Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 105 (Part 1)

Psalm 105

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

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

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

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

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

Strophe 1 (Introduction): Vv. 1-6

Verse 1

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

Verse 6

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

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

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

Strophe 2: Verses 7-11

Verse 7

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 2)

Psalm 103, continued

For the Introduction (vv. 1-5) of the Psalm, and the first two stanzas (vv. 6-8, 9-11) of the central hymn, see Part 1 of this study.

The Hymn: Verses 6-18 (cont.)

Third Stanza: Vv. 12-14
Verse 12

“Like (the) distance of (the sun’s) rising from (its) setting,
(so) He has made distant from us our breaches (of faith).”

The theme of this stanza picks up from that of the previous (vv. 9-11, cf. the discussion in Part 1)—viz., YHWH’s mercy and compassion in forgiving the sins of His people. In particular, this first couplet builds upon the prior couplet (v. 11), comparing the greatness of YHWH’s loving devotion (ds#j#) with the distance (height) between heaven and earth. Similarly here, the motif of distance (using the root qjr) is employed to express the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Instead of a vertical distance (heaven-earth), a horizontal (east-west) distance is used.

The verb qj^r* means “be far/distant” and occurs in both lines, to express the comparison. In the first line, a stative infinitive is used, for the (fixed) distance between the rising (jr*z+m!) and setting/darkening (br*u&m^) of the sun, i.e., between east and west. In the second line, there is a Hiphil (causative) perfect form, indicating how YHWH puts far away His people’s sins. He removes them from us, virtually to the ‘other side of the world’.

The noun uv^P# essentially refers to a breach of trust, sundering the bond of relationship between two persons or parties. Implicit in the use of the term is the idea of a violation of the binding agreement (covenant) with YHWH, whereby His people break faith/trust, viz., by failing to live up to the terms of the covenant—the Torah precepts and regulations. In this respect, the sins that YHWH removes/forgives are defined in terms of violations of the Torah.

Verse 13

“Like (the) deep love of a father over (his) sons,
(so) YHWH has love over (those) fearing Him.”

The comparison in this second couplet is formed according to the pattern of the first (v. 12). The greatness of YHWH’s compassion and devotion, expressed in vv. 11-12 by the motif of distance (see above), is here captured through the verb <j^r* (note the alliterative wordplay with qj^r* [v. 12]). This verb essentially conveys the idea of a deep love that one person has toward another; the strong connotation is that of caring for a person, treating them with compassion, etc. The example given in line 1 is of the love that a father has for (lit. over, lu^) his sons; this example, can, of course, be rendered more inclusively, as the love a parent has for his/her children.

YHWH has similar love toward His people. The motif of Israel as YHWH’s sons/children, and He as their Father, occurs with some frequency in the Scriptures (e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 2:1 [1:10]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 63:7[8]; Jer 31:9). Here the relationship is limited to, or defined in terms of, the devout/faithful ones of Israel (“[those] fearing Him”). YHWH is particularly a loving Father to those who are faithful to Him (and to the covenant).

Verse 14

“For He (indeed) knows our (very) form,
(and is) mindful that we (are but) dust.”

Here the idiom of YHWH as Father shifts to that of Creator. The two idioms are closely related, as, in ancient Near Eastern religious tradition, the Creator is often referred to as “Father”. See, in particular, Deuteronomy 32:6b for the pairing of these ideas. The noun rx#y@ (“form”) alludes to the traditional mythological image of God as an artisan who forms/fashions a vessel (or image) out of raw material—such as a potter who shapes his work out of the clay. As Creator, YHWH knows the form of each human being; in particular, He knows the form/shape of His people, including their innermost parts (cf. vv. 1ff), and so is able to create them.

The final line anticipates the Wisdom theme in the fourth stanza, emphasizing the limited and transient nature of a created human being. The reference to human beings as “dust” is traditional (Gen 2:7; 3:19, etc); the noun rp*u* can also be used for dirt in a broader sense—including the specific consistency of “mud” or “clay”, which would well fit the artisan/potter allusion here in the verse (cf. Dahood, III, p. 28).

The verb form rWkz` is a bit unusual; as a (passive) participle, or, possibly, an infinitive (cf. Dahood, III, p. 28), it functions here as a verbal adjective. The verb rk^z` is typically translated “remember”, but properly it means “have in mind” or “bring to mind”. Here the verbal adjective carries the meaning “mindful of”, emphasizing again YHWH’s care and concern for His people (cf. on the verb <j^r* in v. 13, above).

Fourth Stanza: Vv. 15-18
Verse 15

“Humanity—like (the) grass (are) its days;
like a blossom of the field, so it blossoms.”

The Wisdom-theme introduced in verse 14, continues here in vv. 15-16, emphasizing the transitory nature of human life on earth. We have seen such an emphasis in previous Psalms, including the comparison of humankind with the grass and flower of the field, that flourishes only briefly—cf. Psalm 37:2; 72:16; 90:5; 102:5[4], 12[11]; cp. Job 8:12; 14:2; Isa 40:6-8.

The noun vona$, rather more so than the parallel vya!, can refer to humankind collectively (or generally), and should be read this way here.

Verse 16

“Then (the) wind passes over him, and he is no more;
even his standing place will not recognize him any longer.”

The brief ‘blossoming’ of a human being on earth (v. 15) is contrasted with his/her vanishing. When the grass or flower has withered (and died), the wind “passes over” it, blowing it away. This aspect of the example is then applied to a human being, to illustrate how he/she ceases to exist (“he is no more”, using the negative particle of absence [or non-existence], /ya@). Even the place where that ‘flower’ stood (“his standing place”) soon will no longer recognize (vb rk^n`) him—there will be no acknowledgment that he was ever there.

Verse 17

“But (the) devotion of YHWH (is), from distant (ages past),
and until (the) distant (future), over (those) fearing Him,
and His loyalty (remains) for (the) sons of sons—”

The transitory nature of human beings (vv. 15-16) is contrasted with the lasting permanence of YHWH. In particular, His devotion and loyalty toward His people—viz. those who are faithful to the covenant (“[those] fearing Him”)—extends from the distant past all the way into the distant future. These two temporal aspects of the noun <l*ou are here combined, so as to express emphatically the idea of “forever”.

