Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Lk 11:2, cont.)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
(Luke 11:2)

In the previous study, we began exploring the literary context of the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (and its Kingdom-petition). An important aspect of the Lukan handling of the Kingdom-theme is the way that the Gospel writer shifts the emphasis from Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom to the proclamation by the disciples. As we saw, the two mission-episodes (9:1-6; 10:1-12ff) play a central role in the framework of the Lukan narrative. The first of these episodes, which is part of the Synoptic tradition (Mk 6:7-13 par), comes toward the end of the Galilean period, while the second (the mission of the seventy[-two]), which is unique to Luke, occurs at the beginning of the Journey to Jerusalem.

The mission of the seventy(-two) disciples, sent out by Jesus as a continuation of his own mission, serves to frame the entire Journey narrative. The journey to Jerusalem has an important place in the Synoptic narrative; however, its role is transitional, serving primarily to join the Galilean and Jerusalem sections of the narrative. In Mark, the journey is essentially limited to chapter 10. However, by contrast, in Luke’s Gospel, the Journey covers more than nine full chapters (9:51-18:31), thus forming a major division of the narrative in its own right. For the Lukan author, the Journey becomes the setting for a wide range of traditional material—sayings, teachings, and parables of Jesus—some of which occur in an entirely different location in the Synoptic/Markan narrative (or in Matthew). The arrangement of the material is primarily literary, rather than historical and chronological.

Given the emphasis on the disciples’ proclamation of the Kingdom, it is only natural that Jesus would take time to teach his disciples about the Kingdom. And, indeed, there are a number of Kingdom-teachings that can be found throughout the Journey narrative, as Jesus prepares his disciples for what will take place in Jerusalem. This teaching, in light of the framing episode of the disciples’ mission (10:1-12ff), also anticipates the early Christian mission narrated in the book of Acts. As we shall see, the Lukan author interprets the coming of the Kingdom largely in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Prayer (11:2-4) represents the first Kingdom-teaching of the Journey narrative, following closely as it does after the mission episode (10:1-20). It is part of a block of teaching (11:1-13) by Jesus regarding prayer. I have discussed this section previously in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature, and will not repeat that exegesis here. The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer is also part of a section on prayer (6:5-15), but in a very different location and narrative context.

It is worth considering the components of the Lukan block, isolating the elements and individual traditions according to the following outline:

    • Narrative Introduction, with a request by the disciples (v. 1)
    • The Lord’s Prayer (vv. 2-4)
    • A Parable illustrating the need for boldness in prayer (vv. 5-8)
    • Two additional sayings on prayer [Q material] (vv. 9-13):

The two sayings in vv. 9-13 follow the same order in Matthew (7:7-11), indicating that they were joined together at an early point in the tradition, perhaps having been originally spoken together (at the same time) by Jesus himself. The differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of these sayings are relatively minor, except for the Lukan reference to the Holy Spirit (v. 13), the significance of which will be addressed below.

As for the Lord’s Prayer itself, the Lukan version (vv. 2-4) is noticeably shorter than the Matthean version (6:9-13), as also the version in the Didache (8:2), which is likely dependent on Matthew. The Lukan version has five petitions (governed by verbal imperatives), while the Matthew/Didache version has seven. Luke’s version also has a shorter invocation—simply “Father!” (vocative Pa/ter). As the phrase o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$ (“[who is] in the heavens”) is distinctive to the Gospel of Matthew, it is assumed by many commentators that the phrase here in the Prayer is a Matthean addition, and that Luke has the more original form.

The genitive pronoun h(mw=n (“our”) is far more likely to be original, since addressing God as “our Father” appears to have been common among Jews at the time—a usage that was continued by early Christians. It is found in the New Testament only in Paul’s letters, but as a fixed formula that would scarcely have been original to Paul (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 2 Thess 1:1-2; 2:16; Philem 3; also Eph 1:2). Even so, if the modifying pronoun was originally part of the invocation in the Prayer, it is not at all clear why Luke would have omitted it (especially considering the wording present in verse 13).

The reference to God as Father has an added significance within the Lukan context of the Prayer. Indeed, the theme of God as Father is central to second “Q” saying (vv. 11-13 par), which here concludes the block of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer. The illustration involves a human father’s relationship to his child, and how a loving father will give “good gifts” to his child when the child asks for them. Jesus’ application of this illustration involves the rhetorical qal wahomer (“light and heavy”) principle—viz., what applies in a lesser case should apply all the more in a greater case. What is true (in a positive sense) of a human father will certainly be true in the case of God as our Father. The Matthean version of the saying (7:11), which is no doubt closer to the original, brings out the parallel:

“If, then, you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring [i.e. children], how much more will the Father in the heavens give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him!”

The “good (thing)s” (a)gaqa/) would correspond to the third petition in the Lukan Lord’s Prayer (v. 3), and to the last three petitions (vv. 3-4) generally. Interestingly, Luke has apparently modified Jesus’ saying, so that it provides, instead, a climactic reference to the Holy Spirit:

“…how much more will the Father out of heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him!” (v. 13)

Otherwise, Luke’s version of the saying is close to the Matthean; the latter may have adapted “out of heaven” ([o(] e)c ou)ranou=) to the more distinctively Matthean “in the heavens” (o( e)n toi=$ ou)ranoi=$). It is not entirely clear whether the phrase e)c ou)ranou= (“out of heaven”), as Luke presents it in context, refers to the location from which God responds, or whether it means specifically that God will send the Spirit “from heaven”. The latter interpretation would anticipate the sending of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:2ff).

This reference to the Spirit has profound implications for the Lukan understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, and the Kingdom-petition in particular. In light of the way that the motif of God as Father frames the pericope, it is likely that the climactic reference to the Spirit functions in a similar manner. If there is a parallel, it is to be found in the first two petitions of the Prayer:

    • “May your name be made holy”
      a(giasqh/tw to\ o)noma/ sou
    • “May your Kingdom come”
      e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

The formal pattern of these two petitions indicates how close in thought and conception they are: i.e., the coming of His Kingdom is parallel to the making holy of His name. In Old Testament and Israelite religious tradition, the name of God represents God Himself—His manifest presence, character, power, and authority. A particular application of the name—for example, as it is called upon the people of Israel, or the Temple in Jerusalem—implies that the person (or thing) over whom God’s name is called belongs to Him. There is thus a conceptual relationship between God’s name and His kingdom—His name represents His dominion, all that belongs to Him, and which is under His authority.

There is a similar parallel between God’s name being made holy (vb a(gia/zw) and His kingdom coming (vb e&rxomai). The establishment of God’s kingdom (on earth) means that His dominion will be made complete and will be treated (by human beings on earth) with the honor and sanctity that it deserves.

The leading motif of “making holy” (in the first petition) guides the thought of the entire Prayer. Consider how the five petitions may be structured and outlined:

    • Petitions 1 and 2, regarding God and His Kingdom
      • Petition 3, regarding the earthly needs of human beings
    • Petitions 4 and 5, regarding the deliverance of human beings from the dominion of sin and evil

From an eschatological standpoint, the coming of God’s Kingdom marks the end of the wicked/evil kingdom(s) which dominate the current Age. The deliverance of human beings (spec. the righteous) is a natural consequence of the coming of God’s Kingdom upon earth at the end-time.

While Luke certainly preserves the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom theme, he expands the interpretation of it, particularly in light of the early Christian mission (see the discussion above). Here, the idea of the coming of the Kingdom blends with the theme of the coming of the Spirit. Given the climactic position of the Spirit-reference in verse 13, and the intentional Lukan adaptation of the underlying tradition, there can be little real doubt that the Gospel writer is implicitly interpreting the Kingdom petition in light of the coming of the Spirit.

We will be discussing this interpretive development in greater detail as we proceed; however, it is worth noting here a provocative variant reading of the Kingdom-petition in verse 2. In at least one minuscule manuscript (700), instead of e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou (“May your kingdom come”), the text reads:

e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”

The reading in manuscript 162 is similar; and a comparable reading is known to have been extant in Greek manuscripts in the 4th-5th centuries, as attested from quotations by Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus Confessor. Even earlier, Tertullian conceivably could be alluding to a Spirit-petition present in texts of Lk 11:2 (cf. Against Marcion IV.26), though this is not certain. It has been explained as a gloss, perhaps deriving from liturgical tradition, that inadvertently crept into the text. Cf. UBS/Metzger, p. 130f, who cites a similar prayer-petition from the Greek Acts of Thomas §27.

Whatever the origin of this variant reading, I would maintain that, at least in terms of the implicit identification of God’s Kingdom with the Holy Spirit, it corresponds with the Lukan interpretation. To be more precise, from a Lukan theological standpoint, there are two main components of the Kingdom as it begins to be established through the early Christian mission: (1) the proclamation of the Gospel, and (2) the coming of the Spirit. This understanding of the Kingdom is established at the beginning of the book of Acts (1:3-5, 6-8), and then is expounded throughout the remaining narrative.

References above marked “UBS/Metzer” are to Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament [4th revised edition] (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft / United Bible Societies, 1994).

Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Introduction)

Thy Kingdom Come

For this Spring, during the months of March and April (and into May), I will be running a series within the Monday Notes on Prayer feature dealing specifically with the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

“May your kingdom come”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou

This petition has been prayed, as part of the Lord’s Prayer, by many millions of Christians over the centuries. Yet how many really understand what it is that they are praying for? What does it mean to ask for God’s kingdom (basilei/a) to “come”? There surely are, and have been, a considerable number of believers who understand this petition—if they give thought to it at all—in ways that are quite foreign to both the original teaching of Jesus and to the New Testament conception of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, there is perhaps no component of the Lord’s Prayer that is so prone to misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

Because the petition itself is so simple—comprised essentially of just two words—the interpretation of it hinges on a proper understanding of the two terms: the noun basilei/a (“kingdom”) and the verbal imperative e)lqe/tw (“may it come!”, or “let it come!”). In the case of the former, since it is modified by the genitive pronoun sou (“of you, your”), referring to God (“Our Father”), it is clear that it is the kingdom of God that is in view. This means that the noun is related to an expression—h( basilei/a tou= qeou= (“the kingdom of God”)—which occurs a number of times in the New Testament, and which is itself derived from Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

Much of this study will therefore involve a study of “the kingdom of God” —both the expression and the concept—as it came to be understood and employed by early Christians. The scope of this study will extend from the earliest strands of Gospel tradition to the developed theology of Christians at the end of the first century. In addition, consideration will be given to different ways that believers today might understand and apply the petition regarding the Kingdom, in light of the entire witness of Scripture and early Christian theology.

Each study in this series will focus on a particular Scripture reference or passage, dealing with this Kingdom theme. An attempt will be made to focus upon the two components of the Lord’s Prayer petition, and the two interpretive questions that they entail:

    1. What does it mean to speak of the “Kingdom of God”? and
    2. What does it mean for God’s Kingdom to “come”?

In dealing with the Kingdom-petition of the Lord’s Prayer, there are two basic ways that one may approach the matter, particularly with regard to examining the concept of the kingdom of God. One may focus upon the literary context of the petition, as it occurs in both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. In each Gospel, the petition is part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The Matthean and Lukan versions of this Prayer differ somewhat, but they clearly derive from the same historical tradition—an authentic tradition, which even many critical commentators, on objective grounds, regard as coming from Jesus himself. More significant is the fact that, in each Gospel, the Prayer occurs in a very different setting. In Matthew, it is part of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” (chaps. 5-7), included in a set of teaching by Jesus regarding the proper religious conduct for his disciples (6:1-18, see the introductory admonition in verse 1). The issue of prayer is treated in verses 5-15, with the Lord’s Prayer at the heart (vv. 9-13) of Jesus’ instruction. In Luke, the Lord’s Prayer is also part of a group of teachings on prayer (11:1-13), but in a location quite separate from the “Sermon on the Plain” (6:20-49, the Lukan equivalent of the “Sermon on the Mount”).

Another approach would be to consider how the concept of the Kingdom, and the use of this terminology, would have been understood by Jesus’ contemporaries, and within the earliest Gospel traditions. It is this approach that I will be adopting here. The Kingdom-references which most likely belong to the earliest strands of the Gospel Tradition will be examined first, along with consideration of their background in Old Testament and Jewish thought.

Before proceeding, let us deal with a few preliminary items regarding the Kingdom-petition in the Lord’s Prayer. First, the Greek text of the petition is identical in both the Matthean and Lukan versions: e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou. The same is true of the version found in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache), an early Christian manual of instruction, from the early-mid second century, but which may preserve traditional material from the (late) first century. The Lord’s Prayer, which occurs in Didache 8:2, closely resembles the Matthean version.

The text of the petition is thus quite well established, though there is a minor (but important) variant in the Lukan version (11:2), which will be discussed as part of this series.

On the theory that the Lord’s Prayer was originally spoken by Jesus, and initially transmitted, in Aramaic, the petition might be reconstructed as follows (in transliteration, Fitzmyer, p. 901):

t¢°têh malkût¹k
(rhythmically parallel to the first petition,
yitqaddaš š§m¹k)

If we consider the structure of the Prayer, in the Matthean/Didache version, there are two sets of three petitions. In the first set (6:9c-10), following the introduction (9a) and invocation to God the Father (9b), the person praying calls on God to act on His own behalf—(i) that His name would be honored (9c), (ii) that His kingdom would come (10a), and (iii) that His will would come to be done on earth (10bc). In the second set of petitions (vv. 11-13), God is called to act on behalf of humankind (i.e., His people). The Kingdom-petition is the second (10a) of the first three petitions.

The Lukan version of the Prayer is shorter. For the first group of petitions (11:2b), there are only two petitions, the Kingdom-petition being the second. In light of this, one could conceivably explain the third Matthean petition as an expository addition expounding the second (Kingdom) petition—that is, God’s Kingdom comes when His will is fully realized (and performed by human beings) on earth. The relation of these two petitions will be discussed in an upcoming note.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Our study begins (next week) with an examination of the early Gospel tradition in Mark 1:15 par. As this verse, with its parallels, is examined, we will also begin exploring the Old Testament and Jewish background of the Kingdom theme that Jesus employs.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 28A (1985).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 90 (Part 2)

Psalm 90, continued

Prayer: Verses 11-16

Verse 11

“Who knows (the) might of your (burning) anger,
and <who> sees (the) center of your boiling (rage)?

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 11-16) constitutes a prayer, following the lament in the first part (vv. 3-10, discussed in the previous study). The Wisdom orientation of the lament continues in this initial unit (vv. 11-12), which can be viewed as transitional to the prayer proper (in vv. 13-16).

The MT of this verse is problematic. The meter is irregular (3+2), and the first word of the second line creates an awkward reading and syntax— “and according to your fear your boiling (rage)”. A parallelism of the lines would indicate that “and according to your fear” (;t=a*r=y]k=W) should match “who (is the one) knowing (the) might of…?” (zu) u^d@oy ym!) in the first line. It has been suggested (cf. Kraus, p. 214, following Gunkel; HALOT, p. 1730) that the MT should be emended slightly—from itaryk to itarym—and redivided and vocalized as Et) ha#r) ym!. This emendation finds support in the LXX, which translates beginning with a)po (“from…”), assuming a preposition /m! (prefixed –m).

While the LXX translator may have understood a prefixed preposition (-m), it is more likely that an interrogative particle (ym!) was present in the original, being repeated from the first line to create a double rhetorical question. The parallelism would then be formal:

    • Who (is) | knowing | (the) might of | your anger?
    • Who (is) | seeing | (the) center of | your rage?

The verb ha*r* (“see”) in this case would have the sense of “perceive, recognize, understand”, bringing out the parallel with ud^y` (“know”). The word ET) (defective for EoT) is understood as the substantive (meaning “midst, middle, inside”) derived from the root Ew#T*; for concision, I translate it above as “center,” though “heart” would make a better poetic rendering. As a parallel with zu), (“strength, might, power”), the sense is probably something like “substance, essence, force”. The noun hr*b=u# denotes something “crossing over”; when used of the anger of YHWH (as earlier in v. 9), the sense is of an ‘overflowing’ rage that bursts forth (or, in the idiom I am using here, “boils over”).

Verse 12

“(How) to number our days, so may you help us know,
that we might bring (in) a heart of wisdom.”

The implication of the double question in v. 11 is that no human being is able to understand fully the reasons for God’s anger—and, in particular, why it should last as long as it does. The length of YHWH’s anger is tied to the related theme of the shortness of human life; this was a key Wisdom-theme in the lament (cf. the exegesis in Part 1), and it continues here. The wise person knows how to “number” (vb hn`m*) his/her days; the point is not simply to know the length of one’s life, but to make the most of it. This is achieved through YHWH’s instruction (vb ud^y` Hiphil, “make know, bring knowledge”); the person who knows (v. 11) receives the teaching provided by God.

The corresponding Hiphil of the verb aoB in line 2, “make come” (i.e., “bring”), should be understood in the sense of “bring in”, with the contextual connotation of acquiring something and bringing it into one’s possession. In this instance, the possession to be desired is a “heart of wisdom” (i.e., a wise heart).

Verse 13

“Turn back, O YHWH—until when?—
and ease (your anger) over your servants!”

As noted above, the prayer properly begins here in verse 13. The Psalmist pleads for YHWH to “turn back” from His anger (v. 11, and in vv. 7-9). The verb bWv (“turn back”) can also be understood here in the sense of YHWH returning to His people, so as to give them blessing and protection once again. However, the idea of God refraining from His punishing anger would seem to be the dominant aspect of meaning. The verb <j^n` in the second line can be difficult to translate; when used in the Niphal (passive-reflexive) stem, as it is here, it typically refers to a person finding relief, with the easing of strong emotions (such as anger or grief). Here, the verb, as applied to YHWH, clearly refers to an easing of His anger, to the point where it eventually subsides.

The expression “your servants”, as it is used here in the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture), specifically designates the faithful ones among God’s people. Even though they have been loyal to YHWH (and to the covenant), they still have endured, along with the rest of the people, the punishing anger of God. The Psalmist typically identifies himself with these faithful/loyal ones.

The temporal expression yt*m*-du^, “until when…?” (i.e., “how long…?”), echoes the tone of lament from Part 1 (vv. 3-10). It occurs with some frequency in the Psalms, and can be used in the context of both a personal and national lament—cf. 6:4 [3]; 74:10; 80:5 [4]; 94:3; for the comparable expressions hm*-du^ and hn`a*-du^, cf. 13:1; 74:9; 79:5; 89:47[46]; note also 35:17.

