July 16: Psalm 106:9-12

(Psalm 106 is being discussed over a series of daily notes; cf. the Introductory Notes)

Psalm 106:9-12

In terms of subject matter and narration, vv. 9-12 belong with vv. 6-8 (see the previous note), and the two strophes (together) may be regarded as a longer poetic unit within the Psalm. The Wilderness generation serves as an example (to be avoided), for their repeated sins and unfaithfulness to the covenant bond with YHWH. The historical examples of unfaithfulness relate to the confession of sin in verse 6. The Psalmist, speaking with a collective voice (“we have sinned…”), expresses solidarity with the generations past (including the Wilderness generation); the people’s present/recent sin may be treated together with the sin of previous generations.

The lack of trust shown by the people at the Reed Sea (cf. Exod 14:11-12) sets the pattern for other expressions of faithlessness and rebellion throughout the Wilderness period (according to the traditions in the books of Exodus and Numbers, etc). In spite of the people’s lack of trust in the protection provided by YHWH, He still chose to save them (see v. 8) at the Sea of Reeds.

Verse 9

“So He laid a rebuke on (the) Reed Sea, and it was dry;
and He let them walk in the depths as (in) the outback.”

This, of course, refers to the miraculous Event at the Reed Sea (“sea of reeds”), described vividly, in both poetry and prose, in Exodus 14-15. The “rebuke” (vb ru^G`) placed on the Sea by YHWH corresponds generally to 15:8-10. It alludes to the mythological (cosmological) theme of the subduing of the Primeval Waters by the Creator Deity, along with the control over the waters that resulted from this ‘defeat’; for more on this subject, and for examples of the theme (applied to YHWH) in Hebrew poetry, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The theme appears with some frequency in the Psalms; see, most recently, the study on Psalm 104, esp. verses 7ff, where the motif of YHWH rebuking (noun hr*u*G+) the waters is also present. Other instances of the same motif are: Psalm 18:16[15]; Isa 17:13; 50:2; cf. also 54:9.

YHWH’s rebuke effectively turns the sea into dry land (Exod 14:21ff, 29; 15:19), so that the people can walk in/on it as they would upon the dry ground of the outback (rB*d=m!).

Verse 10

“And (thus) He saved them from (the) hand of (the) hater,
and redeemed them from (the) hand of (the) hostile (one).”

This mighty (supernatural) deed by YHWH was an instance of salvation (vb uv^y`) and redemption (vb la^G`), demonstrating His care and concern (i.e., covenant devotion) toward His people. The root lag refers to the specific socio-cultural context of the purchasing (i.e., redeeming) of one’s relatives (out of bondage, etc) by a qualified kinsman. It can be used in the broader and more general sense of rescuing someone out of danger, etc. Here the enemy of God’s people is described by a traditional pair of verbal nouns (participles)—viz., “hating” (an@oc) and “being hostile” (by@oa).

Verse 11

“Indeed, (the) waters covered over their adversaries—
not (even) one from them was left behind (alive)!”

The rescue of God’s people from their enemies, in this instance, means destruction of the enemies. The wording here echoes Exod 14:28; cf. also 15:4-5ff.

Verse 12

Then (it was that) they had firm (trust) in His words,
and sang His praise (for His mighty deeds).”

I take the initial w-particles for vv. 11 and 12 as emphatic, but each with a difference nuance. In verse 11, the Psalmist is reinforcing the idea (regarding the rescue of Israel from their enemies) from v. 10. Here in v. 12, the emphasis is on the result and consequence of YHWH’s action: “Then they trusted in His words”. There is a subtle rebuke implied; it was only after witnessing YHWH’s protective power in action again, that the people trusted. The trust was to be short-lived, as is clear from the following vv. 13ff (to be discussed in the next note). The verb /m^a* denotes being firm (or fixed in place); in the Hiphil stem, it means “make firm”.

The singing of praise to YHWH refers, of course, to the Song of Moses (Song of the Sea, vv. 1-18) and the Song of Miriam (vv. 20-21) in Exodus 15.

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).

July 3: 1 John 5:18-20

1 John 5:18, continued

“We have seen that every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin, but (instead) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him, and (so) the evil does not touch him.” (5:18)

Based on our analysis in the previous note, there are two different ways the second clause of this verse can be read:

    • “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him(self)”
    • “but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He [i.e. God] keeps watch (over) him”

Both are entirely valid in terms of the Johannine theology and the message of 1 John as a whole. Presently, I am inclined to favor slightly the second option, as being more consistent with Johannine usage, regarding the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”). Let us turn now to the final clause:

“and (so) the evil does not touch him” (18c)
kai\ o( ponhro\$ ou)x a%ptetai au)tou=

The emphasis in the first clause was on the believer being free from sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw); here, in the third clause, it is on being protected from evil (adj. ponhro/$). The substantive use of the adjective (with the definite article), “the evil”, is ambiguous. It could be used as a general reference to evil—viz., “th(at which is) evil”. However, most commentators believe that it is a personalized (or personified) use, which should be translated “the Evil (one)” —that is, as a reference to the Satan/Devil.

Regardless, it is clear from verse 19 that the reference is to the evil that is at work in the world, and which dominates the world:

“…the whole world lies stretched out in the evil” (19b)
o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

This is another substantive (articular) use of the adjective ponhro/$, and could be taken to mean that the whole world is under the control/influence of “the Evil one” (viz., the Devil). In the Johannine writings, as I have frequently discussed, the term “the world” (o( ko/smo$) tends to be used in a starkly negative (and dualistic) sense—as a realm of darkness and evil, inhabited by human beings, that is fundamentally opposed to God. As such, “the world” is also opposed to Jesus (the Son of God), and to believers (as the offspring of God). Indeed, the author uses the term a)nti/xristo$ (“against the Anointed”, against Christ), and speaks of the “spirit of antichrist” that is currently at work in the world (4:3b), and which leads the world astray (v. 6). The dualistic contrast, between believers and the world, is a prominent theme in the Johannine writings. It features especially in the Last Discourse (Jn 13:31-16:33), and the great Discourse-Prayer of chap. 17, and runs throughout 1 John. The opponents, who are false believers and “antichrists”, belong to the world, and not to God; whereas all true believers belong to God. This is the point made in verse 19:

“We have seen that we are of God, and (that) the whole world lies stretched out in the evil.”

The first phrase is another example of Johannine essential predication, with believers as the Divine subject. The components of these predicative statements are: (i) Divine subject | (ii) verb of being | (iii) predicate nominative (noun/phrase). Here in v. 19a, the subject is implicit:

(we) | are [e)smen] | of God [e)k tou= qeou=]

The simple prepositional phrase e)k tou= qeou= (“of God”) has two related meanings: (a) in the sense of belonging to God, and (b) as a shorthand for the idiom genna/w + e)k tou= qeou=, “come to be (born) of God”, i.e., believers born out of God, as his offspring. This idiom has been used repeatedly in 1 John, including twice here in v. 18 (see above). By contrast, the false believers, who belong to the world, are the offspring of the Devil (3:8, 10; cf. Jn 8:44).

It is likely that the substantive o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) refers in a personal way to the Devil (“the Evil [one]”)—or, at least, that the expression includes such a point of reference. In the Gospel of John, the Devil is referred to as the “chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of the world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and this association is almost certainly intended here in v. 19. The same substantive use occurs in 2:13-14; 3:12; and Jn 17:15; as well as, famously, in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:13; cf. also 5:37; 13:19, 38, etc).

As the offspring of God, believers are protected (by God) from the evil in the world, and from the Evil one who is the chief of the world. A more precise theological formulation would state that the Son (Jesus) protects us (cf. Jn 17:12), and that his protective presence and power (which is also that of the Father) is realized through the Spirit (Jn 14:17; 16:8-12ff). Since the Son has been victorious over the world (and its evil, 16:33; cp. 1 Jn 3:8), we also are victorious over it (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) through our union with him. This is an essential and vital attribute which belongs to us, insofar as we are true believers in Christ. As God’s own offspring, we are victorious over the world, and are protected from its sin and evil. However, this protection—and freedom from sin—is maintained only insofar as we remain (vb me/nw) in Him. This means remaining in the Son, and, specifically, remaining firmly rooted in trust and love—the great two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers.

Structurally, these statements are part of the final unit of 1 John (vv. 18-20). Through a triad of confessional declarations, each of which begins with the phrase “we have seen that…” (oi&damen o%ti), the author summarizes the message of his treatise, and the purpose for his writing. In closing, let us also consider this summary:

    • We have seen that the (one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin…and (that) the evil does not touch him.” (v. 18)
    • We have seen that we are of God, and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.” (v. 19)
    • We have seen that the Son of God is come…and we are in His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed…” (v. 20)

From the standpoint of theological priority, we may say that these statements are given in reverse order. In particular, the last statement (v. 2o) comes first: The Son of God comes to earth, and gives to us (i.e., believers) the ability to become the offspring of God (cf. Jn 1:12-13ff). As the result of this birth, we are united with the Son, as the offspring of God; we are in the Son, and, through the Son, also in the Father.

Once we are born of God, we realize the consequences of this; and we can see clearly the contrast with the world (v. 19). While we, as believers, are of God, the world is dominated by evil. Those who are of the world are the offspring (in more figurative sense) of the Devil (“the Evil one”). Throughout 1 John, the thematic emphasis has been on the contrast between the true and false believer.

A further consequence of our being God’s offspring, born of Him, is that we are protected from the sin and evil that dominates the world (v. 18). In particular, we have the ability to be free from sin, and we will be free from it, insofar as we remain in the Son—remaining firmly rooted in true faith (trust) and genuine love, fulfilling the great e)ntolh/ (3:23).

In the next daily note, I will offer some final comments on this theme of freedom (from sin), as well as provide some further observations on the final statement by the author (in verse 20).

