Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 101

Psalm 101

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (vv. 1-8)

Following the set of Psalms (93-100) dealing with the theme of YHWH as King, this composition (a romz+m! attributed to David) returns to a situational framework found frequently in the prior Psalms. The protagonist presents himself before YHWH, affirming his devotion, loyalty, and upright conduct. There is both a judicial and ritual aspect to this protestation of innocence. It also draws upon Wisdom-tradition in its juxtaposition of the righteous and the wicked.

Many commentators would see the protagonist as a royal figure (viz., the Israelite/Judean king), who presents himself as a faithful servant of YHWH. This affirmation of covenant-loyalty means that YHWH is expected to fulfill His covenant obligation of providing protection and blessing. Many Psalms evince a royal background, and it is likely that Psalm 101 preserves something of this background. The king represents the people before YHWH, and this understanding would seem to be reflected in the final section of the Psalm (vv. 6-8).

I have theorized that a good number of Psalms have undergone a certain development, whereby an original royal background/setting has been adapted to a more general communal worship setting. The king as protagonist serves as a template for the more general figure of the righteous Israelite. The righteous/faithful Psalmist, like the king in the (earlier) royal theology, represents the people before God. The Wisdom-traditions, which seem to influence this development as they are applied to the Psalm, further emphasize this communal aspect. The Psalmist is one of the righteous/faithful, and thus represents the people of God.

There would seem to be a relatively simple three-part structure to Psalm 101:

    • An opening section (vv. 1-2), in which the Psalmist calls upon YHWH, affirming his righteousness and loyalty.
    • The Psalmist then presents evidence for his faithfulness, on an individual basis (vv. 3-5)
    • The same is then done on a communal basis (vv. 6-8), whereby the protagonist represents the people and identifies with the faithful ones among them.

This Psalm presumably dates from sometime in the pre-exilic (monarchic) period, at least in its earliest form. The apparent Wisdom influence, however, could also reflect subsequent development and adaptation, as noted above.

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 3+2 couplet format.

It is interesting to note that Psalm 101 is preserved largely intact in the Qumran manuscript 11QPsa. Though this manuscript is fragmentary throughout, all 8 verses of the Psalm are present, requiring very limited restoration. This is a relatively unusual situation for the Psalms in the Qumran MSS. The text of Ps 101 matches the MT, except for one small variant.

Verse 1

“(Of your) goodness and justice I will sing,
to you, O YHWH, will I make music!”

In typical fashion, the Psalmist’s invocation to YHWH has a musical focus, his address taking the form of a musical composition sung to YHWH; the verbs ryv! (“sing”) and rm^z` (“make music”) are in parallel. The noun pair ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) and fP*v=m! (“judgment, justice”) establishes both the covenantal and judicial aspects of the Psalmist’s address. The noun ds#j# regularly connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”, particularly in a covenantal context, such as is almost always the case in the Psalms. YHWH’s faithfulness to the covenant means that He will act to protect and bless the servant who is similarly loyal.

Verse 2a

“I perform with skill in (your) way complete—
when will you come to me?”

The final line enhances the sense of the Psalmist’s invocation; he quite literally is calling on YHWH to come to him. There is a certain impatience implied by the question. Given the Psalmist’s righteous conduct and devotion to the covenant, it is expected that YHWH will respond favorably, with blessing and protection.

Use of the verb lk^c* effectively blends together the idea of the Psalmist’s musical talent and his upright/faithful conduct (in the religious and moral sphere). The verb can indicate that a person acts with wisdom and insight, but also that he/she is able to perform a certain task or art with skill; indeed, the verb in the Hiphil stem (as it occurs here) occasionally refers specifically to the artful/skillful playing of music.

The preposition B= prefixed to the noun Er#D# is also somewhat ambiguous, and may contain a dual meaning here. It can continue the sense from verse 1, that the Psalmist is singing “of/about” God’s way (of truth and devotion, etc); at the same time, it anticipates the idea (in v. 2b) of the righteous person walking “in” the way of God. In this regard, the adjective <ym!T* (“complete”) connotes the idea of personal integrity, specifically in terms of faithfulness/loyalty to the covenant.

Verse 2b

“I walk about in (the) completeness of my heart,
in (the) inmost part of my house.”

Just as the Psalmist sings of the righteous way of YHWH, in its completeness (adj. <ym!T*), so he also “walks about” in/on that same path. The verb El^h* (“walk”), especially in the reflexive (Hithpael) stem, is frequently used as an idiom for a person’s habitual, characteristic behavior—in an ethical-religious sense (e.g., Psalm 1:1; 15:2; 26:1, 3, 11, and many other examples). It occurs in the specific context of obedience to the Torah precepts and regulations (Psalm 119:1ff, etc). The noun <T) (“completeness”) is related to the adjective <ym!T* (also <T*), referring to the integrity and upright conduct of a person.

Upright conduct is a result of the inner condition of one’s heart. The motif of walking about in the center (br#q#, “near[est], inner[most] part”) of one’s “house” could be seen as an idiom parallel to the idea in line 1, of the integrity (“completeness”) of the person’s heart. However, the “house” can also represent a person’s daily life and (habitual) conduct.

Verse 3

“I do not (ever) set in front of my eyes
an object of worthlessness;
(the) making of perverse (thing)s I do hate,
and it will not cling (up)on me!”

As noted above, in verses 3-5, the protagonist presents the case for his faithfulness, in terms of his personal integrity. As an individual, he affirms his loyalty to YHWH, offering evidence on an ethical and religious basis. Here in verse 3, he references two things, in particular, which he detests and always tries to avoid:

    • “an object of worthlessness” (lu*Y`l!B= rb^D=)
    • “making of perverse (thing)s” (<yf!s@ hc)u&)

While both of these expressions could refer to wickedness and immorality generally, they allude specifically to the veneration of deities other than YHWH and, in particular, to the images (idols) of such deities. The plural noun <yf!s@, which occurs only here in the Old Testament, is presumably derived from the root fWs as a byform of fWc (cf. also hf*c*), “turn/run away (from)”. In this polemical context, the noun presumably refers to something “deviant” or “perverse”, and to activity which has moved far away from the path of God.

The avoidance of images (of deity) and the refusal to venerate (in any way) deities other than YHWH are fundamental characteristics of the person who is faithful to the covenant.

Verse 4

“A crooked heart also turns away from me,
(and) an evil (person) I will not know.”

Not only does the protagonist avoid what is perverse, his righteous heart and conduct also makes it so that a “crooked” (vQ@u!) person will avoid him. The crooked/twisted heart of such a person clearly contrasts with the complete heart of the righteous. A person with such a crooked heart is, at his/her core, “evil” (ur^). The Psalmist avoids such people, and does not wish even to know them; the idiom of “knowing” here (expressed by the verb ud^y`) implies a certain closeness and familiarity, comparable to the use of the verb qb^D* (“cling/cleave [to]”) in v. 3.

Verse 5

“(The one) wagging tongue in secret (on) his companion,
him I would reduce to silence;
(the one) high of eyes and wide of heart,
him I am not able (to endure)!”

The Psalmist’s attitude to the wicked, introduced in verse 4, is developed here. The two couplets express two different kinds of wicked conduct, and the Psalmist’s opposition to them. The first involves using the tongue (vb /v^l*, denominative from /ovl*, “tongue”, cf. Prov 30:10) in a decidedly negative or derogatory sense, i.e., slandering, ‘backbiting’, etc. Such a person speaks “in secret” against his neighbor or would-be companion (u^r@), and the Psalmist would “reduce to silence” (vb tm^x*) all such ‘tongue-waggers’; the verb tm^x* can carry the more dramatic sense of “destroy, exterminate”. There may be a bit of subtle (contrastive) wordplay here between the adjective ur^ (“evil [person]”) from v. 4 and the noun u^r@ II (“companion”).

The second couplet describes a certain characteristic attitude and bearing of the wicked: being “high of eyes” and “wide of heart”. Both of these expressions refer to a certain negative kind of pride—haughtiness, arrogance, etc. The Psalmist insists that he is not able (vb lk)y`) to endure such people. Dahood’s emendation (or revocalization) of the MT (III, p. 5) is interesting, but unconvincing; he would parse lka as a Piel imperfect form of the verb hl*K* (“finish [off]”), viz., “I finished him (off)”.

Verse 6

My eyes are on (the one)s of (the) land firm (in faith),
(wishing them) to sit along with me;
(the one) walking in (the) way (that is) complete,
he (it is who) will serve me.”

While the eyes of the wicked are raised high in self-pride (v. 5), the Psalmist’s eyes are focused on others—the community of faithful ones throughout the land. The root /ma, denoting being firm, is frequently used in the sense of faithfulness, loyalty, devotion, etc, especially in the context of the covenant. The passive (Niphal) stem of the verb /m^a* here carries the idea of a person being trustworthy; as a substantive (participle), it represents a fundamental characteristic of the righteous—viz., that they are faithful to YHWH. The same idea is expressed in the second couplet by the traditional idiom of “walking in the way” of God (cf. verse 2b above).

The Psalmist desires to keep company with such people (and not with the wicked). He would have them “sit alongside” him, implying table fellowship, and that they would be the ones who would serve him. This imagery, including the use of the verb tr^v* (“serve, attend to”), certainly suggests that it is the king’s table being referenced. Even if the Psalm originally stems from a royal background and setting (see the introduction above), where the protagonist is the king, faithful to YHWH, this imagery could easily be applied to the righteous person generally. The righteous person, like the king, represents the the people as a whole—and, in particular, is to be identified with the faithful ones among the people.

Verse 7

“(But) he shall not sit in (the) inmost part of my house,
(the one) acting (with) deceit;
(the one) speaking false (word)s
shall have no firm place in front of my eyes!”