Verse 14

“May you fill us in the break (of day) (with) your goodness,
that we may sing out and be glad in all our days!”

The Psalmist here draws upon the language from the lament, utilizing the day-motif (also in v. 12, cf. above)—both in the temporal sense of the passing of a day (and the “days” of a person’s life), and in the symbolic sense of the daylight that marks the end of the darkness of night. On the interplay of these two aspects of meaning, cf. the notes on vv. 4-9 in Part 1. The noun rq#B) specifically denotes the “break (of day), daybreak”, and was used in vv. 4-5. Here, it represents the moment when the ‘night-time’ of YHWH’s anger against His people comes to an end, the darkness being dispelled by rays of light—symbolizing the blessing and favor that God once again shows to His people.

This idea of blessing/favor is expressed two ways in the first line: (a) by the verb ub^c* which generally means “be filled (up)”, to the point of abundance, overflowing, etc; and (b) by the familiar noun ds#j#, meaning “goodness, kindness”, though often in the covenantal sense of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. With regard to ds#j#, here the idea of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant is certainly present, however it is the primary aspect of goodness (i.e., blessing and favor) that is being emphasized.

The blessing that comes at daybreak will allow the righteous to rejoice (singing/ringing out, vb /n~r*) and to be glad (vb jm^c*) all of their days.

Verse 15

“Let us be glad, according to (the number of) days you pressed us,
(according to the) years (that) we have seen evil.”

The Psalmist asks that he (and the other faithful ones of his people) be allowed to experience gladness (vb jm^c*, repeated from v. 14) for a length of time commensurate with their experience of suffering. This suffering occurred when the people were “pressed down” (vb hn`u*) by YHWH, afflicted by His punishing anger. The period of this punishment seems to have been quite long, indicated by the mention here of “years”, as well as the temporal expression yt*m*-du^ (“until when…?”) in verse 13. This suggests that the Exile is in view, with a corresponding exilic (or post-exilic) dating for the Psalm; however, the reference here is brief and general enough that other periods in Israel’s history could also provide the relevant background.

The feminine plural form tomy+ (“days”), rather than the masculine <ym!y`, is a bit odd, and may simply be used for poetic assonance with the following tonv= (“years”). The same pair of word-forms occurs in Deut 32:7, and it is likely that there is an intentional allusion to that verse here; cf. Dahood, II, p. 326.

Verse 16

“Let your act be visible to your servants,
and your (very) splendor upon their sons!”

The Psalmist’s short prayer (vv. 13-16) concludes with this request a manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people. The implication is that God, in His anger, has turned away from His people; but now, according the Psalmist’s petition (v. 13), it is hoped that He will return. The Niphal (passive) of the verb ha*r* (“see”) means “be seen”, i.e., be visible, be manifest/apparent. YHWH’s action (lu^P)), that which He does (and will do) on behalf of His people, will be seen. This probably is an allusion to the historical traditions of the mighty deeds performed by YHWH in the past, which, in their miraculous nature, would be looked upon with wonder by all people.

In manifesting Himself, His very splendor (rd*j*) will be revealed to future generations, even as it was to those in the past. There may be a veiled reference here to Moses’ request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18), though the noun rd*h* (relatively common in the Psalms) is used instead of dobK*. More broadly, the various theophanies of the Moses/Exodus traditions (e.g., Exod 19-20, 24, 33-34f, 40) are likely in view, being alluded to by the Psalmist in his prayer.

Benediction: VERSE 17

“And let (the) favor of our Lord (the) Mightiest be upon us,
and may He make firm (the) work of our hands for us,
and (also) make firm for Him (the) work of our hands!”

The Psalm concludes with this benediction, an irregular tricolon that is rather awkward in both rhythm and phrasing. It may have been added subsequently by an editor; the repeated use of the verb (/WK, “make firm”) reminds one of the “firmness” theme that runs throughout the prior Psalm 89.

I have translated the noun <u^n) in the first line as “favor”. This noun has a relatively wide semantic range (“loveliness, pleasantness, beauty, kindness”), but it is best understood here in connection with the idea of blessing and favor from YHWH returning to His people. In this context, <u^n) would carry the primary sense of “kindness”, being close in meaning to ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), used in v. 14. The favor shown by YHWH reflects His loyal devotion to the covenant; He will show favor to those who are faithful to Him.

The final two lines of this tricolon each express the same basic wish—viz., that YHWH would “make firm” (vb /WK, Polel) the “work” of His people’s hands. However, this is stated oddly, with slight variation in each of the two lines. In the first line, the prepositional expression Wnyl@u* (“upon us”) is added. Since this same word occurs at the end of the first line, it is possible that it was repeated here by scribal error, and should perhaps, then, be omitted. Eliminating it has the advantage of producing a clean 3-beat (3+3) meter for the two lines. If Wnyl@u* is original, then it would seem to be specifying that the “making firm” of the people’s work is for their benefit; in this case, the prepositional expression (“upon us”, “over us”) could be rendered, more simply, “for us”.

In the final line, the MT apparently includes, for the imperative, a third person singular suffix (Wh-). One is inclined to alter this to match the suffix on the verb in the prior line (paragogic h-). If this were done, along with eliminating the prepositional expression at the end of line 2 (in the MT), then the two closing lines would be identical, each reading:

hn`n+oK Wnyd@y` hc@u&m^W
“and (the) work of our hands may you make firm”

If the MT is correct, then the third person suffix on the verb in the final line may be intended as a datival suffix (a dative of advantage), as Dahood (II, p. 327) suggests. It would then serve a purpose comparable to the prepositional expression in the prior line. That is to say, it expresses who the action (i.e., the making firm) benefits; in line 2, the action is done for the people (“over us,” i.e., for us), while in line 3 it is done for God’s own sake (his honor, etc).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

January 6: Psalm 89:51-53

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

Psalm 89:50-53, continued

(Verse 50 was discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 51-52 [50-51]

“Remember, my Lord, (the) scorn of your servants!
I bear in my bosom all (the) shots of (the) peoples,
(by) which your hostile (one)s cast scorn, O YHWH,
(by) which they scorn (the) heel-steps of your anointed!”

In addition to calling on YHWH to remember His binding agreement (covenant), and the sacred oath by which He made it (v. 50), the Psalmist now appeals to the shameful treatment which God’s people have received from the surrounding nations. Such taunting and disgraceful insults, toward God’s people, ultimately reflect on God Himself. By insulting YHWH’s people (“your servants”), the nations are also insulting YHWH.

The term used to express this shameful treatment is hP*r=j# (“scorn”), referring to a taunting insult, often in the sense of casting blame on someone. The word is frequently used in the Psalms, in the context of attacks on the protagonist (by his wicked adversaries), or of the suffering of the righteous generally. Part of the taunt doubtlessly involves rebuking Israel for its trust in YHWH, since the people have endured defeat and destruction, exile and disgrace, in spite of their trust.

The related verb [r^j* (“cast blame/scorn”) is used twice in verse 52, emphasizing two specific points which are intended (by the Psalmist) to prompt YHWH to take action: (1) those who are casting scorn on His people are His enemies (“your hostile ones,” those hostile to you), and (2) they cast scorn on the one whom He has anointed as His chosen servant. The last point presumably refers to mockery that is specifically leveled at the Davidic king, who, in the person of Jehoiachin, was led off in exile to Babylon; the expression “(the) heel-steps (or heel-prints) of your anointed” may refer, somewhat literally, to the king’s tracks as he is taken off to Babylon. It would be natural for the enemies of Israel/Judah to mock the defeated and exiled monarch.

The Psalmist personalizes this suffering, in the second line of verse 51, by declaring that he bears the pain (in his own “bosom”) of such taunts. The author-protagonist of the Psalms frequently functions as a figure representing the people as a whole (particularly the righteous ones of the people). As such, he feels the suffering of his people; and, indeed, throughout history, many Israelites and Jews have been so inclined to personalize the communal and corporate suffering of the people.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 320) in reading MT <yB!r^ as a form of br^ III, denoting a projectile, something “shot/cast” (vb bb^r* II), such as an arrow. The vocalization would then be yB@r^, with the <– explained as an enclitic suffix—easily to be confused with the sufformative <– (<y-) that marks the plural. The Psalmist feels the arrows (of scorn) cast by the nations/peoples, as they have penetrated (figuratively) into his bosom.

Verse 53 [52]

“Blessed (be) YHWH into (the) distant (future)!
/m@a*w+ /m@a*!”

The Psalm concludes with a benediction, giving blessing to YHWH. The simple traditional form, however, is more significant thematically than it might at first seem. Two points of vocabulary find an echo throughout the Psalm.

First is the temporal expression <l*oul=, “into/unto (the) distant (future)”, which was used to express the enduring character of the Davidic kingship (vv. 5, 29, 37-38), even as the heavens themselves endure (v. 2-3). The enduring character of the heavens is due to the firmness/faithfulness of YHWH Himself, and this is also true of the promise(s) to David.