 

 

July 2: 1 John 5:18, continued

1 John 5:18, continued

In the previous note, we examined three principal ways of reading/interpreting the second clause (b) of verse 18, particularly with regard to the subject of the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”):

    • [#1] The believer keeps watch over himself/herself, viz., by remaining in the Son, and thus keeping free from sin:
      “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him(self)”
    • [#2] The Son keeps watch over the believer, keeping him/her free from sin:
      “but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”
    • [#3] The Father keeps watch over the believer:
      “but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He keeps watch (over) him”

There are sound arguments for and against each of these options. Let us examine them briefly.

1. “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) himself”. According to this approach, the participle refers to the believer, who is both the subject and object of the verb thre/w, with the accusative (object) pronoun au)to/n being read reflexively.

In favor of this approach is the fact that, elsewhere in the Johannine writings, the idiom genna/w + e)k—and, particularly, the use of the substantive participle (with definite article) + e)k qeou= (“of God”)—always refers to the believer. This idiom regularly uses the perfect tense, so the use of the aorist here is a bit unusual; but this may simply be an instance of stylistic variation, switching to the aorist in the second clause to avoid immediately repeating the perfect form of the participle from the first clause. Also, the idea of the believer watching over himself/herself would be in accord with the context of the parallel in 3:4-9—specifically, the statement in 3:3, where the believer is exhorted to “make himself pure/holy” (a(gni/zei e(auto/n). The fact that some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun (e(auto/n) here in v. 18 indicates that this is how a number of early Christians (including some copyists) understood the clause.

A strong argument against this approach is the fact that the verb thre/w, which occurs relatively frequently in the Johannine writings (18 times in the Gospel, 7 in 1 John), is never used by the author(s) in this reflexive sense. In every other instance, where disciples/believers are the subject of the verb, the context involves keeping/guarding the required e)ntolh//e)ntolai/ (“duty” or ‘command[s]’)—Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:3. This is in accordance with traditional usage of thre/w, for the “keeping” of the Torah regulations, etc (Jn 9:16; cf. Matt 19:17; Acts 15:5, etc). Parallel, and generally synonymous in meaning, is the idea of keeping the “word” of God, and/or the “word/s” of Jesus—Jn 8:51-52, 55; 14:23-24; 15:20; 17:6; 1 Jn 2:5 (cf. Matt 28:20; Rev 3:10, etc). In the few instances where believers are the object of the verb, it is God the Father or Jesus the Son who is the subject (Jn 17:11-12, 15; cf. 1 Thess 5:23; Jude 1). A reflexive use of thre/w is rare elsewhere in the New Testament as well, though there are a few examples that would parallel a reflexive usage here (1 Tim 5:22; James 1:27; Jude 21; Rev 16:15).

2. “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”. In this approach, the participial expression “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God” (o( gennhqei/$ e)k tou= qeou=) refers to Jesus as Son of God, rather than believers as the offspring/children (te/kna) of God. Some commentators have felt that this distinction is indicated by the shift in tense in the participle—from perfect (the usual tense when the expression refers to believers) to the aorist.

In favor of this interpretation is the fact that, as noted above, in the few other instances where believers are the object of the verb thre/w, either God the Father or Jesus the Son is the subject. The Son is the subject in Jn 17:12 (cf. also Jude 1). The parallel context in 3:4-9, as well as the theological orientation of 1 John as whole, also supports the idea that it is the Son (Jesus) who guards believers, protecting them from evil and keeping them free from sin. This sinlessness of the believer is the result of sharing in (“remanining in”) the sinlessness of the Son (and his sin-removing power), as is clear from the context of 3:4-9 (see esp. verses 5 and 8).

However, as noted above, in the Johannine writings, the application of the idiom genna/w + e)k, especially when phrased with a substantive verbal noun (participle) + definite article, always refers to believers, never Jesus. This would be the only instance where the expression referred to the Son. The verb genna/w is used of the Son in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth (on earth, in the person of Jesus, cp. the use of gi/nomai in 1:14), not to his Divine ‘birth’ as God’s Son. This is an extremely strong argument against option #2.

3. “(as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, He [i.e. God] keeps watch (over) him”. In this approach, the initial phrase of 18b is a casus pendens, a suspended phrase that is identified with the object pronoun of the main phrase; placed ahead of the main phrase, it anticipates and informs/modifies the object.

Strongly in favor of this approach is the way that it balances the natural identification of both the participial expression and the object pronoun with the believer. As noted above, when the believer is it the object of the verb thre/w, we would expect that either God (the Father) or Jesus (the Son) would be the subject. The Father is the subject in Jn 17:11, 15, which provides the closest Johannine parallel to vv. 18b-19; Jn 17:15 is especially close in wording and theme:

(Jesus praying to the Father, on behalf of his disciples):
“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil.”

As compelling as this argument may be, the overall thrust of the message in 1 John would suggest that it is the Son, rather than the Father, who would be seen as directly protecting the believer. After all, the believer remains/abides in the Son, and it is through the Son that they/we are united with the Father. Moreover, as noted above, it is by sharing in the sinlessness (and sin-removing power) of the Son, that believers are able to be free from sin (see especially 3:5 and 6). At the same time, as a counter-argument (in favor of this approach), the author of 1 John also views the birth of the believer itself as being the source/basis of sinlessness (cf. 3:9, and here in 5:18a). This birth comes from God; we are not born from the Son, though we do remain in him, once we are born as God’s offspring. The aspects of birth and remaining go hand-in-hand, as the parallelism of 3:6 and 9 makes clear.

Summary. Johannine usage would seem to require that both the participial expression and the object pronoun refer to the believer. This means that only approaches #1 and #3 above are feasible. Several factors favor option #3, two of which are most notable, and can be taken together: (1) the verb thre/w is never used reflexively, with the believer as the subject, elsewhere in the Johannine writings (such usage also being quite rare in the New Testament at large); and (2) when the believer is the object of the verb, either God the Father or Jesus the Son is the subject. The message and theology of 1 John tend to favor seeing the Son as the subject, but the parallels in Jn 17:11, 15 (esp. verse 15) strongly favor the Father. This also could be supported syntactically, as the implicit subject of the verb would most naturally relate back to the immediately preceding noun (qeo/$, “God”, “…of God” [e)k tou= qeou=]). This does, of course, assume a casus pendens construction.

In Johannine theology (and in the syntax of the theological idiom), Father and Son are often interchangeable as referents, since the Son’s words and actions are equally those of the Father. However, the Father is the ultimate source, since everything that the Son has is given to him from the Father (cf. Jn 3:35). One can thus speak of God the Father “keeping watch over” believers, protecting them from evil, and keeping us free from sin, even if it is more proper to view the Son as filling this role. Actually, it may be more precise to attribute the role to the Spirit (cf. the Paraclete-sayings in the Gospel), through whom we, as believers, are in union with both the Son and the Father.

At this point, it would be rash to attempt a definitive explanation of the difficult clause in v. 18b. My own interpretation has shifted somewhat over the years, though always recognizing the difficulties involved. Presently, I do see option #3 as having the most to recommend it, being best supported by the Johannine evidence as a whole. This remains something of a minority view among commentators, though it has been held by notable scholars such as Balz, Beyer, Segond, and Schnackenburg. Apparently, it is also held by Maarten J. J. Menken in his more recent commentary (2010, p. 115) on the Letters (this work, in Dutch, has not been accessible to me; cf. van der Watt, Communities, p. 204). Many of the critical commentaries published in recent decades offer surveys of the various interpretive approaches to the verse, akin to what I have done here; as a representative example, see Brown, pp. 620-2.

In the next daily note, the last of this series, I will offer some final comments on verse 18, in the context of vv. 18-20 as the closing unit of 1 John.

References above marked “Brown” are to: Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 30 (1982).
“van der Watt, Communities” refers to the article by Jan G. van der Watt, “On Ethics in 1 John”, in Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles, edited by R. Alan Culpepper and Paul N. Anderson, Society of Biblical Literature [SBL]: Early Christianity and Its Literature, No. 13 (SBL Press: 2014).

July 1: 1 John 5:18

1 John 5:18

“We have seen that every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin, but (instead) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him, and (so) the evil does not touch him.” (5:18)

This is the final Johannine passage to be examined, dealing with the theme of the birth of believers as the children of God. It happens to be the most difficult of all the Johannine references dealing with this theme. The difficulty has to do with the grammatical ambiguity in the verse—rather typical of Johannine syntax, and particularly so in 1 John. Our author regularly leaves the subject of verbs, and the referent of pronouns, unspecified, in such a way that it is not always clear whether they refer to God the Father, Jesus the Son, or, on occasion, the believer. This verse is rife with such ambiguity.

We may divide the verse into three parts, corresponding to three clauses (abc). The first clause is straightforward enough:

“every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not sin” (18a)
pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= qeou= ou)x a(marta/nei

This statement essentially repeats those of 3:6 and 9 (discussed in earlier notes); verse 9 is closest:

“every(one) having come to be (born) of God does not do the sin”

In that instance the author uses the verb poie/w (“do”) + the noun a(marti/a (“sin”, with the definite article); here the author uses the verb a(marta/nw (“sin”), as in verse 6:

“every(one) remaining in him does not sin”

The statement in 5:18 essentially combines these two, summarizing the message of 3:4-9.

Serious difficulties arise in the second clause:

“but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him” (18b)
a)ll’ o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n

The substantive participle here differs in tense (aorist) from that of the first clause (perfect). The expression o( gegennh/meno$ e)k tou= qeou=, using the perfect tense, is always used of believers; but is the same true here with the aorist tense? This would be unusual, and the difference in tense has led some commentators to posit that the reference in this clause is to Jesus (the Son). This would be fully consonant with both the message of 3:4-9 and of the Johannine theology as a whole. It is by abiding/remaining in the Son that believers can be free from sin. The power of sinlessness, and of removing sin, comes from the Son; thus, it would be quite proper to say that the Son “keeps watch over” the believer, protecting him/her from sin and evil (see below on Jn 17:12). Moreover, the Son, quite clearly, could be described as being ‘born’ of the Father.