The contrast between the righteous and the wicked continues here. While the protagonist would have other faithful ones sitting at the table with him, he will not allow untrustworthy and deceitful persons to sit with him in his house. The same expression “(the) innermost part of (the) house” was used in verse 2b (see above). The deceitfulness of the wicked is in stark contrast to the trustworthiness of the righteous (cf. the use of the verb /m^a* in v. 6).

The couplets of v. 7 are best treated as a chiastic unit, with a 3+2+2+3 meter (reflected in the translation above). The two inner lines are parallel, expressing the deceitfulness of the wicked. In the first of these lines, the verb hc^u* (“make, do”, translated as “act”) is used with the noun hY`m!r= (“deceit,” sometimes with the more forceful connotation of “treachery”). The implication is that such persons have deceitful intent, pretending to be faithful/loyal, but actually plotting treachery—an aspect of meaning which has greater impact in a royal context. Their wicked intent is demonstrated by the fact that they speak false words, again under the pretense of being loyal (to YHWH, the king, and to the faithful ones as a whole).

There is a bit of conceptual wordplay in the final line, as the verb /WK has a meaning similar to /m^a* (used in v. 6); both verbs essentially mean “be firm”. The righteous prove themselves to be firm (i.e., loyal and faithful), while the wicked have shown themselves to be untrustworthy, and thus are to have no “firm (or fixed) place” before the king (or before the righteous). The wicked are like the “worthless thing” that the protagonist will not allow to be placed before his eyes (v. 3).

Verse 8

“At the break of day I will make silent all (the) wicked of (the) land,
to cut off from (the) city of YHWH
all (those) making trouble!”

In this final couplet (or tricolon), the protagonist expresses his intention to “reduce to silence” (vb tm^x*, also used in verse 5a [see above]) all the wicked of the land. As noted above, this verb can have the more forceful connotation of “destroy, exterminate”. Its use is limited largely to the Psalms (11 of 14 occurrences), cf. most recently in 94:23; possibly the range of meaning (“make silent” vs. “destroy, wipe out”) reflects two distinct tmx roots (see HALOT, p. 1036).

I prefer to see the plural <yr!q*B= (“daybreaks”, i.e., “mornings”) as an intensive plural; the initial prepositional expression would thus be rendered, with dramatic effect, as “at daybreak…”, marking the decisive moment when the righteous (king) will eliminate (and silence) the wicked. The symbolism is appropriate, since night represents the time when the wicked would naturally flourish; by contrast, the coming of light (to dispel the darkness) at the break of day represents the elimination of wickedness.

The “land” inhabited by the faithful/righteous ones is also expressed as the “city” of YHWH—i.e., the place where God’s people, those loyal to the covenant, will dwell. The wicked will be “cut off” (vb tr^K*) from this place. The royal background of this Psalm, evident most strongly in vv. 6-8, would naturally include, as part of its royal theology, the motif of Jerusalem (as the “city of God”).

In the final line, the wicked are further described, rather bluntly, as “(those) making trouble” (/w#a* yl@u&P), a traditional expression that occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (5:6[5]; 6:9[8]; 14:4; 28:3; 36:13[12]; 53:5[4]; 59:3[2]; 64:3[2]; 92:8, 10; 94:4, etc). This brings out the social-justice aspect of the Psalm, in keeping with the royal background. A faithful king will strive to remove wickedness from his realm, resulting in a stable and secure social order. This duty is all the more important when, as is emphasized here in the Psalm, the king is himself a faithful servant of YHWH, obligated to walk (and rule) according to the Torah and the way of God.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 100

Psalm 100

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsb (vv. 1-2)

This is the final Psalm of the collection Pss 93-100, all of which deal with the central theme of the Kingship of YHWH. Various thematic links from the Psalms of this collection converge in the brief hymn of praise that comprises Psalm 100. These links have been analyzed thoroughly by Howard in his study (pp. 105-65).

There is a simple three-part structure to Psalm 100, being composed of three tricola. The first and third tricola (vv. 1-2, 4) have a common 3-beat (3+3+3) meter, while the second (central) tricolon (v. 3) has an extended/expanded meter (4+4+3). Verse 3 may be considered as a bridge between the two praise strophes of vv. 1-2 and 4. This bridge-verse describes the reason for praising YHWH, emphasizing His relationship (as God) to His people (Israel). The praise strophes deal with two key themes found elsewhere in the collection: (1) the universality of YHWH’s Kingship, which demands that all people everywhere (indeed, even all of creation) worship Him; and (2) the (ritual) praise that is expected of His people, focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. The final couplet (v. 5) serves as a concluding doxology, both for Psalm 100 and the collection as a whole.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely, though it is impossible to be any more precise than this. Parallels (in Pss 93-100) to the Deutero-Isaian poems suggest a late pre-exilic time-frame. Both the Temple-setting and the Kingship theme are fully compatible with the Judean royal theology of the monarchic period. The Psalm itself may have been part of ritual worship in the Temple from early times, or, at least, draws upon such traditions.

Psalms 98 and 100 are the only Psalms of the collection which contain a heading, simply designating the work as musical composition (romz+m!). Psalm 100 adds the detail that it is “for confession” (hd*otl=), i.e., a confession of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Verses 1-2

“Make a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
May you serve YHWH with gladness!
Come before His face with a ringing cry!”

The Psalms of this collection (93-100) typically begin with a call to worship, often emphasizing the universality of YHWH’s Kingship. His Rule extends over all the earth, and so all peoples and nations—even all of creation itself—are to give Him praise. See, for example, this theme highlighted in the prior studies on Psalm 98 (vv. 4-6ff) and 99 (vv. 1-2). The call for “all the earth” to shout (vb u^Wr) praise to God closely resembles the call in 98:4 (see also 96:1, 11; 97:1). Within the collection, the verb uWr occurs in 95:1-2 and 98:4, 6. The noun hn`n`r= is quite rare, but the verb /n~r* is quite frequent in the Psalms (e.g., 95:1; 96:12; 98:4, 8) and the later Prophetic poetry. Both verbs uwr and /nr denote the giving of a ringing shout or cry (viz., of praise).

Verse 3

“Know that YHWH, He (is the) Mightiest!
He made us, and (it is) to Him we (belong),
(we) His people and flock of His pasture.”

The central tricolon of the Psalm gives the principal reason for praising YHWH. This is indicated in line 1: He is the Mightiest (One) [<yh!l)a$]—that is, the greatest of all gods (“mighty [one]s”, <yh!l)a$), the Sovereign over all other divine/heavenly beings. This theological declaration refers to the universal aspect of YHWH’s kingship (emphasized in vv. 1-2), alluding to the Prophetic promise that eventually all peoples will recognize and worship YHWH as their God. However, it also relates to the emphasis in the third tricolon (v. 4), focusing on the worship to be given to YHWH by Israel—He is their God (“Mighty [One]”, <yh!l)a$), and they His people.

Indeed, this covenant-emphasis, occurring so frequently in the Psalms, is specified in lines 2 and 3, using traditional language and imagery. The declaration in line 2, that YHWH “made” Israel, alludes to His role as Creator, but also to the way that he formed Israel, as a distinct nation and people, when He brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This same language occurs, notably, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6ff).

The Kethib of the Masoretic Text reads “and not [al)w+] we”, which gives a contrastive emphasis to the line: “He (it is who) made us, and not we (ourselves)”. However, the Qere indicates that, instead of the negative particle al), the text should correctly be read as ol (“to/for him”)—the preposition l= and the third person singular suffix. Along with other commentators (e.g., Howard, p. 92; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 492), I follow the Qere. For a different way of understanding the text, see Dahood II, p. 371f.

The third line builds upon the point made in the second line—namely, that Israel is YHWH’s chosen people (“[we are] His people”), i.e., “we (belong) to Him”. This is central to the covenant-bond that informs the Israelite religious-cultural identity. The pronoun Wnj=n~a& (“we”) could be treated as part of either the second or third line; we may also regard it as doing double-duty, serving as a kind of join between the two lines:

“(belong) to Him we

Wnj=n~a&

we (are) His people”

It is also possible that the pronoun occurred in both lines, as attested, apparently, by the LXX (Codex A). If the pronouns occurred in sequence, at the end of the second line and also the beginning of third, then the loss of one could easily be explained as a scribal error (haplography). Adding to the attractiveness of this hypothesis is the fact that restoring a second pronoun results in a more consistent (4-beat, 4+4+4) meter for the verse. Cf. the discussion in Howard, p. 95.

The motif of YHWH as a shepherd to Israel, with the people thus as His flock of sheep (/ax)), occurs frequently in Old Testament tradition. This includes numerous examples in the Psalms—28:9; 44:12[11], 23[22]; 68:11[10]; 74:1; 77:21[20]; 78:52, 71; 79:13; 80:2[1]; 95:7; 119:176, and the entirety of Psalm 23. This shepherd-motif connotes the care and guidance that YHWH provides for His people; indeed, both of these aspects are embedded in the the image of the tyu!rm!—literally, a place for grazing/feeding the sheep, translated typically (and here, for poetic concision) as “pasture”. The shepherd guides the flock to a place where they may graze, and guiding them to such place demonstrates the shepherd’s concern to nurture and care for his flock.

Verse 4

“Come (into) His gates with praise,
and in His enclosures with joyful song!
Give praise to Him and bless His name!”

The final tricolon, like the first (vv. 1-2, above), has a 3+3+3 meter. Both strophes express a call to praise YHWH; however, while the first strophe had a universal orientation (“all the earth”), the focus in this third strophe is on the worship given to YHWH by His people Israel. As noted above, this shift occurs in the second tricolon (lines 2&3). The call to worship here in verse 4 assumes a ritual setting in the Jerusalem Temple. Both the “gates” (ru^v^, plur.) and the “enclosures” (rx@j*, plur.), i.e., courtyards, are traditional allusions to the Temple precincts and its Jerusalem locale (Zion). This strophe may reflect an actual ritual procession when the Psalm itself would have been sung.