Second, we have the final word, /m@a* (°¹m¢n), repeated as a couplet (/m@a*w+ /m@a*). The term defies easy translation, and so is often simply transliterated in English— “Amen and amen!”. However, this obscures the derivation of /m@a* from the root /ma (“be/make firm”), and its relation to the noun hn`Wma$. The noun hn`Wma$ (“firmness”) is the central keyword of the Psalm, occurring 7 times (vv. 2-3, 6, 9, 25, 34, 50), while the verb /m^a* occurs twice (vv. 29, 38), and the related noun tm#a# (also with the basic meaning “firmness”) once (v. 15).

The rhetorical purpose of this repeated use of the /ma word-group relates to the context of the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH. He hopes to see reaffirmed God’s covenant-promise to David, regarding the kingship (and thus also the kingdom for Israel). In terms of the exilic (and/or post-exilic) setting of the Psalm (in its final form), this is another way of referring to the restoration of Israel, presented in an early Messianic framework. The final words of the Psalm thus represent one last prayer-wish: that YHWH would act to bring about the restoration for His people. As an exclamatory declaration, the adjective /m@a* (“firm,” i.e., reliable, trustworthy) allows the hearer to affirm the validity of a statement (or agreement, etc). There is no good way to translate such an exclamation precisely; rough approximations would be “surely!”, “certainly!”, and the like, while, as an imprecation, something like “may it be so!” or “let it truly be (so)!” captures the basic sense.

Comments for Christmas

Essential to the Messianic expectation of Israelites and Jews in the first century B.C./A.D. was the idea that God’s people would be delivered from the oppression of those who are hostile to them—especially by the wicked and godless ones among the nations who have been dominate over them for centuries. The Gospel Infancy narratives reflect this aspect of the Messianic hope in various ways. The hostility toward God’s people is expressed vividly as an integral part of the narrative in Matthew 2. The specific idea of hostility toward God’s anointed (m¹šîaµ, v. 52b) is certainly a key element in the narrative, as Herod seeks to eliminate the promised Davidic Messiah by killing all of the infants born in and around Bethlehem.

Closer to the thought and expression of the Psalm are certain verses in the Lukan hymns—the Magnificat and Benedictus—such as we looked at briefly in the previous note. The theme of deliverance for God’s people from their enemies is clearly present in the first section of the Benedictus (vv. 68-75), being part of the salvation and redemption (vv. 68-69) which God is bringing about through the promised Davidic Messiah (“in the house of David His child”). The thought is made explicit in verse 71:

“…salvation out of our enemies, and out of (the) hand of all (those) hating us”

The syntax of the poem clearly ties this deliverance to the person of the Davidic Messiah, connecting verse 71 with v. 69 (v. 70 being parenthetical):

“And He (has) raised a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David His child…
salvation out of [i.e. from] our enemies…”

The thought is repeated in verse 74, this time with the deliverance being connected to the covenant made by YHWH (and made binding by an oath):

“…to remember His holy agreement,
(the) oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
(and thus) to give us (to be) without fear,
(hav)ing been rescued out of (the) hand of our enemies…” (vv. 72-74)

Finally, the closing benediction of the Psalm (v. 53) also finds a parallel in the Benedictus, in its opening lines (v. 68):

“Blessed [eu)loghto/$] (is the) Lord, the God of Yisrael,
(in) that He (has) looked upon and (has) made a loosing from (bondage) for His people”

The term lu/trwsi$ (“loosing from [bondage]”) has Messianic significance, referring to the restoration of Israel, as can be seen by its use in Lk 2:38 (with the parallel in v. 25). In the person of Jesus, this deliverance of God’s people from their/our adversaries will be realized, even if not in quite the way that many Israelites and Jews (and even some early Christians) had expected.

All of the hymns, rather naturally, contain a blessing or praise of God, though expressed in different terms, such at the beginning of the Magnificat (vv. 46-47)—

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior!”

or the famous lines of the Angels’ Song (“Gloria in excelsis”):

“Glory to God in the highest (place)s,
and on earth peace among men of (His) good will!”

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).

November 18: John 15:16 (5)

John 15:16, concluded

“(It was) not you (who) gathered me out, but I (who) gathered you out; and I set you (so) that you should lead (yourself) under and should bear fruit, and (that) your fruit should remain, (so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”

“(so) that, whatever you would ask (of) the Father in my name, He should give to you.”
i%na o% ti a*n ai)th/shte to\n pate/ra e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ mou dw=| u(mi=n

The conclusion of verse 16 echoes the promise from v. 7b—namely, that the Father will give the disciples whatever they ask for in Jesus’ name (“in my name”). The promise in v. 7 was conditional, governed by the particle e)a/n:  “if you should remain in me, and my words remain in you…”. The condition of remaining (vb me/nw) in Jesus, and in his word[s] (cf. 8:31), corresponds here to the expression “in Jesus’ name”. It reflects the character and conduct of the true disciple (or true believer); on the verb me/nw (“remain”) in this regard, cf. the discussion in the previous note (and in notes prior).

A similar promise, regarding the disciples’ prayers being answered, occurs at two other points in the Last Discourse (14:13-14; 16:23-24, 26). In both instances, prayer is described as making a request or “asking” (vb ai)te/w) God (the Father); and the same qualifying/conditional expression, “in my name”, is used as well.

The context of v. 16 suggests that the disciples’ requests will be tied to their mission. Indeed, there is no real indication that these prayer-references in the Last Discourse involve request for personal needs; on the contrary, the entire thrust of Jesus’ instruction would seem to assume that the disciples will be praying for others, more than for themselves. The duty to show love, as defined (13:34-35; 15:12-13), virtually requires that prayer be focused on the needs and well-being of others.

This is equally true with regard to the duty of guarding Jesus’ words (“remain in my word”). Since, in the Gospel of John, the message of Jesus’ words, centering on his identity as the Son of God, has life-giving power (6:63, 68), the words thus give (eternal) life to those who receive them. The disciples/believers who “guard” this word (lo/go$) are faithful to the witness of Jesus, and share in his mission. We may assume that any request by a true believer, made “in Jesus’ name”, will have this mission and duty in mind.

The prayer-references in the Last Discourse are also connected contextually with the Paraclete-sayings (14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7b-15)—dealing with the promise of the coming of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit also occurs “in Jesus’ name” (14:26), and involves a request made to the Father (14:16). In this regard, one is reminded of the collection of teachings on prayer by Jesus in Luke 11:1-13, which climaxes with a promise that the Father will give the Holy Spirit (v. 13), suggesting that the coming of the Spirit represents the very goal and purpose of prayer. In the Johannine Paraclete-sayings, the role of the Spirit is very much centered on the disciples/believers’ mission—specifically, on witnessing to the truth of who Jesus is (15:26-27; 16:8ff, 13-15).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple (cont.)

In this conclusion to our series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, we are examining the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH. Last week, the theme of centralization of worship was discussed; today, we will be looking at the second theme.

The name of YHWH

Throughout the Prayer, there is a strong emphasis on the Temple as the place where God’s name resides—vv. 16-20, 33, 35, 42-44, 48. In this regard, 1 Kings 8 is simply continuing an important theme and motif of the Deuteronomic history. Beginning with the book of Deuteronomy, the idea of a place for God’s name is used to designate the city of Jerusalem (and the specific site of the Temple), and, by extension, the territory/kingdom of Judah as a whole. The presence of His name indicates that YHWH has chosen Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place among His people. For the key references, see Deut 12:11, 21; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2; 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 9:3, 7; 11:36; 14:21; 2 Kings 21:4, 7; 23:27.

There are three principal aspects to this emphasis on YHWH’s name that need to be noted:

    1. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name stands for the person, representing and embodying his/her essential nature and character. I have discussed this in the earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. There was thus a quasi-magical quality to a person’s name; in dealing with a person’s name, one could effect or relate to the actual person. This was especially true in a religious context, when dealing with the name of God.
    2. Along these same lines, the name represents the presence of the person, even when he/she cannot actually be present physically. This is equally true in the case of God. As the Prayer points out repeatedly, though YHWH actually resides in heaven (vv. 27, 30, 32, 34-36, 39, 43, 45, 49), His name resides in the Temple sanctuary.
    3. The presence of a person’s name also serves as a mark of possession or ownership. So the symbolic presence of YHWH’s name is a mark that the Temple belongs to Him; and, not only the Temple, but the sign of possession radiates outward to include the entire city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and indeed the whole Kingdom of Israel. This aspect of the Temple is a sign that the people of Israel belong to YHWH, as His people. And, when the people pray in the direction of the Temple, where His name resides, they are essentially recognizing and acknowledging this fact.

When we turn to the New Testament, and the beliefs and practices of early Christians, we can see that this emphasis on the name of God has been developed and adapted in a number of interesting ways. I would point out three, in particular, that I wish to discuss briefly:

    1. Jesus as God’s chosen representative, who comes and acts “in His name”
    2. The Johannine theme that Jesus, as the Son of God, makes God the Father known to believers in the world—this can specifically be understood in terms of making known the Father’s name.
    3. The importance of the Jesus’ name—specifically for prayer, but also for other aspects of the religious life and experience of believers.

1. The principal Gospel passage(s) that expresses the idea of Jesus as a Divine representative who comes “in YHWH’s name”, involves the tradition of his entry into Jerusalem. This episode occurs in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:1-10; Matt 21:1-9; Lk 19:29-38) and the Gospel of John (12:12-15)—and essentially marks the beginning of Jesus’ Passion. In the overall Synoptic narrative, the ‘triumphal entry’ stands at the beginning of a period of teaching and ministry in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37 par) that precedes the Passion narrative.

