allen, pp. 55-6; Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 65-9).

The Psalm is somewhat difficult to date. The apparent use of vv. 1-15 in 1 Chronicles (16:8-22) does suggest that at least a portion of the composition was in existence by the post-exilic period. Nor can any cultic or liturgical setting be determined with any certainty. The occasion of a covenant renewal ceremony has been suggested, but the hypothesis remains entirely speculative, in spite of the fact that it would fit the thematic emphasis on the covenant throughout the Psalm.

Psalm 105 is extensively preserved in two Qumran manuscripts—11QPsa and 4QPse. There are numerous textual variants in these manuscripts, though most are quite minor. The more notable of these are mentioned in the exegesis.

Strophe 1 (Introduction): Vv. 1-6

Verse 1

“Give praise to YHWH, call out with His name!
Make known His dealings among the peoples!”

The Psalm begins with a call to worship YHWH, giving praise (and thanks) to Him. The verb hd*y` (II) implies an audible (and public) confession to God. The people are to speak out to YHWH, addressing Him by name; the idiom of the verb ar*q* (“call [out]”) + the preposition B= (“in, with, by”) indicates a ritual invocation of the name of YHWH. This utilization of the name-motif alludes to the theme of covenant loyalty that will be established in the following verses. To know the name of God, and to call on it, implies a devout bond of relation between the people and their God.

The second line extends this sense of devotion, to the idea of proclaiming to the surrounding nations all that YHWH has done for His people. The noun hl*yl!u& (from the verb ll^u* I) denotes how YHWH has dealt with His people, on a regular basis, throughout their history. An account of this is entirely what the historical summary in the Psalm provides.

The couplet is also found, verbatim, in Isaiah 12:4. This may mean that the author of the Isaian oracle knew Psalm 105, or simply that the couplet represents a traditional call to worship, which could be used in a variety of settings. The Qumran manuscript 11QPsa expands this traditional opening, by including the words “…for He (is) good, for His devotion (endures) to the distant (future)”, found at the opening of Psalm 106 (cf. also 107:1; 118:1, 29).

This couplet has a 4+3 meter (rather than the regular 3+3), though this is not particularly reflected in my translation above.

Verse 2

“Sing to Him, make music to Him!
Compose on all His wondrous deeds.”

The praise to YHWH, and the account of His dealings with Israel, is to take a musical form, as is appropriate for the occasion. Indeed, the Psalm itself achieves this very purpose. The verb j^yc! implies an act of conversing or narrating, which, in a musical setting (such as we have here), can mean compose, but also covers the idea of performance—viz., a musical-poetic recitation of YHWH’s “wondrous deeds”. Allen (p. 50) gives a fittingly idiomatic English translation: “make all His wonders your theme”.

Verse 3

“Shout with joy by (the) name of His holiness,
(and) let (your) heart be glad, seekers of YHWH!”

The invocation of YHWH’s name should thus be a song of praise, indicated here by the use of the verb ll^h* II, denoting a cheerful or joyous shout (or song). It is to be sung with a glad heart, by all those who are devoted to YHWH (“seekers of YHWH”). Instead of “seekers of YHWH”, the Qumran manuscript 11QPsa (followed by the LXX of 1 Chron 16:10b), reads “seekers of His delight [wnwxr]”, that is, those seeking what pleases YHWH.

Verse 4

“Search out YHWH and His strength,
(and may you) seek His face continually.”

This couplet builds upon the Psalmist’s address, at the end of v. 3, to “(those) seeking [vb vq^B*] YHWH”. The same verb (vq^B*) is used here, along with the parallel vr^D* (“search for, search out”). The righteous and devoted follower of YHWH will seek out His presence at all times (“continually,” dym!T*). This is expressed according to the descriptive attributes of YHWH’s strength (zu)) and His face (<yn]P*). When YHWH turns (vb hn`P*) His face toward His people, and exercises His power on their behalf, then His presence is particularly manifest. The historical summary records key instances when YHWH, in His devotion for His people, acted on their behalf, manifesting His mighty and glorious presence.

Dahood (III, p. 52) explains the adverb dym!T* as a substantive, part of a construct chain: dym!T* wyn`P*, “His face of perpetuity”, “His perpetual face [i.e. presence]”. Thus, by this line of interpretation, dymt refers, not to the righteous act of seeking YHWH, but to the eternal (and ever-faithful) character of YHWH Himself.

The LXX apparently reads the verbal imperative Wzu (“be strong…!”), instead of the suffixed noun ozu (“His strength”) in the first line; cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 63 [note].

Verse 5

“Keep in mind His wonderful (deed)s that He has done—
His (mighty) signs, and (the) judgments of His mouth—”

The continual seeking of YHWH, in loyalty and devotion to Him, includes always keeping in mind (vb rk^z`) all the “wonderful things” (cf. verse 2) He has done for His people. These include supernatural acts, resulting in “signs/portents” (tp@om plur.) on earth, but also the words spoken, by which YHWH declares His will, speaking with the authority of the supreme King (and Judge) of the universe. With regard to the latter, the “judgments of His mouth”, the “Ten Words”, and all the precepts and regulations, etc, of the Torah, are certainly to be included.

Verse 6

“you seed of Abraham His servant,
sons of Ya‘aqob, His chosen (one)s!”

This final couplet identifies the addressees, those “seeking YHWH”, as belonging to the people of Israel (Jacob), and the descendants of Abraham. It provides a transition to the beginning of the historical summary in verse 7.

The Qumran manuscript 11QPsa has “…His servants…His chosen (one)”, reversing the singular/plural of the nouns from what is in the MT. Dahood (III, p. 53) argues that the final w– of MT wyr*yj!B= should be separated and joined instead to the beginning of the first word of v. 7 (aWhw), “For He…”, or as an emphatic, “Indeed, He…”. The fact that verse 7 in 11QPsa begins with a yK! particle does, at least, support the poetic validity of this suggestion. Dahood further claims that the two nouns should be read as singular forms (i.e., “His servant”, “His chosen one”), utilizing different forms (w– & y-) of the third person singular suffix.

Strophe 2: Verses 7-11

Verse 7

“He (is) YHWH, our Mightiest (One)—
in all the earth, His judgments (rule)!”

The historical summary begins with a fundamental theological affirmation that YHWH is Israel’s God (“Mightiest [One]”, <yh!l)a$). At the same time, it is affirmed that YHWH is the Sovereign—King and Judge—over the entire cosmos (specifically, the lower half, the earth, were humans dwell). This was already alluded to earlier in verse 5 (see above), with the expression “the judgments of His mouth”.

Verse 8

“He remembers His agreement into the distant (future),
(the) word He ordained, for a thousand cycles,”

The two fundamental theological principles expressed in verse 7—viz., YHWH as Israel’s God, and His ruling authority over the earth—are combined here. In so doing, the Psalmist introduces decisively the important theme of the “binding agreement” (tyr!B=, i.e. ‘covenant’) that YHWH has established with His people Israel. For poetic concision, I have translated tyr!B= in line 1 simply as “agreement”. The same is referred to, in the second line, as “(the) word [rb*D*] He ordained”. The verb hw`x* properly means “(give an) order”, and, in this sense, it could refer to the various commands, precepts, and regulations of the Torah (beginning with the “Ten Words”), which serve as the terms of the binding agreement. However, in the context of the establishment of the binding agreement, it seems best to translated hw`x* here as “ordain”.