The regular nouns hd*oT (line 1) and hL*h!T= (line 2) have similar meaning—the former refers to a confession (vb hd*y` II), viz., of praise or thanksgiving (to God), while the latter (vb ll^h* II) indicates the giving forth of a bright and joyous song. The same verbal root (hd*y`) from line 1 also occurs in line 3. One is called on both to praise YHWH and to bless (vb Er^B*) Him—indicating two distinct, but related, aspects of worship. To bless the name of God essentially means the same as blessing Him; on the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, see the introduction to my earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. The reference here may allude to the specific tradition of YHWH’s name residing in the Jerusalem Temple; this is most prominent in the Deuteronomic writings (Deut 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23-24, et al.), as, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8, vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48)—on which, cf. my recent series of notes.

Verse 5

“For good (is) YHWH—
His loyalty to (the) distant (future),
and His firmness unto cycle and cycle!”

The final couplet forms a concluding doxology—both for Psalm 100, and the collection (93-100) as a whole. The 4+3 meter of this couplet is difficult to capture in translation, though it can be approximated somewhat by a more conventional rendering:

“For good (is) YHWH—His loyalty (lasts) forever,
and His firmness to generation and generation!”

The implicit theme of the second half of the Psalm (vv. 3b-4)—namely, the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—is emphasized also here in the final couplet. The terms ds#j# and hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#), paired with some frequency in the Psalms (e.g., 36:6[5]; 40:11-12[10-11]; 57:4[3], 11[10]; 69:14[13]; 85:11[10]; 86:15; 88:12[11]; 89:2-3[1-2], 15[14], 29[28], 34[33]; 92:3; 98:3, etc), are part of this covenant-context. The noun ds#j# properly means “goodness, kindness”, but, in such a context as we find here, connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. As for hn`Wma$, it means “firmness”, but often in the sense of “faithfulness”. The adjective bof (“good”) similarly here connotes “faithful, loyal”.

This loyalty of YHWH effectively lasts forever—He Himself will never violate the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. This abiding, durative aspect of YHWH’s faithfulness is expressed by two regular idioms: <l*oul= (“into [the] distant [future]”), and rd)w+ rD)-du^ (“unto cycle and cycle”). The noun <l*ou can refer to either the distant past or the distant future; here it clearly refers to the future. The expression rd)w+ rD) (lit., “circle and circle”, or “cycle and cycle”) indicates both continuity and perpetuity—that is, as each cycle (rD)) of time passes, and, with it, each circle (rD)) of people (i.e., ‘generation’) living during that period. YHWH will remain loyal, over time, to each generation of His people.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 95

Psalm 95

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 3-7); 1QPsa (v. 11)

This Psalm has a clear two-part structure: (1) a hymn to YHWH extolling His Kingship (vv. 1-7c), and (2) a prophetic oracle (vv. 7d-11) exhorting the Israelite people to faithfulness. There are a number of Psalms in which YHWH is the speaker, in a certain section, implying that the Psalmist is functioning in the manner of a prophet. Note, for example, Psalm 50 and 81, which Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 459-60) compare with Ps 95. Parallels with the Deuteronomic ‘Song of Moses’ (Deut 32) have also been noted (cf. Howard, pp. 60-1); indeed, the two poems share the emphases on YHWH’s Kingship and on the need for the people to learn from the example of the earlier Wilderness-generation. The didactic and exhortational orientation of the Psalm, in light of its second part, seems clear.

A pre-exilic date for the Psalm seems likely, particularly if verses 2 and 6 allude to a ritual setting for the Psalm in connection with the Temple. The Kingship-theme would, of course, also be most suitable to the monarchic period. This Kingship-theme tends to characterize the collection of Pss 93-100 as a whole; on the thematic and vocabulary links between Psalm 95 and the following Pss 96-99, in particular, see the discussion by Howard (pp. 131-41).

Structurally, verses 6-7c belong to the hymn in the first part; however, they can also be seen as transitional to the oracle that follows. The call to worship in v. 6 is formally parallel to the opening call of v. 1, while the tricolon of v. 7a-c anticipates the theme of the Israelite people as a flock of sheep in the wilderness, who refused to be guided by YHWH (v. 10).

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a three-beat (3+3) couplet format, though there are exceptions (which are noted below).

Part 1 (Hymn): Verses 1-7c

Verse 1

“Come, let us (all) ring out (praise) to YHWH,
let us raise a shout to (the) Rock of our salvation!”

This opening couplet represents a call to worship, which could indicate a specific ritual setting. The invocation in verse 6 is parallel in form, and effectively serves to frame the hymn to YHWH (vv. 2-5). The verbs /n~r* (“ring out”) and u^Wr (“shout”) are parallel and similar in meaning; in this worship context, they refer to praising God in music, song, and/or chant. The use of the noun rWx (“rock”) as a epithet and title for YHWH is one of several points of similarity between this Psalm and the Song of Moses (Deut 32, vv. 4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37; see the discussion above), though the title also occurs with some frequency throughout the Psalms (of those most recently studied, cf. 78:35; 89:27[26]; 92:16[15]; 94:22). On the expression “the Rock of my/our salvation”, see Deut 32:15; Psalm 18:46 [2 Sam 22:47]; 89:27[26]; cf. also 62:3[2], 7-8[6-7]; Isaiah 17:10. In the use of the term “rock” (rWx) there may also be an allusion to the wilderness narratives (Exod 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13), anticipating the oracle in vv. 8-11 (cf. Howard, p. 54).

Verse 2

“Let us come before His face with a (cry of) praise,
with (joyful) music let us raise a shout to Him.”

The verb <d^q* denotes “go/come before”; here it refers to the idea of coming before the ‘face’ of YHWH, but it could also allude to a scene of musicians, etc, leading a procession of worshipers. The “face” of YHWH, implying His presence (i.e., in the Temple sanctuary), could indicate a ritual setting in association with the Temple; perhaps a festival occasion is in view.

The noun hd*oT denotes a confession, presumably based on the fundamental meaning of the root hd*y` (“cast, shoot”), i.e., words cast forth, in the (religious) context of words directed to God—in praise and thanksgiving to Him. I have translated it above as “a (cry of) praise”, maintaining the parallel with the verb u^Wr (“shout”). The noun rym!z*, denoting music-making, is in the plural, and could be rendered here as “songs”.

Verse 3

“For (the) great Mighty (One) (is) YHWH,
and (the) great King over all Mighty (one)s!”

The main reason for praising YHWH is that He is the greatest of all Divine beings, the King over all of them. The noun la@, “mighty (one)”, denotes a Divine being (i.e., “G/god”), and is the fundamental Semitic term for deity. The extended plural <yh!l)a$ (= <yl!a@), though it can be applied to YHWH as an intensive/comprehensive plural (“Mightiest [One]”), is here used as a normal plural (“mighty [one]s”, i.e., gods). Like the Song of Moses (vv. 8, 43), and other Scriptural texts (e.g., Ps 82), the Psalm seems to allow for the existence of other deities (besides YHWH), but, if so, then YHWH is the greatest and King over all of them. This qualified monotheism seems to have been typical of Israelite religion in the earlier periods. The adjective lodG` is used to twice to express this idea of greatness.

The meter of verse 3 is slightly irregular, and could be read as 3+4.

Verse 4

“In whose hand (are the) deep places of the earth—
and (also the) peaks of (the) mountains (belong) to Him.”

The first line of both verse 4 and 5 begins with a relative particle, tying each verse back to the reference to YHWH in v. 3. He is “the One who…”; English syntax requires that the combination of a relative particle, followed by a noun with a possessive suffix, be translated “whose…”. If YHWH is King over all gods, then He is also Ruler over all of creation. Indeed, YHWH as King of the universe is a common theme in the Psalms—one that will be continued and developed in the following Pss 96-99. This Kingship is based upon His identity as Creator of the universe; there may also be an allusion (in v. 3, see above) to the identification of YHWH with the Creator °E~l (la@) of Semitic and Canaanite religious tradition.

YHWH’s greatness—as Creator and King—is depicted here by the way that He is able to hold in His hand both the depths and heights of the earth; in other words, the entire cosmos is encompassed by His controlling presence. The noun rq*j=m# is rather difficult to translate, especially in this poetic context; it means “place searched out, explored place”, but here (in the plural) probably connotes something like “(un)explored depths” (i.e., the deepest recesses of the earth). It is matched in the second line by the plural topu&oT—another difficult term (cp. its usage in Num 23:22; 24:8; Job 22:25), but which clearly refers here to the ‘grand peaks’ of the mountains.

Like verse 3, the meter of v. 4 is irregular (4+3).

Verse 5

“To Him (belongs) the sea—indeed, He made it,
and (also the) dry land His hands formed.”

If YHWH is King over the heights and depths of the earth, He is also Sovereign over the sea and dry land alike. This can refer to the earth proper—i.e., the flat cylinder/disc—or to the cosmos as a whole. In the former case, the “sea” refers to the waters on the surface of the earth (and below it); however, “sea” can also allude to the waters surrounding the cosmos (heaven & earth). In either case, YHWH is the Ruler over it all. He created and fashioned both the sea(s) and the dry land.
The Qumran manuscript 4QPsm reads the more common hv*B*y~, instead of MT tv#B#y~, for “dry land”; it is a very minor difference.

The meter of this verse (4+3) matches or approximates that of v. 4.

Verse 6

“Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
let us kneel before (the) face of YHWH our Maker!”

