June 29: 1 John 5:4

1 John 5:1-4, continued
Verse 4f

“(Indeed, it is) that every(thing) having come to be (born) of God is victorious [nika=|] (over) the world” (v. 4a)

As a follow-up to the previous note, on 5:1-4a, it will be helpful to look in detail at verse 4a, along with in the transitional sub-unit vv. 4b-5. First, there is the clear parallel with verse 1a; indeed, the two short statements effectively bracket the unit (cf. the chiastic outline in the previous note):

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God”
    • “every(thing) having come to (be) born of God is victorious (over) the world”

The parallelism is even more precise (with a clear thematic chiasm) if we include vv. 4b-5:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God
        is victorious (over) the world…
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God.”

There is also a logical sequence at work:

    • Everyone trusting in Yeshua =>
      • has come to be born of God
        and, everyone born of God =>

        • is victorious over the world.

Through our trust in Jesus Christ we (as believers) become the offspring (te/kna) of God, sharing the presence and power of the Son of God. And, since the Son (Jesus) has been victorious over the world, so are we, the other offspring of God, who are united with him. This idiom of being victorious (vb nika/w) over “the world” (o( ko/smo$) represents a key Johannine theme, attested in both the Gospel and First Letter. Though rare in the Gospel, it occurs in the climactic declaration by Jesus at the end of the Last Discourse (16:33): “…I have been victorious (over) the world!”. This refers, principally, to the Son’s completion of his mission (viz., his death and exaltation), for which the Father sent him to earth. This is alluded to in 1 Jn 3:5a and 8b, though without use of the verb nika/w.

In the Johannine theological idiom (and mode of expression) “the world” (o( ko/smo$) refers to the domain of darkness and evil—on earth, among human beings—that is fundamentally opposed to God. Throughout the Johannine writings, there is a stark contrast between God and “the world”, as also between believers and “the world”. Since true believers are the children of God, the world has the same opposition and hostility toward them that it does to God the Father (and Jesus the Son)—cf. Jn 15:18-19; 16:20; 17:14ff. The contrastive juxtaposition, between believers and the world, runs throughout the Last Discourse, and also the Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (where the noun ko/smo$ occurs 18 times).

As the offspring/children of God, believers share in the Son’s victory over the world (Jn 16:33). The author of 1 John mentions this on several occasions—first, in 2:13-14, when he states, in particular, that the “young (one)s” (neani/skoi) “have been victorious (over) the Evil” (nenikh/kate to\n ponhro/n). Probably the articular substantive adjective o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) should be translated “the Evil one”, in reference to the Satan/Devil (cf. 3:8). Being victorious over the Devil is essentially the same as being victorious over the world (cf. 5:19), since the Devil is “the chief (ruler) of the world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The ‘defeat’ and “casting out” of the Devil is part of the Son’s victory over the world (cf. 12:31; 16:11, in relation to 16:33), which occurred with the completion of his earthly mission (1 Jn 3:8).

This is stated even more clearly in 4:4:

“You are of God, (dear) offspring [tekni/a], and (so) have been victorious (over) them…”

The reference is specifically to the “antichrist” opponents (vv. 1ff), who are false believers belonging to the world, and not to God. Thus, true believers are (already) victorious over these “antichrists”, since they share in the Son’s victory over the world. A theological basis for the statement in v. 4a is provided in v. 4b:

“…(in) that [i.e. because] the (One) in you is greater than the (one) in the world.”

The expression “the (one) in you” refers to the Spirit of God, which is also the Spirit of the Son (viz., his abiding presence), in contrast to the false/evil “spirit of antichrist” that is present and at work throughout the world. As the offspring of God, they/we are born of God’s Spirit (Jn 3:3-8), and enter into an abiding union with God through the Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13, and the Paraclete-sayings in their Gospel context). Since this birth comes about as a result of our trust in Jesus, and we (as believers) abide/remain in that trust, the author can say, in all truth, that our victory over the world lies in our trust. This the message of 5:4-5 (as a unit):

“(So it is) that every(one) having come to be (born) of God is victorious (over) the world—and this is the victory (hav)ing been victorious (over) the world: our trust. [Indeed,] who is the (one) being victorious (over) the world, if not the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God?”

As previously mentioned, vv. 4b-5 are transitional, serving both as the conclusion of 4:7-5:4 and the introduction of 5:5-12, where the theme of trust in Jesus again becomes the primary focus. The section 5:4b-12 shares with 2:18-27 and 4:1-6 an emphasis on the false view of Jesus Christ held by the “antichrist” opponents (thus their designation as a)nti/xristo$, lit., “against the Anointed”). From a rhetorical standpoint, the author’s declarations, to the effect that his readers have (already) been victorious over these opponents, are meant to exhort the Johannine Christians to reject the opponents’ teachings, and thus to protect the congregations from the malevolent influence of these ‘false believers’.

Interestingly, as a variation of his usual manner of expression, the author, at the beginning of verse 4, uses the neuter— “every(thing) [pa=n to/] having come to be (born) of God”, rather than “every(one) [pa=$ o(] having come to be (born) of God”. Probably this switch anticipates the use of the feminine subjects “victory” (ni/kh) and “trust” (pi/sti$) in v. 4b, and thus allows for a generalizing of the reference. Our trust, like our love, ultimately comes from God as its source, and thus, in its own way, can be said to be ‘born’ of God.

At some point, in a later study, I intend to analyze the many instances of Johannine essential predication that pervade these passages (cf. the examples discussed in prior notes, e.g., on 3:1, 2, 3, 7, 8; 4:7). They are fundamental to the Johannine theological idiom and mode/manner of expression, and are utilized extensively by the author of 1 John.