The problem with this interpretation, is that the idiom of the verb genna/w + e)k (“come to be [born] of [God]”) in the Johannine writings always applies to believers, not to Jesus. The verb genna/w is used of Jesus in Jn 18:37, but in reference to his human birth (i.e., incarnation) on earth. If applied to Jesus here in v. 18b, this would be the only instance where the verb referred to Jesus’ Divine birth (as the Son) from God.

If the expression with aorist tense is a variation of the typical expression (with the perfect), referring to the believer, then the object pronoun au)to/n (“him”) must be understood reflexively:

“but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) himself”

Some manuscripts make this explicit by using the reflexive pronoun (e(auto/n).

This line of interpretation is also in accord with 3:4-9, and the Johannine theology as a whole. Indeed, verse 3 clearly emphasizes the need for the believer to “make himself holy/pure” (a(gni/zei e(auto/n), and the exhortation to “remain” in the Son (and in the truth, and in love), fulfilling the great duty (e)ntolh/) required of all believers, is a central theme. Moreover, the verb thre/w (“[keep] watch [over]”) is usually applied to the disciple/believer, in just such a context—viz., of remaining in Jesus (in his word and love), and of fulfilling the e)ntolh/; cf. 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3; Jn 8:51-52ff; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10, 20; 17:6.

Another possibility, though less plausible grammatically, is that the clause should be read as:

“but (as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God, (God) keeps watch (over) him”

The participle refers to the believer, but God is the subject of the verb thre/w. In favor of this interpretation is the fact that the closest parallel to 5:18f, with its use of the verb thre/w, is found in John 17 (vv. 11-12, 15), where the reference is to God the Father “keeping watch (over)” believers; verse 15 is particularly close:

(Jesus praying to the Father, on behalf of his disciples):
“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep watch (over) [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil.”

In verse 12, it is the Son (Jesus) who watches over the disciples (during his earthly ministry). But, with his departure from earth, the Son asks the Father to watch over them, in his place. In the Last Discourse, this role is given to the Spirit-Paraclete (cf. my earlier notes on the Paraclete-sayings).

Thus, there are three ways to explain the subject of the verb thre/w in 5:18:

    • The believer keeps watch over himself/herself, viz., by remaining in the Son, and thus keeping free from sin [3:3, and most occurrences of the verb thre/w]
    • The Son keeps watch over the believer, keeping him/her free from sin [Jn 17:12, and the context of 3:5, 8]
    • The Father keeps watch over the believer [Jn 17:11, 15]

To this, a fourth option can be added. In a few manuscripts and other witnesses (including the Latin Vulgate), instead of the participle gennhqei/$ (“[hav]ing come to be [born]”), the reading is the noun ge/nnhsi$ (“coming to be [born]”, i.e., “birth”):

“but the coming to be (born) keeps watch (over) him”

That is to say, the birth from God itself watches over the believer (and keeps him/her from sin); it is because the believer has been born (as the offspring of God) that he/she is able to be free from sin (3:9, see above).

In the next daily note, we will continue this discussion on 5:18.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 2)

Psalm 105, continued

For the Introduction to this Psalm, and its first two strophes (vv. 1-6, 7-11), see Part 1.

Strophe 3: Verses 12-15

Verse 12

“In their being men of (small) number,
just a few, and residing as aliens in her,”

The opening couplet picks up from the final couplet of the second strophe (v. 11), and is grammatically dependent on it. The feminine suffix H-* (“in her”) refers back to the land of Canaan (the noun Jr#a# being feminine). The Israelites—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—were, at the time of their dwelling in the land of Canaan, few in number. Moreover, they had a semi-nomadic lifestyle, dwelling in the land as ‘resident aliens’, never taking up permanent residence, but moving regularly from region to region (Gen 12:10; 20:1, etc), and being economically dependent, to some degree, upon the established Canaanite city-states. The root rWG (I) is used to express this distinctive socio-cultural situation; both the verb and noun (rG@) are used regularly in the Patrarchic narratives (e.g., Gen 17:8; 23:4; Exod 6:4), and the terminology became part of the Israelite self-identity (Exod 22:20; Deut 10:19, etc).

Verse 13

“in their going about from nation to nation,
from (one) kingdom to (the) people following,”

This couplet continues the thought from verse 12 (cf. Gen 20:1). Referring to these Canaanite territories as “nations” and “kingdoms” reflects the socio-political dynamic of the small territorial kingdoms (city-states) that populated the region. Each city-state, despite their relatively small size, was technically ruled by a “king” (El#m#). The Amarna letters provide written evidence for the many small kingdoms in Canaan during the late bronze age (14th-13th century B.C.). Other surrounding territories were ruled by tribal confederacies and the like, and could be referred to as “peoples”, rather than “kingdoms”.

Verse 14

“He did not allow (any) human to oppress them,
and (even) gave rebuke (to) kings over them:”

Syntactically, this couplet continues the thought of vv. 12-13, and represents the main clause of the sentence. During all the migrations of the ancestral Israelites, YHWH protected the people—such protection being part of His covenant-bond with them, as a demonstration of his loyalty to the binding agreement; cf. the discussion on the second strophe (vv. 7-11) in Part 1.

The verb j^Wn, in the causative Hiphil stem, in this context, is almost impossible to translate. The verb fundamentally means “set down”, often with the connotation of resting (in one place). In the Hiphil stem, it means “make set(tle) down”, or “give rest/repose”, and thus could easily apply to the migrations of the Israelites (as ‘resident aliens’). However, here it applies to YHWH’s action toward the Canaanite, etc,  people (and their kings); the sense is not “make settle down”, but rather, something like “give leave, allow”. It is best understood in the context of YHWH “letting down” His protection over His people; this He did not do—He did not let it down so as to allow the settled peoples in the region to harass or oppress (vb qv^u*) the Israelites.

He even gave rebukes to the leaders (“kings”) when they might have done harm to Israel; the episodes involving the two king Abimelechs (Gen 20:3; 26:11) are foremost in mind; cf. also Gen 12:17.

There is a certain loose parallel between the pairings of kingdom/people (hk*l=m=m^/<u^) in v. 13 and human[s]/kings (<d*a*/<yk!l*m=) here.

Verse 15

“‘You must not touch my anointed (one)s,
and to my spokesmen you must do no evil!'”

This concluding couplet summarizes both the rebuke YHWH gives to the kings of Canaan, etc, and also the protection that He provides to the patriarchs and the ancestors of Israel. He refers to them as His “anointed ones”. This may allude to the tradition of the Israelite people as a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6), combining both offices (viz., king and priest) where a ceremonial anointing (with ritual or religious significance) typically applied.

In the second line, they are called by the noun ayb!n`. Though often rendered flatly as “prophet”, this noun is actually quite difficult to translate, so as to capture its true meaning. There are two possibilities as to the fundamental meaning (and derivation) of aybn: (1) one who speaks, that is, as a “spokesperson” for God; or (2) one who is called, viz., by God. The latter meaning would actually be more fitting to the context of the Patriarchs (Abraham, etc), as people called by God. Principally, however, the reference here is to Gen 20:6-7; in verse 7, Abraham is referred to as a ayb!n`, with the authority to communicate (i.e. speak) with YHWH, to offer prayer on behalf of Abimelech. I have translated <ya!yb!n+ above as “spokespersons”; this ‘prophetic’ role comes more clearly into view in the following strophes, dealing with Joseph and Moses/Aaron.

The verb uu^r*, in the Hiphil (causative) stem, means “cause evil” or “do (something) bad”; however, sometimes the connotation is more concrete, referring to causing (physical) harm or damage.

Strophe 4: Verses 16-22

Verse 16

“But (then) He called a hunger upon the land,
(and) every staff of bread He did break.”

The initial –w conjunction of this couplet begins a new unit, but also provides a contrast to the emphasis on YHWH’s protective care. At first, the hunger (i.e., famine) He calls upon the land would seem to contradict His covenant protection of the Israelite ancestors; however, this danger only establishes an opportunity for God to further work on His people’s behalf.

The expression “staff of bread” is a bit unusual. Dahood (III, p. 56) suggests that the proper meaning here is “stalk of grain”; this is certainly possible. More likely, however, is that the emphasis is on the lack of any available bread that can be eaten—even a thin stick of bread could not be found. The noun hF#m^ (“staff”) can also refer, figuratively, to a means of support. The supply of bread/food, necessary to support the life and health of the people, was “broken” (vb rb*v*). The reference, of course, is to the famine of the Joseph narratives (chaps. 41-42ff). This famine serves to bring the Israelites down into Egypt.

Verse 17

“He (had) sent (ahead) before them a man,
(for) as a slave he had been sold—Yôsep.”

The selling of Joseph into slavery (Gen 37:28, 36; cf. chaps. 39-40) was providential; YHWH used the event to help His people through the famine, and to draw them down into Egypt.

The subject of the couplet is not specified until the final word; it is important that this poetic device (which Dahood, III, pp. 51, 56, called “explicitation”) be preserved in translation.

Verse 18

“They pressed his feet into the fetters,
(and) into (the) iron his neck came,”

Both concretely, and figuratively, this couplet describes Joseph’s enslavement. His feet were “pressed” (or “forced”, vb hn`u*) into fetters (lb#K#, a noun that occurs only here and in Ps 149:8), while his neck similarly went into an iron ring (or shackle, etc). The noun vp#n# is typically translated “soul”, but not infrequently it carries the more concrete meaning “throat”, i.e., “neck”.

Verse 19

“until (the) time of (the) coming of His word,
(when the) showing by YHWH refined him.”

This couplet, continuing the thought from v. 18, describes (somewhat awkwardly) the time/duration of Joseph’s slavery. It lasted until the “coming” (note the wordplay involving the same verb, aoB in v. 18b) of YHWH’s word. This “word” comes by way of dreams/visions (and their interpretation), and thus it is fair to understand here a bit of conceptual play between the roots rbd and rma. Both roots can denote “speak/say”, but rma can also mean “see” or “show” (cf. Gen 41:39). Here the noun rb*D* (line 1) is parallel with hr*m=a! (line 2). Through this process, Joseph was “refined” (vb [r^x*), metallurgical terminology that can carry the more figurative connotation of being tested (viz., by God) and proven worthy, pure, etc. The general reference is to the events of Gen 39-41.