In all four accounts of the Entry, the crowd that receives Jesus is recorded as quoting Psalm 118:26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”

Though there are slight variations in how this declaration is presented in each account (Mk 11:9; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13), it is clearly part of the underlying historical tradition.

I have discussed this tradition in earlier notes and articles, and will be doing so again in Part 3 of my study on the Sukkot festival. What is most significant is how the quotation of Psalm 118:26 relates to the Messianic identity of Jesus. There were a number of Messianic figure-types current in Jewish thought and expectation, and early Christians ultimately identified Jesus with all of them. I discuss this subject at length, including treatments of the different figure-types, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Regardless of which Messianic figure-type Jesus was seen as fulfilling, the principal idea is that he was God’s chosen (“anointed”) representative, whose presence and activity on earth marked the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New Age for God’s people.

In the Entry episode, it is clearly the royal/Davidic Messiah that is in view (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In this respect, the use of Psalm 118 is especially appropriate. Even though this Psalm, as one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), came to be associated with great pilgrimage festivals (esp. Passover and Sukkot), and were sung on those occasions, it is probable that the original context of the Psalm involved the victorious return of the Israelite/Judean king to Jerusalem (after battle). For more on this, cf. my article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. Psalm 118:26 is also cited by Jesus himself, in relation to his Messianic identity, in Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35 (“Q” tradition).

2. The Gospel of John develops the Messianic significance of coming/acting in God’s name in a distinctive way, informed by the Johannine theology (and theological idiom). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is also the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God. He was sent to earth from heaven by God the Father, being given a mission from the Father to complete. This mission included speaking and acting in the Father’s name—speaking the Father’s words and doing His works (such as working healing miracles and raising the dead). Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example, doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying. Thus Jesus (the Son) truly represents the Father, manifesting His presence and power to people on earth.

Two specific statements by Jesus may be pointed out:

“I have come in the name of my Father…” (5:43)
“the works that I do in my Father’s name, they give witness about me” (10:25)

The Son’s mission and work on earth culminates in his sacrificial death (19:30); all of this is done in the Father’s name, and the death and resurrection (i.e., the exaltation) of the Son serves to give honor/glory to the Father (12:28, note the context of v. 13). This theme finds its fullest development in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where Jesus specifically refers to his work in manifesting the Father’s name to believers (vv. 6, 26; cf. also 11-12):

“I made your name shine forth to the (one)s whom you gave to me out of the world” (v. 6)
“and I made known to them your name…” (v. 26)

3. Finally, it is important to consider how, for Christians, the Son’s name came to replace the Father’s name. This is particularly notable in relation to the tradition of prayer by early Christians. Even though believers were still directed to pray so as to give honor to the Father’s name (Matt 6:9 par), at an early point there came to be a strong tradition of praying (to the Father) in Jesus’ name. There is surprisingly little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself; we see it most clearly in the Gospel of John (in the Last Discourse, 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), where the tradition is rooted in the Johannine theology and Christology (i.e., the Son’s abiding relationship to the Father). Of particular importance is the idea that the Father will send the Spirit to the disciples/believers in Jesus’ name (14:26); on the sending of the Spirit as the goal (and result) of prayer, cp. the context of Luke 11:13.

Another Johannine theme which is more firmly rooted in the wider Gospel tradition is the idea of the disciples (believers) continuing the (Messianic) mission of Jesus on earth. This goes back to the early tradition of the choosing of the Twelve and their initial mission (Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13 pars). The disciples were specifically chosen by Jesus, and were allowed to share the same authority (and ‘anointing’) that he possessed, so that they would proclaim the good news (Gospel) and perform healing miracles, etc., in his name. The particular association with Jesus’ name is seen more clearly in the Gospel of Luke (10:17; 24:47; cp. 9:49; 21:9 pars), after which it occurs frequently throughout the book of Acts (3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 17-18, 30; 5:28, 40-41, etc).

Part of this ministry involved the baptizing of new believers, as a ritual symbol of their belonging to Jesus, and of their participating in the life-giving power of his death and resurrection. One trusts in Jesus’ name (i.e., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God; cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18), and so is baptized in that name (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16, etc). Everywhere that believers work or gather together, they are representatives of Jesus, and so act in his name (Matt 18:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 5:4; Col 3:17, etc). The identity of belonging to Christ, conferred and realized through the baptism ritual, governs and informs all aspects of our life as believers.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 86 (Part 1)

Psalm 86

Dead Sea MSS: 1QPsa (vv. 5-6, 8); 4QPse (vv. 10-11); 11QPsd (vv. 11-14)

This Psalm reflects the character and tone of many of the lamentprayer Psalms we have examined. Indeed, the superscription simply designates it as a hL*p!T=, which typically refers to a petition or prayer made to God, asking him to intervene on the supplicant’s behalf. The usual term romz+m!, indicating that the Psalm is a musical composition, is absent. This could mean that Psalm 86 represents a non-musical poem-text, which one could (and presumably did) set to music.

There is a rather clear three-part structure to the poem. The first part (vv. 1-7) is a general prayer to YHWH, framed by specific requests for God to hear/answer the Psalmist’s prayer (vv. 1, 6f). In the middle section (vv. 2-5), the author bases his appeal on YHWH’s goodness and loyalty to the covenant; God’s faithfulness (to the covenant-bond) is the basis for His providing the protection that the protagonist needs.

In the second part of the Psalm (vv. 8-13), the focus shifts to a YHWH-hymn, in which the author praises YHWH, drawing upon several strands of poetic, prophetic, and wisdom tradition. The poem concludes (vv. 14-17) with another appeal to YHWH, this time more specifically as a petition with lament-features, similar to those we find throughout the Psalms. Typically, the lament section occurs at the beginning of the Psalm, not the end, so the order here is essentially reversed.

The superscription attributes Psalm 86 to David, and there are certain details and elements of the poem which do suggest that the protagonist is a king. As we have seen, many Psalms evince a royal background, to a greater or lesser degree. This does not necessarily mean that the particular Psalm originates from the monarchic (pre-exilic) period, since Psalms of later composition could still draw from older lines of poetic tradition rooted in the royal theology, and utilize the type-figure of the king who stands as the protagonist, representing the people before God. It has been suggested that Psalm 86 intentionally was meant to serve as a kind of summary of earlier Davidic Psalms, echoing, in particular, the poems placed at the close of the earlier Davidic Psalter-collections (e.g., 40-41, 69-71, 72; cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 369f).

The meter of Psalm 86 appears to be irregular and mixed. Specific details will be given in the notes below.

Part 1: Verses 1-7

Verse 1

“Stretch (out), O YHWH, your ear (and) answer me,
for pressed (down) and needy (am) I.”

The Psalmist’s petition to YHWH is expressed in traditional (and typical) language. In the first line he calls on God to “stretch out” (vb hf*n`) His ear, an idiom for hearing/listening, and to answer the prayer. In the second line, the protagonist identifies himself by the traditional pair of adjectives yn]u* (“pressed [down]”, i.e., oppressed/afflicted, and in a low state) and /oyb=a# (“needy,” implying a low and poor condition). These are characteristics of the righteous, and often their use assumes hostility toward the righteous and persecution (by the wicked). For other occurrences of this pair, see 35:10; 37:14; 40:18 [17]; 70:6 [5]; 72:12; 74:21; 109:16, 22; 140:13 [12].

It is worth mentioning the alliteration in verse 1, particularly in the second line; to highlight this, I give the relevant portion here with an accompanying transliteration:

yn]a* /oyb=a# yn]u* yK! yn]n@u&
±¦n¢nî kî ±¹nî °e»yôn °¹nî

Metrically, this verse is a 4+3 couplet.

Verse 2

“May you guard my soul,
for (one) devoted (am) I;
may you save your servant,
O you my Mighty (One),
coming to You for refuge!”

The meter of this verse can be seen as problematic, especially if one attempts to treat it as a couplet. I choose to read it, without emendation, as a series of 2-beat lines—a 2+2 bicolon, followed by a 2+2+2 tricolon. The units are parallel, in that each is governed by an imperative in the first line:

    • hr*m=v*— “may you guard my soul”
    • uv^oh— “may you save your servant…”

These actions reflect the essence of the Psalmist’s prayer. Also, in each unit, there is an expression of the basis for his appeal to YHWH—namely, his faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. Such loyalty would mean that the protagonist (the vassal) is due the protection that YHWH (the Sovereign) is obligated to provide. By calling himself God’s servant, this loyalty is implied; and it is made explicit in the first couplet by the claim “I am devoted [dys!j*]”. The adjective dys!j*, like the related noun ds#j#, denotes showing goodness/kindness to a person; as I have discussed repeatedly, in the context of the covenant, it also connotes faithfulness, loyalty and devotion. The adjective typically carries this meaning in the Psalms; I have translated it here as “devoted”.