In the next daily note, however, we will examine the final birth/offspring reference in the Johannine writings—the author’s climactic declaration in 1 Jn 5:18.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 21

Psalm 21

Thematically, Psalm 20 and 21 belong together, with each having as its background the Israelite/Judean king and his army in time of war. An important aspect of the ancient Near Eastern covenant idea, in terms of political agreements, is that the binding agreement (tyr!B=) involves treaty terms for (military) assistance and protection. In agreements between equal parties, this means mutual protection; however, in the case of suzerain-vassal treaties, the emphasis is on the protection and aid provided by the sovereign, or superior party. From the standpoint of the Israelite/Judean royal theology, the king is a vassal of YHWH, and, insofar as he remains faithful and loyal to the covenant, he receives Divine aid and protection in time of need.

This royal theology underlies many of the Psalms, including these two (20 and 21) in particular, dealing with situations involving the need for military action and warfare. The setting of Psalm 20 (cf. the previous study) is a communal prayer to YHWH for assistance that will bring victory for the king and his army. In Psalm 21, this has shifted to a declaration of praise and thanksgiving for the victory provided by YHWH.

The structure of Psalm 21 is similar to that of Psalm 20, and may be divided into two parts:

    • Vv. 3-8—the blessings given to the king by YHWH, reflecting the covenant bond between the two
    • Vv. 9-13—the aid given to the king, specifically, that allows him to be victorious in battle

These stanzas are bracketed by couplets of praise to YHWH (vv. 2, 14). The two parts have a joining transition point in vv. 8-9 which contrasts the faithfulness/loyalty of the king, binding him to YHWH, against the wickedness of his enemies/opponents and their helplessness before God.

The meter in the first half tends to be 4+4, while 3+3 in the second, though there are certain irregularities throughout. The superscription, with minimal musical information and direction, is the same as that of Ps 20 (and many other of the Psalms). Sadly, neither Psalm 20 nor 21 are preserved among the Dead Sea Scroll Psalms manuscripts.

Verse 2 [1]

“YHWH, in your strength the king finds joy,
and in your salvation, how great(ly) he spins (for joy)!”

In this opening (4+4) couplet, praising YHWH for the blessings shown to the king, the nouns zu) (“strength, might”) and hu*Wvy+ (“salvation, protection”) must be understood in terms of the assistance provided by God in time of war (cf. above). YHWH’s “strength” is what ultimately gives the king victory in battle—it is a Divine protection which keeps him safe from death and defeat. Compare this couplet with the closing praise in verse 14 [13] (cf. below).

Verses 3-8 [2-7]

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“(The) longing of his heart you have given to him,
and (for the) desire of his lips you have held nothing back; Selah
for you put blessings of goodness in front of him,
you set onto his head a circle [i.e. crown/wreath] of pure (gold).”

Throughout these two Psalms the king represents the people as a whole, and the community identifies itself with the anointed ruler as the faithful one(s) of YHWH. Thus the prayer of the people (in Ps 20) blends into the prayer of the king (for victory in battle). This couplet confirms that the prayer—both of king and people—has been answered. The synonymous parallelism is clear, with the second line intensifying the theme of the first. The noun tv#r#a& in line 2 occurs only here in the Old Testament, from an unused root (vr^a*) that is, however, attested in other Semitic languages (such as Ugaritic). Both the context here, and the cognate usage, indicate that the meaning is something like “desire, wish, request”.

The lone occurrence of the musical indicator hl*s# (selah) after this couplet is difficult to explain. Under the basic assumption that it is meant primarily as a pause in singing/reciting the text, it may be intended to preserve the integrity of the couplet, in light of the conjunction (yK!) that begins the next line.

The encircling wreath (tr#f#u&) of gold signifies the honor that comes from victory in battle—a victory won through YHWH’s own strength. There may be an alliterative parallel intended between tr#f#u& (±¦‰ere¾) and the earlier tv#r#a& (°¦reše¾) in verse 3.

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“(Year)s of life he asked from you, and you gave to him—
length of days (for the) distant (future and) until (the end);
great (is) his weight (achieved) in [i.e. through] your salvation,
(great the) honor and splendor you have placed upon him!”

These two couplets, with slight irregularities of meter, expound two different aspects of the honor given to king by YHWH:

    • the opportunity to live a long and full life, i.e. saved from death in battle; long life being especially valued as an ideal in ancient times, and here expressed two ways:
      • the plural noun <yY]j^ which signifies a (long) life; spec. the years of a person’s life(time), but perhaps also in an intensive or emphatic sense (i.e. full life)
      • “length of days”, the length(ing) of days being a common Semitic idiom for old age and a long life
    • the value and worth (lit. “weight”, dobK*) of his person is enhanced, marked by an honorific improvement of his appearance, using the alliterative expression rd*h*w+ doh (hô¼ w®h¹¼¹r, roughly “honor and splendor”)
Verse 7-8 [6-7]

“(So it is) that you set blessings for him until (the end),
you have made him look with joy at your face;
(for it is) that the king is (one) trusting in YHWH,
and in (the) kindness of the Highest there is no slipping (away)!”

The blessings of a long life of honor and splendor here climax with the idea of a future blessing that involves a beatific vision of God (i.e. to look upon His “face”). I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 133) in reading the verb hd*j* as = hz`j* (“look/gaze at, behold”), which better fits the context of the line; it would be thus explained as a (Canaanite) dialectical form involving the familiar interchange of the consonants d/z (Heb d/z).