The faithfulness and devotion of YHWH is expressed by the long-lasting and enduring character of His agreement. The traditional parallelism of <l*ou (indicating the distant [future]) with roD (“circle, cycle”) brings out emphatically this temporal aspect. Here the singular roD should probably be understood in a collective sense (“cycles [of time]”); however, the word can also refer to the people living in a particular period of time (in which case, it is typically translated “generation”).

Verse 9

“which He cut (in the beginning) with Abraham,
and (confirmed by) His sevenfold (oath) to Yiṣḥaq.”

Syntactically, verse 9 continues from v. 8, as a single sentence. The binding agreement (referenced in v. 8), was initially cut with Abraham, and then confirmed (by oath) to Isaac. For the Abraham traditions dealing with this covenant, see my earlier studies on Genesis 15 and 17 (Parts 1 and 2 of “The People of God: The Covenant”). It is never stated (in the Genesis narratives) that YHWH swore an oath to Isaac; rather, he confirmed to Isaac the oath He swore (vb ub^v*) to Abraham (Gen 26:1-5 [v. 3]). A binding agreement is literally “cut” (vb tr^K*); on the significance of this idiomatic language, see the aforementioned study on Gen 15. The precise etymology of the verb ub^v* remains uncertain; however, the apparent connection with the number seven (ub^v#) suggests that the significance has to with a seven-fold binding power of the oath (or something along these lines).

Verse 10

“Then He made it stand for Ya‘aqob as cut in (stone),
for Yisrael an agreement (into the) distant (future),”

The further confirmation of the covenant to Jacob is narrated in Genesis 28 (vv. 13-15), connected with his famous dream at Beth-El (“House of God”). It may be the stone at Bethel (vv. 18-21) that is being alluded to with the motif of the binding agreement being established as something “engraved” or “cut in” (qj)), i.e., something ‘cut in stone’. Certainly, the idea of permanence—or at least the characteristic of long-lasting—is being emphasized here. The temporal aspect is expressed in the second line, by the regular idiomatic use of <l*ou, denoting something that lasts or endures into the distant future.

Ultimately, the covenant with Abraham applied to His future descendants (through Isaac and Jacob)—the people of Israel. This covenant is central to the initial formation of Israel as a people (see Exodus 2:24-25; Deut 7:8-9), the events of which are narrated in the remainder of the historical summary.

Verse 11

saying:
‘To you I will give (the) land of Kena‘an
(as the) rope of your inheritance.'”

Inheriting the land of Canaan is central to the covenant YHWH made with Abraham (15:7-8, 18ff; 17:8), and confirmed to Isaac (26:3) and Jacob (28:13ff). The realization of this promise then runs as a theme throughout the Exodus and Conquest narratives, as also in the summary of Israelite history here in the Psalm.

Land was measured and/or divided by means of a rope or cord (lb#j#), used conventionally for the allotted portion of land that a person (or people) comes to possess and inherit (cf. Psalm 78:55; Josh 17:5, etc).

The remainder of the Psalm will be discussed in Parts 2 and 3 of this study.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2011).

 

 

January 5: Psalm 89:50

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:50-53 [49-52]
Verse 50 [49]

“Where (are) your former (act)s of devotion, my Lord,
which you confirmed sevenfold to David by your firmness?”

The closing vv. 50-52 form a strophe-unit parallel with that of vv. 47-49 (discussed in the previous note), the two units being separated by a Selah pause-marker. The Wisdom-emphasis of vv. 48-49 has disappeared, and the unit picks up from the lament-question in verse 47 (“Until when [i.e. how long], O YHWH…?”). Again a painful question is posed to God by the Psalmist: “Where are your former acts of devotion?” This question presents another variation on the firmness theme of the Psalm, utilizing the same pair of terms—ds#j# and hn`Wma$—established in the opening (vv. 2-3).

The noun ds#j# (“loyalty, devotion”) is the focus of the first line, with the plural form <yd!s*j& best understood in the sense of “acts of loyal devotion” —that is, by YHWH toward His people, based on the binding agreement (covenant) between them. Such acts, performed by YHWH in times past, reflect His fundamental attribute and character of ds#j#. Yet, where are such acts—giving Divine blessing and protection to His people—now, in the time of Israel’s exile (and/or post-exilic suffering)? The Psalmist emphasizes this disjunction by using the adjective /ovar! (“first [place], beginning”), in the temporal sense of former—i.e., having been done before, but not (it is implied) now.

The second term, hn`Wma$, is featured in the second line. As has been discussed, the noun literally means “firmness”, primarily in the sense of “faithfulness, trustworthiness”, giving it a meaning comparable with that of ds#j# (i.e., faithfulness, loyalty). Throughout the Psalm, it is the covenant with David that is the focus of YHWH’s faithfulness, and it is again emphasized here in these lines.

The loss of the kingdom and end of the kingship would seem to indicate that YHWH has renounced this covenant, and His promises to David, in spite of what is affirmed throughout vv. 29-38. This apparent contradiction is the main theme of the lament in vv. 39-46—how can YHWH have abandoned His covenant-promise to David (regarding the kingship)? This question is all the more pointed because of the fact that the promise was confirmed by a sacred oath, which makes it (and the covenant) binding.

The oath-theme was emphasized earlier in vv. 35-36, including use of the verb ub^v*. The verb is apparently denominative from ub*v# (“seven”), i.e., “do (something) seven times (or seven-fold)”. On this idiom, cf. the earlier note on v. 36. YHWH’s promise is binding, having been confirmed (sevenfold) by oath; how, then, can God have abandoned it? The thrust of the Psalmist’s question is seen in the following vv. 51-52, as he urges YHWH to act to fulfill the covenant-promise, and thus restore the kingship for David (and the kingdom to Israel). This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we conclude our study on the Psalm.

Comments for Christmas

The longing to see restored the mighty acts of salvation, by God for His people, performed in times past, but now seemingly absent, is characteristic of Jewish Messianic expectation in the first centuries B.C./A.D. It is also expressed in the Gospel Infancy narratives, especially in the hymns of the Lukan narrative.

This certainly can be seen in the Magnificat (1:46-55), where recollection of the past acts by YHWH blend into the present moment, with the hope and expectation that they will be realized now, even as they were in ages past. The protagonist of the hymn (Mary is the [probable] speaker in the narrative) affirms this timeless quality of God’s “acts of devotion” (to use the term from v. 50a of the Psalm):

“the Mighty (One) has done for me great (thing)s,
and Holy (is) His name,
and His mercy (is) unto generation and generation,
for (the one)s fearing Him” (vv. 49-50)

The Greek noun e&leo$ (“mercy”) is frequently used to translate ds#j# (cf. above) in the LXX, and so should be understood in that sense here—viz., of the kindness and loving care shown by God, reflecting His covenant loyalty toward His people. The present expectation will see a reprisal (and restoration) of the great acts performed by God in the past:

“He took hold of Yisrael His child (to help him),
remembering (His) mercy [e&leo$]” (v. 54)

The Benedictus (vv. 68-79) contains similar kinds of traditional language, framing the present fulfillment of the (Messianic) expectation in terms of the past:

“…He (has) looked on (them), and made a loosing from (bondage) for His people,
and (has) raised a horn of salvation for us in (the) house of David His child” (vv. 68-69)

The motif of covenant-loyalty is likewise emphasized:

“…to act (in) mercy [e&leo$] with our fathers,
(and) to remember His holy agreement,
(the) oath which he swore…” (v. 72f)

In this regard, the Messianic fulfillment (in the person of Jesus) of the Davidic covenant can be seen as an answer to the Psalmist’s request in vv. 51-52—a point that will be discussed in our final note on the Psalm.