As noted above, this call to worship, which closes the hymn, matches the initial call in verse 1. The opening imperative of each verse has been translated “Come…!”, yet different verbs are employed: in verse 1, it is El^h* (“go, walk”), while here in v. 6 it is aoB (“come”). The focus in verse 1 was on giving praise to YHWH (in music/song), while here it is the act of “prostrating” oneself, bowing down before YHWH in homage (to His Kingship). The verbs ur^K* and Er^B* each mean “kneel (down)”, being derived from different terms referring to a person’s knee (or leg).

YHWH is acknowledged again as Creator, but here specifically as Creator of human beings (“our Maker”); the phrase may also refer to YHWH being the One who made Israel as His people, bringing them out of Egypt and forming a covenant with them. This certainly would fit the context of the oracle that follows in vv. 7d-11. Note the similar language in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6). Cf. also Psalm 100:3, and the theme as expressed in Isa 29:23; 60:21; 64:6 (Howard, p. 56).

Verse 7abc

“For He (is) our Mighty (One),
and we (the) people of His pasture,
and (the) flock of His hand.”

YHWH is the God—the only God—for Israel. Here the plural <yh!l)a$ is used, rather than the singular la@ (v. 3). He is the “Mightiest (One)”, and the only “Mighty (One)” for Israel. This refers to the covenant bond between YHWH and Israel—He is their God, and they are His people.

The idea of YHWH as a Shepherd, with the corresponding image of Israel as His flock, is widespread throughout the Scriptures. Noteworthy examples elsewhere in the Psalms are: 28:9; 74:1; 78:52, 71-72; 79:13; 80:1; 100:3, and, of course, the entirety of the famous Psalm 23. The wording here is particularly close to 79:13 and 100:3.

Dahood (II, p. 354) argues that the noun dy` (“hand”) here properly means “portion (of land)”, noting the use of Ugaritic yd in such a context (in the Kirta epic, Tablet I, column V, line 35). He identifies other Scriptural instances where a portion of pasture-land is indicated (Job 1:14; Jer 6:3; 23:1), this being a more specific application of dy` in the sense of “part, portion” (e.g., 2 Sam 19:44; 2 Kings 11:7).

Metrically, verse 7abc is an irregular (3+3+2) tricolon. It holds a transitional position in the Psalm, closing the hymn of the first part and leading into the prophetic oracle of the second.

Part 2 (Oracle): verses 7d-11

Verse 7d

“Th(is) day, if (only) you would hear His voice!”

The oracle is introduced by this single line, indicating the exhortational character of the poem that follows. There is is a strong revelatory aspect to the idiom of “hearing the voice” of YHWH (Deut 4:36, etc). To “hear” (vb um^v*) in such a context entails both listening and responding with obedience. As in the Song of Moses (Deut 32, see above), the poem, with its warning not to follow the example the disobedient Israelites of the Wilderness-generation, is meant to instruction the current people toward obedience.

Verses 8-9

“Do not harden your heart, as (at) Strife-place,
as on (the) day of Testing in the outback,
when your fathers (dared) put me to the test,
tested me, even (though) they had seen my act.”

The locative (verbal) nouns hb*yr!m= (“place of strife”) and hS*m^ (“place of testing”) refer to a famous episode (or episodes), from the Exodus narratives, which took place during the journey through the Wilderness (rB*d=m!, “place out back”)—Exodus 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13 (cf. Deut 6:16; 9:22; 32:51)—where the people were disobedient and put God to the test.

In the second line of verse 9, the verb /j^B* has a similar meaning to hs*n` (“test”), but with the specific emphasis on examining something (or someone) to see (i.e. test, prove) whether it is valid. Such testing demonstrated the faithlessness of the people; since they had already seen the great deeds (lu*P*, sing.) performed by YHWH (at the Reed Sea, etc), they should not have needed proof that He would be able to act to deliver them again.

Verse 10

“Forty years I was disgusted with (that) circle,
and I said: ‘A people straying of heart (are) they!
Indeed, they have not known my ways!'”

YHWH declared, regarding that circle (roD) of people (i.e., the Wilderness generation) that they were “straying” (vb hu*T*) in their heart. This alludes back to verse 7, and the idea of Israel as a flock of sheep; having rejected the guiding hand of their Shepherd, they went astray (in their hearts). They did not follow in the paths (“my ways”) by which YHWH led them.

Metrically, this verse is a prosaic, irregular tricolon (4+4+3). I read the w-conjunction of the third line as emphatic.

Verse 11

“(So) then I swore an oath in my anger:
‘(See) if they will come to my place of rest!'”

For the reference to such an oath by YHWH, in the context of the Meribah/Massah episode(s), cf. Num 14:23, 28, 30; Deut 1:35. The etymology of the verb ub^v*, though disputed, would seem to be connected with the number seven (ub^v#), perhaps in the sense of binding oneself by seven (or sevenfold) through the oath. To avoid cluttering the line here, I have omitted reference to this aspect of meaning, rendering the verb in the conventional sense of “swear (an oath)”. The use of the particle <a! (“if”) in such a truncated oath formula, takes on a negative emphasis, which I render above as “(see) if {it will be so}…!” —i.e., “surely it will not be so!”. The paragogic /– suffix on the verb Wab)y+ (“they will come”) only enhances this emphatic aspect of the clause (cf. GKC §47m; Howard, p. 57).

The Promised Land is here referred to as “my place of rest”; for this usage elsewhere, see Deut 12:9. It implies resting from the long forty years of journeying, but also alludes to the Land, given by YHWH, as a hereditary possession for the people—a place where they can establish a permanent home for generations to come. The Wilderness-generation missed out on this opportunity, and their example serves as a warning to the current generation: do not act in disobedience to YHWH’s instruction, as that earlier generation did.

Hebrews 3:11-4:13 famously cites vv. 7d-11, applying the Psalmist’s prophetic exhortation to the situation of believers in Christ. The Sabbath rest that yet remains for the people of God (i.e., believers) is the heavenly blessedness which we will inherit if we remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

 

March 7: Romans 9:6-8, 25-29

Romans 9:6-8, 25-29

Chapters 9-11 of Romans represent a kind of expository appendix to the probatio of the letter (1:18-8:39), in which Paul applies a number of key themes and arguments from those earlier chapters. The specific subject he addresses is the place of Israel in the new covenant between God and His people. All throughout Romans, Paul has held in view an overriding theme of the unity of Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers in Christ. For believers in Christ, there is no longer any religious distinction between Jew and Gentile—all are equal. Indeed, there is now an entirely new religious identity at work for believers, and the old categories and distinctions (including the important ethno-religious distinctions) no longer apply.

In chapters 9-11, Paul grapples with the reality that God’s people (in the ethno-religious sense)—that is, Israelites and Jews—have, on the whole, failed or refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Their lack of trust, and/or unwillingness to trust, have left them outside of this new religious identity—which defines God’s people now, in the new covenant, as believers in Christ. How can this be? Indeed, why would God allow it to be so? This is clearly a question, and a subject, that weighed heavily on Paul’s heart, as his introductory comments in 9:1-3ff attest. There are similar personal comments at the beginning chapters 10 and 11. In these provocative and challenging chapters, Paul presents and argues his belief regarding the ultimate place of Israel in God’s plan, and seeks to explain the current situation in light of this plan.

The guiding principle remains that God’s people are now defined by trust in Jesus, not by any ethno-religious status. In chapter 9, Paul deals with this principle on the basis of the Scriptural tradition which depicts the Israelite people as the “sons/children of God”, or, collectively, as the “son [singular] of God”. The main passages which express or reflect this tradition are: Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 64:8[7]; Jer 31:9.

In utilizing this sonship theme, Paul first draws upon a line of argument used in chapter 4 (and earlier in Galatians 3-4): believers in Christ are the true “sons [i.e. descendants] of Abraham”. Israelites and Jews consider themselves to be Abraham’s offspring (cf. Matt 3:9 par; Lk 13:16; 16:24; 19:9; Jn 8:33-39; Acts 7:2ff), but it is only those Israelites and Jews who trust in Christ who are his offspring in the true sense. This is one key way in which Paul sets the new religious identity of believers on a Scriptural basis. He does this in Galatians 3-4 (see esp. 3:7-9, 16-18, 26-29; 4:21-31), in Romans 4 (vv. 13-25), and again here in 9:6-12.

The expository principle, as applied, is stated quite clearly in verse 6:

“for not all of those out of Israel (are) Israel”

The emphasis in negation is on the adjective pa=$ (“all”)—not all those “out of Israel” (i.e., Israelites in the ethnic sense) are, in fact, Israel (i.e., the true Israel). In verse 7, this point is presented in terms of the tradition (expressed in the Scriptures) regarding Israelites as the descendants of Abraham:

“Nor (is it) that all (his) offspring are the seed of Abraham—rather, ‘in Yiƒhaq {Isaac} they shall be called (the) seed for you’.”

In the second half of this verse, Paul cites the declaration by YHWH in Gen 21:12, in a form that corresponds to the LXX: e)n Isaa\k klhqh/setai/ soi spe/rma, which I translate quite literally above. The significance of Isaac is that he is the child of the Divine promise to Abraham, and not simply a child born from Abraham’s flesh. This is the point Paul makes in verse 8:

“That is, (it is) not these offspring of the flesh (who are) the offspring of God, but the offspring of the promise [e)paggeli/a] are counted as (His) seed.”