The final couplet emphasizes again the (covenant) loyalty of the king, characterizing him as one “trusting” in YHWH, using a participle form of a verb (jf^B*) which can specifically connote the idea of seeking protection. This loyalty is reciprocated by God’s own, showing goodness/kindness (ds#j#) and favor to the faithful vassal. The covenant bond is indicated by the closing phrase, “there is no slipping (away)” (foMy] lB^), reading the Niphal verb form in a reflexive sense—i.e., there is no falling away from the covenant bond with YHWH.

Verses 9-14 [8-13]

As noted above, a 3+3 meter dominates the second part of the Psalm, which describes God’s blessings to the king in terms of the aid/assistance given to him in time of battle.

Verses 9-10 [8-9]

“Your hand found (its way) to all your enemies,
your right (hand) found (its way to the one)s hating you;
you set them as a fire-stove at the time your face (appears)—
with His nostril(s) He engulfs them, and (His) fire devours them.”

The mixing of 2nd and 3rd person forms is a bit confusing, but hardly unusual in Old Testament poetry. It is all the more natural here, given the close connection between the king’s military action and the strength of YHWH Himself that fights for the king (cf. above). More difficult is the extended/irregular meter of verse 10, suggesting that there may be one or more (secondary) accretions to the couplet. I tentatively emend the text to read as a 4+4 couplet, by omitting the first of the two occurrences of va@ (“fire”), in line 1, and the divine name hwhy in line 2. The addition of the name may be an explanatory gloss to clarify the identity of the 2nd person markers (i.e., “…your face, YHWH” ). It is perhaps best to understand YHWH as the subject throughout, referring to His actions on the king’s behalf.

The judgment of God on His enemies (= the king/Israel’s enemies) is expressed by the idiom of the face, according to the traditional religious idea that to see YHWH’s face means death for a human being. This fiery destruction from God’s “face” natural blends together with the common idiom for God’s anger—i.e., burning from the nostrils (as of an angry, snorting bull).

Verse 11 [10]

“Their fruit you made to perish from (the) earth,
and their seed from (among the) sons of man.”

This couplet suggests something more than the defeat of a nation or people in battle, though it may allude to the idea of a defeat so total that it would virtually deprive an entire generation of its young men. More likely is the notion that the military defeat of Israel/Judah’s enemies reflects a wider sense of their (ultimate) destruction that has been determined by God. The nouns “fruit” and “seed” of course are used figuratively for the children/offspring of a people.

Verses 12-13 [11-12]

“(For it was) that they stretched out evil upon you,
they wove an (evil) plan, (but) were not able (to complete it);
(so it is) that you set them (to the) shoulder,
you fixed your (bow)strings upon their faces.”

There is a clear parallel  between the enemies of God “stretching” out evil strands upon (lu*) Him, and God, in turn, aiming His bowstrings upon (lu*) their faces. It is typical of the thematic imagery found in the Psalms (and other Old Testament poetry) in they way that the evil intent of the wicked is turned back upon them, so that they are essentially destroyed by the very thing they sought to accomplish. We have already encountered a number of examples of this sort in the Psalms we have studied thus far. The precise meaning of the idiom in the first line of v. 13 [12] is not entirely clear; I have rendered it quite literally: “that you set them (to the) shoulder”. It could indicate a person turning his back (to flee), or, perhaps, of bending/falling down in defeat (or submission). In any case, the defeat of God’s enemies—meaning also the defeat of Israel’s enemies—is clear.

VERSE 14 [13]

“May you rise up (high), YHWH, in your strength,
and we shall sing and make music in your might!”

This closing couplet is parallel to the opening couplet of the Psalm (v. 2 [1], cf. above), emphasizing both the strength (zu)) of YHWH that brought victory for the king, and also the praise of the people who rejoice together in that victory. The noun hr*WbG+ (“strength, might, vigor”) in the second line is virtually synonymous with zu) in the first. It alludes to the youthful vigor of warriors, only, for the Israelite/Judean army of the king faithful to YHWH, the normal strength of young men has been enhanced by the divine power of YHWH Himself. This is reflected in verse 8 [7] of Psalm 20 (cf. the previous study), with the contrast between those nations who trust in their (ordinary) military strength (of horses and chariots, etc), and those who rely instead on the person and presence (the “Name”) of YHWH the true God. Even for later Israelites, Jews, and Christians, for whom the original military setting of this Psalm has long disappeared, it is a contrast that all faithful believers can still appreciate.

References marked “Dahood” above (and throughout these studies) are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).



Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 20

Psalm 20

This Psalm (and the one following) have, as its original setting and background, the royal Israelite/Judean army, led by its king, preparing to go to war. I agree with earlier commentators (Gunkel, Dahood, et al) who identified this context, and the wording and imagery throughout the composition would seem to confirm that it is correct. The Psalm functions as a prayer to God for victory in battle, and may well reflect a specific ritual setting, involving sacrificial offerings made prior to going out to battle. It is not necessary, however, to insist that the Psalm was originally composed for performance in such a setting.

The religious and theological dimension of warfare, expressed in this Psalm, will doubtless seem foreign to modern western readers; indeed, many Christians today may find the association rather repellent, in light of our modern view of the medieval Crusades, Islamic jihad, and other forms of “holy war”. However, in the ancient Near East, the divine role in warfare simply reflected an understanding of the control exercised by deities (or the Deity) over all areas of daily life. The success of an army meant that its gods (or God) favored it, with the deities of the victorious nation effectively gaining victory over those of the defeated people. In the context of Israelite Yahwism, a victory in battle for Israel served as proof that their God (YHWH) was superior to those of the other nations.