 

 

January 2: Psalm 89:39-40

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Part 3: Verses 39-53 [38-52]

Psalm 89:39-46 [38-45]
Verse 39 [38]

“And (yet) you, (YHWH,) have spurned and rejected,
(boil)ed over with rage against your anointed.”

The unconditional covenant-promise of YHWH, regarding the Davidic kingship (vv. 20-38), appears to have been contradicted by the fall of the Israelite and Judean kingdoms, and the subsequent exile of the populations. This apparent contradiction is dealt with by the Psalmist in the third and final division of the Psalm.

The initial w-conjunction is adversative, emphasizing a contrast with what has preceded, and should be translated “But…” or “And (yet)…”. YHWH has been angry with the Israelite/Judean king(s) (His “anointed”), because of their flagrant violations of the covenant. The specific verb used here (in the second line) is rb^u* (“pass/cross over”) in the reflexive Hitpael stem; in such a context, the meaning is something like “overflow, (boil) over” with anger.

In the first line, a pair of verbs with similar meaning (“reject, spurn”) are used—jn~z` and sa^m*. The removal of covenant blessing and protection, leading to the termination of the kingship (and the fall of the kingdom), is implied. The pronoun hT*a^ (“you”) is emphatic, in first position. The contrastive emphasis draws on the theme of the prior strophes—viz., that YHWH has remained faithful to the covenant and His promise to David. The Psalmist affirms this, and yet it leads to a troubling contradiction, in light of the current circumstances. It is as if he were to say: “You have said you are faithful to the promise to David regarding his descendants, and yet you have rejected them”.

Verse 40 [39]

“You have renounced (the) binding agreement with your servant,
(and) have desecrated to the earth his crown!”

The point made in v. 39 is here amplified, with the Psalmist declaring flat out that YHWH has renounced His binding agreement (tyr!B=, i.e. covenant) with David, contrary to all that was affirmed in vv. 20-38. The verb used is the extremely rare ra^n` (occurring elsewhere only in Lam 2:7); its meaning appears to be roughly similar to that of the two verbs used in v. 39a (i.e., “reject, spurn”).

The promise was that the Davidic kingship would endure, using exalted language and imagery comparing David’s throne with the heavens (and the heavenly throne of YHWH Himself). This comparison was established at the beginning of the Psalm (vv. 2-5), and is implicit in the broad themes of the first two divisions (vv. 6-19, 20-39), respectively. The comparative imagery, made explicit, frames the strophe of vv. 29-38 (vv. 29-30, 37-38). This exalted status of the Davidic kingship is harshly contrasted with the current reality, expressed here by the idea of David’s crown being cast down “to the earth” (Jr#a*l*).

By throwing the crown down onto the ground, YHWH has defiled and desecrated it. The verb used to express this is ll^j* II (“profane, defile”); in the context of a covenant, which is binding due to its sacred character (having been ‘hallowed’ by an oath before God), this can connote either violation or annulment of the agreement (cf. the cognate µll in Arabic). The verb was used earlier, in vv. 32 and 35. In verse 32, it refers to a person violating the terms of the covenant (viz., the sacred/holy commands of YHWH in the Torah). However, in v. 35 the context is the same as here in v.40; except that, what is affirmed in v. 35, would appeart to be contradicted here:

    • V. 35 (YHWH speaking):
      “I will not desecrate [i.e. violate] my binding agreement” (i.e., with David and his descendants)
    • V. 40:
      “You have renounced the binding agreement…
      and have desecrated…his crown.”

This seeming contradiction is at the heart of vv. 39-53, and of this strophe in particular. The Psalmist expounds the point, by way of a lament, in vv. 41-46, which we will examine in the next daily note.

Comments for Christmas

The fulfillment of the covenant promise in the person of Jesus (as the royal/Davidic Messiah) must be understood in light of the historical circumstances emphasized here in the Psalm—namely, that David’s descendants were rejected by YHWH and ceased to rule as kings over Israel/Judah. Indeed, the entire kingdom ceased, with the fall of Judah and the subsequent Exile. This required a new interpretation of the Davidic covenant (and its promises), which, for early Christians, was applied strictly to the person of Jesus (as the Messiah). It is his reign that will be exalted (like the heavens), and which will last far into the distant future. The Davidic dynasty is replaced by a single Davidic descendant (Jesus).

December 31: Psalm 89:31-35

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:29-38, continued

(Verses 29-30 [28-29] were discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“If his sons should leave behind my instruction,
and by my just (decision)s should not walk,
if my engraved (decree)s they would violate,
and my commands would not guard,”

This section deals with the question of what happens to YHWH’s binding agreement (covenant) with David, if his royal descendants violate the agreement. The tradition in 2 Samuel 7 (vv. 14-15) also deals with this aspect of the covenant, and these verses in the Psalm function as an exposition of that tradition.

The pair of couplets in vv. 31-32 form a double-conditional clause, each couplet beginning with the conditional particle <a! (“if…”). The covenant is broken when its terms are violated. With regard to the broader covenant, between YHWH and His people Israel, the terms of the covenant are embodied by the commands, regulations, and precepts laid down in the Instruction, or Torah (hr*oT), given by God to Moses, beginning with the “Ten Words”. The covenant with David (and his descendants) is dependent upon the binding agreement made with Israel.

Verse 31 makes clear that violation of the Davidic covenant is defined as violating the Torah, expressed in terms of “leaving” (vb bz~u*, i.e., forsaking, abandoning) it. This is traditional language (e.g., Deut 31:16-17), as is the wording that is used in the following lines of vv. 31-32. The Instruction (Torah) is described and characterized by three nouns: fP*v=m!, hQj%, and hw`x=m!.

All three of these terms refer principally to the authority exercised by rulers and governments, and characterize the Torah as regulations laid down by a ruler (i.e., YHWH as King and Judge). A fP*v=m! is an (authoritative) decision rendered by a ruler or judge; hQ*j% (or qj)) denotes a ruling that is engraved (or inscribed), meaning that it applies to all people in the realm, with the implication that it is permanent; a hw`x=m! refers, more generally, to any command or order that is given. All these terms are regularly used in the Scriptures, in reference to the Torah; however, here in Psalm 89, the theme of YHWH as Sovereign—both over the universe as a whole, and over His people Israel—is specifically emphasized.

The couplets in vv. 31-32 are parallel in presentation. In the first line, the breaking of the Torah is presented as a direct action, defined either as—abandoning it (vb bz~y`) or by profaning it (vb ll^j* II), the latter connoting the dissolution of the agreement in its binding and sacred force. In the second line, violation of the Torah is expressed through a negative—i.e., what one does not do—with the verbs El^h* (“walk”) and rm^v* (“guard”). These verbs are customary in religious and ethical instruction, in reference to keeping the regulations of the Torah, etc.

As a textual note, it is worth mentioning that, in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsx, verse 31 follows v. 28; however, at this point, the MS breaks off, so there is no way of knowing if vv. 29-30 are missing, or if they occur somewhere after v. 31.

Verse 33 [32]

“then with a rod I will deal with their breaking (of the bond),
and with blows (will punish) their crookedness.”

The apodosis (result clause) of the conditional statement is given here: if David’s descendants violate the terms of the covenant, then… (here the w-conjunction is to be translated “then”).

