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.

July 15: Psalm 106:6-8

(Psalm 106 is being discussed over a series of daily notes.)

Psalm 106:6-8

Verse 6

“We have sinned, (along) with our fathers;
we have been crooked, acted wickedly.”

As discussed at the end of verse 5 (cf. the Introduction), this confession of sin sets the historical summary that follows (vv. 7ff) in context. The framing of the Psalm (especially vv. 4-5 and 47) establishes the important thematic emphasis on the restoration of Israel (i.e., from exile). But restoration is only possible when the people have acknowledged (and confessed) their sin. This is what the Psalmist does here, speaking with the collective voice (“we…”) of all those faithful/righteous ones (vv. 3-5) who would recite the Psalm together. They acknowledge, not only their own sin, but also the sin of past generations. Depending on when, precisely, the Psalm was composed, it is quite possible that the Psalmist’s generation was not directly responsible for the sin(s) that led to the exile (v. 47); nevertheless, the corporate identity (and solidarity) of the people is such that the righteous would seek forgiveness and atonement on behalf of all the people—even those of past generations. This is why the joining of the two phrases in the first line is important: “We have sinned | along with [<u!] our fathers”.

The paired verbs in the second line represent traditional ways of describing sin (vb af*j*). Both verbs are in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicating sinful behavior that brings about an evil or corrupted condition. The first verb is hw`u*, basically meaning (in the Hiphil) “act in a crooked or perverse manner”, twisting the truth, and bending away from what is right. The second verb is uv*r*, with a more general (but also harsher) meaning, “act wickedly, do what is wrong”.

The 3+2 meter of this verse, which departs from the regular 3+3 meter of the rest of the Psalm, is often associated with poems of lament.

Verse 7abc

“Our fathers (who were) in Egypt,
they did not give thought to your wonders,
nor remember (the) abundance of your devotion;”

It seems most appropriate to divide vv. 7-8 into a pair of tricola, the first of these being irregular in meter (2+3+3). The initial short line, establishes which particular generation (of “our fathers”) is being referenced here in the historical summary: it is the people who were “in Egypt”, who came out at the Exodus. Having been in Egypt, they saw the “wonders” performed by YHWH—notably, the plagues (narrated in the prior Ps 105 [vv. 27-36], cf. the recent study)—and yet did not give proper thought to them. They also quickly forgot about the many acts of loyalty and devotion (ds#j#) done by YHWH on behalf of His people. This includes the providential care and protection He gave to them on the journey from Egypt (105:37-41).

The verbs lk^c* and rk^z`, each with the negative particle, relate back to the sin-verbs in v. 6 (see above). In particular, the Hiphil form of lk^c* corresponds to the pair of Hiphils in the second line of v. 6. The sin occurs because the people failed to properly consider and bear in mind all the mighty deeds and acts of covenant loyalty (see the note on v. 1) YHWH did for them during the Exodus. The verb lk^c* means “give (careful) thought to”, so as to act/respond in a wise and intelligent manner. Similarly, rk^z` means “have (or keep) in mind”, sometimes specifically in the sense of “remember”. The careless neglect by the people, failing to give proper regard and consideration to YHWH, ultimately led to their fatal sin(s).

Verse 7d-8

“They rebelled (against the) Most High at (the) Reed Sea,
yet He saved them, for the sake of His name,
(and) to make known His (great) might.”

The initial act of “rebelling” (vb hr*m*) occurred at the Reed Sea (“see of reed[s]”), with the people’s expression of fear and distrust, as described in Exod 14:11-12. In spite of this lack of trust on their part, YHWH still saved the people, by the great and miraculous event at the Reed Sea (chaps. 14-15). This was done, it is said here (v. 8), primarily “for the sake of” (or “on account of”, /u^m^l=) His name, and also to make His power known (to Israel, but also among Egypt and all the surrounding nations). On these points, cf. the detail and wording in Exod 14:17-18, 25, 31; 15:2-3, 6-7, 11, 14ff.

I have not translated the initial w-conjunction in the first line. In relation to the prior tricolon (v. 7abc), the particle would have adversative force: “Instead, they rebelled…”.

Verses 9-12 will be examined in the next daily note.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 106 (vv. 1-5)

Psalm 106

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsd (v. 48 [?])

This lengthy Psalm resembles the prior Psalm 105 (discussed in the previous studies), in its extended poetic account (in verse) of Israelite history (cf. also Psalm 78 [study]). Thematically, these two Psalms complement each other. If Psalm 105 dealt with the covenant YHWH established with Israel, and His providential care that culminated in the Exodus, Psalm 106 focuses on the breaking of the covenant by the people during the Wilderness period. In both Psalms, this historical survey serves the same didactic (teaching) purpose, with the goal of exhorting the Israelite people to remain faithful to the covenant with YHWH. The faithlessness of the Wilderness generation serves as a negative model, to be avoided. It has been suggested that the Psalm was intended for use in a covenant renewal ceremony, such as is described in the Qumran ‘Community Rule’ text (1QS 1:16-2:18, cf. the study by F. Baumgärtel in Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft [ZAW] 65 [1953], pp. 263-5; Allen, p. 66). Such a proposed setting for the Psalm is as plausible as any.

Based on verse 47, it seems clear that the Psalm, as we have it, dates from the exilic (or post-exilic) period, though it is possible that elements of it (including the historical summary) could be earlier. Verses 47-48 would seem to be cited by the Chronicler (in 1 Chron 16:35-36), and there are also certain parallels that have been noted with other texts from the exilic (and early post-exilic) period—such as Isaiah 63:7-14; Joel 2:13 (v. 45); and Ezekiel 20:7-9, 23 (vv. 7-8, 27); cf. Allen, p. 68. Like the sins committed by the Wilderness generation, which were punished by YHWH, the Psalmist’s generation also has faced the punishment for their sin. Presumably the exile is in view, understood as punishment for the people’s sin. The confession of sin (verse 6)—of which the historical summary is a part—is intended to bring about the restoration of Israel.