The last line of the tricolon also indicates the Psalmist’s loyalty. He describes himself as one “coming to you for refuge”. The substantive participle j^f@oBh^ is used (“the [one] seeking refuge”). The verb jf^B* occurs frequently in the Psalms (46 times, out of 120 in the OT), part of the vocabulary referring to the righteous person seeking/finding refuge under the protection that YHWH provides. The prepositional expression ;yl#a@ (“to you”) emphasizes that the Psalmist is coming to YHWH for protection, seeking refuge in Him. The phrase also implies the idea of trusting in YHWH—viz., he comes to YHWH for protection because he trusts in Him—and is a further indication of the Psalmist’s faithfulness.

Verse 3

“May you show me favor, my Lord,
for (it is) to you (that) I call out,
(indeed) all the day (long)!”

I view this verse as another 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, matching that of verse 2b (cf. above). Again there is an imperative in the first line (“may you show favor…”, vb /n~j*), comprising the Psalmist’s request, along with an expression of his faithfulness/loyalty to God. The second line matches the third line of the previous tricolon:

    • “coming to you [;yl#a@] for refuge”
    • “(it is) to you [;yl@a@] (that) I call out”

Again, the Psalmist trusts in YHWH (as his Lord/God), which is why he comes to Him and prays (“calls out,” vb ar*q*) to Him. The protagonist’s trust and faithfulness is also indicated by the claim that he does this continually (“all the day [long]”).

Verse 4

“Make glad (the) soul of your servant,
for (it is) to you, my Lord,
(that) I lift up my soul.”

The tricolon format of verse 4 matches that of verse 3, though the meter differs slightly (3+2+2). Again, the Psalmist’s request is reflected by the opening imperative in the first line (“[may you] make glad…”, vb jm^c*); in other words, his soul will be made glad when God answers his prayer and acts on his behalf. Note the further parallelism between vv. 3-4:

    • “…my lord,
      for (it is) to you (that) I call out”
    • for (it is) to you, my lord,
      (that) I lift up my soul”

There is also a certain chiasmus to verse 4 involving the motif of “my soul”:

    • “make glad (the) soul of your servant
      • for (it is) to you, my Lord
    • (that) I lift up my soul”
Verse 5

“Indeed, you, my Lord,
(are) good and forgiving,
and abundant in devotion,
to all (those) calling on you.”

It is possible to parse this verse as a 4-beat (4+4) couplet, however it seems better to continue with the 2-beat line format of the previous verses and to treat it as a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain. The unit breaks from the series of imperatives in vv. 1-4; the Psalmist pauses his petition to declare and affirm the goodness (adj. bof) and loyalty (ds#j#) of YHWH. As noted above, the noun ds#j# fundamentally means “goodness, kindness”, but also carries the meaning “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion,” especially in a covenantal context. In keeping with the translation of the adjective dys!j* as “devoted” above (v. 2), I translate ds#j# here as “devotion”.

The Psalmist adds the idea of YHWH showing mercy by forgiving (jls) the sins of those who are faithful/loyal to Him. It is thus hoped by the protagonist that YHWH will overlook any sins he may have committed; as one of the righteous, the Psalmist would have confessed and acknowledged any sin, and taken the (ritual) steps needed to atone for any (unintentional) misdeeds. The righteous/faithful ones, among whom the Psalmist identifies himself (as a representative), are characterized as those “calling out” to YHWH in trust and hope.

Verse 6

“Turn your ear, O YHWH, to my prayer,
and hear (the) voice of my (plea)s for favor.”

This couplet echoes the initial line of verse 1 (cf. above), calling on YHWH to ‘bend’ His ear to the Psalmist’s prayer and hear/answer it. The use of the verb /z~a* (Hiphil, “give/turn [one’s] ear”) matches the idiom “stretch out the ear” (vb hf*n` + /z#a)) in v. 1. This call for YHWH to hear the Psalmist’s petition thus frames the prayer. The verb translated “hear,” bv^q* (Hiphil), would perhaps be more properly rendered “attend to” or “pay attention to”.

Verse 7

“In (the) day of my distress, I call to you—
(O) that you would answer me!”

As verse 6 matches the first line of verse 1, so verse 7 thematically matches the second line:

“for I (am) pressed (down) and needy”

The adjective yn]u* in verse 1 means “pressed (down)”, but could also be rendered “hard-pressed”, which would perhaps be a closer fit to the distress (hr*x*) the Psalmist mentions here. Both terms convey the idea of pressure or stress that a person experiences. The Psalmist’s distress (“day of my distress”), which is indicated here as being the occasion and reason for his prayer to YHWH, will be developed as a principal theme in the third and final part of the Psalm.

The final line could be translated “for you (are sure to) answer me”, treating the perfect tense of the verb /n~u* as a gnomic perfect—i.e., something that God is sure to do, as a reflection of His (eternal) character. However, it seems better to translate the verb as a precative perfect, as an expression of the Psalmist wish and hope (and expectation) for what will happen; cf. Dahood, II, p. 294. In such an instance, the particle yK! would be emphatic, not causal, with a similar precative force (“O, that…!”).

The remainder of the Psalm (Parts 2 and 3, vv. 8-17) will be discussed in next week’s study.

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).

October 30: John 15:7 (continued)

John 15:7, continued

As we examined in the previous note, there is a close connection between the motif of Jesus’ word (lo/go$ / r(h=ma) and the theme of the believer remaining in Jesus (and he in the believer). This is certainly expressed in v. 7a:

“If you should remain in me, and my utterances [r(h/mata] should remain in you…”

The same idiom—viz., of the word of Jesus (or of God the Father) remaining (or being) in (e)n) a person—is found in 5:38 and 8:37, as discussed in the previous note. The noun r(h=ma (lit. “utterance, something uttered”) is used here in v. 7, but r(h=ma and lo/go$ are largely synonymous, in this context, in the Gospel of John; r(h=ma always occurs in the plural (r(h/mata), being virtually identical in meaning with the plural lo/goi—both referring to specific things taught/said by the Son (Jesus) during the time of his earthly ministry.

If Jesus himself “remains” in the believer (vv. 4-5), then his words also will; similarly, based on the reciprocal nature of the abiding relationship, the believer will remain in Jesus, and also will remain in his word(s) (cf. 8:31). Indeed, the relationship of the believer to Jesus’ word(s) is a demonstration of the truth of his/her relationship to Jesus himself. This becomes an especially important point of emphasis for the author of 1 John. The true believer in Christ remains firmly rooted in Christ’s words (i.e., his teaching, proclamation, witness).

The content of the remainder of verse 7 is a bit surprising. Without any preparation, in the context of the Vine-illustration, there is an abrupt introduction of the theme of prayer (and the answer to prayer). If the believer remains in Jesus, and in Jesus’ words, then, as a result of this condition, the promise is:

“…you may request what ever you might wish, and it will come to be (so) for you.”
[In Ë66*, and a few other witnesses, the final word u(mi=n (“for you”) is absent/omitted.]

This echoes a promise stated elsewhere in the Last Discourse, most notably in 14:12-14 and 16:23-24, 26; it also occurs again at the close of the Vine-illustration (v. 16). In 14:12-14 and 16:23-24ff, the condition for prayer being answered is that the disciple (believer) should make the request of God in Jesus’ name (“in my name”). I have discussed these passages in earlier studies in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature. It is clear that the qualifying expression “in my name” relates principally to the believer’s trust in Jesus—specifically, believing that Jesus is the Son sent from heaven by God the Father (16:27), and recognizing the abiding relationship of unity between Father and Son (14:10ff). The latter is particularly important, since the relationship between Father and Son serves as the pattern for the same kind of relationship between the Son and believers. It is worth citing again Jesus’ words to his disciples in 14:10:

“Do you not trust that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The utterances [r(h/mata] that I say to you I do not speak from myself; but the Father remaining [me/nwn] in me, He does His works.”

Central to the Father’s work [e&rgon] that He does in the Son are the words that He speaks through him. The Son (Jesus) speaks the Father’s words, even as he does the Father’s works. Even if one cannot fully understand the nature (in a purely theological sense) of the abiding relationship they share, one can still trust that the works Jesus does, and the words he speaks, are evidence of this relationship—and of his identity as the Son of God:

“You must trust that I am in the Father, and the Father (is) in me; but, if (you can) not, (then) trust through [i.e. because of] the works (them)selves.” (v. 11)

The one who trusts, comes to share in the same relationship—viz., the believer is in the Son, and the Son is in the believer, just as the Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son. As a result, the believer does the Son’s works, even as the Son does the Father’s works:

“Amen, amen, I say to you: the (one) trusting in me—that (one) also will do the (thing)s that I do…” (v. 12)

This sense of the believer’s abiding union with Jesus is at the heart of the Johannine understanding of the expression in Jesus’ name (“in my name”). When requests are made to God from the standpoint of this relationship, then the promise is that they will be answered.

Returning to the version of the promise in 15:7, there is a general parallel with the condition in 14:11:

    • “You must remain in me, and I in you”
      “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you…”
    • “You must trust that I am in the Father and the Father (is) in me…
      …trust in the works…”

It is clear that remaining in Jesus is parallel to (and synonymous with) trusting in him (as the Son of God). Similarly, remaining in his words is comparable to trusting in his works. Both the words and works of Jesus testify to his identity as the Son; indeed, there is a intimately close connection between the words (r(h/mata) and works (e&rga)—so as to be virtually equivalent in meaning (cf. the interchangeability of terms in 14:10).