YHWH makes clear that He will, indeed, punish such violations of the covenant quite severely—as indicated by the parallel reference to use of a “rod” (fb#v@) with which one makes harsh physical contact (ug~n#, i.e., a “blow”). The noun uv^P# denotes the breaking of an agreement, or breaking faith—i.e., being disloyal, sometimes in the more extreme sense of being rebellious. The parallel noun /ou*, refers to the “crookedness” of the one breaking the covenant, often in the religious-ethical sense of “perversion”, or, more generally, as “deviation” from what is right.

The governing verb of the clause is dq^P*, a verb with a wide semantic range, and (notoriously) one of the most difficult to translate in all the Old Testament. The basic meaning appears to be something like “attend to”, “deal with”, “take care of”; however, it frequently is used in a number of specialized contexts, one of which involves a person (in a position of authority) exercising supervision over a subordinate. There are several variations of this aspect of meaning; when YHWH is the subject, the verb often is used in the context of YHWH, as King and Judge, disciplining and punishing those who defy His authority. Here, the verb could be translated “punish”, or “visit (punishment on)”; however, I feel it is just as well to retain the base meaning (i.e., “attend to, deal with”), understanding it in a harshly ironic sense—viz., YHWH will “deal with” the transgressors, and will “take care of” them.

Verse 34 [33]

“And (yet) my loyal devotion I will not break with him—
indeed, I will not be false in my firmness!”

Even if David’s descendants break faith with YHWH, He Himself will not break with David—viz., with the promises that He has made to him (cf. 2 Sam 7:8-16). The verb rr^P* (II), “break”, is here parallel with the root uvP used in v. 33; indeed, the conjunction of r^rP* with ds#j#/hn`Wma$ captures the basic meaning of uvP (“break [faith]”). The noun pair ds#j#/hn`Wma$, introduced in vv. 2-3, has been used repeatedly in the Psalm, to express the idea of YHWH’s faithfulness and loyalty (the noun hn`Wma$ denoting “firmness”).

Verse 35 [34]

“I will not violate my (own) binding (agreement),
and (what) goes forth (from) my lips, I will not change.”

Here, in the first line, YHWH states directly the point made in v. 34: that He will not violate His binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David. This creates a certain ambiguity with regard to the Davidic covenant. On the one hand, if David’s descendants break the agreement, then it has been nullified (for them, on their account). At the same time, since YHWH Himself does not break the agreement, then it remains in force—at least in terms of the promise(s) that He made to David. This aspect of the covenant is particularly emphasized here in the second line: “(what) goes forth (from) my lips” (i.e., His spoken promise).

The ambiguity surrounding the Davidic covenant, which goes back to the traditions of 2 Samuel (as presented in that narrative), will be discussed in the next note (on vv. 36-38).

Comments for Christmas

The juxtaposition of the failure of David’s royal descendants (to uphold the covenant), against the enduring force of YHWH’s promises to David, is directly relevant to figure-type of the royal/Davidic Messiah. The historical reality of the fall of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (and the Exile) clearly demonstrates how the covenant was violated by David’s descendants. At the same time, the promise to David remains, to be fulfilled by the Messiah. As previously noted, this is clearly relevant to the early Christian identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah—a theme that features prominently in the Gospel Infancy narratives. The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, in the person of Jesus, is most clearly expressed in Luke 1:32-33 (cf. the previous note).

December 29: Psalm 89:29-30

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:29-38 [28-37]
Verse 29 [28]

“Into (the) distant (future) will I guard for him my devotion,
with my binding agreement holding firm for him.”

In this second strophe of the second division (vv. 20-38) of the Psalm, the emphasis is on YHWH’s binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David, and, in particular, on its firm and enduring character. This strophe continues (and develops) the key theme of God’s firmness (hn`Wma$), both in the sense of His strength and His faithfulness. The theme, with its keyword(s), was established at the beginning of the Psalm (vv. 2-3), expressed by the word-pair ds#j# and hn`Wma$. The same pairing is present here in v. 29, but with the verb /m^a* in place of the noun hn`Wma$.

As previously noted, even though ds#j# fundamentally means “goodness, kindness”, it frequently (and especially in the Psalms) carries the connotation of faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant)—a meaning comparable to that of hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#). I have translated ds#j# in the sense of “loyal devotion”, alternating between the renderings “loyalty” and “devotion”.

YHWH’s devotion (ds#j#) for David will last “into (the) distant (future)” —a literal, if somewhat verbose, translation of the expression <l*oul=. This means that His devotion applies, not only to David himself, but to subsequent sons of his line. This devotion will be preserved (“guarded”, vb rm^v*) into the future, for the generations to come.

YHWH’s loyal devotion to David (and his descendants) is defined in terms of a “binding agreement” (tyr!B=), rendered more conventionally as “covenant”. It is important to emphasize the etymological aspect of the binding force of the agreement (or covenant). At least from God’s own standpoint, His agreement with David is binding—He Himself will not violate it. This is important, since from the Psalmist’s frame of reference, writing in the exilic (or post-exilic) period, the promises in the Davidic covenant would seem to have been nullified. The question of how the agreement could still be binding (and in effect) is dealt with in the third division (vv. 39-52). For the promises of this covenant, as rooted and expressed in the Davidic traditions, see 2 Samuel 7:8-16, with vv. 12b-13 and 15-16 being most relevant to this unit in the Psalm.

Here, in the second division—and in this strophe—the focus is on the binding character of the agreement, which YHWH (speaking prophetically in the Psalm) declares will be “holding firm” for David’s line. This is expressed by the participle tn#m#a$n#, from the verb /m^a* (“be firm”), and from which also the noun hn`Wma$ is derived. The participle indicates a regular/continuing condition, while the passive (Niphal) stem suggests that this characteristic (“holding firm”) of the covenant is due to the action of YHWH (i.e., His guarding it), giving to the covenant its fundamental character.

Verse 30 [29]

“And I will set his seed (to be enduring) for ever,
and his throne like (the) days of (the) heavens!”

Both the dynastic line (“seed”) and the kingship (“throne”) of David will be preserved, according to the binding agreement, lasting into the far distant future. This temporal aspect is here expressed by du^l*, parallel to <l*oul= in v. 29. The noun du^ is a bit difficult to translate, essentially denoting something (i.e., a period of time) going on (and on); “for ever” is as good a translation of du^l* as any, the expression being somewhat more abstract in meaning than <l*oul=.

Dahood (II, p. 317) interprets du^ (±ad) here (and in v. 38) in relation to Ugaritic ±d  II. The precise meaning of that Canaanite term is not entirely clear, but in at least one instance (Kirta III, col. 6, line 22) the expression l±dh (comparable to du^l* in the Psalm) is clearly parallel to lksi mlk (“at/on [the] throne of kingship”), and also lkµ¾ drkt (“at/on [the] seat of dominion”), lines 23-24. Based on this parallel, one could see du^l* and having a meaning like “on the seat of rule”, corresponding with “his throne” in the second line. The essence of the promise would then be that there will always be a descendant of David (his “seed”) on the throne.

The Davidic kingship will be like “the days of the heavens” in its continuity and enduring character. The “firmness” of the heavens, reflecting YHWH’s own hn`Wma$ (as Creator), was a key theme in the opening section (vv. 6-9). The parallel between the heavens and the Davidic covenant was specifically established in the introduction (vv. 2-3, 4-5). This parallel is all the more significance since YHWH’s throne is in/over the heavens (vv. 8-9, 15); He is the King over the entire universe (heaven and earth), while the (Davidic) king, correspondingly, is the ruler on earth (over the people of God, and the nations).