Verse 20

“He sent a king, who then set him loose,
a ruler of peoples, who opened for him.”

As Dahood and Allen (and other commentators) note, YHWH is best understood as the subject of this couplet, with the king (i.e., Pharaoh) as the object. The prefixed w-conjunctions on the verbs can be rendered as a continuing result— “and then (he)…”; for poetic concision, I have translated this as “who (then)…”. This is a summary reference to the events of Gen 41.

Verse 21

“He set him as lord over his house,
and ruler among all his acquisition(s),”

The king (Pharaoh) is presumably the subject of this couplet, though it is possible to read it with YHWH as the implied (continuing) subject. The elevation of Joseph to the status of ruler (lit. one ruling) is narrated in Gen 41:39-45; the same participle (lv@m)) is used of Pharaoh in v. 20. Joseph is made a second ruler in Egypt, just below Pharaoh himself.

Verse 22

“to bind (together) his princes by his soul,
(that) he might make his elders wise.”

The ruling power/authority of Joseph also has a positive moral impact. His wisdom will have a unifying effect, “binding” together (vb rs^a*) the princes of Egypt “by/in his soul” —that is, in Joseph’s own person, according to his (righteous) inclinations. On the possibility of reading the verb rs^a* here as a form (or by-form) of rs^y` I (“instruct”), see Dahood, III, p. 58, and Allen, p. 52f. The couplet loosely reflects the ruling position and organizing activity of Joseph, fostered by his inspired wisdom and prudence, in Gen 41:37-49.

Strophe 5: Verses 23-28

Verse 23

“And (so) Yisrael came (down to) Egypt,
and Ya‘aqob resided in (the) land of Ham.”

The events surrounding Joseph served the larger purpose of bringing the descendants of Jacob (Israel) down into Egypt (Genesis 42ff). According to the genealogical tradition in Genesis 10 (v. 6), the Egyptians (“Egypt”) were descended from (or otherwise related to) Noah’s son Ham.

On the significance of the verb rWG, see the note on verse 12 above.

Verse 24

“And He made his people fruitful, exceedingly so,
and (so) made them strong(er) than their foes.”

This couplet effectively introduces the Exodus portion of the historical summary; the specific reference is to Exod 1:7ff. YHWH again is the implied subject; through His blessing and covenant protection, the Israelite people became numerous and strong, enough so that Pharaoh and the Egyptian government saw them as a threat (Exod 1:9).

I take “his people” as a reference to the people of Israel; however, it could, of course, also refer to Israel as the people of YHWH (“His people”), cf. verse 25 below.

Verse 25

“He turned over their heart to hate His people,
(and) to deal craftily with His servants.”

In this verse, “his people” certainly refers to Israel as the people of God (“His people”), as the parallel with “His servants” makes clear. The fear of the Egyptians toward the Israelites turns to “hate” and hostility, leading Pharaoh and his advisors to develop crafty plans for dealing with them (Exod 1:10ff).

Verse 26

“He sent (forth) Moshe His servant,
and Aharôn, on whom He had chosen.”

This couplet summarizes, in a general way, Exodus 2-4. The choice of Moses and Aaron, as chosen representatives (or <ya!yb!n+, ‘spokesmen’, cf. on v. 15 above) of God, again reflects YHWH’s care for His people, and His loyalty to the covenant made with their ancestors.

Verse 27

“They set (forth) among them words of His signs,
and (wondrous) portents in (the) land of Ham.”

Moses and Aaron announced to the people what YHWH had previously spoken (and demonstrated) to them; then they proceeded to display the supernatural portents to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The pairing of the plural nouns totoa (“signs”) and <yt!p=m (“portents”, of a wondrous or miraculous kind) is traditional. The couplet summarizes Exodus 4:29-31 (cf. vv. 1-17), 6:1, and chap. 7ff.

Verse 28

“He sent darkness, and (so) made it dark;
and they did not rebel (against) His word.”

Verse 28, when read in connection with vv. 29-36, is problematic, since it seems to set the plague of darkness (the ninth plague, Exod 10:21-29) ahead of all the others. Unless this is evidence of textual corruption—and the plague strophe (vv. 29-36) will be discussed in Part 3—the reference here needs to be explained in another way. A possible solution lies in reading this couplet as the conclusion of a strophe, which focuses primarily on the role of Moses and Aaron as faithful servants (and spokesmen/prophets) of YHWH. It is Moses and Aaron who, as in v. 27, are the plural subject in the second line (“they did not rebel…”). Their faithfulness is intentionally being contrasted with the rebelliousness of the people during the wilderness period. Moses and Aaron faithfully carried out their mission, presenting the words (and signs) given to them by YHWH.

(For a very different parsing and explanation of the Hebrew of the second line, see Dahood, III, p. 60.)

There could be two possible reasons for the allusion here to the plague of darkness. For one thing, its climactic position (as the penultimate plague) makes the mention of it here fitting for the climax of the strophe, anticipating the full scope of the plague-narration that follows. Secondly, there may be an allusion to the Creation account: as with the light (1:3), so with the darkness—YHWH speaks, and it is so. He “sends” the darkness by way of His word/command. Line 1 thus affirms the sureness and faithfulness of YHWH’s word—indicating and implying, once again, His loyalty to the covenant bond with His people (vv. 8-11). Moses and Aaron, as His servants, have similarly been faithful/loyal in carrying out His word.

The remainder of the Psalm will be analyzed in Part 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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 97

Psalm 97

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 6-9)

This Psalm, like others in the collection of Pss 93-100, is a hymn to YHWH, in which His Kingship is praised; for more on this guiding theme, see the previous studies, esp. those on Psalms 93, 95 and 96. There is a thematic and literary interrelation between the Psalms in this collection; in particular, there seems to be a strong relationship between Psalms 97 and 99, as between Pss 96 and 98. For more detail on the common vocabulary and thematic links, see the discussion by Howard, pp. 155-61; cf. also the notice by Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 477.

Nearly all commentators recognize a clear break and structural distinction between vv. 1-9 and 10-12. Verses 1-9 contain the hymn proper, while vv. 10-12 represent an addition to the hymn, an exhortation for the righteous, influenced by Wisdom traditions. As we have seen in prior studies, the closing sections of Psalms often contain such a Wisdom-emphasis, suggesting a certain development. Earlier compositions were likely adapted in various ways for use in communal worship and for a didactic (teaching) purpose.

Doubtless verses 1-6 represent the oldest part of the composition, and may themselves comprise an early hymn to YHWH. These verses utilize the language and imagery of storm-theophany traditions, as applied to YHWH. God is seen as manifest in the storm. The mythic elements are cosmological, relating to YHWH’s role as the Creator. In particular, there are allusions to the cosmological myth of the Deity’s defeat of the primal waters; in subduing the waters, God brings about an ordered cosmos capable of sustaining life. He also exercises control over the waters, resulting in the regulation of the storms and rains which are necessary for agriculture, etc, and the functioning of human society. The archetype of God’s victory over the unruly waters is made to apply to the defeat of human enemies and adversaries as well; the storm-theophany language, as here in this Psalm, can be used to depict YHWH’s exercise of His ruling power over the nations. For more on the background of this mythic imagery, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. Psalm 29 (cf. the earlier study) is the perhaps prime biblical example of this imagery used in poetry.

The storm-theophany hymn in vv. 1-6 can be divided into two parts: two stanzas (vv. 2-3, 4-5) framed by an introductory (v. 1) and closing (v. 6) couplet. Verses 7-9 build upon the core hymn, introducing a theme that occurs through others in the collection (cf. the previous study on Ps 96)—namely, YHWH’s superiority over the other deities worshiped by the nations. This is part of a broader thematic emphasis on the universal scope of YHWH’s Kingship, which extends to all of the nations on earth. Eventually, YHWH will replace the deities they currently worship, and they all will come to recognize Him as their King and God. There is a certain rudimentary eschatological orientation to this theology, similar to, but not nearly as developed as, that of the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems (chaps. 40-66), or in the book of Zechariah, for example.

This Psalm, like others in the collection, probably was originally composed in the late pre-exilic period. This applies at least to the core hymn of vv. 1-9, while vv. 2-5 may represent older material. The Psalm, as a whole, may date to the exilic (or even post-exilic) period, as is suggested by the Wisdom-orientation in vv. 10-12.

The meter of Psalm 97 is irregular, but it tends to follow a three-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a few three-beat (3+3+3) tricola as well. Other irregular verses will be noted.

Part 1: verses 1-6

Verse 1

“YHWH is King! Let the earth twirl (in joy)!
Let (the) many coast-lands be glad!”

This 4+3 couplet begins the hymn to YHWH. The thematic emphasis on YHWH’s Kingship is stated explicitly in the initial half-line (cp. the first two words of 93:1). The verb El^m* (“be king, rule/reign [as king]”) carries a relatively wide range of nuance, depending on the context. Based on the cosmological context of the storm-theophany language in vv. 2-5 (see above), the declaration in v. 1 could allude to the establishment of YHWH’s rule over the universe (cp. Psalm 93); cf. the translation by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 468), “YHWH has become King”.

Here the term Jr#a# (“earth, land”) refers properly to the disc/cylinder—i.e., the flat surface of the earth (the lower half of the cosmos) where human beings dwell. In particular, the extent of the dry land which forms the territory for each nation, would seem to be in view. The parallel with the “coastlands” (<yY]a!) in the second line brings out this delimiting scope.

Every territory of the inhabited earth is called upon to rejoice because YHWH rules as King. The verb lyG] (“circle [round]”) denotes a specific motion (spinning, twirling) that expresses joy and celebration. By contrast, the verb jm^c* refers to an attitude of joyfulness (“be glad/happy”).

Verse 2

“Cloud and darkness surround Him—
rightness and judgment (are)
(the) fixed place of His throne!”