The verse has an extended 3+3+3 (tricolon) format, as is fitting for this climactic moment at the close of the hymn. A third line has been added for emphasis (and dramatic effect). It is not simply that YHWH’s devotion lasts for all time, throughout the Ages—it also applies to all the people living during that time, generation after generation (“sons of sons”).

The frequently used nouns ds#j# and hq*d*x=, due to their relatively wide range of meaning, defy easy or consistent translation. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), as I have repeated noted, carries the meaning of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion” when used in the context of the covenant-bond; throughout this Psalm, I have translated it as “devotion”. The noun hq*d*x= basically means “rightness” (i.e., what is right), but the precise meaning can fluctuate depending on the specific context. Here, in light of the parallel with ds#j#, it should be understood in terms of YHWH’s loyalty toward His people (and the covenant). With regard to the covenant-bond, YHWH will always do what is right.

Verse 18

“for (those) guarding His binding (agreement),
and for (those) mindful to do His charges.”

This awkward, irregular couplet reads like a gloss on the final line of v. 17, and may represent a secondary addition to the original hymn. It effectively clarifies that YHWH’s covenant loyalty to the future generations of Israel (“sons of sons”) applies only to those who are similarly loyal to the covenant (tyr!B=, “binding agreement”). This means, of course, fulfilling the requirements and precepts of the Torah.

The suffixed noun wyd*Q%P! is virtually impossible to translate with any sort of poetic concision. The range of meaning of the root dqp, as it is used in the Scriptures, is notorious, and has long vexed translators. In this context, the plural noun <yd!Q%P! means something like “(thing)s (we are required to) attend to”, or “(thing)s (we must) take care of”. It refers to the requirements (regulations and precepts, etc) of the Torah. For lack of any better option, I have followed Allen (p. 25) in translating it as “charges” (i.e., things we are charged with doing).

Conclusion: Verses 19-22

Verse 19

“YHWH in the heavens has set firm His throne,
and (in His) Kingship He rules over all!”

This couplet is transitional, between the Hymn and the conclusion of the Psalm (vv. 20-22). The call to bless YHWH is based upon his Sovereignty over all of creation. The throne of YHWH’s Kingship is in the heavens (viz., the upper half/dome of the cosmos) which arches over the earth below, covering it completely. Thus, YHWH’s Kingship extends over all the earth (and over all humankind).

It is preferable to understand YHWH Himself (rather than “His kingdom/kingship”) as the subject of the verb lv^m* (“rule [over]”). On this point, see Dahood (III, p. 28f), who explains the apparent feminine singular form (which would agree with the noun tWkl=m^) as an archaic masculine form (qatala pattern). He adds that this form was likely used for poetic-stylistic reasons, to lengthen the syllabic count of the second line. The suggestion is intriguing, and I have tentatively followed it.

Verse 20

“Bless YHWH, (you) His Messengers,
mighty of power (and) doers of His word,
(ready) to hear at (the) voice of His word!”

The conclusion of the Psalm properly begins here with verse 20, a call to bless YHWH (using the verb Er^B*) parallel to that of vv. 1-5 (see the exegesis in Part 1). The focus in that first call was on the inward microcosm of the Psalmist’s soul. Here, the focus is on the outward macrocosm of the entire universe (viz., all of creation). He begins with the heavenly “messengers” of YHWH, the mighty (divine) beings who carry out the Creator’s wishes at His command (“word”). The Qumran manuscript 4QPsb has the plural “words” (<yr!b*D=) rather than the singular; the emphasis would then be on the individual commands, rather than a collective reference.

Metrically, the verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon.

Verse 21

“Bless YHWH, all (you) His armed warriors,
(those) attending to Him (and) doing His pleasure!”

A second group of divine/heavenly beings is addressed. Like the “messengers”, these beings also attend to YHWH, responding with obedience to His word, ready to carry it out. Here, the word (and will) of YHWH is expressed in terms of what delights or pleases Him (“His pleasure”).

They are specifically referred to as “armed warriors”, i.e., soldiers. This derives from an ancient militaristic tradition which viewed the heavenly beings—especially those related to the celestial and atmospheric phenomena of the natural world (e.g., sun, moon, stars, winds, rain)—as soldiers who fight at YHWH’s command (and on behalf of His people). This line of tradition was preserved in the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). Here the masculine plural <ya!b*x= (“armed warriors”) is used, rather than the feminine plural toab*x= (“armed forces, armies”).

Verse 22

“Bless YHWH, all (you who are) His works,
in all standing-places under His rule!
*          *         *           *         *         *
May you bless, O my soul, YHWH!”

It is possible that this final couplet, like vv. 20-21, also refers to the divine/heavenly beings. However, it would seem that the scope of the call has widened to include all creation—all created beings. As created beings, they are YHWH’s “works”. In every place where one might stand under YHWH’s rule—which is to say, everywhere on earth and in all of creation—the beings created by Him should bless YHWH, giving praise and honor to Him. The blessing is to be an acknowledgment of YHWH’s Kingship and His ruling presence and power in the universe.

The closing couplet is expanded into a tricolon (to match the initial tricolon of v. 20) by repeating the initial line of the Psalm (v. 1). Thus, in the call to worship YHWH, the macrocosm of the entire universe is joined to the microcosm of the individual worshiper’s soul.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 1)

Psalm 103

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 1-6, 9-14, 20-21); 2QPs (vv. 2, 4-6, 8-11)

This Psalm is a carefully structured hymn to YHWH, calling on people to praise and give thanks to God for all that he has done. The focus is both individual and corporate. This is indicated by the parallel call to bless YHWH (using the verb Er^B*) that brackets the Psalm (vv. 1-5, 20-22). The opening blessing comes from the standpoint of the ‘inward parts’ of the individual worshiper (represented by the Psalmist/protagonist). This inward focus is balanced by the cosmic orientation of the concluding blessing—as the Psalmist calls on all created beings everywhere (human and angelic) to praise YHWH.

The main hymn (vv. 6-18) emphasizes the love, compassion and forgiveness of YHWH, and is unquestionably influenced by Exodus 33-34. The division of the hymn into four stanzas (cf. Allen, p. 29f) seems to be most reasonable. The stanzas are each composed of three couplets (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14), with the fourth (concluding) stanza having an expanded form (vv. 15-18). There is a didactic aspect to the hymn, designed to instruct the Community, and to exhort them to remain faithful to the covenant. The Wisdom-elements in the final stanza are part of this emphasis.