Commentators can focus on the practical implications of these statements regarding the answer to prayer, and miss the theological (and Christological) implications, which are primary in the Gospel of John. The Son (Jesus) hears what the Father says, but the Father also hears what the Son requests. This aspect of the Father-Son relationship is not as prominent in the Gospel, but it does occur at several points—most notably, at the climactic moment of the Lazarus episode; just prior to the miracle, Jesus prays, addressing the Father:

“Yeshua lifted up his eyes above and said: ‘Father, I give thanks to you (for your) favor, (in) that you (have) heard me. Indeed, I had seen [i.e. known] that you always hear me, but I said (it) through [i.e. because of] the throng (of people) standing around (here), that they might trust that you did send me forth.'” (11:41-42)

The purpose of Jesus’ prayer is that people (i.e., those belonging to God) would come to trust in him—that he is the Son sent by God the Father. This is an important emphasis in the Gospel of John: the prayer that takes place “in Jesus’ name”, and which will surely be answered, relates to this mission of the Son. Believers continue the Son’s mission, and are to pray to the Father following the example of the Son. The theme expressed in 11:41-42, and which is central to the Johannine understanding of prayer, is developed in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17. The prayer-references in the Last Discourse, including the reference here in the Vine illustration, anticipate the teaching and message of Jesus to his disciples (and to us as believers) in chap. 17.

 

 

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple

Having completed our recent series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, set on the occasion of the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple, it is worth considering the broader interpretive implication of the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH.

The Centralization of Worship

An important religious and theological issue in 1 Kings 8 is the centralization of worship for the Israelite people. By this is meant the central place of Jerusalem and the Temple for the religion of the kingdom of Israel/Judah, a principle rooted in the developing royal theology of the kingdom period. Religious unity is essential for unifying the kingdom, and the presence of the Temple was a focal point for this goal of unity. The centrality of Jerusalem (and the Temple) is a fundamental theme of the entire Deuteronomic history, being established in the book of Deuteronomy itself (cf. 12:5-6ff; 14:23-25; 16:2ff; 17:8ff; 26:2; 31:11), but naturally coming into much greater prominence in the book of Kings. In 1 Kings 8, this centrality is expressed two different ways:

    • In the surrounding narrative (vv. 1-11, 62-66), people from all over the kingdom come to Jerusalem, to the Temple precincts, for the festival of Sukkot/Booths, according to the directive given in Deut 31:10-11ff. Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals, during which all adult males were required to “appear before YHWH” (Exod 23:14, 17; 34:23); in the Deuteronomic tradition, this meant traveling to “the place which YHWH will choose” (16:16, etc)—that is, to Jerusalem.
    • Within the Prayer (vv. 12-61), the Jerusalem Temple becomes the focus of the people’s prayers. Regardless of where the people are throughout the kingdom (or even far away in exile), they are to pray in the direction of the Temple.

It is interesting to consider how the religious significance and symbolism of the Temple developed in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and how these lines of tradition ultimately were inherited by early Christians in the first century. A particularly important line of tradition is eschatological—the Temple played a key role in Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought during the first centuries B.C./A.D. I discuss this subject at some length in an earlier article.

It is thus not surprising that the relation of Jesus to the Temple was a theme of some prominence for early Christians, being expressed and developed at various points in the New Testament. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, who was ushering in a New Age for God’s people, meant that the eschatological (and Messianic) significance of the Temple had to be applied to the person of Jesus in some way.

I have discussed Jesus’ relationship to the Jerusalem Temple in the series “Jesus and the Law”, examining it within the broader context of his view of the Law (Torah). The Temple ritual is an important part of the commands and ordinances in the Law, and Jesus’ relation to it is an important aspect of this subject. My study of the subject, in the aforementioned series, was divided into three areas:

    1. Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple
    2. The “Temple saying” of Jesus
    3. Other sayings and teachings related to the Temple

The first two are discussed in Part 6, while the third is examined in Part 7.

In particular, the Temple-action and Temple-saying(s) by Jesus have eschatological (and Messianic) significance, both at the level of the original historical event/tradition, and the way that these have been narrated and presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus consciously responding to the traditional line of eschatological thought—viz., that the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time would involve a new/restored Temple (cf. my previously mentioned article)? I believe that the answer must be regarded as affirmative, though with some qualification. From the earlier studies on the eschatology in the Sayings and Parables of Jesus, we have seen how Jesus repeatedly began from the point of the traditional expectation, but then proceeded to re-interpret it, giving it a deeper meaning in relation to his own person and identity (as Messiah and Son of Man). The same appears to be true with regard to the Temple action, and also the Temple saying (in John they are combined together).

Three distinct strands can be found in the Gospel tradition:

    • The destruction of the Temple in terms of the end-time Judgment
    • A new/restored role and purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The identification of Jesus himself as the new/true Temple, which also marks the end of the old Covenant and the beginning of the new (in Christ)

Early Christians developed all three strands, though it is the last of these which came to dominate by the end of the New Testament period.

Early Christian Views of the Temple

The last two themes mentioned above were applied and developed by early Christians almost immediately, indicating that they followed naturally from Jesus’ own teaching; this pair of themes may be summarized:

    • The Temple as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The Temple fulfilled in the person of Jesus

Both aspects involve the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, allowing for the Temple idea to continue among believers long after the historical Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Already in the Gospel tradition, several statements by Jesus identify the Temple with his own person, and thus imply that following him effectively takes the place of fulfilling the Temple ritual (Matt 12:5-8; John 2:19ff, etc; cf. Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”). This came to be made more explicit by early Christians, and two areas of the New Testament may be highlighted:

    1. The sacrificial ritual is fulfilled and completed (i.e. put to an end) by Jesus’ own (sacrificial) death. This is expressed all throughout the body of Hebrews (4:14-10:18), as well as in passages such as Rom 3:25; Eph 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
    2. Believers in Jesus are priests, able to touch the holy things and to enter, in a spiritual manner, the sacred shrine through our union with Christ. Cf. 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; also Rom 15:16.

Combining both ideas leads to the core image of believers, collectively and in community, as the body of Christ—i.e., the (true) Temple and House of God. This is found numerous times in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; and especially Eph 2:19-22. In 2 Cor 5:1, it refers to the eternal life awaiting believers following death and resurrection. In this regard, there is a clear echo of the Temple-saying of Jesus (in Mk 14:58), with its use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”; cf. also Col 2:11 and the wording in Acts 7:41, 48, 50 [referring to Temples]). In John 2:19ff, the Temple-saying of Jesus was interpreted precisely in terms of his death and resurrection, in which believers now have a share. The idea of believers as the (spiritual) house of God is also found in 1 Pet 2:5; cf. also Rev 3:12.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 85

Psalm 85

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-6 [1-5])

This is the second in a set of Psalms (84-85, 87-88) attributed to “the sons of Qorah [Korah]”; cf. the earlier studies on Pss 42 and 84.

This Psalm has a clear two-part structure: a prayer-petition to YHWH (vv. 2-8), and YHWH’s answer (vv. 9-14) presented in the form of a prophetic oracle. Each part can be further divided into two strophes (vv. 2-4, 5-8; 9-10, 11-14), cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 359, 363. The meter of the composition is relatively consistent, following a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format.

Like the prior Psalms (82-84), Ps 85 is not preserved among the Qumran Psalm manuscripts; however, it does survive in a Dead Sea manuscript from Masada. Though fragmentary and incomplete, the text of this MS is very close to the Masoretic Text, with no variants of note.

Part 1: Verses 2-8 [1-7]

Verse 2 [1]

“May you show favor to your land, O YHWH;
may you (bring) back a return for Ya’aqob!”

The perfect verb forms in this opening couplet (also in vv. 3-4) are best read as precative perfects—expressing the Psalmist’s wish for what will come to pass (cf. Dahood, II, p. 286). They have also been explained as prophetic perfects (cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 360, 362), declaring what will happen as though it has already occurred. If they were to be read as past-tense perfects, then the Psalm would certainly date from the post-exilic period, referring to Israel’s restoration and return from exile.

The noun tWbv= (Qere tyb!v=) has typically been explained as deriving from the root hb*v*, and thus meaning “captivity”; however, a strong argument has been made for deriving it from bWv (“turn back, return”), in which case it would mean something like a return to how things were before. The close parallel in Job 42:10 would seem to confirm this; cf. also Psalm 14:7; 53:7 [6]; 126:4. Thus, we have here an early example, probably dating from the exilic or early post-exilic period, of the prophetic theme of the restoration of Israel.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“May you lift (away the) crookedness of your people;
may you cover (over) all their sin!
Selah
May you gather up all your fury;
may you turn back (the) burning of your anger!”

These two couplets form a symmetrical poetic unit: a 3+2+2+3 quatrain, with a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker in the middle. The first couplet deals with the sin of the people; in the second line the regular noun denoting wrongdoing (lit. missing the mark, ha*F*j^) is used, while in the first line it is /ou* (“crookedness,” i.e., perversity). The Psalmist asks that such sin be forgiven; the action of YHWH is two-fold in this regard—(a) lifting/carrying it away (vb ac*n`), and (b) covering it over (vb hs*K*).