The storm-theophany language/imagery is introduced here: YHWH is surrounded by the dark storm-cloud. For this use of lp#r*u&, denoting a heavy darkness in the sky/clouds, cf. Exod 20:21; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Psalm 18:10[9] [2 Sam 22:10]; it tends to be paired with /n`u* (“cloud”), as a hendiadys (i.e., dark cloud[s]).

This storm-imagery reflects YHWH’s ruling presence and power as King, as is clear from the following lines. The verse can be read as an irregular 3+4 couplet, but I prefer to parse it as a 3+2+2 tricolon. While the mighty storm-clouds—representing YHWH’s control over the waters (cf. above)—surround Him, the throne upon which He sits (i.e., beneath Him) is founded firmly upon right(eous)ness and sound/fair judgment (i.e., justice). On this motif of the firmness of YHWH’s throne, and thus also of His rule, see Ps 93:2; it is a theme that runs through Psalm 89 (vv. 3[2], 5-8[4-7], 14[13] etc).

An allusion to YHWH’s judgment of the nations is thus introduced here, by this pairing of the storm-theophany language with the idea of the justice by which YHWH rules as King. See verse 3 (below).

Verse 3

“Fire (from) before His face proceeds,
and it blazes, circling Him round about.”

The MT of the second line apparently reads: “and it burns (up) His adversaries round about”. This would be in accord with the Judgment-theme mentioned above (on v. 2). However, Dahood (II, p. 361) makes a strong case for reading wyr*x% (= wyr*Wx), as derived from the root rwx I, “surround, encircle”. He treats it as a noun meaning “back”; but it might be better to regard it as a verbal noun from rWx I. The imagery of a fire surrounding YHWH makes a suitable parallel to the dark cloud that surrounds Him (v. 2, line 1); both are components of the storm-theophany—i.e., lightning coming from the dark storm clouds. For similar parallelism of fire being present both in front and behind, cf. Joel 2:3; a closer parallel to the scene depicted here is found in Psalm 50:3.

Verse 4

“His flashes light up (the whole) world—
(all) the earth sees (it) and writhes!”

As was implied above, the “fire” that surrounds YHWH, coming from the dark storm-clouds, is lightning (lit. “flashes” [of lightning]). These flashes light up the entire inhabited world (lb@T@), and cause the whole earth (and all its inhabitants) rightly to tremble (lit. “twist, writhe”) at the sight of it.

Verse 5

“(The) mountains like wax do melt away,
from before (the) face of YHWH,
before (the) face of (the) Lord of all (the) earth!”

This couplet (lines 1 + 3) has been expanded, for dramatic effect, by the inclusion of a short second line, creating a repetitive effect. Metrically, this yields a 3+2+3 tricolon. All the earth trembles with fear when YHWH manifests Himself (in the storm), as stated in v. 3 (above). Even the great mountains melt or dissolve (vb ss^m*), like mere wax, out of fear, when YHWH comes to be present on earth in this awesome way.

Verse 6

“The heavens put out front His rightness,
and all the peoples can see His weight!”

As in verse 2, at the beginning of the storm-theophany imagery, the cosmic aspect of the storm (with its awesomeness) is blended together with the idea of the justice (and right judgment) of YHWH in His rule as King. The noun qd#x#, (“right[eous]ness”), repeated from verse 2, brings out this aspect of justice. As YHWH manifests Himself in the storm, He also reveals His righteousness and justice—and the impending judgment that He brings upon the earth. This is primarily manifest in the heavens, and thus the heavens effectively “put (this) out front” (vb dg~n`) so that everyone can see and recognize it. Indeed, all the peoples on earth see the “weight” (dobK*), i.e., the awesome presence (splendor/glory), of YHWH, as He appears for Judgment.

Part 2: Verses 7-9

Verse 7

“May all serving a carved image be put to shame,
th(ose) boasting in the powerless (one)s!
(For) all (the) mighty (one)s bow down to Him!”

The storm-theophany reveals YHWH as the Creator and King of the universe. This sets Him apart from all the other divine beings (“mighty [one]s”, ‘gods’) that the peoples/nations worship. These other deities are designated as <yl!yl!a$, a term (lyl!a$) which means “weak, powerless”. And, indeed, the other divine beings are weak and powerless in comparison to YHWH; they are forced to bow down to YHWH, in submission to Him, recognizing His superiority and His Kingship. The adjective lyl!a$ can also carry the more derogatory connotation of “worthless, useless”, and so it came to be used, in this harsher sense, of the pagan gods (worshiped by the nations)—and, in particular, their images (‘idols’). The use of lyl!a$ here, as in the prior Psalm 96 (v. 5), does not yet have the full negative force that the term would carry; even so, the idea of venerating carved images of these “weak” deities is clearly disparaged and condemned.

Even though the plural noun <yh!l)a$ (as a true plural) is typically translated “gods”, its fundamental meaning, as I regularly render it, is something like “mighty (one)s”. Assuming that the Psalmist (and his/her audience) was cognizant of this basic meaning, there is presumably an ironic juxtaposition here between the terms <yl!yl!a$ and <yh!l)a$, which is enhanced by the alliterative effect. The gods thought to be “mighty ones” (°§lœhîm) are actually “weak ones” (°§lîlîm).

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+3 tricolon, much like verse 5 (see above).

Verse 8

‚iyyôn heard (of it) and was glad,
and (the) daughters of Yehudah twirled,
as a result of your judgments, YHWH.”

Assuming that verse 8 should be understood in the context of v. 7, then the imprecation, against those worshiping carved images of (other) deities, presumably anticipates YHWH’s judgment against the nations. Almost certainly, this judgment entails the submission (and/or conversion) of the nations, so that they will come to worship YHWH, as their God and King, rather than the other weak and powerless deities they previously venerated. This, indeed, would be cause for Jerusalem (Zion) and Judah to rejoice.

The same pair of verbs—jm^c* and lyG!—from verse 1 is used here. The verb forms could similarly be rendered here with precative/jussive force (i.e., “let Zion be glad…”); however, it seems that they are best treated as indicatives. It demonstrates the effect of YHWH’s judgments on the righteous ones of Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse 9

“For you, YHWH, (are the) Most High,
over all the earth, (the) Most (High),
(to be) raised high over all Mighty (one)s!”

The Psalmist, speaking with the voice of the righteous ones (see v. 8), declares what the nations, facing YHWH’s judgment, are only now coming to realize: that YHWH is the Most High, the Ruler over all the cosmos, and greatest (King) over all other divine beings. This was the point made, in a more polemical fashion, in verse 7 (see above); here it is cast in traditional religious and theological terms.

All three lines play on the idea of YHWH as the highest, utilizing, in various ways, the root hlu (“go up, ascend”). First, in line 1, there is the traditional Divine title /oylu# (“Highest [One], Most High”). The same is stated in line 2, using the preposition lu^ (“over, above”), along with the term da)m= (“much, exceedingly”), here apparently as a Divine title or epithet—i.e., “Might[iest]”, “Great [One]”, or perhaps “Most (High)”. Then, in line 3, the preposition lu^ follows a passive (Niphal) form of the verb hl*u*, as a Divine epithet (“[to be] lifted high”), indicating that YHWH is worthy of being exalted with praise and worship.

Part 3: Verses 10-12

Verse 10

“(You, the one)s loving YHWH, shall hate evil!
(He is the One) guarding (the) souls of His devoted,
(and) He snatches them from (the) hand of (the) wicked.”

There is a certain awkwardness to this tricolon, opening the final section of the Psalm, which also makes it somewhat difficult to translate. Many commentators choose to emend the first line, in different ways. However, the line, as it stands in the MT, forms a valid parallel with verse 12: the “righteous ones” (v. 12a) are those who love YHWH (“[one]s loving YHWH”) and are devoted to Him (“His devoted [one]s”). The call (imperative of an@v*) is for the righteous to hate what is evil. Given the context of vv. 7-9 (see above), the “evil” here could refer specifically to idolatry and the worship of deities other than YHWH. The adjective dys!j* (“good”) often connotes devotion and loyalty (that is, loyalty to the covenant with YHWH), and frequently so in the Psalms. Central to the covenant is the idea that the people of Israel are to recognize and worship YHWH alone as their God and King.

The flip side of the covenant bond—YHWH’s devotion to Israel—entails the principle that YHWH, as the Sovereign, is to provide protection for those who are loyal to Him. This theme of Divine protection appears frequently in the Psalms, expressed through a variety of terms, images, and motifs. It is clearly expressed here as well: YHWH will “guard” the souls (i.e., the lives) of those who are devoted to Him, and will “snatch” them out of danger when the “wicked (one)s” threaten or attack. This contrast, between the righteous and wicked, runs throughout many Psalms; it is also central to ancient Israelite Wisdom traditions.

Verse 11

“Light is sown for the righteous (one),
and gladness for (the) straight of heart.”

If protection for the righteous is part of YHWH’s covenant obligation, there is also the promise of blessing and reward. Here the Divine blessing comes in the form of “light” (line 1), as symbolic of life and salvation, truth and knowledge, but also the very presence of YHWH Himself. The latter may be foremost in mind, given the theophany context of the hymn in vv. 1-6, with its imagery of “fire” and “flashes” of lightning, etc.

If the verb ur^z` is original, then the idea may that YHWH ‘scatters’ light to the faithful, dispersing it to them the way that a farmer scatters seed. Many commentators, following the ancient versions, emend the verb to jr^z` (“shine, rise”), making an obvious and natural fit for the subject of light. Retaining the verb ur^z`, it may be that the intended scenario is that of the righteous coming to dwell in a ‘field’ of light, like the Elysian Fields of Greek myth, or the heavenly marshlands of Egyptian myth. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 362, for a different way of reading this line, but in keeping with the idea of a heavenly ‘field’ of blessedness for the righteous.

Obviously, such Divine blessing will produce gladness (hj*m=c!) and joy for the one who receives it.

Verse 12

“Be glad, (you) righteous (one)s, in YHWH,
and give thanks, invoking His holy (name)!”