As in Galatians 3-4, Paul here blends together the concepts of Israel as the “sons of Abraham” and, in the figurative sense, as the “sons/children of God”. In this instance, Paul uses the plural te/kna (“offspring,” i.e., “children”), but he can also use the plural ui(oi/ (“sons”) in a similar way. The line of argument is developed more fully in Galatians 3. Jesus is the true “seed” (spe/rma, singular) of Abraham, according to the promise, and everyone who trusts in him (i.e., believers) becomes part of this same “seed” —thus believers are the true sons/children of Abraham. But this means that believers in Christ are also the true Israel, and can be thus be considered as the “sons/children of God”. It is through trust in Christ (and union with him), that believers achieve the status as God’s sons—truly becoming His offspring.

Paul refers to this line of argument in a shorthand way here, summarizing again the context of the relevant Abrahamic traditions (from Scripture) in vv. 9-12. As Paul continues his discussion in chapter 9, he eventually frames his point in more theological terms, drawing upon a separate Scriptural tradition regarding the idea of a “remnant” (u(po/leimma) of Israel that is destined to by saved by God. This remnant-motif can be found throughout Scripture, going back to the Abraham tradition (involving Sodom and Gomorrah) in Gen 18:22-33 (cf. Paul’s allusion to this tradition in his citation of Isa 1:9, see below). It is most prominent in the Prophetic texts dealing with YHWH’s judgment on Israel and Judah—particularly the Isaian oracles and poems (e.g., 10:19-22; 11:11ff; 28:5; 37:4, 31-32; 46:3). The idea that a remnant will survive and return (from exile) is a seminal concept for the exilic (and post-exilic) theme of Israel’s restoration. The ‘new covenant’ prophecies (in Jer 31:31-34 and elsewhere, e.g., Ezek 37:26) are part of this restoration theology, and were readily applied and interpreted by early Christians.

Paul here gives us an example of how such Scriptures can be interpreted and applied to the context of believers in Christ (under the new covenant). In verses 25-29, he brings together a chain of three quotations: Hosea 1:10 [2:1] (joined to 2:23) [vv. 25-26], Isaiah 10:22-23 [vv. 27-28], and Isaiah 1:9 [v. 29]. The first reference deals with the motif of God’s people as His children (“sons of God”), the second features the “remnant” theme, while the third combines the offspring and remnant motifs. The application of the central Scripture (Isa 10:22-23) in v. 27 makes the point that, out of the children of Israel (i.e., ethnic Israelites), only a remnant of them will be saved. This refers to those Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christthey are the “remnant” representing the true Israel.

In chapter 11, Paul proceeds to envision an eschatological situation in which “all Israel” will be saved. Commentators have long debated (and continue to debate) how this expression relates to the teaching in chapter 9—where it is clearly indicated that only a portion (remnant) of Israel (those trusting Jesus) will be saved. I have discussed this passage elsewhere (see the article and supplemental note in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”), and will not address the matter here.

In the next daily note, in this series on the sonship-of-believers theme in the New Testament, we will turn to examine again the ethical aspect of this motif, as presented by Paul in Philippians 2:15 (comparing it with the Pauline instruction in Eph 5:1ff [v.8]).

 

December 23: Psalm 89:16-19

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

Psalm 89:16-19 [15-18]
Verse 16 [15]

“(O, the) happiness of the people knowing (that) shout,
YHWH! in (the) light of your face they shall walk.”

In this last of the three strophes that comprise the praise-hymn of vv. 6-19, the focus shifts from the heavens (vv. 6-9) and the earth (vv. 10-13) to the realm of human beings—and, especially, to God’s people Israel. In the first strophe, the heavenly beings give praise to YHWH, while, in the second strophe, the mighty entities of the earth (seas and mountains) acknowledge and praise His sovereign power. These themes are essentially summarized and reiterated in vv. 14-15 (cf. the previous note), which depict YHWH seated on his throne, exercising power (as King) over the universe.

Now, here in v. 16, we see that it is “the people” (<u*h*) who give praise to YHWH. The beatitude formulation of this couplet (“[O, the] happiness of…!”) suggests that not all human beings are giving praise to God, but only a certain portion. The blessing attached to the beatitude (line 2) applies to those “knowing [i.e. who know] (the) shout”. This expression (hu*Wrt= yu@d=oy) requires some comment. The noun hu*Wrt= denotes a “shout”, sometimes in the general sense of a loud, clamorous noise. It can be applied both in military (Josh 6:5; Jer 4:19; Amos 2:2) and festal (Lev 25:9) settings. Here, it doubtless refers to the shout (and joyful noise) of praise to YHWH, giving Him acclaim; the usage in the Psalms suggests a festal context, perhaps even a ritual setting involving worship in the Temple (27:6; 47:6[5]f; also 33:3; 150:5). The one who “knows” (vb ud^y`) this shout is the person who is faithful and devoted to YHWH, who understands both how and why He is to be praised, and is able/willing to do so.

On the beatitude formula yr@v=a^, see the note on Psalm 1:1 in the earlier study; cf. also the discussion in my series on the Beatitudes of Jesus. The formula occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (32:1-2; 34:9[8]; 40:5[4]; 41:2[1], etc); it is applied specifically to the nation/people of Israel in 33:12; 144:15.

The blessing entails “walking” in the light (roa) of YHWH’s face—that is, in His presence. This likely refers to the blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, being thus allowed to dwell with God in heaven. A heavenly setting would seem to be confirmed by the context of vv. 6-9, as well as the immediately prior vv. 14-15.

Verse 17 [16]

“In your name, they spin all the day (long),
and in your righteousness they rise!”

Those faithful/devoted to YHWH give to Him continual praise—to be understood as an attitude of the heart as much as any physical action. This 3+2 couplet contains a parallelism in the 2 beats (with a third beat [“all the day”] in line 1):

    • “in your name | they spin”
    • “in your righteousness | they rise”

The faithful ones “spin (with joy)” (vb lyG]) in God’s name. In ancient Near Eastern thought, the name of a person represented and embodied the essence of the person. In the Old Testament, particularly within the Deuteronomic tradition, YHWH was understood as being present among His people, on a symbolic and ritual level, through His name. Cf. my recent discussion on this idea in the notes on 1 Kings 8 (in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature). Here, too, an association with the Temple (and its sanctuary) may be implied.

Through this connection with YHWH, the faithful ones participate in His character and attributes. The characteristic of “right(ness), righteousness” (hq*d*x=) is one of the four Divine attributes mentioned in v. 15 (cf. the previous note), using the related noun (qd#x#). This experience of the Divine attributes inspires the faithful to exult and “become high” (vb <Wr), i.e., rise, elevate.

Verse 18 [17]

“Indeed, you (are the) splendor of their strength,
and in your delight our horn is raised high!”

Here the point indicated above is made clear—viz., the name of God essentially refers to God Himself. The explicit pronoun hT*a* (“you”) is emphatic, occurring in the final position of the line; it could be translated “you (yourself)”. The “rising” of the faithful (in v. 17b) implies the experience of gaining/receiving strength, something that is specified here in v. 18a. The faithful ones gain (and possess) strength (zu)) in YHWH, and it is His very glory/splendor (expressed here by the noun hr*a*p=T!, denoting “beauty”) which fuels, and is the source of, this strength.

In the second line, the strength of His faithful ones is expressed by the familiar motif of a horn (/r#q#), such as of a bull, wild ox, or ram—the animal’s horn serving as a symbol of its strength, vigor, power, and prestige. On this motif in the Psalms, see 18:3 [2]; 75:5-6 [4-5], 11 [10]; 92:11 [10]; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; cf. also 1 Sam 2:1, 10 (cp. Lk 1:69); Ezek 29:21, etc. In mentioning the “raising high” of the horn, the same verb (<Wr) is used as in v. 17b (cf. above); the Hiphil form of the MT Ketib (<yr!T*) should be followed.

Regarding the expression “in your delight”, which parallels the prepositional expressions in v. 17, the noun /oxr* (“pleasure, delight”) here refers to the pleasure/delight which YHWH has in those who are faithful/devoted to Him. Often the noun signifies the favor shown to the person(s) in whom one is pleased; certainly, that nuance of meaning applies here as well.

It is to be noted that, while the third person plural suffix (“their strength”) is used in line 1, the first person plural (“our horn”) is used in line 2. The Psalmist thus identifies himself with the faithful ones of Israel, showing solidarity with his people and emphasizing the corporate identity of people/kingdom of Israel. The first person plural continues into verse 19.

Verse 19 [18]

“For to YHWH (belongs) our protection,
and, to (the) Holy (One) of Yisrael, our king!”

Here, in this concluding couplet, the national focus of the strophe comes firmly into focus. Though the overall emphasis is clearly on the faithful ones of God’s people, still it is God’s people, Israel, that are meant in this context. Insofar as the nation, as a whole, remains faithful and loyal to YHWH, it will receive the blessings of the covenant with Him. This blessing includes the provision of protection, especially from hostile (foreign) enemies. In this regard, the motif of strength in this strophe is now defined in terms (and imagery) of military strength.

The noun /g@m*, often translated “shield”, more properly means “place of protection” —that is, a place behind which a person is protected. This protection belongs to YHWH; He is the source and ultimate means of protection. We find this theme frequently in the Psalms, utilizing a range of verbs and terms (including /g@m*).

Also belonging to YHWH (the idiom of belonging expressed, in both lines, by a prefixed preposition –l) is the people’s king, who functions (on the human level) as the protector of the people. It is he who governs and leads, including leadership of the military in battle, etc. Yet, ultimately, it is God who is the source of strength for His people, and the basis by which they achieve protection and victory over all enemies. The human king effectively receives his power from YHWH, the supreme King and Sovereign, who exercises authority and control over the entire universe (the principal theme of strophes 1 & 2).