Like the prior Psalm 105, the meter of Ps 106 tends to be 3+3 throughout, only on occasion departing from a 3-beat couplet format. Structurally, one may divide the Psalm into a number of short strophes, some of which can plausibly be grouped together into larger poetic divisions.

The near complete absence of Psalm 106 from the Psalms manuscripts at Qumran is surprising. Possibly verse 48 is preserved in a fragment of 4QPsd, but even this identification is uncertain.

Introduction: Verses 1-5

Verse 1

Praise YH(WH)!
Give thanks to YHWH, for (He is) good,
for His devotion (lasts) to (the) distant (future)!”

Like Psalm 105 (cf. the previous study), Psalm 106 begins with a call to worship YHWH, giving praise (and thanks) to Him. The verb hd*y` (II) implies an audible (and public) confession to God. YHWH is particularly to by praised/thanked for his goodness. This “goodness” is expressed two ways: by the adjective bof (line 1) and the noun ds#j# (line 2). The latter means “goodness, kindness”, but it is frequently used in the context of the covenant, where it carries the meaning “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. In the Psalms, ds#j# typically occurs in this covenant-context, where it is often appropriate to translate the noun as “loyalty” or “devotion”. YHWH’s goodness and devotion (to the covenant made with His people) endures and is everlasting (not to be broken). This aspect of His loyalty is expressed by the regular idiom <l*oul=, meaning “(in)to the distant (future)”; however, <l*ou can also signify the distant past, and it frequently is used in the abstract sense of “forever”, or as a way of indicating the eternality of God.

The Psalm begins as the previous one ends, with the exclamation Hy` Wll=h^ (Hal®lû-Y¹h), “Praise YH(WH)!”.

Verse 2

“Who will utter (the) mighty deeds of YHWH,
(and) make heard all of His praise?”

As for the righteous and faithful ones, who would praise YHWH, the Psalmist calls on them by way of a question: “Who will utter…?” The verb ll^m* (“utter, speak, say”, perhaps with the connotation “announce”) is paired with um^v* (“hear”) in the Hiphil stem (“make heard”). Essentially, this is a call to produce the kind of historical summary that comprises most of Psalm 106 (and also that of Ps 105), declaring the “mighty deeds” of YHWH. The expression “all His praise” is essentially parallel with “(the) mighty deeds of YHWH”, functioning as a poetic shorthand for “all that makes Him worthy of praise”. That is, YHWH’s mighty deeds, performed on behalf of His people, are a demonstration of His goodness and loyalty (v. 1), and are worthy of being praised.

Verse 3

“(O the) happiness of (those) guarding justice,
(the one) doing what is right in every time!”

This verse is a beatitude for the righteous—understood both in a corporate (plural, “[the one]s guarding justice”) and individual (sing., “[the one] doing rightness [i.e. what is right]”) aspect. It is not necessary to read a plural in the second line; in fact, such a normalization probably obscures an important point of emphasis that the Psalmist is making (see below, on verse 4). The implication, as noted above, is that it is the righteous and faithful ones who will praise YHWH as they should, and who will confess their sin (on behalf of all the people) and pray for the restoration of Israel. The nouns fP^v=m! (“[according to right] judgment, justice”) and hq*d*x= (“rightness, what is right”), make for a natural (and traditional) pairing; the terms are largely synonymous here, as characteristics of the righteous (i.e., righteousness).

On the beatitude form, with use of the construct yr@v=a^, see the earlier study on Psalm 1; for the cultural and religious background of the beatitude form, cf. also the relevant article in my series on the Beatitudes.

Verse 4

“Remember me, YHWH,
with (the) favor (to) your people—
attend to me with your saving (power),”

This verse is metrically irregular (4+3). Some commentators would omit the divine name (hwhy), and thus restore a regular 3-beat (3+3) couplet. I follow Dahood (III, p. 68) in parsing the verse as a 2+2+3 tricolon. The sense is that the Psalmist is personally asking YHWH to remember him when He shows favor to His people—that is, by restoring them. The Psalmist wishes to be included with the people (the righteous/faithful ones) whom YHWH blesses, and to experience this moment of salvation. This blending of the individual with the corporate was expressed poetically in v. 3 (see above).

The noun /oxr* is perhaps better translated “pleasure”, rather than “favor”; however, both of these aspects are valid, as the root /xr has the closely related denotations of “be pleased (with)” and “be favorable (toward)”. The verb dq^P* expresses this, with the general meaning of “attend to, take care of” —viz., YHWH deals with His people favorably, protecting them and blessing them, according to His covenant loyalty (see v. 1).

Verse 5

“(for me) to see (the) good of your chosen (one)s,
to be glad with (the) gladness of your nation,
to give praise myself with your inheritance!”

Here the precise meaning of the Psalmist’s request in v. 4 is expounded. He wants to be able to see the restoration of Israel, and to rejoice together with all the people when it happens. That is to say, he hopes that the restoration will take place in his lifetime, so that he might experience it himself. Three different terms are used for the people of Israel, one in each line: (i) “chosen ones” (ryj!B*, plur.); (ii) “nation” (yoG), i.e., the national identity of Israel; and (iii) “inheritance” (hl*j&n~)—on Israel as the (inherited) property and possession of YHWH (using the term hl*j&n~), see Exod 15:17; Deut 4:20; 9:26; 32:9, etc; and, in the Psalms, cf. 28:9; 33:12; 68:10[9]; 74:2; 78:62, 71; 79:1; 94:5, 14.

The theme of the restoration of Israel is central to these introductory verses, and to the framing structure of the Psalm. It is key to understanding the Psalm as a whole, with the historical summary of vv. 6-46 taken in context. Restoration is only possible when the people have acknowledged (and confessed) their sin. The corporate identity and group solidarity of the people means that the current generation—viz., the Psalmist and/or those reciting the Psalm—must acknowledge, not only their own sin, but also the sins of past generations (including those which led to the exile). This explains the significance of the historical summary, particularly in relation to the confession of sin in verse 6.