The language of the Psalm was such that, over time, the concepts of salvation and victory, trust in the name of God, etc, could be given a wider and more general application to the people of Israel. However, like many of the Psalms, the royal background must be kept clearly in view and central to any proper interpretation. The original context is that of the king and his army, as he responds to the various conflicts with his enemies and opponents. While these “enemies” may be treated generically and symbolically at many points in the Psalms, the poems were also composed within the background of real socio-political conflicts and real battles. It was not the classic “holy war” of the earlier Israelite confederacy, but the basic idea remained, filtered through a strong (Judean) royal theology, regarding the king (from the line of David) and his relationship to YHWH.

Structurally, the Psalm divides into two parts:

    • Vv. 2-6—a prayer for God’s help and support, for the king (and his army)
    • Vv. 7-10—a declaration of victory, indicating that the prayer has been (i.e. will be) answered

Rhythmically, a 4-beat meter dominates in the first part (2+2, but 4+4 in the opening couplet), though not without some tension and irregularity, which may be a way of expressing musically the “distress” that the king faces. In the second part, it is a 3+3 meter, again with certain irregular points of tension that build, only to resolve in the final two couplets.

The musical direction in the superscription simply indicates that this Psalm is another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to” David.

Part 1: Verses 2-6

Verse 2 [1]

“May YHWH answer you (to bring victory) in (the) day of distress,
(the) name of the Mightiest (One) of Ya’aqob set you (safe) on high!”

This 4+4 couplet establishes the theme and setting of the Psalm, which, as noted above, would seem to be a time of conflict for the king (and nation), requiring an act of war. In several Old Testament passages, the verb hn`u* connotes the idea of engaging in violent conflict, to force an opponent into submission, etc (e.g., Num 24:24); in such instances, it is root hn`u* III in the Piel stem. Here, apparently, in line 1 the root is hn`u* I (“answer, respond”), implying the hope that YHWH will answer the prayer and respond to king’s need (in battle). The verb bg~c* in the second line, in the Piel stem, refers to putting something (or someone) in a high place, where they will be safe.

The concept of the “name”, especially that of the deity, was extremely complex in ancient Near Eastern thought. A person’s name embodied the character and nature of the person. Thus, to speak of God’s name, was to refer to God Himself–His nature, power, and presence. Moreover, at times, the “name” of God was understood as functioning as a distinct hypostasis, or active manifestation. Here the “name” (<v@) of the Mighty One (“Mightiest”, <yh!l)a$, i.e. God) of Jacob (Israel) protects the people of Israel, and their king. For more on significance of names and naming in the Old Testament, cf. my earlier Christmas series “And you shall call His name…”, especially the articles on the names of God.

Verses 3-6 [2-5]

“May He send your help from (His) holy place,
and give you (His) support from ‚iyyôn;
may He remember all your gifts (to Him),
and receive the fat (of) your rising (offering)s. Selah
May He give (to) you according to your heart,
and fulfill (for you) all of your plan(s);
may we shout (for joy) in your salvation,
and in (the) name of our Mightiest display (the banner)!
May YHWH fulfill all your petitions (to Him)!”

After the 4+4 bicolon of verse 2, a series of four 2+2 couplets follow, interrupted by a pause (hl*s#, selah), perhaps to indicate that the four couplets should not be run together, but to function as two distinct strophes. The first strophe establishes the religious context of the prayer, and of the mobilization for war (on this last point, cf. above). The “help” (rz#u@) YHWH will send to the king comes from His “holy place” (vd@q))—that is, the sanctuary of the Temple, in the temple-palace complex on the ancient fortified hill-top locale (Zion) of Jerusalem. Moreover, this response is predicated upon the faithfulness of the king (and his priests and people) in fulfilling the ritual obligations of the covenant: the “gifts” and sacrificial offerings to God. Possibly, a specific sacrificial ritual, prior to going out to war, and overseen by the king, is in view.

The second strophe, or pair of couplets, brings out this relationship of the king and his people (including his army). The first couplet offers a prayer that God will allow the king to fulfill everything that he plans (presumably in terms of conducting the war); and that, as a result, the people will be able to shout together in confidence that victory (salvation) is assured. The verb lg~D* is often used in the technical sense of displaying (i.e. carrying/raising) a banner or (military) standard.

The final couplet serves a climax to the first part of the Psalm, emphasizing again the prayer context. It is framed in terms of the petitions that the king himself will make to God, presumably prior to (and during) the course of the battle.

Part 2: Verses 7-10

Verse 7 [6]

“Now I know that YHWH brings salvation (for) His anointed—
He (has) responded from (the) heavens of His holy (place),
(bring)ing salvation with (the great) strength of His right (hand)!”

The opening of this part of the Psalm parallels the couplet in verse 2 (cf. above), building upon the war-prayer setting. It is a declaration that God has answered the prayer, and will bring victory (“salvation”). The beat of the opening is irregular—almost, but not quite a 3+3 couplet; I have rendered it above as a single line. A proper 3+3 couplet follows, expounding the idea in the opening line. I tentatively regard the plural form torb%g+ (“strengths, mighty [deed]s”) as an intensive plural, perhaps to convey the sense that YHWH’s aid from heaven will function much like the warriors (“mighty ones”, <yr!oBG]) of an earthly army. On the king as the “anointed one” (j^yv!m*) of God, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 2.

Verse 8 [7]

“Th(e)se with the ride [i.e. chariot], and th(o)se with the horses—
(but) we bring to mind (our trust) in the name of our Mightiest!”

The sequence of 3+3 couplets is interrupted by this 4+4 bicolon, the precise sense of which is difficult to determine. It appears to incorporate a proverbial slogan, perhaps reflecting the ancient “holy war” tradition of the Israelite confederacy. The main idea appears to be that the Israelite army does not simply rely upon superior military strength (i.e. chariots and horses) for victory, but upon the support of YHWH their God. It seems likely that the actual name YHWH (the tetragrammaton hwhy) may be a secondary addition; many commentators omit it as disruptive to the rhythm, and its absence is indicated in the A text of the Greek LXX.