The date of the Psalm is difficult to determine. The use of the second person feminine (yk!-) suffix has been thought to indicate Aramaic influence (cf. GKC §91e), and thus to reflect an Exilic (or post-Exilic) date. Similarly, vv. 15-16 have been considered to be dependent upon Isa 40:6-8. Such a time-frame for the Psalm is certainly possible; however, it may be that use of the yk!– suffix is primarily stylistic and poetic, intended for assonance with the imperative yk!r&B* (cf. Allen, p. 26).

Metrically, Psalm 103 consistently follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with only a few exceptions. The superscription simply attributes the Psalm to David (dw]d*l=, “[belonging] to David”).

The Psalm is relatively well-preserved in two Qumran manuscripts—4QPsb and 2QPs—with only a handful of minor variant readings.

Introduction: Vv. 1-5

Verse 1

“May you bless, O my soul, YHWH,
and all my inner parts, His holy name!”

In this opening couplet, the Psalmist calls on everything within him to bless YHWH. The verb Er^B* essentially means “greet with praise/blessing”, usually in a religious (ritual) context, implying a consecrated setting. The precise relationship between this verb and the noun Er#B# (“knee”) is still debated, as kneeling certainly would serve as a gesture (and position) for blessing and worship.

The “middle parts” (i.e., inner parts), <yb!r*q=, are parallel with vp#n#, a noun usually rendered as “soul”, but which specifically denotes the mouth/throat and what passes through it (esp. the breath). This is particularly significant for the Psalmist as a singer; it is naturally that he would begin with the mouth/throat, and his breath, the sound and vibrations which pass through to form music of praise to God. Yet, it is the inward aspect of his life-breath (“soul”) that is being emphasized. His ‘inner parts’ (“all my inner parts”) function as microcosm which will be matched by the macrocosm of all things (outwardly) in creation (vv. 20-22).

The plural form of the noun br#q# occurs only here in the Scriptures; in this context (of a person’s insides or inner-organs), the dual (<y]b^r*q=) is regularly used.

In the second line, the literal expression is “(the) name of His holiness”; for poetic concision, I have translated this conventionally as “His holy name”.

Verse 2

“May you bless, O my soul, YHWH,
and do not forget all His dealings—”

The first line of v. 1 is repeated here, and again serves to conclude the Psalm (v. 22c). By the repetition, emphasis is put on the Psalmist speaking to his soul (and inner parts), exhorting and urging himself—and, by extension, all worshipers—to honor YHWH by remembering the things He has done. The act of remembering here is framed in negative terms (viz., as not forgetting, vb jk^v*). As for what God has done, this is expressed by the noun lWmG+, from a root (lmg) with a relatively wide range of meaning. The basic verbal sense is of something being completed, often in the context of an interaction between people, and frequently emphasizing how one treats or deals with another, either in a positive (beneficial) or negative (harmful, punitive) way. Here the sense of the plural noun is “all the ways YHWH has dealt with His people”.

Verse 3

“the (One) forgiving all your deviations,
the (One) healing all your sicknesses,”

A sequence of participial phrases follows in vv. 3-5, the articular verbal noun (participle) in each instance capturing a definitive attribute of YHWH, a regular action that he performs on behalf of His people, reflecting His nature and character as God, and demonstrating His devotion to the covenant-bond. The formulation is unquestionably influenced by Exodus 34:6-7ff, and expresses here much the same thought as in that famous passage. The idea of YHWH forgiving the “crookedness” (/ou*) of the people is similarly found in Exod 34:7, but using the verb ac*n` (“lift/take [away]”), rather than jl^s* (which does occur in v. 9). The noun /ou* implies a bending away from what is right, but also could be understood in terms of a crooked and twisted (i.e., perverse) character.

The healing of sickness/disease is naturally paired  with the forgiving of sin; in the ancient world, particularly, sickness and ailments of various kinds tended to be viewed as the result of sin (and Divine punishment of sin). When YHWH forgives the people’s sins, the healing of illness and disease follows.

The second person feminine suffix (yk!-, “your”) refers back to the feminine noun vp#n# (“soul”).

Verse 4

“the (One) redeeming your life from (the) Pit,
the (One) encircling you (with) devotion and love,”

The verb la^G` (“redeem”) is generally parallel with jl^s* (“pardon, forgive”) in v. 3. Human crookedness and sickness, if not forgiven and healed, naturally leads to death and destruction, which here is represented by the noun tj^v^. This noun properly refers to a hole (or pit) dug for a grave, and thus also connotes the death and decay which belongs to the grave. Like the verb tj^v*, the noun can be understood in this associated or abstract sense of “destruction, ruin”. The root lag refers to the ancient Near Eastern social context of a relative who (through payment) ‘redeems’ his kin (and/or their property) from servitude, etc; it can also encompass the idea of protecting (or rescuing) someone from danger, etc.

Redemption from the Pit (i.e., death/grave) can be understood in two different ways: (i) rescuing a person when the danger of death (and the grave) threatens, or (ii) actually bringing a dead person out of the grave. The latter instance would imply an afterlife setting (cf. Dahood, III, p. 26).

The verb rf^u* properly means “encircle, surround”, though in the Piel (and Hiphil) it tends to have the more specific (denominative) meaning “crown” (from the noun hr*f*u&). Either translation (“encircling” or “crowning”) would be valid, though I prefer the meaning “encircle” here, as it captures the important aspect of being “surrounded” by YHWH’s love and protection.

The noun ds#j#, which occurs frequently in the Psalms, has been much discussed in these studies. It has the basic meaning “goodness, kindness”, but in the context of the covenant-bond between YHWH and His people, it carries the connotation of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. The noun <j^r^ denotes a deep love; the plural here could indicate the many acts (and/or feelings) of love/compassion by YHWH, but it could also be understood as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural, i.e. great love/compassion.

Verse 5

“the (One) filling your long (life) with good,
(so that) your youth is renewed like the eagle!”