This section, and the Psalm itself, closes with this couplet calling on the righteous, both to rejoice in their bond with YHWH, and to worship Him, giving praise to Him in a manner worthy of His greatness and holiness. The prepositional expression rk#z@l= is a bit difficult to translate, in a concise and poetic way. The noun rk#z@ denotes the mention that one makes of a person or thing, but particularly, in a religious context, to the utterance (invocation) of a name. Here, it is the name of YHWH, referring to His attributes and deeds both, in a comprehensive sense. Through praise, the righteous call to mind the wonders and saving deeds performed by YHWH, as well as His own righteousness, faithfulness, holiness, power, etc, and all that makes Him worthy of our worship and honor.

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).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18 (continued)

1 John 5:16-18, continued

In the study last week, I noted the close parallel between 1 John 5:18 and 3:9. This strongly suggests that two verses are closely related, and that the later reference (in 5:18) may be used to explain further the meaning and force of the sin-reference in 3:9 (discussed at length in prior studies). The formal parallelism in wording, between the two statements, is readily apparent—the main clause being nearly identical in each:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God…
      pás ho gegenn¢ménos ek toú Theoú

      • …does not do sin” (3:9a)
        hamartían ou poieí
      • …does not sin” (5:18)
        ouk hamartánei

Based on this close similarity, as noted above, it is fair to assume that the explanatory clauses which follow, in each reference, are also related. The hóti-clause in 3:9b is, again:

“…(in) that [hóti] His seed remains [ménei] in him”

This is the stated reason why the one having been born of God (i.e., the true believer) “does not sin”. It is because [hóti] God’s seed “remains” in the believer. The significance of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) in this context, within the Johannine theology, has been discussed extensively throughout these studies. Indeed, it is this distinctive use of the verb which serves as the basis for one of my proposals toward addressing the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John (see last week’s study and the one prior).

Now let us turn to the explanation provided by the author in 5:18:

“…but [allá] the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”

There is an ambiguity here of subject and (pronoun) object, much as there also is in 3:9b. However, the ambiguity in that earlier reference is much easier to decipher. Literally, the clause in 3:9b reads “his seed remains in him”. But, based on the context, and Johannine language, it is clear that this means “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him [i.e. the believer]”. The situation is not so straightforward in the case of 5:18, as nearly all commentators recognize. There are two main ways to explain the Greek syntax:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the Son, Jesus] keeps watch (over) him [i.e. the believer]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

Some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”), rather than the ordinary pronoun autón (“him”). Such a reading would provide confirmation for the second interpretation (above). However, even if the reading autón is regarded as original, the second interpretation is still possible, since the ordinary pronoun (i.e., autós, etc) can be used reflexively.

The parallel with 3:9 strongly favors the first option—namely, that Jesus, the Son (i.e., the one born of God), protects the believer. God’s “seed”, in the Johannine theological context, is best understood as the living Word (Logos) of God, who is the Son, abiding in the believer. God’s eternal Word is manifest, primarily, through the person of His Son. Alternatively, the “seed” may be understood as the Spirit of God; but this would differ little, in terms of the Johannine theology, since the believer’s abiding union with the Son (and the Father) is realized through the Spirit (3:24; 4:13). Moreover, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), then also His Word is Spirit, and is experienced through the Spirit (cf. Jesus’ statement in Jn 6:63).

The problem with this interpretation of 5:18 is that the idiom “the one coming to be born of God”, using the substantive verbal noun (participle), of the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), followed by the preposition ek (“[out] of”, in the expression “of God” or “of the Spirit”), always refers to believers, not to Christ. The verb gennᜠis applied to Jesus in John 18:37, but in the context of his human birth, not to a Divine/spiritual birth as God’s Son. Moreover, the idea of believers guarding themselves from sin/evil, keeping themselves pure, etc, is not at all out of place in the context of 3:4-9, as the exhortation in 2:28-29 and 3:3 makes clear.

As it turns out, both lines of interpretation are quite valid—both in terms of the Johannine theology and the literary context of 1 John. Overall, the theological focus, along with the immediate parallel in 3:9, favors the first interpretation (i.e., the Son protects the believer), while Johannine usage (vocabulary and syntax) tends to favor the second interpretation (i.e., the believer guards him/herself). A third option is available, by way of a minority reading for the clause in 5:18

“…but the coming to be (born) [i.e., birth, génn¢sis] keeps watch (over) him”

that is to say, it is the very spiritual birth, the coming to be born (as God’s offspring), which protects the believer from sin. In some ways, this provides the closest parallel with 3:9b, since the idea of God’s “seed” being present, in the believer, generally corresponds to the idea of the believer’s birth (as His offspring). However, the textual (manuscript) evidence argues firmly against this reading, and it is adopted by few, if any, commentators today.

Possibly in favor of the first interpretation (that it is the Son who protects the believer) is the use of the aorist tense (for the participle), genn¢theís, rather than the perfect tense (i.e., gegenn¢ménos), which is typically used when referring to the birth of believers as God’s offspring. It has been suggested that the difference in tense here is meant to convey a certain distinction—viz., between the Son and believers. However, though this would make an attractive solution, it is precarious to based one’s interpretation on such slight evidence as the supposed distinction between tenses.

Even so, I am inclined to favor (slightly) the interpretation that understands the second participial expression as a reference to Jesus the Son (“the one born of God”), whose abiding presence protects the believer (“the one born of God” [first participle]) from sin and evil.

Continuing the comparison between 3:9 and 5:18, there is a comparable parallel between 3:9c and the final clause of 5:18. In each instance, the implications of the Divine protection, provided to the believer, are stated boldly. In 3:9c, we have (again) the difficult declaration (discussed previously):

“…and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God”

Essentially, this restates the declaration of v. 9a, giving a chiastic structure to the verse (cf. the outline in the earlier study). However, what is to be most noted is the absolute character of the declaration—that the true believer, the one “born of God”, is not able to sin. This compares with the corresponding clause in 5:18:

“…and the evil does not touch him”

Indeed, the statement that evil does not (or cannot) touch the believer is comparable to the statement that he/she is not able to sin. One should perhaps understand the substantive adjective (with the definite article) ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) as a personification or personal reference— “the evil one” (compare 2:13-14; 3:12; Jn 17:15), i.e., the Satan/Devil (see 3:8, 10), elsewhere called, in the Johannine writings, “the chief (ruler) [árchœn] of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Whether understood more abstractly, or as a person, this evil fundamentally characterizes “the world” (ho kósmos)—that is, the present world-order (especially at the end of the current Age), which is opposed to God, and is dominated by sin and darkness. The “antichrist” false believers (2:18-27; 4:1-6), the opponents whose views the author combats throughout 1 John, are part of this evil world. The thoroughness of this negative portrait of “the world” is made clear in verse 19, by way of a typical dualistic Johannine contrast:

“We have seen that we are of God [ek tou Theou], and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.”

Again “the evil”, as in v. 18, can be understood as “the evil one”. The expression “of God” is a shorthand for “having been born of God”, but it also implies, more generally, the idea that believers belong to God. In any case, “the world” is so thoroughly dominated by sin and darkness, that only through the abiding presence of God—His Spirit, Son, and Word—can we, as believers, be protected, so that the evil of the world “does not touch” us. It was as a result of the Son’s fulfillment of his mission, for which the Father sent him to earth, that the power of the world (with its sin and evil) has been overcome (Jn 12:31; 16:33; cf. 1 Jn 3:5, 8). Now believers are, and can be, victorious over the world, through the life and truth that the Son, through the Spirit, provides. This is an important emphasis in 1 John and a key part of the author’s exhortation (2:13-14, 15-17; 3:1; 4:4ff; 5:4-5). The contrast between believers and the world is a fundamental theme that runs through the Johannine writings.

Next week, we will bring this series of studies, on the Johannine view of sin, to a close. As part of this conclusion, some final comments on the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John will be offered, along with a review of the pair of approaches to the problem which I have proposed.

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 94 (Part 2)

Psalm 94, continued

Wisdom Couplets (verses 12-15)

The four Wisdom couplets in vv. 12-15 parallel those in vv. 8-11 (discussed in Part 1). The first set of couplets addressed the wicked (who are fools), while the second addresses the righteous (i.e., the wise).

Verse 12

“(O the) happiness of (the) strong (one) when you discipline him,
O YH(WH), and from your Instruction you teach him.”

This first couplet addressing the wise/righteous takes the form of a beatitude, utilizing the plural construct yr@v=a^ (“[the] happy [thing]s of…”) as an intensive interjection: viz., “O (the) happiness of…!”. It is typically translated “blessed is…” or “blessed be…”. The beatitude formula occurs frequently in the Psalms, most notably in Psalm 1 (see the earlier study). As I discuss in a separate note, the happiness (or blessedness) indicated in the beatitude formula refers to one who obtains the blessed afterlife (with God) in heaven. While the wicked are merely left with the emptiness of their brief life on earth (v. 11), the righteous will experience a blessed life after death.

However, the blessedness begins for the righteous even in this life, as they have the good fortune of being taught by YHWH, from the Divine Instruction (hr*oT) which He has given to His people. The righteous are willing to be taught, even when it involves sometimes painful discipline (vb rs*y`) and correction. The noun rb#G# denotes a strong/mighty person, though sometimes it is used more generally, as referring to an(y) able-bodied male. It is presumably being used here in a generic sense, though one should not ignore the etymological force of rbg; the righteous are made strong, able, and skilled (like a warrior) through the discipline and and instruction provided by YHWH.

Verse 13

“(It is) to give rest for him from (the) days of evil,
while for (the) wicked is dug a (pit of) ruin!”

The Instruction from YHWH, and the blessedness it brings, results in a place quiet and rest (vb fq^v*, Hiphil) from the “days of evil”. Again the blessed afterlife is primarily in view, but the imagery can also apply to happiness and blessedness for the righteous in this life. By contrast, the wicked have only death and the grave to look forward to. The noun tj^v^ literally means “ruin, corruption”, but is often applied more concretely to a grave or “pit” in which a person goes to ruin. There is almost certainly an intentional bit of alliterative wordplay here, between the verb fq^v* (š¹qa‰) and tj^v^ (šaµa¾).