More problematic is the final verb form ryK!z+n~, which would be parsed as a Hiphil imperfect of the verb rk^z`, essentially meaning “bring to mind”. According to this, the line would read: “but we bring to mind with/by the name of our Mightiest”. The parallel with Isa 48:1 suggests that the idea here involves an affirmation of Israel’s allegiance to YHWH, making an oath or confession of loyalty by His name. This special sense of invoking God’s name, with its magical-religious attributes, is also indicated in Isa 26:13; 62:6, and Amos 6:10. By contrast, Dahood (p. 129), derives ryK!z+n~ from a separate root, a denominative verb based on rk*z` (“male”), i.e. “to be male”; as such, the form would be parallel to ryB!g+n~ (from rb#G#, “strong/vigorous [young] man”), cf. Psalm 12:5. In context, the meaning would then be “we will be strong/victorious (in battle)”. It is an intriguing interpretation, but the use such a denominative verb rk^z` (II) elsewhere in the Old Testament is extremely slight and uncertain (but see Exod 34:19).

Verses 9-10 [8-9]

“They—they bend down and fall,
but we—we rise and take our (stand) again;
YHWH brings salvation (to) him, the king,
He answers us in (the) day we call (to Him).”

The contrast between Israel and the other nations (spec. their opponents) is continued from verse 8 in the first couplet. Those who trust in chariots and horses are bent to the ground and fall (in defeat), while those who rely on YHWH’s strength, invoking His name in allegiance to Him, rise to stand victorious in battle. The specific verb forms in the final couplet are unclear; the Masoretic pointing indicates an imperative, following by a jussive, i.e. “YHWH, (may you) bring salvation…may He answer us…”. However, it may be better (and more consistent) to read the first verb form as = ouyv!oh (“He brings/brought salvation [for] him”, i.e. for the king). Both the prayer setting (with an answer to prayer), and the unified juxtaposition of king and people (army), are integral to the entire sense and structure of the Psalm.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 18 – Part 4

Psalm 18:32-51

Psalm 18:32-46 [31-45]

Verses 32-46 [31-45] mark a clear section of the Psalm, and, according to many critical commentators, represent the bulk of an original poem that was combined (with vv. 1-31) to comprise the current work as we have it (in Ps 18 and 2 Sam 22). The theme throughout is that of the military victory that YHWH brings to the faithful ruler. Certainly this the line of imagery is rooted in the ancient Israelite/Judean royal theology, though we must cautious about reading specific historical circumstances into the text. The military/victory theme provides a suitable complement to the deliverance theme in the first half of the Psalm (esp. verses 4-20).

Verse 32 [31]

“For who (is the) Mighty (One) apart from YHWH?
Who (is the) Rock apart from our Mightiest (One)?”

The initial couplet extols YHWH as the Mighty One (la@, i.e. ‘God’). It is not a statement of absolute monotheism, but confirms that the only true (and proper) God for the people of Israel is El-Yahweh—that is, YHWH identified as the “Mighty One”, the ancient Semitic Creator Deity (‘El). On this qualified monotheism in the Israelite religion of the late-2nd and early-1st millennium, see, for example, the Song of Moses (Deut 32:3, 8-12, 15, 17-18, 30-31, 36ff). Cf. especially Deut 32:31, where the same divine appellative “Rock” (rWx) is used precisely to make this distinction that (only) YHWH is Israel’s God, greater and mightier than all others. A literal rendering here of la@ and <yh!ýa$ as “Mighty” and “Mightiest” is especially useful in preparing the way for the strength/victory motifs that follow.

Verse 33 [32]

“The Mighty (One is) my place of security,
and the (One) giving strength (of arms)—
(the) path of His (power is) complete!”

Verse 33 [32], in the text as we have it, would seem to be a 2+2+2 tricolon. Given the parallels between vv. 33-35 and Habakkuk 3:19, it is possible that a traditional 3-beat tricolon has been expanded (cf. Cross and Freedman, p. 30). In the first line, Ps reads yn]r@Z+a^m=h^ (“the one girding me”), while 2 Sam has yZ]Wum* (“my place of security”); the latter is more concise and a more suitable parallel for the second line. I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 114, along with Freedman) in reading the MT /T@y] (“he gives”) as = participle /t@y) (“[the] one giving”); 2 Sam mistakenly reads the verb rty for /ty. I also understand yK!R=d^ in line 3 as preserving a y– 3rd person masculine suffix (“His way”); cp. the standard 3rd person o– suffix (oKr=d^) in 2 Sam. The royal theological background here also supports the connotation “domain, dominion” for ird, which I render above as “path (of power)”.  The corresponding line in Hab 3:19a is: “YHWH my Lord (is) my strength” (yl!yj@ yn`d)a& hwhy).

Verses 34-35 [33-34]

“Making my feet like (those of) a deer,
He lets me stand upon His high places;
teaching my hand(s) for battle,
He brings down (the) bronze bow (in) my arms.”