The confession in verse 6 begins the next unit (strophe) of the Psalm.

Because of the length of this Psalm, I will be discussing the various strophes, in order, over a series of daily notes. The first of these will cover vv. 6-8.

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 105 (Part 3)

Psalm 105, continued

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

Strophe 6: Verses 29-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 29

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

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

Verse 30

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

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

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

Verse 31

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

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

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

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

Verse 32

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

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

Verse 33

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

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

Verses 34-35

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

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

Verse 36

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

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

Strophe 7: Verses 37-45

Verse 37

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

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

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

Verse 38

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

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

Verse 39

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

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

Verse 40

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

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

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

Verse 41

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

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

Verse 42

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

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

Verse 43

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

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

Verse 44

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

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

Verse 45

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 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 105 (Part 1)

Psalm 105

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

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

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

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

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

Strophe 1 (Introduction): Vv. 1-6

Verse 1

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

Verse 6

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

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

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

Strophe 2: Verses 7-11

Verse 7

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 99

Psalm 99

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsk (vv. 1-2, 5); 4QPsv (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 5-6)

Like other Psalms in the collection Pss 93-100, Psalm 99 praises YHWH as King. The universality of His Kingship is likewise emphasized. Other thematic links and common vocabulary are shared by these Psalms; in the case of Psalm 99, one may note, in particular, the connections with Psalms 97 (see the earlier study) and 98 (previous study). For a relatively detailed examination of these links, see the analysis by Howard, pp. 157-9, 161-2, 164-5.

This Psalm has a strophic structure, comprised of three strophes, each of which concludes with a declaration of YHWH’s holiness (“Holy [is] He!” in strophes 1 and 2). The strophes are similar in form, but are far from consistent in rhythm. Verses 6-7 represent an interlude, drawing upon Israelite history, and establish the thematic transition to the final strophe. The meter is irregular throughout, and it is impossible to say whether the Psalm, in an earlier form, had more consistent rhythm in its strophes.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely. As Howard notes (p. 192), the use of zu) as a substantive (Divine) title (“Strong/Mighty [One]”, v. 4) occurs in early poetry (Exod 15:2; cf. Psalm 29:1), which suggests the possibility that Psalm 99 was composed at a relatively earlier point (in the monarchic period) than others in the collection.

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsk includes a heading, which designates the Psalm as a “musical composition” (romz+m!), as in Psalm 98 MT; it also (probably) included the attribution dw]d*l= (“belonging to David”), as the the letter d can be read prior to romzm.

First Strophe: verses 1-3

Verse 1

“YHWH is king—let (the) peoples tremble!
Seated (upon the) kerû»s—let the earth stagger!”

The theme of YHWH’s kingship is established in this initial (4-beat, 4+4) couplet. Again, as in other Psalms of this collection (see above), YHWH is presented as King over all creation—all of the earth and its inhabitants. We find often, as here, a call for the nations to worship YHWH, acknowledging Him as King. There is a clear parallelism between each half-line:

    • “YHWH reigns as King [vb El^m*]”
    • “being seated (on the) kerubs”

The “kerubs” (plur. <yb!WrK=) refer to the winged creatures on the golden chest (ark) of the covenant, which was situated in the Temple sanctuary, functioning as the symbolic/ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH. Thus, even though He is King over the entire universe (ruling from heaven), he is also ‘enthroned’ on earth in the Temple sanctuary.

The response of humankind to YHWH’s Kingship is indicated in the second half-line:

    • “let (the) peoples quake/tremble [vb zg~r*]”
    • “let the earth wobble/stagger [vb fWn]”

All peoples everywhere—and even all of creation itself—should shake and tremble before YHWH as King. There may be an allusion here to the eschatological notion that the nations will come to Jerusalem (and the Temple) to pay homage to YHWH (cf. Micah 4:1-3 [par Isa 2:2-4], etc).

The verb fWn occurs only here in the Old Testament. It is doubtless similar in meaning to Ugaritic n‰‰ (ffn), “wobble, totter”; as Dahood (II, p. 368) notes, weak verbs that share the same two base consonants (in this case, fn) typically have a common/similar meaning.

Verse 2

“(Indeed,) YHWH in ‚iyyôn is great—
raised high (is) He over all (the) peoples!”

This second couplet (3-beat, 3+3) emphasizes the greatness and majesty of YHWH, as he reigns (as King) from His throne in Jerusalem (Zion). The verbs ld^G` (“be great”) and <Wr (“be high”) are used. The implicit idea in verse 1, of YHWH’s reign extending over all the nations (and peoples) of earth, is expressed more clearly here. I treat the initial w-conjunction in the second line as emphatic, and, for poetic concision, I have essentially transferred it to the start of the first line in my translation (above).

Verse 3

“Let them praise your name,
O Great and Fearsome (One)!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

Rhythmically, the initial couplet (v. 1) has four beats, the second (v. 2) three beats, and the third (v. 3) here 2 beats (2+2). The couplets thus increasingly narrow their focus, becoming terser and more direct. Here, the call (for all people) to praise YHWH is essentially repeated from v. 1. Praising the name of YHWH means praising YHWH Himself. However, there may be a specific allusion to the idea that YHWH is present in the Temple sanctuary particularly through His name. This is a key Deuteronomic theme (Deut 12:5ff; 26:2, etc), found extensively, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer (at the Temple dedication) in 1 Kings 8 (vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48), a passage which I have discussed in a recent series of notes.

The adjectives lodG` (“great”) and ar*on (“fearsome”, or “(to) be feared”) are best understood here as descriptive epithets of YHWH, though they could just as well be applied to His name (cf. Deut 28:58).

The strophe ends with the two-beat refrain, “Holy (is) He!” (aWh vodq*). In context, this declaration could also apply to YHWH’s name (i.e., “Holy it [is]!”).

Second Strophe: Verses 4-5

Verse 4a

“Indeed, (the) Strong (One is) King! He loves justice!
You make (it) firm (with) straight (judgment)s.”