Having brought the righteous/devoted one’s soul out of the Pit, and then surrounding (or crowning) it with love, YHWH proceeds to give to it long life—but a life that is also perpetually new and youthful, even as it lasts long into the future. This idiomatic language is best understood in an afterlife context, i.e., with God in heaven (see above), though it could conceivably apply to a blessed life on earth as well.

With other commentators (Dahood, III, p. 26; Allen, p. 26), I revocalize (and emend slightly) the MT Ey@d=u# (“your ornament[?]”) to yk!d@u), as suffixed form of the noun dou (du)), meaning “duration”, in the sense of “long life” or “(ever)lasting life”. On the eagle soaring as a motif of the renewal of life and strength (i.e., youthfulness), cf. Isa 40:31.

The Hymn: Verses 6-18

First Stanza: Vv. 6-8
Verse 6

“The (One) making right—(it is) YHWH—
and (true) judgment for (the) oppressed.”

The pattern of substantive participial phrases (vv. 3-5) continues into the hymn, where the Psalmist makes clear again that YHWH is the One doing all these things. The focus in the hymn shifts from the individual soul of the devout/righteous worshiper to the people as a whole. Indeed, the theme of individual salvation (from sin and death) gives way here to a social (corporate) sense of righteousness and justice.

YHWH makes things right, i.e., does what is right (hq*d*x=), for His people—and especially for those who are oppressed. Acting as Judge, he renders right (and beneficial) judgments on their behalf.

Verse 7

“He made known His ways to Moshe,
and to (the) sons of Yisrael His deeds.”

This couplet summarizes what YHWH has done for His people (Israel) during their history, and especially during the formative (Mosaic) period of the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai. The making known of His ways to Moses refers primarily to the revelation (of the Torah) at Sinai, but it also alludes to the subsequent revelation to Moses (associated with the restoration/renewal of the covenant) in Exod 33-34 (see below).

Verse 8

“Loving and showing favor (is) YHWH,
long of nose and abundant in devotion.”

This verse is essentially a quotation of the Divine declaration to Moses in Exod 34:6 (see above). While it declares YHWH’s essential character, it also epitomizes His covenant relationship with His people. Four different (but related) attributes are presented here, two in each line. In the first line we have the adjectives <Wjr^ (“loving, compassionate”) and /WNj^, the latter defining YHWH as one who “grants/bestows favors”.

In the second line, the expression “long of nostrils” (or “long of nose”) is an idiom for being slow to anger, i.e., the opposite of being ‘short-tempered’ (“short of nose”); in certain respects the expression is parallel to the adjective <Wjr^ in line 1. The second expression “abundant of devotion” utilizes the familiar noun ds#j# (on which, see verse 4 above). This also is parallel with the second adjective of line 1—both terms referring principally to YHWH’s loyalty and devotion to the covenant-bond.

There is a subtle bit of alliterative wordplay, between the adjective br^ here in v. 8 and the verb byr! in v. 9.

Second Stanza: Vv. 9-11
Verse 9

“Not to the end shall He contend (with us),
and not for ever shall He keep (angry).”

This second stanza of the hymn illustrates and expounds the principle laid out in verse 8, regarding the devotion and loyalty YHWH shows to His people. When He is angry (because of the people’s lack of faithfulness) and “contends” (vb byr!) with them (i.e., punishes them), His anger does not last forever. Once discipline and punishment has been meted out, anger is replaced by mercy and compassion.

Two common temporal expressions are used, each of which conveys the sense of a duration of time lasting far into the future (i.e., everlasting). The first, jx^n#l*, means something like “to (the) utmost”, properly in the sense of “continuing in force” (or “…with [full] strength”); the simple rendering “to (the) end” is used above. The second expression, <l*oul*, occurring many times in the Psalms, means “(in)to (the) distant (future)”; for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “for ever”.

Verse 10

“Not according to our sins does he act to(ward) us,
and not according to our deviations does he deal with us.”

Though YHWH may punish sin, He does not deal with His people as their sins deserve. Even in His severe judgment against His people, His actions are tempered by mercy.

Verse 10 represents the first divergence from the regular 3-beat (3+3) meter of the Psalm; the longer lines read 4+4.

Verse 11

“But like (the) height of (the) heavens over the earth,
(so) His devotion is strong over (those) fearing Him.”

Through it all, YHWH’s loyalty and devotion (ds#j#) remains firm, strong and mighty, towering over the faithful ones (“[those] fearing Him”). There is a bit of wordplay here, between the verbal noun H^b)G+ (vb hb^G`, “be high”) and the verb rb^G` (“be strong/mighty”). An allusion to a strong tower is likely (cf. Allen, p. 26). The all-encompassing strength and height/breadth of YHWH’s devotion is like the great arching dome of the heavens over the earth. It is spread out over His people, just as the dome of the heavens spreads over the earth.

The remainder of the Psalm will be discussed next week, in Part 2.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 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 99

Psalm 99

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

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

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

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

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

First Strophe: verses 1-3

Verse 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

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

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

Second Strophe: Verses 4-5

Verse 4a

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

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

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

Verse 4b

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

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

Transitional Verses (6-7)

Verse 6a

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

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

Verse 6b

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

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

Verse 7

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

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

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

Third Strophe: Verses 8-9

Verse 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

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

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 98

Psalm 98

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 4-8); 4QPsb (vv. 4-5)

This Psalm, like others in the collection of Pss 93-100, is a hymn to YHWH, in which His Kingship is praised; for more on this guiding theme, see the previous studies, esp. those on Psalms 93, 95 and 96. There is a thematic and literary interrelation between the Psalms in this collection; in particular, there is a strong relationship between Pss 96 and 98 (see below). For more detail on the common vocabulary and thematic links, see the discussion by Howard, pp. 144-50, 161-4.

Psalm 96 and 98 are quite similar, in terms of their thematic structure. Each begins with the same opening line (“Sing to YHWH a new song…!”), and has a comparable two-part structure, though Ps 98 is lacking the repetitive triad that open each part in Ps 96 (see the prior study). Verses 7-9 correspond to vv. 11-13 of Psalm 96, and the final verse has similar wording in each Psalm.

The two Psalms probably are similar in date as well. It seems more likely that Ps 98 is dependent upon Ps 96, than the other way around. A late pre-exilic or exilic date for Ps 98 is probable.

The meter of the Psalm is irregular; it tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format in the second part, but a 3+2 meter dominates the first part.