Following the relative difficulties in v. 33, verses 34-35 have a clearer sense, a pair of 3+3 couplets that expound the strength that YHWH gives to the Psalmist. The rhythm and idiom is a bit awkward, due to a mixing of motifs; the main difficulty is in the last line, where the precise sense of the image is unclear. Overall, the imagery relates to physical strength and prowess, used to represent military ability and leadership in battle. In the first couplet, the focus is on the feet—in terms of speed and leaping ability (the deer [lY`a^] makes for a natural comparison). The second couplet has the parallel idea of the hands (or arms)—there is no corresponding motif from nature, but a clear interpretation in terms of military skill. As the second line of the first couplet contains the idea of ascent, it seems likely that the verb tj^n` in the parallel line of the second couplet specifically denotes descent. The image seems to be that of a divinely-touched bow (tv#q#) descending (from heaven) into the Psalmist’s arms. The word hv*Wjn+ presumably means “bronze” (cp. Job 20:24); however, there are several distinct roots vjn in Hebrew, and Dahood (p. 115) would derive hvjn here from the root signifying enchantment (i.e. divination, etc)—i.e., an enchanted bow. Perhaps some such wordplay is involved, as there is also between vjn and tjn. In any case, the divinely-touched bow symbolizes military skill that is inspired/guided by YHWH.

The corresponding couplet in Hab 3:19b-c is:

“He sets my feet (to be) like a deer,
He makes me tread upon His high places”

As in the Psalm, it is best to read the y– of yt^omB* as preserving the 3rd person suffix (“His high places”), frequent in older poetry and easily confused with the standard 1st-person suffix (i.e., “my high places”).

Verses 36-37 [35-36]

“You have given to me (the) protection [i.e. shield] of your salvation,
[your right hand holds me up]
and your conquering (power) has increased m(y ability);
you have made wide my steps beneath me,
and (so) my ankles did not slip (out from under).”

Ps 18 has an additional line in the first couplet (in square brackets above), and the irregular meter also indicates likely corruption in the text; the shorter reading in 2 Sam is probably to be preferred. The imagery of military strength and prowess is continued from the prior couplets, only here the idea of victory and success (in battle) is included. The ‘shield’ of YHWH’s protection saves the Psalmist, and his own ability to conquer (root wnu/hnu) similarly comes from YHWH, bringing an increase (vb hbr) in his skill/strength. Similarly, God gives to him secure footing and strong support on the ground.

Verses 38-39 [37-38]

“I pursued my enemies and reached them,
and I did not return until I finished them;
I struck them and they were not able to rise,
they fell (dead there) under my feet!”

Here the Psalmist’s victory in battle is described, with a pair of 3+3 couplets that exhibit a more dramatic synthetic parallelism (the second line building upon the first). In both couplets, the text of Ps 18 is to be preferred over 2 Sam 22, which reads “I destroyed them” instead of “I reached them” and “I finished them” (repeating the same verb from the end of the first couplet) instead of “I struck them”.

Verses 40-41 [39-40]

“You girded me (with) strength for (the) battle,
you bent (the one)s rising on me (to be) beneath me;
you gave my enemies to me (by the) neck,
the (one)s hating me—and I put and end to them!”

The slightly irregular rhythm of these couplets may be intentional, for dramatic effect, bringing a climax to the idea of the Psalmist’s victory over his enemies. The second couplet seems to build on the imagery of the first—the victorious warrior standing on the neck of his defeated enemy. I follow the reading of 2 Sam in the position of the w-conjunction in the last line, occurring before the final verb; again this adds to the dramatic effect.

Verses 42-43 [41-42]

“They called for help, and there was no (one) saving (them),
(even) upon YHWH, and He did not answer them;
I pulverized them like (the) dust of (the dirt) path,
(and) like the mud outside I stamped them (down)!”

The defeat of the Psalmist’s enemies is complete in these two couplets, the second of which shows signs of corruption in both Ps 18 and 2 Sam. The Qumran Samuel manuscript 4QSama seems to preserve something close to the original reading of v. 43 [42]; in any case, it allows us to reconstruct it. As indicated above, the first line is:

I pulverized them like (the) dust of (the dirt) path [jr^a)]

In Ps 18, jra seems to have been confused with jwr (“wind”), with the word yn@P= (“face of”) perhaps added to fill out the idiom (i.e. dust strewn about in the face of the wind). By contrast, in 2 Sam, jra was apparently misread as Jra (“earth”). The final verb of the second line in 2 Sam is <q@yr!a& (“I poured them out”), which appears to be a misreading of <u@q*r=a# (“I pounded/stamped them”), found also in Ps 18 but conflated with the synonymous <Q@d!a& (“I crushed them”).

Verses 44-46 [43-45]

“You delivered me from (the) arrows of (the) people,
and set me as (the) head of nations;
people I have not known shall serve me,
at (the) hearing of (their) ear they are made to hear me;
sons of an alien (people) submit themselves before me,
and are restrained by (the bond)s enclosing their (necks)!”

These closing lines of the poem of victory are most difficult, both textually and metrically, and in terms of sense. The precise imagery, for example, in the first couplet is hard to determine. I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 117) in reading MT yb@yr! (“strivings/conflicts[?] of”) as = yB@r^ (“arrows [of]”), from the root bbr II; another possibility is oBr! (“multitudes”) from bbr I. Either of those two options seems better to fit the military imagery of the poem. Equally problematic is the second line of the couplet, where Ps has the verb <yc! (“you set me to [be] head”), while 2 Sam has rm^v* (“you guarded me as[?] head”). Dahood suggests that rm^v* is original, and that var) is not “head”, but a separate word (var)) meaning “poison”; this would yield a synonymous parallel:

“You delivered me from (the) arrows[?] of (the) people,
and guarded me against (the) poison of (the) nations”

However, it seems that a synthetic parallelism is more appropriate to these verses—i.e., God delivers the Psalmist, and so sets him as head over nations, that is, as a victorious sovereign over vassal kings. This would be fully in keeping with the underlying royal theology of the Psalm.