Comments for Christmas

The identification of Jesus as the promised royal Messiah from the line of David is a key component of the Gospel Infancy narratives, particularly the Lukan narrative. This has been discussed in the prior notes. Here, in relation to vv. 29-30 of the Psalm, we must focus on three specific elements: (1) Jesus as David’s “seed”, (2) the motif of the ruler’s throne, and (3) the enduring character of this rule.

The first element is basic to the Gospel tradition in the Infancy narratives, establishing Jesus’ Davidic ancestry—from a legal, rather than biological standpoint—through his father Joseph (Matt 1:1, 6, 17, 20; Lk 1:27; 2:4; 3:31). The specific expression “seed of David” occurs in the New Testament, in a Messianic sense, in Rom 1:3, Jn 7:42 and 2 Tim 2:8, clearly being applied to the person of Jesus. The parallel between Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of (the) seed of David”
    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”

raises the possibility that Paul may have understood Jesus’ mother (Mary) as being of Davidic descent—a belief which came to be accepted among early Christians, but which is absent from the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. For further discussion on Jesus as the “son of David,” cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second and third elements mentioned above are hinted at at various points in the Infancy narratives; see, for example, the citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:6, in light of the remainder of v. 2 and v. 4b (which are not cited). However, those themes are dealt with directly only in one passage—the Angelic announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. Verses 32b-33 could almost be read as a Christian commentary on vv. 29-30 of the Psalm:

“…the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father,
and he will reign as king over the house of Ya’aqob into the Age,
and of his kingdom there will not be (any) end!”

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).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:54-61

1 Kings 8:54-61

With the conclusion of Solomon’s prayer to YHWH (cf. the previous study) in verse 53, it is narrated that the king “stood up” (vb <Wq), from the position of worship in which he had delivered the prayer (according to v. 54): i.e., kneeling before the altar, with his hands (lit. palms) “spread out” toward the heavens. Such a gesture with the hands (cp. verses 22, 38) is a traditional element of worship and prayer, indicating a person’s devotion to God (cf. Job 11:13; Psalm 44:21[20]; 143:6; Isa 1:15). The additional act of kneeling reflects an attitude of submission, prostrating oneself before God, as one would before royalty. Solomon, though king, acknowledges YHWH as his Sovereign; this idea of the king as a faithful/loyal vassal to God (and to the covenant) is a vital component of the Israelite/Judean royal theology. Solomon’s position in prayer, kneeling with hands outstretched to heaven, is matched by Ezra in 9:5ff, where he likewise prays to YHWH as a leader representing the people.

In vv. 56-61, Solomon blesses the gathering of the people, much in the manner of the blessing to be uttered by the priests during times of public worship and sacrifice (cf. Lev 9:22-23; Num 6:23-27; cp. the setting in Lk 1:10, 21-22). The blessing is introduced as follows:

“And he stood (there) and blessed all (the) assembly of Yisrael (with) a great voice, saying…” (v. 55)

The verb Er^B* is usually translated “bless”, but it can also be synonymous with the verb ur^K*, used in v. 54, meaning “bend the knee, kneel”. The noun Er#B# means “knee”, and it has been thought that the verb Er^B* may be denominative, derived from this noun; more likely, perhaps, is that the range of meaning reflects a fundamental connection between the act of kneeling and the receiving of a blessing. In any case, Er^B* only rarely carries the strict meaning “kneel” in the Old Testament; in the vast majority of the 330 occurrences, it refers to the utterance of words intended to bring well-being and prosperity (i.e., blessing), or to the bringing about of such a condition of well-being.

The spoken blessing, like the curse (cf. the prior note on v. 31-32), had a quasi-magical character in ancient Near Eastern thought—i.e., the blessing uttered in speech was expected to come to pass. In the context of a binding agreement (covenant), where blessing and curse formulas were utilized, it was thought that the blessings would ensue if the agreement was upheld, while the curses would be realized if the agreement was violated. Cf. the famous examples in Deuteronomy 27-28.

There can be little doubt that the blessing uttered here by Solomon has adherence to the covenant in mind. This is clear by the way that the blessing is framed. The first part features a series of jussive verb forms, indicating what the speaker wishes and expects God will do for the people (vv. 57-58), while the blessing closes (v. 61) with a similar expression of what he expects from the people. This reflects the two sides of the binding agreement, where each side has an obligation to fulfill. The initial blessing, directed toward YHWH (v. 56), establishes the faithfulness that He has shown toward Israel in the past, throughout the people’s history (cf. vv. 15-20, 23-24, 51-53):

“Blessed [EWrB*] (be) YHWH, who has given a place of rest for His people Yisrael, according to all that He spoke—not one word has fallen from all of His good word that He spoke by (the) hand of Moshe His servant.”

The expectation is that YHWH will continue to be faithful to the covenant, and this expectation is expressed through the jussive forms in verse 57:

    • “May He be [yh!y+]…with us, according to the (way) that He was with our fathers—
      may He not leave us [Wnb@z+u^y~-la^]
      and not forsake us [Wnv@F=y]-la^]—”

The continued presence of YHWH with His people reflects the covenant bond—He is their God and they are His people—whereby He will provide both blessing and protection to them. The portion indicated by the ellipsis (…) in the translation above emphasizes this relationship: “YHWH our Mighty (One) [i.e. God]”.

The purpose of this supervising Divine presence is stated in verse 58, through a series of infinitives, comparable to the jussives in v. 57:

    • to make our hearts bend toward Him,
      (for us) to walk in all His ways
      and to guard His commands… which He commanded our fathers”

YHWH’s gracious presence will enable the people to remain faithful, preserving the covenant bond. And yet, the people themselves are still obligated to fulfill their side of the agreement, since God’s presence will not remain if they do not also stay faithful/loyal to him. This is the expectation for the people spoken at the close of the blessing (v. 61); note the formal parallel with verse 57:

    • May YHWH our Mighty (One) be with us…”
    • “And may your heart be complete [<l@v*] with YHWH our Mighty (One)…”

The same imperfect (jussive) of the verb of being/becoming (hy`h*) is used, along with the preposition <u! (“with”). If the people’s collective “heart” is complete(ly) (<l@v*) with YHWH, then He will be with them. The root <lv is frequently used in the context of the covenant, alluding to one’s (complete) loyalty and the fulfillment of one’s obligation. In particular, the people are to observe the terms of the covenant, represented by the various regulations and precepts in the Torah; the same language from v. 58 is used again here:

“…to walk in His decrees, and to guard His commands, as (on) th(is) day.” (v. 61b)

By assembling in Jerusalem for the festival, in an attitude of worship and devotion, the people are showing themselves faithful; the hope and expectation is that they will continue to do so, in all matters, in the future.

The central portion of the blessing occurs in the intervening verses 59-60, where the same wish—again expressed through an imperfect/jussive form of the verb hy`h*—is applied to the words of the Prayer itself:

“And may my words, these (by) which I have made request for favor before YHWH, be near to YHWH our Mighty (One), day and night, (for Him) to make (good the) just (cause) of His servant, and (the) just (cause) of His people Yisrael—(each) word of a day in its day—so (as) for all (the) people of the earth to know [i.e. that they might know] that YHWH, He (is) the Mightiest, (and that) there is no (one) else!”