Psalm 98 and 100 are the only compositions in the collection (93-100) with a heading. Here, a single word designates the Psalm as a romz+m! (“musical composition”), the common term applied throughout the Psalter. It is not clear if this term, as applied to Ps 98 and 100, is meant to distinguish these two Psalms from the rest of collection, or, if so, in precisely what way. Perhaps the use of the root rmz in Psalm 98 (see below), led to a heading with romz+m!. The LXX adds “…(belonging) to David”.

Part 1: verses 1-3

Verse 1a

“Sing (now) to YHWH a new song,
for wonders He has done!”

As noted above, this Psalm begins with the same first line as Ps 96. The second line seems to summarize the third couplet of the opening triad of Ps 96: “Recount among the nations His weight, / (and) among all the peoples His wonders!”. Here, the call is for people to praise YHWH for the wonders He has done, using the passive plural (Niphal) participle of the verb al*P* (“be marvelous, wonderful”); the participle is being used in a substantive adjectival sense—the verb characterizing the things YHWH has done (as being wonderful/marvelous). For other occurrences in the Psalms, cf. 9:2; 26:7; 40:6[5]; 70:17[16]; 72:18; 75:2[1]; 78:4, 11, 32; 86:10; 105:2, 5, etc. A reference to the historical traditions, regarding the miracles performed by YHWH on Israel’s behalf (such as the event at the Reed Sea) throughout the people’s history, is typically in mind.

The LXX has ku/rio$ in the second line, suggesting that the Hebrew text being translated may have contained the Divine name (hwhy) in both lines.

Verse 1b

“His right hand for Him worked salvation,
indeed, (the) arm of His holiness!”

The “wonders” performed by YHWH were done by His “right hand” and His strong “(right) arm”; this idiom, occurring frequently in the Old Testament, refers to the strength/power of YHWH, particularly as it is manifested on earth (within human history). The occurrences in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:6, 12) especially come to mind; of the many occurrences in the Psalms, see, e.g., 17:7; 18:36[35]; 20:7[6]; 44:4[3]; 77:11[10]ff; 78:54; 79:11; 89:11[10], 14[13]; 136:12. The root uvy denotes giving (or receiving) help and protection, sometimes in the specific sense of saving someone from danger (or keeping them safe); however, it can also refer to gaining/obtaining victory, and that is probably the connotation that is primarily in view here.

The deeds performed by YHWH in His power/strength (i.e., with His “arm”) also reflect His holiness. Dahood (II, p. 365) argues for the basic meaning of vdq here (‘set apart’), and suggests that wvdq be pointed as a Piel verb form. The wonders performed by YHWH effectively set Him apart from all other deities (and from all human beings as well). I read the initial w-conjunction of the second line as emphatic (cf. also Howard, p. 78).

The meter of this couplet is 3+2, which generally follows that of v. 1a.

Verse 2

“YHWH has made known His salvation—
before (the) eyes of the nations,
He uncovered His righteousness.”

The saving deeds and victories which YHWH has achieved (spec. for His people) were performed “before (the) eyes of the nations” —i.e., so that all people can see and know of them; on this theme, going back to the Song the Sea, cf. Exod 15:14-16. The idea that the nations will come to acknowledge and worship YHWH as God, in part, as a result of witnessing His mighty deeds, is found frequently in the Psalms (e.g., 22:28-29 [27-28]; 45:18[17]; 46:11[10]; 67:3[2]ff; 72:11, 17; 86:9). Psalm 98 shares with Ps 96 this universal aspect of YHWH’s Kingship.

This verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon, building upon the earlier 3+2 couplet(s).

Verse 3a

“He has kept in mind His loyalty <to Ya’aqob>,
and His firmness to (the) house of Yisrael.”

YHWH’s saving deeds, witnessed by the nations, reflect His loyalty and devotion (ds#j#) to Israel. He has “kept in mind” (vb rk^z`) this covenant-loyalty which He shows to His people; this entails providing protection and keeping them safe (from danger and enemies, etc). The noun hn`Wma$ literally means “firmness”, but is used often in the sense of “faithfulness, loyalty”; it occurs quite frequently in the Psalms (22 times, out of 49 OT occurrences), and is often paired (or in parallel) with ds#j#.

The MT reading of the verb rk^z` (as a perfect form) is to be preferred over Dahood’s suggestion (II, p. 365) of vocalizing it as an imperative (cf. Howard, p. 78f); this is in keeping with the tenses of vv. 1-3. Also the poetic sense (and parallelism) of the couplet is better served by following the LXX (over the MT), and including bquyl (“to Jacob”, par with “to the house of Israel” in the first line). Unfortunately, the surviving portions of the two Qumran manuscripts which preserve the Psalm do not include v. 3.

The verse, as restored, is a 3-beat (3+3) couplet. If one were to follow the MT, the verse would read as another 3+2 couplet, in keeping with the rhythm of this part of the Psalm:

“He kept in mind His loyalty and firmness
to (the) house of Yisrael.”

Verse 3b

“All (the) ends of the earth have seen
(the) salvation of our Mighty (One)!”

The idea of the nations witnessing the mighty saving deeds of YHWH (v. 2) is repeated here, in dramatic fashion, at the close of the first part. The universal aspect of this motif is further emphasized by the expression “all (the) ends of the earth”. YHWH, is, of course, the “Mightiest (One)” (<yh!l)a$), the greatest God and King, and the God (“Mighty [One]”) worshiped by Israel. This part of the Psalm foreshadows the idea that all the nations will come to worship YHWH as King.

Part 2: Verses 4-9

The second part of this Psalm is considerably longer than the first, and can be divided into two distinct sections—vv. 4-6 and 7-9.

Verse 4

“Raise a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
Sparkle, and sing out, and make music!”

Here, at the beginning of the second part, the call to sing praise to YHWH (par verse 1) is addressed to “all the earth”; this matches the reference to “all the ends of the earth” at the end of the first part (v. 3). All of the nations are urged (and expected) to worship YHWH with a joyful “shout” (vb u^Wr). The second line makes clear that this involves bright and joyful music. The chain of three verbs basically expresses a single idea in this regard: “be bright (i.e., gleam/sparkle)” [vb jx^P*] and “ring/sing out” [vb /n~r*], “making music” [vb rm^z`].