The first couplet of the second strophe has, apparently, an irregular 4+3 meter (cp. 4+4 in strophe 1). The thematic focus is on the judgment rendered by YHWH as King (and thus, also as Judge). By His straight (i.e., fair, even) decisions, He establishes justice throughout. Here, the noun fP*v=m! means both “judgment” and “justice”. The sudden shift from third person (line 1) to second person (line 2) address may seem a bit strange and off-putting, but it is not all that uncommon in the Psalms.

I follow Howard (p. 85f) and other commentators in reading zu) (“strength”) as a Divine title (i.e., “Strong [One]”); the sense could be adverbial, i.e., the One who rules with strength. The initial w-conjunction of the first line, opening the strophe as it does, should be taken as emphatic.

Verse 4b

“Justice and righteousness in Ya’aqob
(indeed) you make (stand)!”

Again, this (second) couplet has irregular meter (3+2, cp. 3+3 in strophe 1). It follows upon the first (v. 4a), expounding the justice which YHWH, as King, “makes firm” on earth. In particular, He establishes justice (and righteousness) in Israel (“Jacob”), among His people. This refers to the covenant-bond between YHWH and Israel, and His faithfulness and loyalty to that bond.

It is conceivable that a word has dropped out from the second line of v. 4b, as the short line t*yc!u* hTa^ (“you do/make”) reads somewhat oddly. Unfortunately, the three fragmentary Qumran manuscripts which contain this Psalm do not preserve verse 4, so there is no way to confirm the MT at this point.

Verse 5

“Lift high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) stool of His feet!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

The third strophe is a 3-beat couplet (as in strophe 1), calling on people to give praise and worship to YHWH. Here, the focus is specifically on the people of Israel (cf. verse 4), who are to worship YHWH as their King and God. The motif of the “stool [<d)h&] for His feet” probably alludes to the Ark (as YHWH’s ‘throne’) located in the Temple sanctuary (see v. 1b, above). Thus, a Temple worship setting is implied, and could indicate a ritual (liturgical) setting for the Psalm.

Transitional Verses (6-7)

Verse 6a

“Moše and Aharon (were) among His priests,
and Šemû’el among (those) calling His name.”

These transitional verses refer, in a general and summary way, to Israelite religious history—in particular, to those priestly/prophetic leaders who served YHWH. Moses and Aaron (in the Exodus period) are paired with Samuel (period of the Judges).

Verse 6b

“(They were) calling to YHWH,
and He answered them.”

This short two-beat (2+2) couplet follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet of v. 6a. It summarizes the dynamic relationship between YHWH and the faithful priestly/prophetic leaders: they call to YHWH, and He answers them.

Verse 7

“In a standing (mass) of cloud He spoke to them;
they guarded His repeated (command)s,
and (the) engraved (law) He gave to them.”

This long prosaic couplet (4-beat, 4+4) I have extended in translation as three lines (4+2+2). It again summarizes the dynamic for the faithful ones of God’s people, in their covenantal relationship to YHWH. Moses and Samuel, as leaders, represent the people. Their faithfulness (and covenant loyalty) serve as the ideal pattern and example for the people to follow. YHWH gave His commands (i.e., the Torah regulations) to Moses (and thus to the people) out of the cloud. The faithful ones guarded (vb rm^v*) His commands, and took care to obey them. The noun qj) denotes something engraved or inscribed, usually in the sense of an authoritative, governing rule or statute; the term here alludes the theme of YHWH’s kingship.

I have translated the plural of hd*u@ according to its fundamental meaning of “something repeated”. YHWH’s commands are to be repeated, in terms of obedience to them (their fulfillment, etc), but also in the sense of repeating them (and their importance) for subsequent generations.

Third Strophe: Verses 8-9

Verse 8

“(Yes,) YHWH, our Mighty (One), you answered them—
a Mighty (One) lifting (guilt) you were for them,
and (as the) avenging (Most) High dealt with them.”

The historical setting established in the transitional vv. 6-7 (above) leads into the third (and final) strophe. The structure and rhythm differs from the the first two strophes, reflecting the prosaic (and didactic) tone of the transitional lines. Instead of a pair of couplets, we have here an irregular (4+3+3) tricolon. The first line picks up from verse 7.

The theme of YHWH’s Kingship has been translated into the idiom of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. In this binding agreement, YHWH is the Sovereign, and the people His servants. They are obligated to serve Him faithfully, by following the terms of the agreement (i.e., the Torah precepts and regulations, v. 7). YHWH would respond to them based on whether or not they fulfilled their covenant obligations. If they fulfilled them faithfully, then YHWH would be a merciful and forgiving Sovereign, one who “lifts” (vb ac*n`) away sin and guilt, and who “lifts” His people, carrying them with His (Divine) protection and blessing. This is expressed in line 2.

However, if they were unfaithful and refused to follow the terms of the covenant, then YHWH would become an avenging (vb <q^n`) Ruler, dealing (root llu) with His people as their disobedience deserves. This negative side is the focus of line 3. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 369), in treating lu as a Divine title (“High [One], [Most] High”); this establishes a clear parallel between the lines:

“Mighty [One] lifting…” | “High [One] avenging…”

The final word is problematic. The MT reads “their dealing”; in such a context, the noun hl*yl!a& usually has a decidedly negative connotation, i.e. “evil dealing” —that is, wicked/improper behavior and treatment of others. However, it is probably better to view the suffix here as reflecting a dative of (dis)advantage (cf. Dahood, II, p. 370), and with the noun retaining the verbal force of its root (with YHWH as the subject)—viz., “(His) dealing with them”, meaning God dealt with them harshly, as their disobedience deserved.

Verse 9

“Lift (up) high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) hill of His holiness!”
For Holy (indeed is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The final couplet corresponds with that of the earlier two strophes; it is particularly close to the second strophe (see verse 5, above). Indeed, it is almost identical, only, instead of bowing down before the “stool of His feet”, the people are directed to bow before “the hill of His holiness” (i.e., His holy hill). The Temple ‘mount’ of Zion is certainly intended in both instances, referring to the location of the Temple and its sanctuary, where YHWH is ‘enthroned’ and reigns as King.