A contrast between the righteous and the wicked (and their respective fates) is found frequently in the Psalms, the theme drawing heavily in this regard upon Wisdom tradition. It is very much part of the beatitude in Psalm 1, just as it is here.

The meter of this couplet is slightly extended, 4+4. Also, I should note that it is possible (and perhaps preferable) to read verse 13 gramatically as a continuation of v. 12: “…you teach him, (in order) to give rest to him…”.

Verse 14

“For (surely) YHWH does not cast away His people,
and His inheritance does not leave behind.”

The faithfulness of YHWH, to the covenant-bond with His people, is implied here. However, in the Wisdom context of these verses, with the focus on the righteous, we should understand the reference to God’s people in this ethical-religious (rather than an ethno-religious) sense. YHWH will not abandon His people, insofar as they remain faithful to the covenant, and to His Instruction.

The initial yK! particle is emphatic. Metrically, this couplet is slightly irregular (4+3).

Verse 15

“Indeed, the ruling-seat of righteousness returns judgment,
and following after it (are) all (the) straight of heart.”

The interpretation of this closing couplet is difficult. If the word du in the first line is (as most commentators and translators take it) the preposition du^ (“until, unto”), then the line would mean something like: “indeed, unto righteousness (right) judgment returns”. That is to say, for the righteous, as a result of their righteousness, YHWH’s ruling judgment is to their benefit (and blessedness); a reference to the afterlife judgment would fit the contextual background of the beatitude-form (see above).

However, I am inclined to follow Dahood (II, p. 349, also p. 81f) in seeing du here as another (rare) example of a separate root indicating “throne, throne-room, royal pavilion” (HALOT, p. 788; cf. Ps 89:38[37] and the earlier note on this verse). The expression “throne [du] of righteousness” provides a suitable (contrastive) parallel with “throne [aS@K!] of corruption” in verse 20.

Ultimately, it is best to see this verse in parallel with the previous verse 14, referring to YHWH’s role in relation to the righteous. He takes His seat of rule as Sovereign over humankind, and renders judgment. The righteous (“[those] straight of heart”) follow His judgment, even as they have followed His instruction (see above), and it is favorable for them, leading to their blessedness.

Prayer for Deliverance (verses 16-21)

This section corresponds to the lament in vv. 3-11 (see the discussion of these verse, and the chiastic outline for the Psalm, in the previous study [Part 1]). This pairing of lament + prayer for deliverance is typical of many Psalms. Here, it also continues the theme of contrast between the righteous and wicked. The protagonist prays specifically for YHWH to rescue him (i.e., the righteous) from the wicked.

Verse 16

“Who will stand up for me against (those) doing evil?
Who takes his stand for me against (those) making trouble?”

The motif of standing up (vb <Wq) and taking one’s stand (vb bx^y`, Hitpael) here has a dual-meaning. On the one hand, the theme of YHWH as Judge continues from verse 15—i.e., YHWH stands in judgment, on behalf of the righteous, and against the wicked. At the same time, standing against (prep. <u!) an opponent can imply a military action, and such imagery is frequently used in Psalms, in the context of the protagonist’s prayer for deliverance. The Psalmist presents the matter here as a rhetorical question: “who will stand up…?” The implication is that he has no one to stand up for him against the wicked, apart from YHWH.

The wicked are referred to by a pair of common substantive participles (the latter being a participial expression), indicating their characteristic behavior: <yu!r@m= (“[one]s doing evil”) and /w#a* yl@u&P) (“doers/makers of trouble,” “[one]s making trouble”, i.e. trouble-makers).

Verse 17

“If it were not (that) YHWH (was the) help for me,
in a little (while) would dwell my soul in silence.”

Only YHWH can provide help (hr*z+u#) for the Psalmist. If YHWH were not there to help (a condition indicated by the negative particle al@Wl), then it would not be long (fu^m=K!, “in a little [while]”) before the wicked would destroy him, sending his soul to “(the place of) silence” (hm*WD). On this expression as an idiom for death and the grave, cf. Psalm 115:17. Dahood (II, p. 347f) suggests that hm*WD here is better explained in relation to the Akkadian dimtu and Ugartic dmt, “fortress, tower”, which would mean that a different image is being employed—viz., the realm of death as a fortress in which one is imprisoned.
Some commentators explain hmd (hmdk) in Ezek 27:32 as having a similar meaning, i.e., Tyre as a mighty fortress/tower in the midst of the sea; cf. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 22A (1997), p. 562f.

Verse 18

“If I were to say, ‘My foot is slipping!’
your loyal devotion, YHWH, supports me.”

The Psalmist here expresses his confidence in the help that YHWH provides, that it will come in time, and as needed. The moment he realizes that his foot is slipping (vb fom), YHWH is right there to support him (vb du^s*). This support is an expression of God’s ds#j#—a regular term meaning “goodness, kindness”, which (as I have frequently noted), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. It indeed carries this meaning (i.e., covenant loyalty) in most of the Psalms. Another regular theme in the Psalms is of the protection which the faithful/righteous ones can expect from YHWH, as part of His obligation to the covenant bond.

Verse 19

“Among (the) multitude of impassioned (thought)s in my heart,
your comforting (word)s give delight to my soul.”

A different sort of help given by YHWH is expressed here, in this rather more prosaic couplet. The plural noun <yP!u^r=c^ is usually explained as a byform of <yP!u!c= with an inserted (epenthetic?) letter r (cf. also Psalm 139:23). The root [uc denotes the presence of passionate thoughts/feelings (cf. Job 4:13; 20:2). In the first line, the Psalmist describes a situation where there are a multitude of passionate thoughts within him. The noun br#q# denotes something close/near; in such an anthropological context, it refers to the nearest/inmost part of a person, which here, for poetic concision, I have translated as “heart” (“in my heart”).

In the midst of such turbulent passions—thoughts and feelings—YHWH gives comfort to the Psalmist. The plural of the noun <Wmjn+T^ (from the root <jn) is used to express this. The plural form (“comforts”) could indicate comforting words, or actions; I have opted for the former, as a counterbalance to the impassioned thoughts/feelings within the Psalmist. The idea of YHWH speaking also continues the theme of instruction from vv. 12-15 (see above).

Verse 20

“Can a throne of corruption be allied with you,
(or one) fashioning trouble upon an inscribed (decree)?”

The language and imagery of this couplet is rather difficult to decipher. What seems clear is that it continues the contrast of the righteous and wicked. The righteous are aligned with the throne of YHWH (a “royal-seat of righteousness”), being obedient to His instruction and sovereign judgments (see verse 15, above). The wicked, by contrast, are aligned with a separate “throne of corruption”, which cannot be joined or allied with the throne of YHWH’s righteousness. The noun hW`h^ could be read as two different nouns: (I) connoting evil desire, or (II) meaning “destruction, disaster”. The latter is related to cognate words in Syriac and Arabic referring to the “pit” or “abyss” (of death and the nether-realm, etc); this is fitting in light of the wording used in verse 13 (see above). In keeping with this parallel with tj^v^ (in v. 13), I have translated hW`h^ here as “corruption”.

The second line is more difficult to explain. I have retained the MT without emendation or re-vocalizing (cp. Dahood, II, p. 350). Parallelism with the first line suggests the figure of a ruler (on the “throne of corruption”) who inscribes wicked decrees (“upon an inscribed [decree]”). By these evil decrees, the wicked human leaders of this world are fashioning (vb rx^y`) trouble (lm*u*); compare the wording in verse 16 (see above).

Verse 21

“They band together against (the) soul of (the) righteous,
and (the) blood of (one) clear (of guilt) they treat wickedly.”

Though these wicked leaders cannot be aligned with YHWH and His righteousness, there are able to join together, with each other; and, in their wickedness, they end up attacking the righteous. The verb dd^G` II seems to have, as its basic meaning, the idea of people moving together (the cognate Arabic jannada means “mobilize”, cf. HALOT, p. 177). The sense is of people banding together for a hostile purpose (cf. Psalm 56:7[6]; cp. 59:4[3]). The description of evil world-leaders (v. 20) gathering together against the righteous reminds one of the opening lines of Psalm 2.

The righteous person is “clear” (yq!n`) of guilt; that is, he/she has done nothing worthy of being condemned and attacked. The righteous are innocent in this regard, and their “blood” (i.e., their lives) are sacrosanct, and should be protected. The wicked, however, treat the innocent blood of the righteous in a wicked fashion, implying violent action. It is this hostile intent which prompts the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH, asking for His protection and deliverance.

Conclusion (verses 22-23)

Verse 22

“And (so) may YHWH be for me as my place up high,
even my Mighty (One) as (the) Rock of my refuge!”

The conclusion of the Psalm corresponds with the invocation (in vv. 1-2), where the Psalmist calls on YHWH to stand and render judgment, punishing the the wicked for their evil deeds. The same basic idea prevails here in the concluding lines, but adapted to reflect the themes of the previous sections—most notably the language and imagery in vv. 16-21. The Psalmist expects an answer to his prayer for deliverance, that he will be protected and rescued (by YHWH) from the wicked adversaries who threaten him.

The initial w-consecutive verb form could be rendered as past tense, suggesting that YHWH has already acted on the Psalmist’s behalf. This is a valid way of reading the text; however, I believe it is better to treat this verb as a precative (comparable to a precative perfect form), expressing the Psalmist’s wish (and expectation) in terms of something that has already happened.

The locative nouns bG`c=m! and hs#j&m^ both allude to the protection that YHWH provides for the righteous. The first term denotes a “place set up high”, protected and difficult to access; the second means “protected place” or “place of refuge”. Both terms occur with some frequency in the Psalms, part of the broader theme of Divine protection as a reflection of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant. This protected place “up high” fits nicely with the motif of YHWH as a “Rock” (rWx); the same image also serves to represent the faithfulness of God.