The three-beat (3+3) couplet form of this verse indicates a metrical shift in the Psalm, from the 3+2 meter (more or less) in the first part.

Verse 5

“Make music to YHWH on (the) harp,
on a harp and (with) voice of music!”

The basic idea of verse 4 is given more specific expression here in v. 5—people are to “make music” to YHWH, with the harp, and also using the harp (roNK!) to accompany singing with the voice. The roNK! is usually understood to be a lyre (small triangular-shaped harp) or zither.

Verse 6

“With the trumpets and voice of (the) horn,
shout before (the) face of the King, YHWH!”

Verse 6 obviously follows the thought of v. 5, the two verses forming an inclusio. Though obscured by my translation above, the meter of this verse (in the MT) is an irregular 3+4 couplet, suggesting the possibility that either El#M#h^ (“the King”) or the Divine name (hwhy) has been added to what was (originally) a 3+3 couplet. The two Qumran manuscripts containing this verse are fragmentary, but the spacing of the line in 4QPsm suggests that it corresponds to the text of the MT.

The Kingship of YHWH is, as we have seen, the guiding theme of the entire collection (of Pss 93-100).

Verse 7

“Let the sea thunder and (all) its fullness,
(the) land and (all those) dwelling in it!”

As noted above, verses 7-9 mark a distinct unit in the second part of the Psalm, and corresponds to vv. 11-13 in Psalm 96. In both Psalms, the call for the nations to worship YHWH is expanded to cover all of creation. This cosmic orientation is clearer in Psalm 96, which begins with a call to “heaven and earth”, but including, as here, the sea (with its thundering roar/crash). The earth is in focus here in v. 7—both the sea (<y`) and the dry land (lb@T@) where people dwell (vb bv^y`, lit. “sit”). The inhabited earth/land is called to follow the sea’s example in “thundering” (vb <u^r*) its praise to YHWH. As King over the entire universe, such praise is worthy and fitting for Him.

Verse 8

“Let (the) river-streams clap (their) palm(s),
(as) one let (the) mountains ring out (praise)!—”

Again, as in verse 7, there is a juxtaposition of the sea and dry land—here expressed by the specific localization in the “streams” and “hills/mountains”. The imagery here corresponds to that of Psalm 96:12 (cf. Isa 55:12). The entire natural world, all of creation, gives praise to YHWH.

Verse 9

“before (the) face of YHWH, for He is coming!
<For He is coming> to judge the earth!
He shall judge the land with rightness,
and the peoples by His firmness!”

As in Ps 96:11-13, the main reason for the rejoicing of creation is that YHWH is coming to the earth, to bring judgment upon it. As Sovereign (King) over the universe, YHWH also functions as supreme Judge, whose decisions are decisive and binding. There is a clear allusion here (and in Psalm 96) to the Prophetic theme of the (eschatological) judgment of the nations—an extension and development of the “day of YHWH” theme. If a late pre-exilic date for these Psalms is correct, then this would represent an early (and rudimentary) example of the universal “day of YHWH” —viz., a time when God judges all the nations together, collectively. Here, this is expressed more generally, in cosmological terms (“He is coming to judge the earth”); however, in the final two lines, a distinction is made between judging the inhabited land, and judging its inhabitants.

The wording of these lines is quite similar to that of Ps 96:13. The similarity allows one, with some measure of confidence, to restore the doubled ab* yK! (“for He is coming”). Beyond the parallel with Psalm 96, the poetic sense, syntax, and rhythm of the verse seems to require the restoration. Unfortunately, the two Qumran manuscripts do not preserve any of verse 9.

The “right(eous)ness” and “firmness” with which YHWH judges corresponds with the “loyalty” and “firmness” (same noun, hn`Wma$) He shows toward Israel (v. 3a). The terms qd#x# and hn`Wma$, in the judicial context of rendering judgment, connote the ideals of justice, fairness, and equity.

In its restored form the verse is comprised of a 3+3 couplet, followed by a shortened 3+2 couplet.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 97

Psalm 97

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: verses 1-6

Verse 1

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

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

Verse 6

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

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

Part 2: Verses 7-9

Verse 7

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

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

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

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

Part 3: Verses 10-12

Verse 10

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

Verse 12

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 96

Psalm 96

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

This Psalm, like the previous Ps 95 (esp. in its first half, see the prior study), is a hymn to YHWH, in which His Kingship is praised. This, indeed, is the guiding theme of the entire collection of Pss 93-100. For analysis of the similarities between Psalm 96 and the following Pss 97-100, examining common vocabulary and thematic connections, see the study by Howard, pp. 141-55. There seems to be a particularly strong relationship between Psalm 96 and 98.

Psalm 96 has a clear strophic structure, being one of the most consistently strophic of all the Psalms. There are two parallel strophes, which are quite similar (but not identical) in structure and meter. Each strophe is comprised of two sections—(1) a call to worship (vv. 1-3, 7-9), followed by (2) a verse-section describing and extolling the Kingship of YHWH (vv. 4-6, 11-13). Each call to worship begins with a parallelistic tricolon invoking praise for YHWH. The verse-sections are different in tone but similar in theme. However the second section is longer, more dramatic, and is preceded by an additional verse (v. 10) emphasizing YHWH’s Kingship over the entire cosmos.

As for the date of this Psalm, there are no definite indicators, other than the fact that it was known by the author(s) of the Chronicles, since it is quoted (in part) in 1 Chron 16:23-33. Comparison with Psalm 95, and others in the collection (93-100), suggest a pre-exilic date, though perhaps at a relatively later point in the monarchic period. Thematic comparisons have been made with the Deutero-Isaian poems, but they are, it would seem, too general to be decisive. The parallelistic tricola in vv. 1-2a and 7-8a, which remind one of 93:3-4, reflect a poetic technique and style with ancient roots in Canaanite poetry (cf. the earlier note on 93:3-4).

Interestingly, the LXX sets the Psalm in the post-exilic (Second Temple) period. Though there is no heading or superscription for Psalm 96 in the Hebrew, the LXX (Ps 95) contains a heading which reads: “When the house [i.e. the Temple] was built after the captivity. A song belonging to David”. The Davidic attribution is obviously anachronistic for the time indicated; perhaps it was meant as “a song for David”, or “…dedicated to David”.