The final refrain is given in an expanded form. Instead of “Holy (is) He!”, we have the fuller phrase “Holy (is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”. The longer phrase, with its honorific expansion, allows the Psalm to end on a dramatic, climactic note.

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 “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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 80 (Part 2)

Psalm 80, continued

Stanza 2: Verses 8-14 [7-13]

Verse 8 [7]

“O Mighty (One) of (the) armies, return (to) us!
Let your face shine that we might be saved!”

Each of the stanzas of Psalm 80 begin with a similar refrain; here in verse 8 we have a slight expansion of the refrain in verse 4 (cf. the previous study). Some commentators would emend v. 4 to read “Mighty [One] of the armies”, as here in v. 8. For the expression “YHWH of the armies”(toab*x= hwhy), see the note on v. 5 in the previous study. As Creator, YHWH has command of the armies of heaven—the divine beings and the heavenly/celestial phenomena they inhabit/control; these armies fight on behalf of His people Israel, when God so wills it.

Verse 9 [8]

“A vine you did pull out from Egypt;
you drove out (the) nations and planted her.”

This second stanza summarizes the chief event(s) of the formative Israelite history—the Exodus and the conquest/settlement of the Promised Land of Canaan. This is done via the illustration of a vine to represent the nation of Israela proverbial motif that came to be well-established in Israelite and Old Testament tradition (cf. Gen 49:22; Judg 9:12-13; Isa 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Hos 10:1; Joel 1:7; Jer 2:21; 12:10; Ezek 15:1ff; 17; 19:10-14). The Exodus is clearly referenced here within the illustration: YHWH pulls the vine out (vb us^n`) of the ground in Egypt, uprooting it, and planting it in a new land. In order to plant the vine in this land (of Canaan), the peoples (nations) living there were driven out (vb uf^n`). There is both conceptual and alliterative (assonance) wordplay between the verbs us^n` (n¹sa±, “pull out”) and uf^n` (n¹‰a±, “plant [in]”). The idiom of YHWH planting Israel in the land of Promise can be found already in the Song of Sea (Exod 15:17).

I translate literally the feminine morphology and suffixes connected with the vine (/p#G#), treated in the Psalm as a grammatically feminine noun.

Verse 10 [9]

“You (work)ed (its) face before her face,
and made her roots take (deep) root,
and she filled (the entire) land.”

This verse breaks from the general 3+3 metrical pattern, reading as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. The settlement of Israel in the Promised Land is described here in terms of the vine-motif. The ground is turned (vb hn`P*), i.e., tilled, prepared for the planting. I have translated this as working the “face” of the land (i.e. the ground, soil), so as to preserve the etymological wordplay between the verb hn`P* (“turn, face”) and the prepositional expression h*yn#p*l= (“before her face”). There is comparable wordplay in the second line, between the verb vr^v* (“[take] root”) and the suffixed noun h*yv#r*v* (“her roots”). Once the vine took root, it began to grow abundantly (as grape-vines tend to do), spreading out and filling the land. This refers to the continual conquest and settlement of the land by the Israelite people, and to their flourishing there. Eventually, of course the confederate nation would grow into a great kingdom (and regional empire), reaching its peak during the reign of Solomon.

Verse 11 [10]

“(The) hills were covered by her shade,
and (by) her branches (the) mighty cedars.”

This verse (returning to a 3+3 meter), expounds the final line of v. 10, and the idea that the vine spread out to fill the land. The vine grew so tall and great that its “branches” (tendrils) covered and cast shade over even the cedar trees on the hills. The construct expression “cedars of might” (la@ yz@r=a^) simply means “mighty cedars”. Conceivably, the reference to the “hills” here may allude to Israelite settlement of the hill-country.

Verse 12 [11]

“She sent forth her tendrils unto (the) Sea,
and to (the) River her (many) young shoots.”

The extent of the vine is here described a different way, clearly alluding to the boundaries of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent (under Solomon), reaching from the (Mediterranean) Sea in the west to the (Euphrates) River in the east. Like [n`u* in verse 11, the noun ryx!q* means “branch”; however, the extent of the vine’s spread should probably be understood in terms of the fresh grape-bearing tendrils at the end of the branches, parallel with tq#n#oy (“suckling”, i.e., [young] shoot) in the second line. The vine’s growth is so prodigious that there is an abundance of fresh tendrils spreading out in every direction.

Verse 13 [12]

“For what (reason then) did you burst her hedges,
(so) that all (those) passing by (the) way may pluck her?”

The motif of the vine’s great size and growth has here shifted to the idea of it being protected behind “hedges” (<yr!d@G+). It is not clear whether this refers to the Divine protection provided by YHWH, or to the nation’s own kingdom structures and defenses. In either case, YHWH has allowed the hedges to be “burst/broken through” (vb Jr^P*); the specific action-reference may be to YHWH breaking down the protective hedges. The destruction of the hedges allows anyone passing by to “pluck” the fruit from the vine. This use of the verb hr*a*, along with the feminine aspect of the vine-language (i.e., “pluck her [fruit]”), is suggestive of aggressive/violent sexual activity. Indeed, the implication is that the passers-by are acting with hostility and violence toward the vine (Israel). The conquests (by the Assyrians, etc) are being foreshadowed through this language.

Verse 14 [13]

“(The) boar from (the) forest cuts her to pieces,
and (the) moving (things) of (the) field feed on her!”

The idea of military conquest is more clearly alluded to in this climactic couplet. The “wild boar” from the “forest” could refer to any foreign invader; but probably the Assyrian conquests (of the northern territories) in the second half of the 8th century are specifically in view (cf. the discussion on the historical setting of the Psalm, in the previous study). The odd verb form hN`m*s=r=k^y+ probably should be related to the root <sk (“cut/tear off, shear”, cp. Akkadian kas¹mu, “cut to pieces”), as suggested by Dahood (II, p. 259). Once the vine has been torn down and cut apart, everything that moves (zyz]), i.e., every living creature, in the field can come and feed on it.