Verse 23

“And may He return upon them their trouble,
and in their evil may He destroy them,
may He destroy them, YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The Psalm ends with an imprecation, calling upon YHWH to bring judgment upon the wicked, just as the Psalmist does in the opening invocation (v. 2). This judgment reflects true justice, according to the principle of lex talionis. The Psalmist asks YHWH to “return” upon the wicked the trouble that they have caused (“their trouble”, cf. verses 16 and 20). The idea is that their own actions will come back upon them, being punished for their evil deeds in like measure, and in like manner.

Beyond this, the Psalmist calls on God to “destroy” (vb tm^x*) the wicked, even as they are engaged in their evil conduct (“in their evil”). This double-call for YHWH to destroy the wicked may seem quite harsh and disconcerting to modern readers (esp. Christian readers), but it is altogether typical of ancient imprecatory language and conventions, of which there are many examples in the Psalms (and throughout the Old Testament). The Psalmist expects, and hopes, that judgment will finally come for the wicked. Though they may have prospered during this life (vv. 3-7), God’s justice and judgment ultimately cannot be flaunted or escaped; the wicked will pay the price for their evil conduct, especially for the oppression and violence inflicted upon the righteous—including all manner of injustice against the innocent, poor, and vulnerable members of society.

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 “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 92 (Part 2)

Psalm 92, continued

The Hymn: Verses 5-12 (cont.)

Verses 10-12 comprise the second part of the central hymn; for the first part (vv. 5-9), cf. the previous study. Each part begins with the emphatic particle yK!.

While many Psalms evince a royal background, this aspect is particularly prominent here in vv. 10-12, where the protagonist seems rather clearly to represent the king, and certain aspects of the royal theology are vividly expressed. Given the archaic features in these verses (cf. especially below on v. 10), it seems quite possible that the lines, if not those of the entire hymn, were composed in the kingdom period.

Verse 10 [9]

“For, see, (those) hostile to you, O YHWH,
for, see (those) hostile to you shall perish—
shall be scattered, all (those) making trouble!”

This three-beat (3+3+3) tricolon builds upon the Wisdom-theme in the first part (in vv. 7-8f) alluding to the destruction of the wicked. Here in vv. 10-12, the wicked are presented as hostile enemies of the (royal) protagonist, against whom he calls to YHWH for protection. As a faithful servant of God, and a representative of God’s people, the king’s enemies are also God’s enemies, as this verse clearly expresses.

Scholars have long recognized the similarity of verse 10 to a tricolon from the Ugaritic Baal Epic (Tablet II, column iv, lines 8-9):

ht ibk b±lm
ht ibk tm—s
ht tƒmt ƒrtk

“Now your enemy, O Ba’al,
now your enemy may you strike,
now may you silence your foe!”

The first two lines of each are quite close, following an a+b+c / a+b+d pattern.

Sarna (p. 160ff) cites the parallel in support of his proposal that the hymn draws upon ancient cosmological mythic tradition, whereby the victories of YHWH (over His enemies) refer primarily to those which took place at the time of creation. In bringing forth the ordered universe out of the dark and watery chaos of the primordial time, God is depicted as subduing monstrous adversaries. For more on this ancient mythological tradition, and its application to YHWH in Hebrew poetry, see my earlier article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In light of this background, it is possible to read the imperfect (yqtl) verb forms as describing past events (cf. Dahood, II, p. 337). However, almost certainly, any cosmological allusions are being applied here to the context of the hymn—namely, the expectation that YHWH will use His great power to protect His people, defeating their adversaries even as He did the primordial opponents. The verb dr^P* in the third line means “separate, divide”; here, in reference to the defeat of enemies, it can mean “scatter, disperse”, or, more cruelly, “take apart” (i.e. dismember).

Verse 11 [10]

“While you lift high my horn like (the) bull,
you make me wet with luxuriant oil.”

The initial w-conjunction establishes a contrast with v. 10: while YHWH’s enemies are defeated (and destroyed), His faithful servant (the king) is exalted. The image of the horn (esp. of a bull or ox) as a symbol of strength and vitality is traditional, as is the specific application of the motif as a reference to royal power and prestige—cf. Psalm 18:2 [2 Sam 22:3]; 74:4-5; 89:17, 24; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21; Dan 7:8ff; Mic 4:13; Luke 1:69. The derivation of the noun <a@r= remains uncertain, as does the precise animal intended by the term (wild bull, buffalo, antelope, etc); a bull is most appropriate to the royal context.

The second line probably refers to the anointing of the king, however the use of the verb ll^B* for this is unusual. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is used in the context of mixing together oil; however, in Akkadian the cognate verb can mean “moisten”, and this may be the basic sense here—a person made wet by having oil poured (or rubbed) on him. The MT form and/or vocalization is problematic; it should rather be vocalized as a passive form (yT!L)B%,
“I have been made wet”), or, perhaps, emended to read yn]t^L)B^ (“you have made me wet”). I have opted for the latter.

It has also been suggested that the text should be emended to read instead the verb gl^B* (“be bright, glad, cheerful”), so that the line reads something like “I shine with fresh oil”; cf. Thijs Booij, “The Hebrew Text of Psalm XCII 11,” Vetus Testamentum [VT] 38 (1988), pp. 210-4.

While the idea of a royal anointing may be implicit, the immediate context suggests that strength and vitality (and blessing from YHWH) is the primary idea being expressed (cp. Ps 23:5). The adjective /n`u&r^ literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh, luxuriant”. The protagonist is honored by being anointed (or rubbed) with luxuriant oil.

Verse 12 [11]

“My eyes shall look on (those) watching me,
of (those) standing against me my ears shall hear.”

The final verse of the hymn is the most difficult. The irregular and seemingly overloaded lines suggests a corruption—perhaps a gloss has made its way into the text. As it stands, the MT is best parsed as an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon. However, the parallelism is better served by omitting the word <yu!r@m= (“[those] doing evil”) as a gloss, resulting in a cleaner, though still slightly irregular (4+3), couplet. The participles of the verb rWv (“watch” [i.e., with hostile intent]) and <Wq (“stand up” [in opposition]) serve as fitting descriptions of the protagonist’s enemies. According to the royal background of these verses, the verbs may refer specifically to traitors plotting against the king, even to the point of (armed) rebellion against his rule.

Based on vv. 10-11, the implication is that these adversaries have been defeated (or will be so). It is in this condition that the protagonist looks upon them and/or hears reports about them.

Conclusion: Verses 13-16

Verse 13 [12]

“(The) righteous, like (the) palm tree, will sprout,
like a cedar in the white mountains he grows tall.”

The conclusion of the Psalm is comprised of a sequence of couplets that draw heavily upon Wisdom tradition. Taken in relation to vv. 7-8 (cf. the previous study), the familiar theme contrasting the righteous and the wicked—and the correspond fate of each—is expounded. The fate of the wicked was dealt with, however briefly, in vv. 7-8, while here in vv. 13-16 the fate of the righteous is described.

The tree-motif, utilized here, is better known from its use in Psalm 1:3; the context is the same—contrasting the righteous and the wicked (and their fates). The righteous will flourish like a tree planted next to the life-giving waters. Here, the righteous will similarly flourish, sprouting and blossoming like a palm tree, and growing tall (vb hg*c* [ag*c*]) like the cedars of Lebanon (lit. the “white mountain[s]”).

Even though the Wisdom-orientation of these closing verses is quite different from the setting of vv. 10-12 (cf. above), the two sections are related according to the general concept of the exaltation of the righteous (v. 11). The growth of the horn parallels the image of the growth of the tree.

Verse 14 [13]

“Having been planted in (the) house of YHWH,
in (the) enclosures of our Mighty (One) they sprout.”

In verse 14, the location of the “sprouting” (vb jr^P*) of the righteous, like a tree, is given. They will be planted (as shoots) in the dwelling (“house”) of YHWH. The expression “house of YHWH” can, of course, refer to the Temple, but that is not the point of reference here. Rather, it is a reference to the heavenly dwelling of God. The blessed afterlife is being expressed, just as in the beatitude setting of Psalm 1 (cf. the earlier study).

Verse 15 [14]

“Still they will bear fruit (even) in old age—
(full of) fat and luxuriant they will be!—”

The promise of long life has two-fold significance in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. On the one hand, the present life on earth is intended; on the other hand, this sense of duration also extends to the idea of the blessed afterlife (cf. above)—dwelling with God in heaven. In any case, the image is clear enough: the righteous while still be vital and full of life, able to “bear fruit” (vb bWn), even in old age. This vitality is expressed here by the traditional motif of “fatness” (i.e., richness); as the adjective /v@D* can also mean “juicy”, possibly the specific idea of a tree still full of sap is intended. The adjective /n`u&r^ was used earlier in verse 11; as noted, it literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh” or “luxuriant”.

Verse 16 [15]

“(able) to put out front how straight YHWH (is),
my Rock, and (how there is) no deviation in Him!”

The final couplet of the Psalm returns to the worship-context of the introduction (vv. 2-4, cf. the previous study), even repeating the use of the verb dg~n` (Hiphil), “put in front” —that is, show or declare publicly the faithfulness of YHWH (v. 3). Here the characteristic of faithfulness is expressed by the attribute of “straightness” (adj. rv*y`, “straight, level”), which is also a traditional Divine attribute—parallel with qyd!x* (“right[eous]”). Being straight, there is no deviation (lw#u*, hl*w+u^) of any kind in Him. Both rvy and lwu are frequently used in an ethical-religious sense, with rvy connoting personal integrity, honesty, and “upright” conduct; conversely, lwu can connote injustice, sin/iniquity, and (moral) perversion.

The traditional motif of YHWH as a rock (rWx) is another way of expressing the idea of His faithfulness (hn`Wna$, v. 3, lit. “firmness”).

Syntactically, verse 16 should be seen as a continuation of v. 15.

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 “Sarna” are to Nahum M. Sarna, “The Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92),” Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 81 (1962), pp. 155-68.