The blessing for the people thus entails YHWH’s favorable response to their prayers, the expectation of which is laid out in vv. 30-53. Justice (fP*v=m!) will be done for the people in accordance with the rightness and faithfulness of their prayer, in every situation, as it might come about each day. The blessing that YHWH will show to His people, when the covenant bond is maintained, ultimately will lead other nations and peoples to turn toward the God of Israel, recognizing and worshiping Him as “the Mightiest” [<yh!l)a$h*]—the Creator and one true God.

Next week, we will bring this study on the Prayer of Solomon to a close, examining the conclusion of the chapter (vv. 62-66) as well as drawing together some of the insights to be gleaned from the passage, regarding prayer, that might relate to our circumstances as believers in Christ today.

 

The People of God: Holiness (Part 1)

Holiness

This is the third set of articles in the series “The People of God”. The first two dealt with the topics of “Israel as God’s People” (Part 1, 2, 3, 4) and “The Covenant” (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

The primary characteristic of the People of God is holiness. This is especially clear from a number of declarations (by YHWH) presented in the Torah, as in Leviticus 11:44-45:

“For I, YHWH, am your Mighty (One) [<yh!l)a$], and (so) you shall make yourselves holy [vb vd^q*], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q=]—for I am holy [vodq*]…. For I (am) YHWH, the (One) having brought you up from (the) land of Egypt, (in order) to be for you (your) Mighty (One) [<yh!l)a$], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q=], for I am holy [vodq*].”

This is summarized in the terser, and more famous, directive in Lev 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH, your Mighty (One), am holy.”

Because the People of God are God’s people, they are to share His fundamental (and central) attribute of holiness. In Lev 11:44-45 above, both the verb vd^q* and the related adjective vodq* are used. Thus, we can see that the root vdq represents the principal word-group in the Hebrew Old Testament (and in ancient Israelite thought) used to express the idea of holiness. It is important to begin our study with an examination of this word-group.

The RooT QDŠ

First, it is interesting to note that the root qdš (vdq), both in ancient Hebrew and the other Semitic languages, is used almost exclusively in a sacred or religious context; there is very little evidence for ordinary ‘secular’ usage. This is problematic for scholars who wish to assign it an original meaning of “cut” or “separate”. While vdq can, at times, carry the specific meaning of “set apart” (i.e., separate), this seems to be secondary, as a result of the more primary meaning “(be) clean, pure”. That which is pure, and which must remain pure, is to be set apart for this purpose. This secondary meaning covers the entire realm of the sacred, both from a religious and ritual standpoint (cf. the three aspects of holiness outlined down below) within society. That is to say, certain places, objects, and people are set apart and treated as holy.

As we see from the declarations in Lev 11:44-45 and 19:2 (above), purity or holiness is a fundamental attribute of God. The people are to be pure and holy because YHWH, their God, is pure and holy. This theological point is expressed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures—see, for example, Exod 15:11; Josh 24:19; 1 Sam 2:2; 6:20; Job 6:10; Psalm 22:3; 60:6; 77:13; 99:3, 5, 9; Prov 9:10; Isa 5:16; 6:3. The substantive adjective “Holy (One)” (vodq*), used as a Divine title, is relatively common, and obviously reflects the fundamental Divine attribute of holiness—cf. Job 6:10; Isa 40:25; 43:15; Ezek 39:7; Hos 11:9, 12; Hab 1:12; 3:3. Particularly important is the use of this title in the expression “Holy (One) of Israel”, which occurs frequently in the book of Isaiah (1:4; 5:19; 10:20; 12:6, et al), and is attested throughout the Scriptures—cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer 50:29; 51:5. Only rarely is the title “holy one” used of lesser heavenly (angelic) beings or a (consecrated) human being (Num 16:7; Psalm 16:10 [in its original context]; 106:16; Dan 4:13, 23; 8:13. There are examples of a cognate divine title (Qudšu) in Canaanite, used to represent a particular female deity (goddess), similarly emphasizing her holiness (cf. Cross, pp. 33-5).

Holiness: The Realm of the Sacred

Obviously, the longer title “Holy (One) of Israel”, noted above, captures the unique relationship between YHWH and Israel—He being their God, and they being His people (i.e. the People of God). The key declarations in the Torah clearly express this. In addition to Leviticus 11:44-45 and 19:2 (cf. above), we may note: Exod 19:5-6; Lev 20:7, 26; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19; 28:9. The Deuteronomic treatment of this theme will be discussed at a later point in this set of articles.

If YHWH, as God, is holy, then everything associated with Him is (and must be) holy as well. His name is holy (Lev 20:3, etc; 1 Chron 16:10; 22:19; 29:16; Psalm 30:4, and with some frequency in the Psalms; Isa 29:23; 57:15; Ezek 20:39; 36:20-23; 39:7, etc; Amos 2:7). The place where He dwells is holy—both in heaven (Deut 26:15, etc), and in his symbolic/ritual dwelling-place on earth among human beings (His people). The idea of the holy mountain of His dwelling rests midway between these two concepts—heavenly and earthly dwellings. The Temple locale, on the hilltop site of Zion, fulfills this sacred mountain typology at the local level (cf. Psalm 2:6; 3:4; 15:1; 24:3; 44:3, etc). The Temple sanctuary, like that of the earlier Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) is called the vd*q=m! (“holy place”), the –m preformative indicating a location or place (Exod 25:8, et al); the noun vd#q) (“holiness”) can also have a similar locative meaning (“holy place”), Exod 26:33ff; 36:1, etc. The innermost shrine of the sanctuary, where the Golden Chest (Ark) that represented the dwelling-place (and throne) of YHWH resided, was called the “holy (place) of the holy (place)s” (<yv!d*Q(h^ vd#q))—an idiomatic syntax that carries a superlative meaning, i.e., “the holiest place” (Exod 26:33-34, etc).

The maintenance of the symbolic/ritual dwelling of YHWH among His people—that is, in the sanctuary (“holy place”) of the Tent-shrine (and later Temple)—required an ‘apparatus of holiness’ to match that of the holy dwelling-place itself. Everything associated with the shrine had to be set apart and consecrated (i.e., made holy). For this reason, the vdq word-group—verb, adjective and noun(s)—occurs scores of times within the Torah regulations, documented in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Every object and utensil, the altars, the curtains and framework of the building itself—all of it had to be consecrated. Similarly, those who are to serve and work in the shrine—the sacred officials (priests) and related ministers—all had to be consecrated; for the priests, this meant both their person and their garments had to be made holy.

Moreover, it was necessary that this level of holiness be maintained, throughout the operation of the shrine, requiring a related set of purity restrictions and regulations. That which applied to the priests in this regard, however, was simply an extension of the purity regulations that applied to the people as a whole. This principle is expressed at a number of points in the Torah. For example, there is the key declaration in Exodus 19:6, in connection with the establishment of the covenant at Sinai:

“And you shall be for me a kingdom of sacred officials [i.e. priests] and a holy [vodq*] nation”

The entire kingdom and nation is essentially required (by YHWH) to function like priests ministering the “holy things” of God. As we proceed in our study, this requirement of holiness for the People of God will be broken out into three main areas, or aspects:

    • Ritual—the need to maintain ritual purity, particularly in connection with the sacred domain centered around the sanctuary of the Tent-shrine (and Temple). Many of the Torah regulations deal directly with this idea of ritual purity.
    • Ethical—i.e., holiness as expressed in socio-religious terms, through proper conduct and behavior.
    • Spiritual—though specific use of the term “spirit” (j^Wr) is generally lacking in the holiness-references, the basic concept has it parallel in the idea of the heart, i.e., the willingness of the people to fulfill the requirements of the covenant, and the obligations associated with living out their identity as God’s people.