The Masoretes drew special attention to the word ru^Y`m! (“from [the] forest”) by writing the letters ru above the line (the so-called littera suspensa). The precise significance of this is not certain; several possibilities are mentioned in the note by Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 309.

Stanza 3: Verses 15-19 [14-18]

Verse 15a [14a]

“O Mighty (One) of (the) armies, please return!”

A shortened version of the refrain begins the third stanza (cf. the note on v. 8 above). Instead of the request “return to us”, the terser “please return”, with the particle of entreaty (an`), is used.

Verse 15b-16 [14b-15]

“Look down from (the) heavens and see—
and may you attend to this (your) vine,
and (so) secure what your right hand planted,
and (watch) over (the) son you yourself made strong.”

The call is for YHWH to pay attention to the condition of His ravaged vine—the nation/kingdom of Israel (esp. the northern territories, v. 2)—and so to respond with help and protection in its time of need. The wide-ranging verb dq^P* probably should be understood here in the basic sense of “attending to” something, exercising oversight, etc.

The couplet in verse 16 expounds what YHWH’s care for His vine entails. The initial word should be understood as a form of the verb /n~K* I, related to /WK, meaning “be firm”, parsed as an imperative with a paragogic (energic) h– suffix. The wish is that YHWH would keep His vine secure, preserving it, in the midst of further (and continuing) threats. The reference to a “son” in the second line seems a bit odd, the Psalmist appearing to mix his metaphors. The reference could be to the people of Israel (collectively) as YHWH’s “son”, or to the king as their representative; cf. on verse 18 below.

Verse 17 [16]

“They (who) have burnt her with such a scouring fire,
from (the) rebuke of your face may they perish!”

The Psalmist’s prayer in this verse takes the form of an imprecation against the hostile enemies of Israel, those who threaten to continue ravaging her. As noted above, it is presumably the Assyrian threat against the northern kingdom that is in view. The first stanza made clear that Israel had experienced great suffering and hardship, with military conquest being alluded to here in vv. 13-14 (cf. above). Such action is now made explicit, with mention of the enemy having burnt the vine (i.e. Israel) with fire.

The first word in the MT needs to be repointed as a plural form with an accusative h– feminine suffix (h*p%r*c=, “they have burnt her”, cf. Hossfeld Zenger, p. 310); Dahood (II, p. 260) suggests a plural participle, h*p#r=s). The final word of the first line, in the MT, hj*WsK= is also problematic. It is perhaps best explained as an emphatic –k preformative (= yK!) attached to a verbal noun from the root hj*s* (cp. jWs), meaning “scouring”; here it would refer to a fiery blaze that sweeps things away.

This fire of judgment is expressed in the second line in terms of the burning anger that comes from YHWH’s face. It is a “rebuke” that will destroy the enemies of Israel.

Verse 18 [17]

“May your hand be over (the) man of your right (hand),
over (the) son of (the) man you yourself made strong.”

This verse expounds upon the statement in the second line of verse 16 (cf. above). The Israelite king may well be in view, as suggested by Dahood (II, p. 260). YHWH’s “hand” refers to the protection He provides, as part of His covenant obligation.

Verse 19 [18]

“For (see,) we shall not (ever) turn back from you:
(so) restore us to life, that we may call on your name!”

Here the Psalmist identifies himself with the righteous/faithful ones of Israel—and identification which, in large part, serves as the basis of his prayer to God for help. Based on the covenant bond, YHWH is obligated to give help and protection to those who remain loyal to Him. The protagonist in the Psalms frequently makes his petition with this idea of covenant loyalty in mind. The imperfect verb form in the first line can be translated a number of ways: (1) as a past tense (“we have not turned away”), (2) as a future tense (“we will not turn away”), or (3) as an emphatic jussive (“we shall not [ever] turn away”). I have opted for the latter, with the initial –w conjunction also as an emphatic, heightening the emphasis.

The verb form of hy`j* (“live,” Piel stem) in the second line also can be understood different ways—i.e., “keep us alive”, “preserve our life”, “restore us to life”. I have chosen the last of these (cf. also Dahood, II, p. 261).

Conclusion: VERSE 20 [19]

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of (the) armies, return (to) us!
Let your face shine that we might be saved!”

The introductory refrain found in each stanza (vv. 4, 8, 15) is repeated here, in its fullest form, at the conclusion of the Psalm. It serves as a final call, and prayer to God, for salvation.

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).

August 22: Psalm 78:65-72

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. The previous note examined vv. 56-64; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:65-72

Verse 65

“Then (the) Lord awoke like (one who was) asleep,
like a mighty (warrior) shouting from (the) wine.”

This section is parallel with vv. 52-55, in the way that it describes YHWH acting on behalf of His people, utilizing the motif of a shepherd who guides/leads his flock. The initial w-conjunction here indicates a new development (i.e., “and then…”). While vv. 56-64 (like the earlier vv. 40-51) emphasized the people’s disobedience, which led to God’s judgment against them, here the focus shifts to His action on their behalf. The apparent “sleeping” of YHWH reflects His lack of support, over a period of time, as part of the judgment. Now, in his return to action for His people, He ‘awakes’ with a great shout.

Verse 66

“And He struck His adversaries (on the) behind—
disgrace into (the) distant (future) He gave to them!”

YHWH’s action on behalf of His people is described in military terms, and His role in an actual Israelite military victory may be in view. He strikes the enemies of His people, who are also His enemies, in such a way as to give them lasting disgrace (hP*r=j#). The humiliating nature of the enemies’ defeat is indicated by the use of the noun roja* (“rear, [area] behind”); probably a blow on their behind(s) is intended (cf. Dahood, II, p. 247), which certainly would entail a sense of disgrace. It may also refer more generally to a military defeat that sent the enemies going back in a rout. In any case, their defeat, thanks to YHWH’s power fighting on Israel’s behalf, is to be understood as devastating.