This reference to the king, along with the introduction of the horn-motif in v. 18 (cf. above), sets the stage for the second division of the Psalm (vv. 20-38), where YHWH’s promises to David (regarding the kingdom/kingship) are treated extensively. As will be discussed, the context of this exposition by the Psalmist relates to the early development of Messianic thought and expectation in Israel.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 87

Psalm 87

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This short Psalm is arguably among the most obscure and difficult in the Psalter. The awkward phrasing, abrupt shifts in language and wording, and—most notably—the apparent ambiguities of thought and expression in vv. 4-6, have all led commentators to theorize that the MT as it has come down to us is corrupt and in a disorganized state. Some have attempted to reconstruct and reorder the lines to produce a more coherent poem (see Kraus, pp. 184-85f). Others (e.g., Dahood, Hossfeld-Zenger) are unwilling to take such a step, or do not feel the need, and attempt instead to make sense of the MT as it stands (with only minor modifications).

Unfortunately, Psalm 87, perhaps due to its brevity, is not preserved among the surviving Dead Sea Psalms manuscripts, so there is no way to confirm whether (or to what extent) the MT may be corrupt. Nor is much clarity to be found in the LXX and other ancient versions, which seem to struggle just as much as modern scholars in making sense of the Hebrew text. I have chosen to work from the Masoretic text, keeping closely to it, and adopting only modest changes in vocalization and line divisions, at several points.

As might be expected, the meter of the Psalm (in the MT) is quite irregular, and, probably to some extent, unreliable. I discuss the rhythm/meter only in a few places below.

This Psalm is attributed to “(the) sons of Qorah”, as were the prior Pss 84-85 and 87. These follow the earlier collection of Pss 42-49; on the Qorah-tradition, cf. the study on Ps 42-43. These Korahite Psalms share a number of themes and motifs, including the Zion-emphasis that we find here in Ps 87. They also deal with the relationship between Israel/Judah and the nations, reflecting certain eschatological emphases or points of reference that indicate a measure of affinity with Prophetic oracles and poems of the exilic (and post-exilic) period. For more on the the relation of Ps 87 to the Korahite corpus, cf. the discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 385-8.

The structure of this Psalm is indicated, in this instance, by the Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker, following vv. 3 and 6. The first section (vv. 1-3) is a short hymn of praise for Zion, and for its special place as the chosen dwelling of YHWH; God’s love for the site of Jerusalem/Zion is particularly emphasized. The second section (vv. 4-6) draws upon aspects of the Prophetic nation-oracles, according to the thematic emphasis of the poems in the exilic (and post-exilic) period which offer the promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the surrounding nations will join Israel in worshiping YHWH on mount Zion. The enigmatic verse 7 concludes the Psalm.

Verses 1-2

“Founded by Him on (the) mountains of holiness,
YHWH is loving (you), O gates of ‚iyyôn,
(more) than all (the) dwelling-places of Ya’aqob.”

The Psalm begins in an unusual manner, with (it seems) an orienting subordinate clause (v. 1b) that modifies the object of the central statement (v. 2a) (“[the] gates of Zion”). I take the initial word to be a verbal noun, a passive participle with 3rd person singular suffix (of agency); cf. Dahood, II, p. 299. It is a feminine form (hd*Wsy+), which presumably refers to the city of Jerusalem (the noun ryu! being feminine); the expression “gates of Jerusalem” in the central line stands for the implied object noun, specified in v. 3, “city of the Mightiest” (i.e., city of God, Jerusalem).

Cities were often personified as women in the ancient Near East, a tendency that goes beyond the grammatical gender here of ryu!. The feminine personification of Zion is perhaps best known through the expression “daughter of Zion” (or “daughter Zion”), frequent in the Prophetic texts (cf. also Psalm 9:14).

The plural “mountains” may be intended as an intensive plural (like <yh!l)a$), as a way of identifying the fortified hilltop site of Zion as the holy mountain of YHWH’s dwelling. In Semitic (and Canaanite) religious tradition, any mountain or hill can serve as a local manifestation of the great cosmic mountain where the Creator (El-YHWH) resides. Such hills are thus holy (vdq), since God has chosen to reside there. Jerusalem was founded by YHWH (vb ds^y`) on this holy site.

The central statement in v. 2a declares that YHWH loves (vb bh^a*) the site that he has chosen, and the city that is built there. The idea of God’s love for Jerusalem (and the Temple) is implied in many Scriptural passages, but only rarely stated directly. Psalm 78:68 is the most notable example, indicatin that His love extends beyond the site of mount Zion to the entire tribe/territory of Judah. There can be little doubt that the Judean royal theology informs this language and imagery a good deal. YHWH’s love is implicit in the fact that He chose Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place (i.e., the Temple sanctuary).

The expression “gates of Zion” refers both to the city (Jerusalem), but also, specifically, to the Temple precincts built on the ancient fortified hilltop-location. The gates are mentioned, along with the feminine representation of Zion (as “daughter”) in Psalm 9:14; see also Lamentations 1:4. On God’s specific love for the Temple sanctuary, cf. Malachi 2:11.

The participle bh@a) may be meant to indicate the regular and continual nature of this love, being part of YHWH’s essential character and His abiding relationship to His people. The fact that YHWH chose Zion/Jerusalem over all the other “dwelling-places” in Israel (Jacob), is an indication that He loves it more than those other sites.

Metrically, vv. 1-2, as they stand, read as a slightly irregular 3-beat tricolon.

Verse 3

“Worthy (thing)s are being spoken in you,
O city of (the) Mightiest!”
Selah

Following the MT, the sense of this verse (3+2 couplet) is not clear. The referent for the passive (Niphal) feminine plural participle (todB*k=n]), in particular, is ambiguous. Dahood (II, p. 299) would parse the lines differently, reading the participle as modifying the plural noun tonK=v=m! (“dwelling-places”), with which it agrees. He also revocalizes MT lK)m! (“from all,” with comparative /m!, i.e., “more than all”) in v. 2b to read lk@m@ (Hiphil participle of the verb ll^K*)— “(the One) completing”. By this approach, vv 2b-3 form a 4-beat (4+4) couplet:

“(the One) completing (the) glorious dwellings of Jacob
is speaking in you, O city of (the) Mightiest”

For commentators who prefer to follow the MT, the participle todB*k=n] is typically understood as referring to things (i.e., words of praise, etc) that are spoken. It is thus rendered as a substantive adjective “weighty (thing)s” (i.e., worthy, honorable, glorious things). Who is it that speaks these things? The context suggests that it is YHWH. Since He resides on mount Zion, in the Temple sanctuary, it is natural that He would be speaking there. In this sense, Jerusalem is, indeed His city (“city of the Mightiest”, i.e., city of God).

Verse 4

“I mark (down) Rahab and Bab-il—
(they belong) to (those) knowing me;
see Pelešet and ‚ôr (along) with Kûš—
‘This (one) was born there’.

The next unit of the Psalm (vv. 4-6) is difficult to interpret, leading to a variety of approaches by commentators. Though the language and poetry (as it stands in the MT) is awkward, these lines seem to express the idea that, in the (near) future, the surrounding nations will join with Israel in worshiping YHWH, becoming (in a sense) part of God’s people.

This reflects a longstanding line of Prophetic tradition which developed throughout certain oracles and poems of the exilic and post-exilic periods. It is tied to the promise of the restoration of Israel. In the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the nations will be forced to submit, and they will send representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage and to give worship to Israel’s God YHWH. The classic passage expressing the ideal of the nations coming to join Israel/Judah on mount Zion is Isaiah 2:1-5 (par Mic 4:1-5). The motif of the nations coming to Jerusalem features prominently in the Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems, along with a universalistic message portending that the nations will find blessing and salvation in the knowledge of YHWH—e.g., 42:1-6; 49:6, 22f; 56:1-8; chap. 60; 66:18-24; cf. also 11:10ff. Another famous (post-exilic) example of this theme is found at the close of Zechariah (14:16-21). The relation of the nations to Zion is also a recurring theme in other Korah Psalms (e.g., 46-48).

I regard verse 4 as comprised of two thematically parallel couplets. In the first line of each couplet, YHWH (or His prophet) makes special note of certain representative nations—Egypt (“Rahab”) and Babylon (line 1); then Philistia, the city-state of Tyr, and Cush (line 3). The name Raha» is a mythopoeic term for the dark/chaotic primeval waters, personified as a sea-monster (cf. Psalm 89:11[10]; Job 9:13; 26:12; Isa 51:9), which YHWH (as Creator) subdued, thus bringing order to Creation (for the mythological background of this imagery, cf. my earlier article). The name Rahab is applied to Egypt also in Isa 30:7.

The guiding verb of the first line, rk^z` denotes having something in mind; in the Hiphil (causative) stem, the force is can be either “bring to mind” or “keep in mind”. Here it seems to be used in the special sense of noting something—that is, marking it down or recording it; the participle ryK!z+m^ is used as the title of an official or scribe who acts as a recorder.

In the second line of each couplet, the nations are being treated as though they belonged to God’s people and were citizens of the holy city of God (Zion/Jerusalem). In line 2, I take the prefixed preposition –l of the participial expression yu*d=y)l= in the sense of “belonging to”; the single word thus forms a distinct phrase, indicating that these nations belong (or will belong) to “(the one)s knowing me” —those who know (and worship) YHWH. In line 4, this same idea is expressed in terms of belonging to the holy city; the people of the nations will be treated like citizens born in the city (“this [one] is born there”).

Verse 5

“Indeed, for of ‚iyyôn it is said,
‘(This) man and (that) man has been born in her’ —
and He, (the) Highest, sets her firm.”

The initial –w is emphatic and explicative, building upon the previous line to explain the significance of the declaration “This (one) is born there”. It refers to the record of a person’s citizenship—that is, the place of his/her birth—specifically, of belonging to the city of God (Zion/Jerusalem).