In the next study (Part 2), representative passages, primarily from the Torah/Pentateuch, will be examined in relation to all three of these aspects of holiness outlined above.

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

 

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:22-26

The Monday Notes on Prayer feature for the remainder of Summer (in August & September) is focusing on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. The narrative introduction (vv. 1-11) and opening of the address (vv. 12-21) were discussed in the previous study.

1 Kings 8:22-26

The Prayer itself begins in verse 22, with a brief description of the ceremonial setting; the Temple as a focal point for prayer will be developed in the remainder of the chapter. It is mentioned that Solomon “stood before (the) altar” facing (lit. “in front of,” dg#n#) the assembled people (lh*q*)—a large gathering (vv. 1-3) representing the people of Israel as a whole. It is further stated that Solomon “spread out” (vb vr^P*) his palms toward the heavens (i.e. toward YHWH) in a gesture of worship and supplication (cf. Exod 9:29, 33; Ezra 9:5; Psalm 44:20; 88:9; Isa 1:15). A corresponding idiom in Akkadian is to stand with “open hands” (id£ petû); cf. Cogan, p. 283. The idea of the heavens as the true dwelling place of YHWH is an important theme in the Prayer, and is alluded to here.

The Prayer begins with an invocation that gives honor and praise to YHWH:

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of Yisrael—there is not like you (any) Mighty (One) in the heavens up above or upon the earth below, guarding the binding agreement and the goodness for your servants, the (one)s walking before your face with all their heart” (v. 23)

This expression of the incomparable nature and character of YHWH is a reflection of ancient Israelite monotheism, though not necessarily the absolute monotheism of later times. The idea that there is no deity “like” (omK=) YHWH would seem to allow for the possibility that other divine beings exist, but that these are inferior to YHWH and subordinate to His rule (cf. Exod 15:11; Psalm 86:8; 1 Sam 2:2). However, the Deuteronomic theology does seem to go somewhat further than this, in the direction of a stronger monotheistic confession (e.g., Deut 4:39; 32:39; cf. 2 Sam 22:32); this attitude was sharped by the Prophets, through a harsh anti-polytheistic polemic that informs the later statements, for example, in Isa 45:5, 18, 22; 46:9.

The focus here in the Prayer is on the incomparableness of YHWH, particularly in regard to the binding agreement He established with His people. The word tyr!B= is typically translated “covenant”, but properly refers to a binding agreement, in a manner fully in keeping with ancient Near Eastern tradition and culture. The idea of such an agreement being cut directly between the Deity and a people is unique to Israelite tradition—particularly with regard to the religious application of this covenant-concept in its comprehensive theological, ethical, and social aspects.

Here tyr!B= is coupled with the noun ds#j#, a term which fundamentally means “goodness” or “kindness”, but which often is used specifically in the context of the covenant, where it connotes faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant bond). In particular, YHWH demonstrates His loyalty to the agreement by fulfilling His obligation of bestowing “goodness” (benefits and protection, etc) to the other party. The agreement between YHWH and Israel has much the character of a suzerain-vassal treaty; God, as the sovereign, is obligated to provide protection, reward, and blessing to His faithful/loyal vassals (here “servants,” using the noun db#u#). The loyalty of His servants is shown by the way that they “walk before” Him with all their heart. This alludes to the distinctive religious-ethical idiom of “walking” (vb El^h*) in the ways of God’s Instruction—that is, according to the regulations and precepts of the Torah, which represents the terms of the covenant; cf. the important use of this idiom earlier in 2:4; 3:6. The central Deuteronomic statement of this covenant-principle is found in Deut 7:9ff.

The opening invocation continues in verse 24:

“…(you) who guarded for your servant Dawid my father what you spoke to him; and (as) you spoke with your mouth, (so) also you have fulfilled with your hand, as (it is so) this day.”

Just as in vv. 14-21 (cf. the previous study), the Judean royal theology—including the building of the Temple and the centralization of worship in Jerusalem—is aligned with the earlier binding agreement (established at Sinai) between YHWH and Israel. That is to say, the Judean monarchy (centered at Jerusalem) represents the natural and legitimate extension of the covenant-bond. This is especially clear by the repeated language from v. 23 here in v. 24:

    • As YHWH has guarded (vb rm^v*) the covenant, so also He guards (same verb) His promises to David.
    • David, like the faithful/loyal Israelites, is referred to as YHWH’s servant (db#u#, “your servant”)

The promise that YHWH “spoke” to David refers, principally, to the oracle delivered by Nathan in 2 Samuel 7. The bulk of the oracle (vv. 2-13) deals primarily with the “house” that will be built for YHWH by David’s son; as Solomon declares, this has now been fulfilled. The language used further legitimizes the entire enterprise of building the Temple (as opposed to continuing with a portable Tent-shrine), by affirming that it was both done according to God’s own word (i.e., what He spoke with His mouth) and through His own power (i.e., with His hand). Solomon may have organized the building project, but, in so doing, he was essentially acting out and fulfilling God’s own work.

“And now, YHWH, Mighty (One) of Yisrael, may you guard for your servant Dawid, my father, that which you spoke to him, saying: ‘There shall not be cut off for you from before my face a man sitting upon (the) throne of Yisrael—(but) only if [i.e. as long as] your children guard their paths, to walk before my face according to (the way) that you have walked before my face.'” (v. 25)

Here in verse 25, Solomon calls on YHWH to complete the remainder of the promise given to David in 2 Samuel 7. In verses 12-16, God promises David that his “kingdom” (i.e., his royal line) will be established in his son Solomon, and then continue unbroken with his descendants. In the Nathan-oracle, this promise appears to be more or less unconditional—i.e., if David’s descendants sin, they will be disciplined (v. 14), but the kingdom will not be taken from them (vv. 15-16). Here in 1 Kings, by contrast, the conditionality of the promise is rather clearly stated—it depends on David’s descendants continuing to walk in faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH (that is, to the covenant and the Torah). This explanation simply repeats what was stated earlier in 2:4.

For emphasis, in verse 26, Solomon repeats his request to YHWH:

“Indeed, now, Mighty (One) of Yisrael, let be made firm, I ask, your word that you spoke to Dawid my father!”

The verb /m^a* essentially refers to something that is fixed or set firmly in place. Solomon asks that YHWH, who is faithful to the covenant with Israel, will also be faithful to the promise made to David (cf. above). For the author(s) of the Books of Kings, in retrospect, it would have been clear how tenuous the survival of the Davidic line would be. Indeed, the condition for its survival, linked as it is to the more general idea of faithfulness to the covenant, is central to the entire Deuteronomic history, reaching its tragic climax in the Books of Kings. The chief lesson for future generations is that the Kingdom was lost because the people (and its rulers) did not remain loyal to the binding agreement with YHWH. Indeed, God remained firm in His devotion the covenant; the people, on the other hand, did not.

References marked “Cogan” above (and throughout these notes) are to Mordechai Cogan, I Kings, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 10 (Yale: 2001).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:12-21

The Prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 8)

For the remainder of the Summer, in the Notes on Prayer feature, we will be looking at the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. The focus will be on the version in the book of Kings, rather than the parallel in 2 Chronicles 6; the Chronicles version will be referenced only occasionally, where significant differences are worth noting.