Verse 67

“But He (also) rejected (the) tent of Yôsep,
and (the) staff of Eprayim He did not choose.”

As in the opening couplet of v. 9, this verse refers to YHWH’s rejection of the northern tribes (and the northern Kingdom), in favor of the south (i.e., Judah). This implies that the rejection preceded the revolt of the northern tribes; however, more likely, the revolt is being anticipated here, as a literary device in the Psalm. With foreknowledge, YHWH chooses the tribe of Judah (and the city of Jerusalem) to have the leading and favored position. As mentioned in the earlier note (on v. 9), Ephraim often represents the northern tribes as a whole (being the most prominent of them); here “Joseph” is included as a parallel reference.

The rejection of the northern tribes/kingdom is connected with the defeat of the enemies of YHWH; the implication is that the northern tribes, in their faithlessness and rebellion, acted in manner similar to the surrounding nations.

Verse 68

“And (instead) He chose (the) staff of Yehûdah,
(and the) mount of ‚iyyôn which He loves.”

The implication here is that Judah was chosen primarily because of the location of the fortified hilltop site of ancient Jerusalem (i.e., ‘mount’ Zion), where the Temple would be built. At the same time, apparently, the southern tribes remained faithful in a way that the norther tribes did not, at least so as not to be disqualified as YHWH’s favored choice.

Verse 69

“And He built like (the) heights (of heaven) His holy place,
and like (the) earth which He founded for (the) distant (future).”

Like the cosmos itself, YHWH established His holy dwelling place (lit. “holy place”, vD*q=m!) to last for the ages. The upper half of the cosmos contains the heavenly “heights”, while the “earth” surface (and all that is below it) makes up the lower half. This description alludes to the cosmic dwelling of the Creator El-YHWH; in ancient Semitic tradition, this dwelling was viewed as a great mountain, reflecting the cosmological-mythic idea of the primeval universe itself as a mountain (“heaven-earth,” Sumerian an-ki). Any local geographic mountain could serve, ritually and symbolically, for the cosmic mountain of the Creator. This is certainly true of mount Sinai/Horeb for YHWH, and the same symbolic association applied to the much more modest mount of Zion. The Temple, of course, built on this ‘mountain’, is patterned conceptually after the heavenly dwelling-place of YHWH.

The second line literally reads: “and like the earth, He founded her…” (using a femine suffix); however, this makes for very awkward English, and it is customary to replace this syntax with the use of a relative pronoun (i.e., “…which He founded”).

Verse 70

“And He (also) made choice of Dawid, His servant,
and took him from (the) holding pens of (the) flock.”

The building of the Temple (v. 69) is mentioned prior to the choice of David as king, even though historically the two events occurred in reverse order. The priority of the Temple, as YHWH’s holy dwelling place, takes priority over the human kingship of Israel/Judah. The choice of David, and his origins as a sheep-herding youth, are narrated in 1 Samuel 16.

Verse 71

“From following (the) suckling (ewe)s, He brought him
to feed (as sheep) Ya’aqob, His people,
and Yisrael, His inheritance.”

David’s origins as a shepherd are played on here, drawing upon the tradition motif of the king as a shepherd over the people. This symbolism was widespread throughout the ancient Near East; on references in the Old Testament, cf. Num 27:17; 2 Sam 7:7; 1 Kings 22:17; Isa 44:28; Jer 3:15; 23:1ff; Ezek 34:2ff, etc. The specific application of this motif to David is first referenced in 2 Samuel 5:2, and, through this association, the Shepherd-motif came to take on Messianic significance (cf. Mic 5:4-5; Ezek 34:23; 37:24). Elsewhere in the Scriptures, God Himself is referred to as the Shepherd of His people (e.g., Gen 49:24; Psalm 23:1ff; 80:1; Isa 40:11). In Psalm 77:20, God’s shepherding of Israel is done through the intermediary of Moses and Aaron (as leaders); here, similarly, it is through David as Israel’s king.

The verb hu*r*, here and in v. 72, denotes the feeding of animals, often specifically in the context of herding—i.e., leading animals to pasture where they can graze.

Verse 72

“And (so) he fed them, according to (the) completeness of his heart,
and with (the) skillfulness of his hands he guided them.”

The idea of David’s heart being “complete” (<t) may contain an allusion to the original tradition in 1 Samuel (cf. 13:14; 16:7). The faithfulness and integrity of David’s heart toward YHWH (and the covenant) was traditional, being referenced repeatedly in the book of Kings (1 Ki 9:4, etc) as an example for the other rulers of Israel and Judah.

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).

August 21: Psalm 78:56-64

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. The previous note examined vv. 52-55; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:56-64

Verse 56

“Yet (again) they tested and defied (the) Mightiest,
(the) Highest, and His witnesses they did not guard;”

As with vv. 17, 32, 40, this next section opens with a reference to the people’s continued disobedience. Again the verbs hs*n` (“test, try”) and hr*m* (“be disobedient, defy, rebel [against]”) are used, as in vv. 17-18, 40-41. The basis of this disobedience, as recorded in Israel’s history (esp. with the generation of the Exodus), is stated in v. 7: it involves (a) forgetting about the wondrous things YHWH did on their behalf, and (b) failing to keep/guard the regulations and precepts of the Torah. The Torah represents the terms of the covenant between YHWH and Israel; failing to obey the Torah regulations means violating the covenant-bond.

The term hd*u@, denoting something which is (to be) repeated, encompasses both aspects (a-b) noted above. It refers to the witnessing record of all the wonders, etc, that YHWH has done, and it also includes the regulations and precepts of the Torah. The people of Israel are obligated to “guard” (vb rm^v*) both of these. The encompassing term (plur. todu@) is typically translated “testimonies” in English; the idea of guarding the “testimonies” of YHWH is fundamental to Israelite religious teaching and tradition—cf. Deut 6:17; Psalm 25:10; 99:7; 132:12, and the repeated references in Psalm 119 (vv. 2, 22, 24, et al).