The final line here, however, remains difficult. What is the precise meaning of the verb /WK in context? Fundamentally, the verb means make/set (something) firm, establishing it as being fixed and secure, etc. The feminine suffix (h*-) presumably refers again to the city (personified as female), and probably alludes back to the idea that YHWH founded Jerusalem upon the holy mountain(s) (see on v. 1 above), thus setting the city on a firm foundation. Possibly this imagery is meant to extend here to a person’s citizenship—that belonging to the city of God is made firm and secure (by YHWH Himself).

Verse 6

“YHWH (Himself) makes an account,
in (His) inscribing (of the) peoples:
‘This (one) was born there!’
Selah

This final tricolon reiterates the message of vv. 4-5, stating it now more directly (and less ambiguously). YHWH Himself does the recording of the nations (here, “peoples”), granting to them citizenship in the holy city of God. On an ethnic-religious level, this refers (as noted above) to the Prophetic tradition of the nations coming to Jerusalem (Zion) to pay homage to Israel/Judah and to acknowledge and worship YHWH. It can also be interpreted in a spiritual sense, whereby the “city of God” refers, not to a geographical location, but to one’s relationship (in heart/mind/soul) to God Himself.

Verse 7

“And they are singing as they twirl:
All my springs (are) in you!”

The Psalm ends, abruptly and enigmatically, with this obscure couplet, the exact meaning (and translation) of which is anyone’s guess. For lack of any better option, I have kept quite literally to the MT as we have it.

The reference to singing and dancing seems out of place, but it is fitting to the context of the Psalm itself—as a musical composition (romz+m!) and a poem to be set to music and sung (ryv!). It may imply a liturgical (worship) setting in the Temple precincts, and perhaps this is meant to relate, however tangentially, to the idea of “worthy things” being spoken within the gates of Zion (v. 3, cf. above). Kraus (p. 185), in his reconstruction of the Psalm, has verse 3 follow verse 7, with both occurring in the middle of the composition.

What is the meaning of the final line? Does it represent the words that the performers sing? Is there an allusion to the eschatological image in Zech 14:8, or to a correspondingly similar tradition? Is “my springs” even the correct way to understand and render yn~y`u=m^ here? (cf. the very different explanation by Dahood, II, p. 300). Overall, in keeping with the (eschatological) theme of the conversion/salvation of the nations, it is perhaps best to maintain (cautiously) the idea that the people of God (including members of the nations) will enjoy the blessings provided by YHWH—represented by fountains and streams of life-giving waters—in the holy city; cf. the brief discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 384-6.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
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).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:54-61

1 Kings 8:54-61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The People of God: Holiness (Part 1)

Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

The RooT QDŠ

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

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

Holiness: The Realm of the Sacred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 81 (Part 2)

Psalm 81, continued

PART 2: Verses 9-17 [8-16]

Verse 9 [8]

“Listen, my people, and I will testify against you.
O Yisrael, if (only) you would listen to me!”

As in vv. 6c-8 (cf. the previous study), YHWH is the speaker throughout the second half of the Psalm, making these verses function as a prophetic oracle. On the tradition of Asaph and his descendants as prophets, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 50; the prophetic character of a number of the Asaph-Psalms has been noted in prior studies.

Both thematically and poetically, vv. 6c-8 differs significantly from this second oracle. Metrically, the earlier passage consisted of a pair of 3-beat (3+3+3) tricola, while the oracle here follows  the regular 3+3 bicolon format. Beyond this, vv. 6c-8 functioned as summary of the Exodus, in which YHWH gives a brief but dramatic account of His role in the events. It concludes (v. 8b) with a reference to the episode at the “waters of strife/Meribah” (Exod 17:1-7), introducing the theme of the people’s lack of trust and disloyalty/rebellion against YHWH. This same theme continues in the second half oracle.

Indeed, the oracle seems to be indebted to the ‘covenant lawsuit’ format, in which YHWH raises the complaint that His people have violated the binding agreement (covenant). In this line of ancient Near Eastern religious-cultural tradition, the wronged party bringing such a complaint calls on the witnessing deities; however, in the context of Israelite monotheism, where God Himself is a party to the covenant, He instead calls on the forces of nature (“heaven and earth”) as witnesses. The most famous such ‘covenant lawsuit’ passages are the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) and the first chapter of Isaiah.

Here, however, YHWH calls on His people (Israel) to hear His complaint. This emphasizes the instructional (didactic) purpose of a poem such as the Song of Moses—that is, the purpose of the complaint is to exhort God’s people to remain faithful and loyal to the covenant, reforming their ways as needed. Past disobedience is noted (along with the punishment that resulted from it), as well as a warning that much the same could happen to the people and nation again if they do not repent; the promise of blessing and protection that stems from loyalty to the covenant is also emphasized, in the lines that close the Psalm (vv. 15-17).

The opening couplet contains a dual call, twice using the verb um^v* (“hear, listen”); in the opening of the Song of Moses (Deut 32) and Isaiah 1, the verb um^v* is paired with /z~a* in the Hiphil (“give [your] ear”). The emphatic nature of the complaint is indicated by the use of the verb dWu. This verb is often translated “(give) witness, testify”, but it properly denotes the act of repeating something, of causing (in the Hiphil stem) an action or words of speech to be repeated. I have rendered it above as “testify” for poetic concision.

Verse 10 [9]

“There shall not be a strange mighty (one) with you,
nor shall you bow down to a mighty (one) foreign (to you).”

In this couplet, YHWH gives the basis for His complaint: His people have violated the covenant by recognizing and worshiping deities other than He. This is the central and foremost prohibition in the Torah (the terms of the covenant), as indicated by its position as first of the “Ten Words” (Exodus 20:3ff par). When judgment comes upon the people during their history, as narrated and referenced in the Old Testament Scriptures, it is usually because of this central violation of the covenant.

The basic Semitic term la@ (°¢l) is used here for deity; I take its fundamental meaning to be “mighty (one)”, and consistently translate it so, though most English versions render it more conventionally as “god”. The regular term for deity in the Hebrew Scriptures is the expanded plural <yh!l)a$ (°§lœhîm, = <yl!a@), which I typically translate as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural, i.e., “Mightiest (One)”. The noun la@ is the more primitive term, and can be applied to YHWH, though usually only in poetry that preserves the older/archaic usage; here la@ is used for a deity other than YHWH. Cf. my earlier articles on the titles °E~l and °E_lœhîm.

The parallel adjectives rz` and rk*n@ are used, being largely synonymous in meaning. The first term is a verbal adjective (participle) of the root rWz (I), similar in meaning (and perhaps related) to rWs, “turn aside”; rWz denotes being a stranger, and rz` as an adjective thus means “(something) strange”. There would seem to be two rkn roots, which may (or may not) be related; rkn I means “know, recognize”, while rkn II seems to denote being hostile or an enemy. If rk*n@ is derived from rkn I, then it perhaps should be understood in a privative sense (i.e., something unknown or unrecognized, and thus foreign), though the sense could also be of something specifically recognized (and designated) as foreign. Clearly, any deity other than YHWH is (and should be) foreign/strange to His people; they should neither acknowledge such a deity, nor give worship (lit. “bow down”) to it.

Verse 11 [10]

“I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One),
the (One) having brought you up from (the) land of Egypt;
(when) you open wide your mouth, even I do fill it.”

This verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, though the consistency of the meter over the three lines cannot be reproduced in English (where the first line must appear shorter). YHWH is the God (“Mighty [One]”) for Israel—their only God, in contrast to the foreign deities (v. 10) of the surrounding nations. Here the plural <yh!l)a$ is used, in contrast with la@ (cf. above). The Exodus was the theme of the short oracle in vv. 6b-8 (cf. the previous study), and is mentioned here again. It was YHWH who brought about Israel’s departure from Egypt, through His power and strength; the phrase “bringing up from the land of Egypt” also entails the protective guidance by God that supervised their journeys through the Sinai.

The MT points the initial word of the third line as an imperative (bj#r=h^, “open wide…!”); however, the context (YHWH presenting the evidence for His complaint) suggests a description, rather than exhortation, at this point. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 266) in reading bjrh as an infinitive (byj!r=h^). The reference is thus to YHWH’s regular providential care of His people (esp. during their wilderness journeys): “(in) your opening wide your mouth, I do fill it” —i.e., when you have need, and call out to me, I satisfy it. However, in this image of filling of an appetite, there is also an implicit allusion to the people’s lack of trust and unfaithfulness during their time in the wilderness (as indicated earlier in verse 17).

Verse 12 [11]

“But my people would not listen to my voice;
indeed, Yisrael was not willing to (hear) me!”

The people’s past disloyalty and lack of faith is stated more explicitly here. The use again of the verb um^v*, following the exhortative (dual) use in verse 9 (cf. above), carries the implication that God’s people today should not follow the example of the wilderness generation in their faithlessness and rebellion. The verb hb*a* (I) means “be willing (to do something)”; in English this has to be translated in a modal sense, auxiliary to a primary verb that has to be filled in: i.e., “they were not willing to (hear/obey) me”.

Verse 13 [12]

“So I sent him away in the stubbornness of (his) heart,
(and) they walked (on) by their (own) plans.”

In the MT, there is a shift in person here, from first person singular to third person plural. This is not all that unusual, when the reference is to the people of God (Israel), since a people or nation can be referred to both ways—singular and plural. It is probably the specific mention of Israel in the preceding line (of v. 12) that led to the initial use of the singular here in v. 13a. Most translations will normalize the number (to the plural) throughout the verse, though this is not necessary. On the reading of the <– suffix (at the close of the first line) as a <– enclitic, cf. Dahood, II, p. 266.

Again, the principal point of reference is the generation of the wilderness journeys (following the Exodus). Through their stubborn unwillingness to trust in YHWH, God “sent” them off to travel according to their own purpose and plan. This rejection of His people sets a pattern for times of punishment that would occur throughout the history of Israel/Judah.