The textual difficulties in the last two couplets are even more acute. I follow McCarter (pp. 461-2), in reconstructing vv. 45-46 primarily on the basis of the shorter text in 4QSama. On this basis, it would seem that both Ps 18 and 2 Sam (MT) contain an extra (conflate) line: “sons of an alien (people) shrink [before me]” = “sons of an alien (people) cringe (?) before me”. The latter is preferred as the reading of v. 46a, though the exact meaning of the verb sj^k* is a bit difficult to determine. As this verb is used in the Old Testament, it seems to have the basic meaning “fail, fall short”, though on a few occasions it (or a separate root sjk) is used in the context of a defeated enemy, much as it is here (cf. Deut 33:29, also Ps 66:3; 81:15). Perhaps the idea in these instances is of a person showing weakness, either in the sense of submitting to the victorious party or cringing, etc, before them; both options are attested in the translations.

The final line, punctuating the poem, has its own complications. The verb rg~j* fundamentally means “surround”, sometimes in the sense of “restrain”, which almost certainly is the meaning here; Ps 18 incorrectly reads gr^j* (“tremble”) instead of rg~j*. The last word, a suffixed plural form of tr#G#s=m! (from rg~s*, “shut [up], close”), refers to something that encloses a person, possibly meant here in terms of a neck-collar that binds the prisoners of war (cf. verse 41 for the emphasis on the enemy’s neck). This is how I have chosen to render the line above (cf. McCarter, p. 472).

Psalm 18:47-51 [46-50]

The final portion of the Psalm is a brief hymn of thanksgiving to YHWH, similar in some respects to the concluding section of the first half (vv. 21-31), emphasizing the justice, etc, of YHWH.

Verses 47-49 [46-48]

“(By the) life of YHWH—blessed (be) my Rock,
and lifted high (the) Mightiest (One) of my salvation,
the Mighty (One), the (one) giving vengeance for me,
and (the one) bringing down peoples under me,
bringing me out from my enemies, and from (the one)s rising (against) me—
you lift me high up from (such a) man,
you snatch me (away) from (the) violent (one)s!”

After two couplets praising YHWH, the third opens up into a tricolon punctuated (in v. 49b) by a pair of two-beat lines extolling the deliverance and victory that God gives to the Psalmist. This again is part of the Israelite/Judean royal theology, focused specifically on the Davidic line (cf. below). The rendering of uv*y# and hm*q*n+ by “salvation” and “vengeance”, respectively, can be rather misleading; here they need to be construed more narrowly in terms of military victory, and the vindication of the king’s rule, rather than in the more general moral and religious sense. However, the message certainly could be (and was) applied to the people of God more generally, especially as the Psalm came to circulate and be used in a worship setting. The emphasis on deliverance in v. 49 returns to the main theme in the first half of the Psalm.

Verses 50-51 [49-50]

“Upon this [i.e. for this reason] will I throw you (praise), O YHWH,
and make music to your name among the nations,
(the One who) makes salvation great (for) His king,
and acts (with) loyalty to His Anointed,
to Dawîd and his seed unto (the) distant (future)!”

The final two couplets form a doxology, bringing the Psalm to a close. Whatever we me say about the date or composition of the main portions (poems) of the Psalm, almost certainly this doxology was added when they were brought together into a single poetic work. The last line, with its reference to David, confirms the Davidic association of the Psalm (cf. the superscription and the location in 1-2 Samuel), and, most likely, the early Judean milieu, during which time the complete poem could be copied and transmitted (along with certain scribal errors and adaptations), before its inclusion within Samuel and the Psalter, respectively.

The noun ds#j# (“goodness”) is the key term for the idea of covenant loyalty throughout the Psalm—i.e., as the Psalmist is faithful/loyal to YHWH (as his Sovereign), so God will respond in kind, rescuing him in his time of distress and giving him victory over his enemies.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S. J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965). “McCarter” refers to P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., II Samuel, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 9 (1984).
“Cross and Freedman” refers to the study by F. M. Cross and D. N. Freedman Cross and Freedman, “A Royal Song of Thanksgiving: II Samuel 22 = Psalm 18”, originally published in the Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 72/1 March 1953, pp. 15-34.




April 2 (2): John 16:33; 19:30

John 16:33; 19:30

This second daily note (for Good Friday) looks at two declarations by Jesus in the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John. Each marks the end, or climax, of the narrative, in different ways: 16:33 is the end of the Last Discourse (the teaching/ministry of Jesus to his disciples), while 19:30 marks the very end of his earthly life and ministry, and serves as the climax to the entire Passion Narrative. There is thus a clear parallelism between these two declarations, and they also express a common theme and message. It will be worth examining each statement in this regard.

John 16:33

“…I have been victorious (over) the world!”

This triumphant declaration makes a fitting end to the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), and the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry, in terms of the teaching he gives to his disciples. The Last Discourse is actually a complex literary work, containing a number of distinct units, each of which forms a discourse in its own right—that is, it generally follows the basic Johannine discourse format: (1) statement by Jesus, (2) reaction/misunderstanding by the audience, and (3) exposition by Jesus explaining the true/deeper meaning of his words. The unit 16:16-33 is just such a discourse:

    • Initial saying/statement by Jesus (v. 16)
    • Response/misunderstanding by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
    • Exposition by Jesus (vv. 19-28)
    • Conclusion (vv. 29-33), which also forms the close of the Last Discourse as a whole

The saying in verse 16 will be discussed in tomorrow’s daily note (for Holy Saturday). Here I wish to focus on the conclusion in vv. 29-33. It begins with an exclamation by the disciples, in which they seem now to have a true understanding of just who Jesus is. This is important from the standpoint of the Gospel narrative, and the place of the Last Discourse within it. After the departure of Judas (13:30), Jesus is able to speak directly to his close (i.e. true) disciples, and this collection of teaching comprises the Last Discourse, much as the Sermon on the Mount has a similar place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Matthew (chaps. 5-7).