Metrically, the Psalm is comprised almost entirely of tricola—4-beat (4+4+4), 3-beat (3+3+3), and a few with mixed/irregular meter. The meter is not entirely consistent, in spite of the strong strophic structure of the composition.

First Strophe: verses 1-6

Verses 1-3

The first section in each strophe represents a call to worship, calling on people to give praise and honor to YHWH, the King of the universe. The section is comprised of a pair of tricola.

Verse 1-2a

“Sing to YHWH a new song!
Sing to YHWH, all the earth!
Sing to YHWH, bless His name!”

Each line of this tricolon consists of four short beats. This is one of the few instances where a literal translation (in English) of a Psalm verse generally matches the rhythm of the Hebrew. Each line begins hwhyl^ Wryv!, “Sing to YHWH…!” The Psalmist calls on all people (“all the land/earth”)—and certainly all the Israelite/Judean people—to give praise to YHWH. This praise includes giving honor (and homage) to YHWH as King: “bless His name”, with the allusion to bending the knee that is implicit in the verb Er^B*.

The “new song” is probably to be understood as this Psalm itself, as Dahood notes (II, p. 357). The wording also appears in Isa 42:10, in a comparable context, emphasizing the universal reign and Sovereignty of YHWH, and calling on all people, everywhere, to worship Him. The aspect of newness may, in accordance with the theme of the Psalm as a whole, reflect the idea that YHWH is now exercising His Kingship over all the nations, and not just over His people Israel. In this regard, note the strong Judgment emphasis in the second strophe (vv. 11-13).

Verse 2b-3

“Announce from day to day His salvation,
recount among the nations His weight,
(and) among all the peoples His wonders!”

This second tricolon has 3-beat lines, though it is difficult to bring this across in English, compared with the rendering of the 4-beat lines in verse 1-2a (above). Also, it lacks the repetitive parallelism of the first tricolon; though it retains a synonymous parallelism—between lines 1 and 2, and again between lines 2 and 3. After the initial call to worship, this tricolon gives more information as to what this worship should entail. Three different things are to be extolled:

    • “His salvation” —that is, YHWH’s saving and protective acts, on behalf of His people (i.e., those who are faithful to Him)
    • “His weight [dobK*]” —i.e., His power, splendor, and glory, all that makes YHWH worthy to be praised; His actions, on behalf of His people, etc, demonstrate His “weight”.
    • “His wonders” —lit. “wondrous (deed)s”, “wonderful (thing)s”, utilizing the Niphal (passive) participle of the verb (al*P*).

These things are to be praised among all the nations and peoples (lines 2 & 3). Dahood (II, p. 357a) suggests that the Hebrew in the first line should be read as “from sea [<y`] to sea”, rather than “from day [<oy] to day”. This would, indeed, better suit the parallelism of the tricolon, since “from sea to sea” is geographically comparable to “among (all) the nations/peoples”. His explanation of how the MT reading came about, is intriguing. However, I would hesitate to adopt his proposal, particularly since the MT phrase (“from day to day”), as it stands, provides a fitting parallel to the motif of a new song, in the first line of the first tricolon.

Verses 4-6

The verse-section of the first strophe expounds the reason that YHWH is to be worshiped, beyond what was already stated in v. 2b-3 (see above). He is to be praised because He is the King of all the universe, and the greatest of all Divine beings. On this theme, cf. the previous study on Ps 95:1-7c (esp. verse 3).

Verse 4-5a

“For great (is) YHWH, and much (to) be praised;
(to) be feared (is) He, over all (the) Mighty (one)s,
for all Mighty (one)s of the peoples (are) weak!”

This first tricolon (4-beat) generally matches that of the first section (v. 1-2a, cf. above). Thematically, however, it builds upon the preceding v. 2b-3, alluding to the universal scope of YHWH’s Kingship—i.e., over all the nations and peoples on earth. In extending His Kingship over all the nations, YHWH is displacing those deities which the nations previously worshiped (as their sovereign[s]).

Continuing from v. 2b-3, YHWH’s greatness is again extolled, as making Him both worthy to be praised by all people, and to be feared by them. Passive participles (Pual and Niphal) of the verbs ll^h* (“show/give praise”) and ar*y` (“fear”) are used to reflect this characteristic of YHWH—viz., of being worthy of praise and fear. In particular, YHWH is to be feared more than all other “mighty (one)s” (gods/deities), since He is the greatest and King over them all. This point was stated most clearly in 95:3 (see the previous study).

The final line is perhaps prone to misunderstanding, and here it is best to keep to a literal rendering. The Psalmist declares that all of the deities (“Mighty [one]s”) worshiped by the nations are <yl!yl!a$. The substantive (adjectival) noun lyl!a$ basically means someone (or something) that is “weak, powerless” (cp. Akkadian ul¹lu). The term can be used in a more derogatory sense, as “useless, worthless”; and, indeed, in this way the plural <yl!yl!a$ came to designate the pagan deities as “worthless” idols. Probably the full force of this derogatory usage is not intended here by the Psalmist; rather, more likely, he is simply declaring that the other deities (of the nations) are weak and impotent in comparison with YHWH.

Verse 5b-6

“But (indeed) YHWH, He made (the) heavens;
might and splendor (are) before His face,
strength and beauty (are) in His holy place!”

The second tricolon as a shorter 3-beat meter, comparable to the second tricolon of the opening section (v. 2b-3, see above). The contrast, between YHWH and the other deities (v. 4-5a), continues here. YHWH is the Creator—He it is who made the heavens, and all of the heavenly beings as well. It is because of His role as Creator, primarily, that YHWH has Sovereign rule over all the universe.

The final two lines are parallel, and could be taken as a couplet in their own right. The noun pair “might and splendor” (alliterative rd*h*w+ doh) is parallel with “strength and beauty”, both being similar in meaning. All power and splendor belong to YHWH, in His greatness. This may allude to the fact that all other Divine/heavenly beings must come before YHWH, in homage and submission to Him. They stand before Him (as King) in His “holy place” —i.e., His heavenly throne (room) and sanctuary.

Second Strophe: Verses 7-13

Verses 7-9

The first section of the second strophe is a call to worship, matching that of the first strophe (cf. above).