The second couplet deals with YHWH’s response to the people’s sin, having punished it, the punishment being described in terms of God’s anger. The noun hr*b=u# means something like an overflow (of anger); for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “fury”. The noun [a^ properly denotes the nostrils, but it is often used in the general sense of anger, perhaps abstracted from the more concrete (and colorful) image of burning/flaring nostrils (as a sign of anger). The Psalmist asks that this punishing anger be removed, again using two different actions by YHWH to express this: (a) gather it all up (vb [s^a*), and (b) turn it back (vb bWv, Hiphil).

By forgiving the people’s sin, and removing the punishment for it (as an expression of Divine anger), YHWH will be able to restore the fortunes of His people, returning them to a condition (in the land) as it was prior to the exile.

Verse 5 [4]

“Return us, O Mighty (One) of our salvation;
break (off) your (anger), provoked by us!”

The motifs from the first strophe (vv. 2-4) continue here, as the Psalmist calls on YHWH—now using imperatives rather than precative perfects—both to return/restore the people (again using the verb bWv), and to turn away His anger against them. The Psalmist now includes himself (“our/us”) among the people. Dahood (II, p. 287) would read the suffix Wn– on the verb in line 1 as a dative, rather than an accusative object suffix; in this case, the request would be for YHWH to “return to us”. The verb in the second line is presumably rr^P* I (“break”), though Dahood (II, p. 287) identifies it with the cognate Ugaritic prr meaning “flee” —in context, the Hiphil would mean “make your anger flee away from us”. Other commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 173) would instead, following the LXX, read a form of the verb rWs (“turn aside/away”). The noun su^K^ fundamentally means a disturbance or “stirring up” of anger—i.e., a provoking, or provocation.

Verse 6 [5]

“Will you be angry with us into (the) distant (future),
drawing your anger (endlessly) for cycle and cycle?”

The first line begins with a prefixed interrogative particle (-h), by which the Psalmist reinforces his petition with an earnest, but rhetorical, question. The question assumes/expects a negative response: surely, God will not be angry with His people forever. The noun <l*ou signifies a (period of) time extending either into the distant past or distant future; here it refers to the future. The noun roD has the basic meaning “circle, cycle”, but is often translated as “generation” —i.e., “for generation and generation”. Even if one renders roD this way here, it is important to realize that the time-frame of a generation is being emphasized, more so than the people in it; the parallel with <l*ou makes this clear. For the specific expression rwdw rwd[l] elsewhere in the Psalms, cf. 10:7 [6]; 33:11; 45:18 [17]; 49:12 [11]; 61:7 [6]; 72:5; 77:9 [8]; 79:13; 89:2 [1], 5 [4]; 90:1; 100:5; 102:13 [12]; 106:31; 119:90; 135:13; 146:10.

Verse 7 [6]

“Will you not return (and) make us live (again),
so (that) your people may be glad in you?”

The Psalmist asks a second question, this time in the negative, and assuming/expecting a positive response: surely, God will restore his people to life! Again the verb bWv (“return”) is used, with the verb pair bWv / hy`j* probably functioning as a hendiadys: i.e., “return (and) make us live” = “restore us to life”. The restoration of God’s people would naturally lead to their rejoicing and praise of Him.

Verse 8 [7]

“Make us to see, O YHWH, your goodness,
and your salvation may you give to us!”

The Piel of hy`j* (in the sense of “make live”) is followed here by the Hiphil (causative) stem of ha*r* (“see,” i.e., “cause to see, make see”). The restoration of God’s people entails blessing. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) refers to the blessings that YHWH gives to His people, when they are faithful/loyal to the covenant bond; ds#j#, in this covenantal context, connotes the faithfulness and loyalty (of YHWH). The blessing, and the covenant-obligation of YHWH for His people, also includes providing protection—i.e., giving “salvation”, as the noun uv^y# can also mean “well-being, safety, victory”. This is a frequent theme in the Psalms.

Part 2: Verses 9-14 [8-13]

Verse 9 [8]

“I shall make heard what the Mighty (One) speaks,
for YHWH (indeed) does speak fullness
to His people and to His devoted (one)s,
and they shall not return to a false hope!”

With Dahood (II, p. 288), I vocalize humva as a Hiphil imperfect (jussive/cohortative) form, hu*m!v=a^. The Psalmist here functions like a prophet, receiving an oracle from YHWH, which he then reports (makes heard). The oracle represents the answer of YHWH to the prayer of vv. 2-8.

The noun <olv* is typically translated “peace”, but properly denotes “fullness, completion”. It is often used (especially in the Psalms) in the context of the covenant-bond with YHWH. Fulfilling the binding agreement leads to blessing—well-being, security, and peace—from God. The adjective dys!j* (“good, kind”), like the related noun ds#j# (in v. 8), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness and loyalty; I have translated it here as “devoted”. The phrase “to His people and His devoted (one)s” is another example of hendiadys (cf. verse 7 above); it essentially means “to the devoted ones of His people”.

The final line is problematic, and may be corrupt. For lack of any better option (the lone Dead Sea manuscript is not preserved beyond v. 6), I more or less follow the MT, understanding the noun hl*s=K! in the sense of a “false/foolish hope”. The promise is that, with the restoration of the people by YHWH, they will no longer be inclined to return to such folly (trusting in other gods, etc), but will be fully devoted and faithful to YHWH, placing their trust in Him alone.

Verse 10 [9]

“Truly, His salvation (is) near for (those) fearing Him—
(and His) weight (is again) to dwell in our land!”

As noted above, the noun uv^y# has a somewhat broader semantic range than the primary denotation of “salvation”; it can also mean “well-being, safety, victory” —referring to the blessings and protection that YHWH provides to His faithful followers, as an obligation of the covenant. The second line is a bit obscure, but it seems to be referring to the promise of YHWH’s presence—expressed here by the noun dobK* (“weight,” i.e., His glory)—among His people. The noun dobK* may also allude to the blessings that stem from His protective and abiding presence in the land.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“Goodness and firmness meet (as one),
rightness and fullness join (together);
firmness sprouts (up) from (the) earth,
and rightness leans down from (the) heavens.”

In the first couplet, four nouns, each of which has a wide semantic range, are used; all four allude to covenant loyalty, and the bond between YHWH and his people:

    • ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”)—cf. verse 8 (and the adjective dys!j* in v. 9b); in the context of the covenant, it can specifically connote “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”.
    • tm#a# (“firmness”)—i.e., faithfulness, trustworthiness, etc., sometimes in the sense of being truthful (and thus, more abstractly, “truth”).
    • qd#x# (“right[ness]”)—or “righteousness,” when a religious-ethical emphasis is intended; also “justice”, in a socio-ethical context; in the context of the covenant, it has a meaning that overlaps with ds#j# (i.e., loyalty).
    • <olv* (“fullness, completion”)—sometimes in the specific sense of “well-being, security”, or, more narrowly, “peace”.

These four are divided into two groups: ds#j# / qd#x# and tm#a# / <olv*. The two sides “come/join together”, a meeting or union that is expressed in the first couplet by the verbs vg~P* and qv^n` (the latter verb can specifically mean “kiss”, including the idea of embracing). The meeting can be understood as taking place in a horizontal direction. In the second couplet (v. 12), a vertical direction is indicated—i.e., coming (lit. “sprouting”) up from the earth, and leaning down from the heavens.

These verses express the presence of Divine blessings on the land and its people, in a thorough and comprehensive way. As noted above, the four attribute-nouns all reflect, with slightly different nuances, the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. The faithfulness of the people in the time of Israel’s restoration will mirror that of YHWH Himself.

Verse 13 [12]

“Indeed, YHWH shall give (forth) the good,
and our land shall give along her produce.”

Here, the blessing from YHWH is described specifically in terms of the fertility of the land. There is a formal parallel here:

    • YHWH | gives (vb /t^n`) | the good
    • the land | gives (vb /t^n`) | her produce

While the noun bof (“good”) should be understood in a general and comprehensive sense—viz., as the richness and blessing that God provides—the specific expression “the good” (boFh^) likely is allusion to the rain that comes down from heaven (from YHWH) to water and make fertile the land (cf. Dahood, II, p. 290, and elsewhere). For an agricultural and pastoral society, rain certainly would be among the foremost of the good things and blessings that God could provide.

The noun lWby+ is a bit difficult to translate in English. It basically denotes something that is brought/carried along, or refers to the process of such carrying. The fertile land brings forth its produce, bearing it and carrying it along.

Verse 14 [13]

“Right(eous)ness shall go before His face,
and shall set (the) path for His steps.”

This concluding couplet is rather ambiguous. Who is the subject and/or what is the precise scenario being so allusively described? If it is the returning of the people that is principally in view here, then it would make sense that YHWH’s right(eousness) (qd#x#) would go before His people and set the path for them on their return. It is also possible that the emphasis is on YHWH returning, to His land and His people, in which case qd#x# would be going before Him. It may be that both points of reference are in view, as in the general parallels one finds, for example, in the book of Isaiah and the deutero-Isaian poems—e.g., 35:8ff; 40:3; 42:16; 43:19ff; 51:10-11.

Here qd#x# stands for all four of the attribute-nouns related to the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant (cf. on vv. 11-12 above). It represents the overarching characteristic of the New Age of Israel’s restoration—referring to the restored people as the righteous and faithful ones, those fully devoted to YHWH, and who walk in His footsteps, following His example.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).