Verse 57

“but they turned back and broke faith, like their fathers,
they turned themselves about like a bow of treachery!”

The context vv. 52-55 (cf. the previous note) indicates that the narration here refers to the period when Israel was settled in the Promised Land. They “turned back” (vb gWs) from obedience to YHWH and were unfaithful/disloyal to the covenant-bond. The verb dg~B* is a bit difficult to translate, but it basically to refers to someone who breaks or betrays an agreement (i.e., breaking faith with someone). The expression “like their fathers” means that the people behaved like the earlier generation of the Exodus.

The second line reflects the earlier phrase in v. 9 (cf. the prior discussion on that verse). The idea of a “treacherous bow” (lit. “bow of treachery”) is that it is turned against the cause, with archers/soldiers betraying the cause of their sovereign (and the people). The Niphal stem of the verb Ep^h* should probably be understood in a reflexive sense—i.e., “they turned themselves about”.

Verse 58

“Indeed, they provoked Him with their high (place)s,
and with their carved images made Him jealous!”

The people violated the covenant with YHWH, by deviating from proper religious worship in two ways: (1) they continued to use different local shrines and altars (on various “high [place]s”, tomB*), and (2) they utilized and venerated “carved images” (<yl!ys!P=). With regard to the latter, the images could be Yawhistic, meant to depict El-YHWH, but more commonly the term lys!P= refers to images (i.e., ‘idols’) of other deities (Deut 7:5, 25; 12:3, etc). Of the many references to the people’s persistent worship of false/lesser deities (spec. through their images), see the summary statement in 2 Kings 17:41.

The injunction against worshiping at “high (place)s” is more problematic, since it can apply even to faithful worship of YHWH (as the true God). It involves the centralization of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, and there is very little direct reference to the issue of aberrant “high places” in the Torah regulations. The implication in Lev 26:30 and Num 33:52 is that such “high places” represented earlier Canaanite sites (where polytheistic/idolatrous worship occurred) which the people of Israel continued to use. Almost certainly it is this association with idolatry that informs the injunction against “high places”. The continued use of the local shrines and altars is repeatedly mentioned as a persistent problem (and sin) throughout the book of Kings. There are similar, but relatively infrequent, condemnatory references in the Prophets (e.g., Hos 10:8; Amos 7:9), but here in v. 58 is the only such reference in the Psalms.

Verse 59

“(The) Mightiest heard and (boil)ed over (with rage),
and He came to despise Yisrael greatly.”

The verb um^v* (“hear”), in this instance, probably should be understood in the looser sense of “being aware” of something. The reflexive (Hitpa’el) stem of the verb rb^u* (“pass/cross over”) is relatively rare, but tends to be used in the specific context of a person becoming angry or enraged. I have adopted the English idiom of “boiling/bubbling over” (i.e., with rage). YHWH’s anger at Israel’s flagrant violation of the covenant through false/idolatrous worship (violating the fundamental prohibition of the Decalogue, Exod 20:3-4), caused Him to despise/reject (vb sa^m*) His people.

Verses 60-61

“And He left behind His dwelling-place (at) Šilow,
(the) Tent (in which) He (had) dwelt among men,
and He gave (over) His strength to captivity,
and His beauty in(to the) hand of (the) foe.”

The historical reference in these verses is the loss of the Golden Chest (Ark), the symbolic throne and seat of YHWH’s presence, after Israel’s defeat by the Philistines in the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4). This episode represents the climax of the narrative in chaps. 1-4 detailing the corruption of the priesthood at the Shiloh Tent-shrine. The strength (zu)) and beauty/splendor (hr*a*p=T!) of YHWH’s presence among the people was manifested in the sacred locus of the Ark; this helps to explain the seemingly harsh and impious-sounding expressions in v. 61, which generally reflect the statement in 1 Sam 4:21f. It also indicates how closely the manifest presence of YHWH was connected with the Ark in early Israelite religious tradition. The loss of the Ark was catastrophic in its religious significance, and represented a severe judgment. However, the Samuel narrative does not tie this loss to polytheistic idolatry among the people, in the way that this is implied here in the Psalm.

Verse 62

“He also closed up His people to (the) sword—
indeed He (boil)ed over against His inheritance!”

Beyond the departure of YHWH’s manifest presence, He went further, shutting up (vb rg~s*) His people to the judgment of the sword—i.e., death in battle and destruction through military conquest. This may continue with the immediate context of the battle of Ebenezer (1 Sam 4:2, 10; cf. on vv. 60-61 above), but likely it is also meant to encompass a range of Israelite military defeats and disasters, stretching into the Kingdom period. The defeat at Ebenezer serves as a type pattern for all such future disasters. In this way, YHWH truly “(boil)ed over” with anger against His people, as the couplet repeats the idiom (using the verb rb^u*, Hitpa’el stem) from v. 59 (cf. above).

Verse 63

“Fire devoured their choice (young men),
and their young maidens were not praised.”

This couplet, though a bit difficult to translate, quite clearly (and cleverly) expresses the devastating impact of military defeat (and conquest) on the population. The fire (from war/conquest) kills off (lit. eats/devours) the choice young men, which means that the young girls (of marriageable age) have no one to wed; as a result, the maidens are never to be praised (as brides) at their wedding.

Verse 64

“Their sacred officials fell by the sword,
and their widows could not (fully) weep.”

This couplet follows the formal thematic pattern of v. 63. Just as the chosen ones in the secular sphere (i.e., strong young men of military age) were killed off, so also those in the sacred sphere (the men officiating as priests, <yn]h&K)) were slain. Both groups met with death as the result of military defeat and conquest (by fire and sword, respectively). In each instance, the man’s wife (or perspective bride) has her expected life upended and shattered. Here, the slain priest’s widow has no opportunity to weep (i.e., mourn and lament) in a proper and fitting way; possibly a planned ceremony (comparable to the wedding ceremony implied in v. 63) with formal dirges and the like is in mind.