Verse 14 [13]

“If only my people would be listening to me,
(that) Yisrael would walk in my ways!”

The focus in vv. 14-17 shifts from the past to the present. Having presented His complaint, describing (in summary fashion) His people’s past disloyalty to the covenant, YHWH now calls on them to learn from this example. The initial particle Wl reflects YHWH’s fervent wish; it can also be used as particle of entreaty, which is appropriate to the exhortational character of the oracle. For poetic concision, I have translated the particle tersely as “if only…!”.

Again the verb um^v* occurs, as in vv. 9 and 12. In verse 9a, the call was for Israel to listen to YHWH’s complaint; here, however, the meaning follows vv. 9b, 12—i.e., of listening in terms of obedience to the covenant (and the Torah). The use of a participle (“hearing, listening”) indicates a regular, characteristic behavior, i.e., a pattern of faithful/loyal obedience. This same emphasis is expressed by the idiom of “walking” in the ways/paths of God; this is traditional religious-ethical language that occurs throughout the Scriptures (and frequently in the Psalms, cf. most recently in Ps 78:10). This faithful walking in obedience to the covenant is in marked contrast to the rebellious past generation that walked according to the purposes of their own stubborn hearts (v. 13).

Verse 15 [14]

“(Then) in (but) a little (while) I would bend down their enemies,
and upon their adversaries I would turn my hand.”

Faithfulness to the covenant means that YHWH will fulfill His covenantal obligation to provide protection and security for His people. Accordingly, when they are in danger from enemies (lit. “[those] being hostile”) and adversaries, then YHWH will fight on His people’s behalf, giving them victory over all their foes.

The initial prepositional expression, fu^m=K!, is difficult to translate in English; it essentially means something like “in a little bit, in short (order)”, indicating that YHWH’s response to any threat against His people would be very quick. The protection provided by YHWH is here expressed by the anthropomorphic image of His hand—as a symbol of power and strength; cf. recently, in Psalm 80:18[17]. The incomparable power of God, fighting on His people’s behalf, will ensure that every enemy will be defeated. By contrast, when Israel is unfaithful, violating the covenant bond, then this protection is removed, and the people will be faced with defeat and destruction.

Verse 16 [15]

“(The one)s hating YHWH shall cringe before Him,
and their time shall (last) into (the) distant (future).”

The enemies of YHWH’s people are also His enemies; when they show hatred (vb. an~c*) to Israel, they are actually hating God Himself. As a result, they will end up cringing in fear and submission before Him. The verb vj^K* is tricky to translate, as it carries a wide range of meaning. The basic meaning seems to be something like “to fail, fall short”, sometimes in the specific negative (and active) sense of “deceive”. It is occasionally used in the distinctive context of subordinates who are compelled to recognize the superiority of another. In several rare instances in the Psalms (18:45[44]; 66:3, and here), the context further suggests an act of fearful/cringing submission.

The second line is a bit ambiguous, simply stating that “their time” will last long into the distant future (<l*oul=). Presumably the reference is to the judgment/punishment of the hostile nations; it may also allude to the idea of a state of perpetual submission and servitude—both to YHWH and to His people.

Verse 17 [16]

“But He will let him eat from (the) fat of (the) wheat,
and I will make you full (of) honey from (the) rock.”

Again, we have here, in this closing couplet, a jarring shift in person, both subject and object, more severe than the one noticed in v. 13 (cf. above). Yet, it seems clear that in both lines YHWH is the subject (He/I) and the people Israel is the object (he/you). Translators will doubtless wish to smooth this over, normalizing the person/number; however, such shifts are not all that uncommon in ancient Near Eastern (and Hebrew) poetry, and the MT can be retained. However strange or foreign the person/number shifts may seem, it is part of the richness and diversity of the poetic idiom.

Faithfulness to the covenant not only results in YHWH’s protection (from enemies, etc), it leads to His blessing as well. The land will be blessed, yielding a richness (lit. “fat”, bl#j#) of grain (and all crops). Almost certainly, this is an allusion to the Song of Moses (Deut 32:14), though the language is traditional and doubtless could be found in a wide range of poems. The motif of “honey from the rock” also comes from the Song of Moses (32:13b); it should not be taken it a concrete/literal sense, but simply serves as another colorful figure to express the idea of the richness and fertility of the land, as with the traditional expression of the Promised land as a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3:8, et al; cf. Deut 31:20 for a reference in the context of the Song of Moses).

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).

February 9: Isaiah 40:1

Isaiah 40:1-8

These notes on Isaiah 40:1-8 are supplemental to the recent article (on Isa 40:3) in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. Chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah are often referred to as “Deutero-Isaiah”, and thought to represent a distinct literary work, separate from chapters 2-39, which was (eventually) included as part of the larger collection. Even traditional-critical commentators, who would emphasize the book’s unity and Isaian origins, recognize that 40:1 marks the beginning of a new division. Most critical scholars feel that, on the whole, the Deutero-Isaian poems were composed in the early-mid 6th century. The reason for this view has to do with the apparent Exilic setting that runs through this material, with the strong themes of restoration and return, focused on Judah and Jerusalem. This repeated message simply makes more sense if the (Babylonian) exile had already occurred.

Isaiah 40:1

“Bring relief, relief (for) my people!—(so) says your Mighty (One)”
<k#yh@ýa$ rm^ay) yM!a^ Wmj&n~ Wmj&n~

The Deutero-Isaian oracles and poems begin with a double imperative of the verb <j^n` (Wmj&n~ Wmj&n~), in the Piel stem, which is rather difficult to translate in English. The root <jn has the fundamental meaning of “breathe deep, sigh”, often connoting a sense of relief; in English idiom, the expression “sigh of relief” would be fitting. In an active, causative sense, as here, the essential meaning would have to be “bring relief”.

YHWH the true God (lit. the “Mightiest [One]” = “Mighty [One]”, Elohim) is the speaker in this verse. He does not address His people (Israel), but others—the ones who are to bring the relief to Israel. It is possible that a heavenly setting is envisioned here, and that God is addressing His heavenly Messengers (Angels), who will then enact His orders on behalf of Israel. On the other hand, the generalized command, with the addressees unspecified, might better be understood as encompassing the entirety of the prophetic message, from its divine/heavenly origin to the proclamation by God’s chosen prophet(s).

Indeed, it is a message that will bring relief—an announcement, as the context of the poem makes clear, that time of Exile for Israel (spec. Judah/Jerusalem) will soon come to an end. Along with this is the effective promise of restoration and a return of the people to their Promised Land (represented primarily by the Judean capital of Jerusalem, v. 2).

The theme of restoration/return, with the specific territorial aspect of an inherited land, relates to the ancient covenant idea—that is, the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people Israel. The very identity of Israel as God’s own people (<u^) is rooted in this ancient covenant tradition. The traditional background is reflected in passages throughout the Old Testament; of the many key references, one may note the formulation of the binding principle in Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12; Deut 27:9; 29:12-13; Jer 7:23; 11:4; 13:11; 24:7, etc; Ezek 14:11, etc (cf. Baltzer, p. 49f). The references in Jeremiah and Ezekiel are especially significant in terms of the Exile as punishment for violating the covenant bond, and of the restoration/return as essentially marking the start of a new (or renewed) covenant. With the violation of the covenant, Israel ceased to be God’s people, a point made clear by a number of passages in the Prophets, such as Hos 1:9-2:1, where the symbolic name “Not My People” is introduced by God to indicate to Israel that “you are not my people, and I am not your God”.

This follows the pattern of the famous Golden Calf episode in Exodus 32-34, when the people violated the terms of covenant in the most blatant and egregious way (transgressing the first command, 20:2-4). As a result, the covenant bond was abrogated (symbolized by the breaking of the tablets, 20:19f), and the Israelites ceased to be the people of YHWH. Through Moses’ intervention, this status was restored, but only in a qualified sense, with Moses functioning as the required intermediary between Israel and YHWH. The covenant was thus renewed, at least in a partial sense, and the shadow of Moses’ intercession would continue over the covenant bond for generations to come (cf. Paul’s discussion in 2 Corinthians 3), with the Torah, as the terms of the covenant, conventionally referred to as the “Law of Moses.”

Even more serious, and with devastating consequence, was the repeated violation of the covenant that led to the Exile of Israel and Judah, when, once again, they ceased to be God’s people. However, due to the Lord’s mercy, this breach was not made permanent; with the completion of an allotted time of exile (to be discussed in the next note on verse 2), YHWH announces that once again Israel/Judah are considered to be His people (“my people,” yM!u^). With the restoration/return, a new covenant will be established to this effect (Jer 31:33, etc)—an idea, of course, that would be dramatically (re)interpreted by early Christians, in relation to the person and work of Jesus. This “new covenant” theme is especially prominent in the exilic prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (note esp. Jer 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezek 36:26ff; 37:15-27)—oracles with which the Deutero-Isaian poems have a good deal in common.

The idea of being the people (<u^) of God also implies a measure of kinship (cf. Baltzer, pp. 50-51). It is worth noting that the concept of “redemption”, as expressed especially by the Hebrew root lag, derives from the specific background of delivering/freeing a family member (or relative) from danger or bondage, etc. This takes the imagery a step beyond the Near Eastern covenant-idiom; however, there are many passages in the Old Testament where YHWH is referred to as the “father” of Israel, and the people his children (“sons”)—e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 1:10ff; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 64:8; Jer 31:9, etc. The concept of family relations is certainly part of the theme of Israel as the people of God.

References above marked “Baltzer” are to Klaus Baltzer, A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55, transl. by Margaret Kohl, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2001).