Verse 7-8a

“Give to YHWH, (you) clans of the peoples,
give to YHWH (all) weight and strength,
give to YHWH (the) weight (due) His name!”

The repetitive parallelism of this 4-beat tricolon, matches that of v. 1-2a (see above). Instead of the imperative Wryv! (“sing…!”), here it is Wbh* (from the verb bh^y`, “give”), in the specific context of giving praise and honor to YHWH—a gift that is worthy of His Kingship. Again, it is all the peoples on earth who are called to worship YHWH; specifically, all the “families” (or “clans”) of the different peoples are called. Again, the noun dobK* (“weight”) is used, in the sense of the worth of YHWH—i.e., that which makes Him worthy of being praised, His strength and splendor, etc. The honor and worship that the peoples give to YHWH must be worthy of His name—that is, worthy of He Himself, who He is, as Creator and King of the universe, greatest of all Divine/heavenly beings.

Verse 8b-9

“Carry a gift and come (in)to His enclosures!
Bow to YHWH at the splendor of His holiness,
writhe from (before) His face, all the earth!”

This second tricolon continues the call to worship, and generally matches that of the first strope (v. 2b-3). The theme of giving honor (vb bh^y`) to YHWH, from the first tricolon, is picked up here, with the concrete image of people bearing a gift (hj*n+m!) and coming into the “enclosures” of YHWH’s palace. In verse 6, the heavenly sanctuary (“holy place”) of YHWH was referenced; here, it would seem that the earthly sanctuary (of the Jerusalem Temple) is in view. Moreover the noun hj*n+m! is frequently used in the specific cultic sense of a sacrificial offering. The imagery thus suggests that the nations are giving worship to YHWH much the same way that the people of Israel/Judah do, with sacrificial offerings presented in the Temple precincts. On the prophetic (and eschatological) theme of the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship YHWH, see my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Like the Divine/heavenly beings who appear before YHWH in His heavenly sanctuary, the representatives of the nations pay homage to Him in His earthly temple. They bow down before him in fear and reverence, recognizing His Sovereignty. The fear is palpable, as all people on earth are called to tremble (lit. “twist, writhe”) in His presence. Most likely there is an allusion here to the theme of vv. 11-13—YHWH’s appearance upon the earth, bringing the Judgment.

Verse 10

“Say among the nations, ‘YHWH rules as King!’
Surely the world is fixed, it cannot be shaken—
He judges (the) peoples with straightness!”

I regard verse 10 as supplemental to the poetic structure of the Psalm, and as transitional between the two parts of the second strophe (cf. Howard, p. 65f). Its inclusion adds suspense and dramatic effect to the strophe, building toward the Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 11-13. Here, the Psalmist is directly addressing the Israelite people, urging them to take a part in calling on the nations to worship YHWH. They are to declare YHWH’s Kingship (“YHWH rules as King [vb El^m*]!”), and His role as Judge over all people. Just as He fixed the earth (here lb@T@ for the inhabited surface), setting it firmly in place within the cosmos (‘heaven and earth’), so He renders judgment in a firm and fair manner, lit. “with straightness”. The plural of the noun rv*ym@ (“straightness”) could mean specifically “straight [i.e. fair/just] judgments”, though it is perhaps best to read it as a comprehensive or intensive plural, i.e., “with complete fairness”. Cf. Psalm 93:1 for similar language and imagery to what we have here in v. 10.

Metrically, verse 10 is an irregular (4+4+3) tricolon.

Verses 11-13
Verses 11-12a

“Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar and (all) its fullness,
let (the) field clamor, and all that is in it!”

YHWH’s greatness over the other Divine/heavenly beings was emphasized in the first tricolon of the verse-section of the first strophe (vv. 4-5a, cf. above); here, His authority over the cosmos itself (“heaven and earth”) is in view. The call to worship YHWH (from vv. 7-9f) is extended to all of creation. Specifically, world of nature is called to rejoice, expressed by four different verbs in the three lines. In the first line, the basic verb jm^c* (“be glad/happy”) is used, along with lyG] (“spin/circle [joyously]”), which, for poetic concision, I have translated above simply as “rejoice”. The sea is then asked to “roar” (or “crash”, <u^r*) joyously, while, similarly, the “field” (i.e., dry land) to make a joyful noise (or clamor, vb zl^u*).

The meter of this tricolon is slightly irregular (4+3+4).

Verse 12b-13b

“Then shall ring out all (the) trees of (the) thicket,
before (the) face of YHWH—for He comes!
For He comes to render Judgment (on) the earth!”

In this second tricolon, the theme of the rejoicing of nature (from the first tricolon, v. 11-12a) blends into an announcement of the coming of YHWH to judge the earth. This explains, belatedly, why all of nature is asked to rejoice—it is in anticipation of the coming Judgment. The initial adverbial particle za* indicates the specific moment (“then, at that time”) when YHWH appears. This would seem to be an early example of the theme, found throughout the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophets, in which the “day of YHWH” motif—the time when God judges (and punishes) a specific people—is expanded to cover an (eschatological) judgment of all the nations, collectively. The motif of the trees rejoicing is found elsewhere, famously, in Isaiah 55:12.

Verse 13cd

“He shall judge (the) world with righteousness,
and (the) peoples with His firmness!”

I regard this final (3+2) couplet—the only couplet which I identify as such in this Psalm—as supplemental, used to bring the strophe, and the Psalm itself, to a conclusion. It builds upon the Judgment-theme in vv. 12b-13b, emphasizing YHWH’s action in rendering Judgment (vb fp^v*) upon all the world. It is specifically the inhabited earth (lb@T@), with all its people, that is judged.

The “straightness” (i.e., fairness) of YHWH in bringing judgment (see v. 10, above) is again mentioned here—i.e., that He judges with justice and equity. This aspect of YHWH’s role as Judge is expressed with traditional religious terminology, using the pair of nouns qd#x# and hn`Wma$. The former noun means “right(eous)ness”, but sometimes with the social-legal connotation of “justice”; it can also connote the idea of faithfulness and loyalty. The latter noun (hn`Wma$) properly means “firmness”, which is a suitable parallel for the “straightness” (rv*ym@) of YHWH in rendering judgment. The noun is often used in the covenantal context of God’s faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant bond), and frequently so in the Psalms.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 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).