The setting of the Prayer is the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple—the construction of which was described in chapters 5-7. The historical tradition of the inauguration is presented in the narration (vv. 1-10, 62-66) that frames the Prayer. In spite of the apparent chronological discrepancy, between the information in 6:38 and here in 8:2, 65, there is little reason to doubt the historicity of the basic tradition. The harvest festival (Sukkot, v. 2) would have been an appropriate occasion for a large-scale celebration involving dignitaries and military-age adult males from all over the kingdom.

The focus in the narrative introduction (vv. 1-11) is on the transfer of the golden Chest (/ora&, i.e., the ‘Ark’), which functioned as the ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH, into the newly built Temple. However, in some ways, the key thematic detail in this narration is the specific mention of the old Tent-shrine (i.e., Tabernacle), which was brought up along with the Chest (vv. 4ff). The presence of the Tent-shrine—called the “tent of (the) appointed place [i.e., for gathering]” (du@om lh#a))—serves, at the religious-cultural level, to legitimize the new Temple building in Jerusalem.

This is clear, symbolically, by the way that “the Cloud” (/n`u*h#), representing the theophanous presence of YHWH, fills the Temple building (vv. 10-11), just as it did at the inauguration of the old Tent-shrine (Exod 40:34ff). This sense of continuity belies a certain tension, preserved in the Deuteronomic History, between the construction of a fixed “House” for YHWH (in Jerusalem), and the earlier tradition of the portable Tent-shrine. This tension is expressed most clearly in the narrative of 2 Samuel 7, where the oracle given by YHWH to Nathan seems to affirm both the idea that a portable Tent (rather that a permanent structure) is the proper dwelling for YHWH (vv. 5-7), and also recognizes the validity of the House that would be built by David’s son Solomon (vv. 3, 13ff). For a summary of the critical issues involved in this complex passage, cf. Cross pp. 241-61.

1 Kings 8:12-13

Compared with 2 Samuel 7, the tension between these two concepts of the proper dwelling-place for YHWH is only briefly indicated here in 1 Kings 8, with the short poetic quotation that begins Solomon’s address (vv. 12-13):

“YHWH said (He was) to dwell in the storm-cloud;
(yet) building I have built an exalted house for you,
a fixed place for your sitting (into the) distant (Age)s.”

The specific use of the term “house” (ty]B^) and “fixed place” (/okm*) clearly present a conceptual contrast with the temporary dwelling of a portable tent-shrine. But the portable tent-shrine also reflects the movable presence of YHWH in the theophanous form of the storm-cloud. The term lp#r*u& denotes a thick/dark cloud, referring quite clearly to the rain/storm-cloud(s). The term occurs in the Old Testament primarily as a description of the manifest presence of El-YHWH—cf. Exod 20:21; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Ps 18:10 [par 2 Sam 22:10]; 97:2; cf. also Job 38:9, and the references to Divine manifestation of Judgment in Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:15.

In ancient Near Eastern religious thought, the storm—with its awesome clouds, fearsome thunder/lightning, and powerful (life-giving) rains—was especially appropriate as a manifestation of the Divine presence. In the Canaanite world, it was applied to Baal-Haddu, while the ancient Israelites applied it equally to El-YHWH. The control over the waters was a particularly important sign of YHWH’s power as Creator and King of the cosmos; cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The imagery of the storm-theophany is seen most frequently in ancient Hebrew poetry (e.g., Psalm 18, 29), but it is also a major component of the theophany at Sinai, when YHWH established the covenant with His people (cf. the Exodus and Deuteronomy references above).

In the Exodus/Wilderness traditions, YHWH traveled along with His people, moving across the skies in the numinous form of the cloud, only stopping when the people set up camp; He would dwell/reside at the location of the Tent-shrine, which essentially served as His own tent-dwelling among the people (cf. Exod 40:34-38; Num 9:15-22, etc). This same symbolic image of YHWH’s presence among His people is expressed by the scene of the dark-cloud filling the Temple building (vv. 10-11, cf. above).

The term lb%z+ (z®»¥l) marks, at the religious level, another point of similarity between El-YHWH and Canaanite Baal-Haddu, as zbl (“exalted one,” i.e., prince) is used as a divine title for Baal (“Prince Ba’al of the earth”, zbl b±l °rƒ). The construction of a grand Palace-House for Baal-Haddu is an important theme in the Ugaritic Baal Epic. From his newly-constructed Palace, Baal rules (sitting enthroned) as king over the world; much the same idea is expressed here of El-YHWH in v. 13. The noun lb%z+ occurs, in a similar context, in Isa 63:15 and Hab 3:11.

Interestingly, however, after this reference in v. 13, the idea of the Temple as YHWH’s dwelling disappears from the chapter. Indeed, throughout Solomon’s address, beginning at v. 27, it is repeatedly emphasized that YHWH’s real dwelling-place is in heaven, not in the Temple sanctuary. This is important because it indicates that, despite the earlier tradition of the Tent-shrine (and thus also the Temple) as God’s dwelling-place, the purpose of the Temple is given a very different emphasis in the remainder of the narrative. This can be summarized according to three key themes:

    • The Temple sanctuary specifically as the dwelling for the name of YHWH
    • The symbolic place of the Temple sanctuary as an embodiment of the covenant between YHWH and His people, and
    • The role of the Temple as a focal-point for the religious devotion and prayer of the people

All three of these will be discussed as we proceed through an exegesis of the passage in the upcoming studies.

1 Kings 8:14-21

Following the poetic statement in vv. 12-13, the remainder of the opening portion of Solomon’s address (vv. 14-21) functions as a short summary of the Deuteronomic History, emphasizing the Judean royal theology, centered on the person of David (as king) and the location of Jerusalem (as the holy/royal city). The Temple building is at the heart of this royal theology, with verses 16-20 echoing 2 Sam 7:3-13 (cf. above).

Solomon’s address here is presented as a blessing to YHWH, but is properly directed toward the people. By framing this theology in the historical-traditional context of the Exodus (v. 16), the (Judean) royal theology is firmly aligned with the covenant promises made by YHWH to His people. This is expressed in vv. 20-21, where two of the aformentioned themes of the Prayer are established—(1) the Temple as a dwelling for the name of YHWH, and (2) the Temple as symbolizing YHWH’s covenant with His people. The two declarations by Solomon in vv. 20b-21 state this directly:

    • “I have built th(is) house for the name of YHWH, the Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Yisrael” (v. 20b, see vv. 16-17)
    • “I have set there a standing-place for the Chest [i.e. Ark], which therein (resides) the binding-agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant] which YHWH cut with our fathers, in His bringing them out from (the) land of Egypt.” (v. 21)

The Instruction (Torah) which YHWH gave to Moses represents the terms of the covenant, which the people are obligated to fulfill. The “Ten Words” are at the heart of this Instruction, having been engraved on stone tablets (the second set, Exod 34:1, 28ff; cp. 32:15ff). The Deuteronomic version of this tradition is found in Deut 10:1-5, along with the specific notice that the tablets were placed within the Ark (v. 5; cf. Exod 40:20). There is thus a strong point of connection between the Temple sanctuary and the covenant.

In the next study, we will begin our examination of the Prayer proper, looking at the initial section in vv. 22-26.

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).