This direct instruction is revelatory, in a way that his teaching in the earlier discourses was not. At the start of the Last Discourse, the disciples still have difficulty understanding what Jesus says to the them (14:5ff), but at its conclusion, their eyes are opened and they can see the truth with greater clarity:

“The learners [i.e. disciples] say to him: ‘See, now you speak in outspoken (terms) [i.e. plainly/directly], and you say not even one (thing) to us (by) a (word) along the way [i.e. illustration, figure of speech]. Now we have seen [i.e. known] that you have seen [i.e. known] all (thing)s, and you hold no business [i.e. have no need] that any (one) should inquire (of) you. In this we trust that you came from God!'” (vv. 29-30)

While this trust is real enough, Jesus, in response, points out how their trust will be tested:

“Yeshua gave forth (an answer) to them: ‘Now do you trust? See, an hour comes—and (indeed) has come—that you shall be scattered, each (one) unto his own (thing)s, and you shall leave me (all) alone…” (vv. 31-32a)

I discussed the use of the term “hour” (w%ra) in a previous note; it has a dual-meaning in the Gospel of John: (a) the moment of Jesus’ suffering and death, and (b) the coming period of distress before the end. Both of these aspects are combined here, fully in line with the early Christian eschatology and understanding of the nature and significance of Jesus’ death. The hour that “has come” is indeed the time of Jesus’ suffering and death, as is clear from the Passion context here. At the same time, the death/departure of Jesus marks the beginning of the end-time period of distress—a time of intense (and increasing) darkness in the world, which will result in the suffering and persecution of believers. This will be discussed further in the next note. The idea of the disciples being “scattered” (vb skorpi/zw), is stated more famously in the Synoptic saying of Jesus (Mark 14:27 par, citing Zech 13:7).

While the hour of darkness (cf. Lk 22:53) that comes with Jesus’ Passion may introduce a time of great distress (qli/yi$) for all humankind (including believers), at the same time believers in Christ are victorious over this darkness and evil in the world, in spite of all they might suffer. This is the paradox at the heart of the Passion Narrative—how suffering and death can result in victory and life. The source of this victory is expressed by Jesus in the remainder of verse 32:

“…you shall leave me (all) alone; and (yet) I am not alone, (in) that [i.e. because] the Father is with me.”

The Christological declaration again identifies Jesus’ relationship (as the Son) to God the Father, but also emphasizes the union he has with the Father. He is never alone because the Father is always with him. Believers ultimately share in this same union, through the presence of the Spirit—a teaching expounded throughout the Last Discourse (and the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17). It is the presence of Jesus, through the Spirit, that is in view in the closing words of the Discourse (v. 33):

“I have spoken these (thing)s to you (so) that you would hold peace in me. In the world you hold distress [qli/yi$], but you must have courage—I have been victorious [neni/khka] (over) the world!”

The perfect tense of the verb nika/w (“have victory, be victorious”) is important, since it typically signifies a past action or condition which continues into the present. Even as Jesus has been victorious—through his earthly life and death—over the darkness and evil in the world, so also believers, who are united with him, share in this victory. This is why the author of 1 John can similarly declare to his readers (as believers) that they “have been victorious” over “the evil” in the world (and/or “the Evil One”, i.e. the Satan/Devil)—2:13-14; 4:4. Indeed, believers, as ones who have “come to be born” (as offspring/children) of God, by this very fact of their identity, are able to be victorious over the world (5:4-5).

John 19:30

This victory by Jesus encompasses his entire life and existence on earth. However, the moment of victory is especially to be noted at the completion of his life and ministry—that is, at the moment of his death. The Synoptic Passion narrative emphasizes the end-time darkness, and foreshadowing of Judgment, at the moment of Jesus’ death—i.e., the darkness over the land (Mk 15:33 par), his cry of abandonment (v. 34 par), his final cry at death (v. 37 par), and the tearing of the Temple curtain (v. 38 par). The portrait of Jesus’ death is rather different in the Gospel of John—none of the aforementioned Synoptic details are present. There is even a positive contrast to the tearing of the Temple curtain (“from above unto below”, i.e. from top to bottom)—Jesus’ garment is kept intact and untorn (19:23-24; on the parallel between the Temple and Jesus’ body, cf. 2:21-22).

The only real indication of suffering on Jesus’ part in the Johannine narrative is the brief mention of his thirsting in vv. 28-29 (cp. Mark 15:36 par). And, instead of a great cry at the moment of his death, Jesus, with his final words (actually a single word in Greek), utters a declaration similar in meaning to that of 16:33 (cf. above):

“It has been completed” (tete/lestai)

This refers to the completion (te/lo$, vb. tele/w) of his earthly mission. It relates to how the word e)ntolh/ is used in the Johannine writings. Typically,  that noun is rendered “command(ment)”, but this is rather misleading, especially in the Johannine context. The word properly refers to something given to a person to complete or accomplish (te/lo$/te/llw)—that is, a duty or charge placed on (e)n) someone. Thus, with his sacrificial death, Jesus (the Son) fulfills the e)ntolh/ given to him by the God the Father (10:18; 12:49-50; 15:10). The related verb teleio/w (“complete, bring to completion”) is used in this same sense in 4:34; 5:36; 17:4 (cf. also 19:28); Jesus words (to the Father) in 17:4 are especially close in meaning, in light of the context of his Passion:

“I honored you upon the earth, (hav)ing completed [telei/wsa$] the work that you have given me, that I should do (it)”

Other traditional details of the crucifixion scene are given a new meaning in the Johannine narrative, including the very moment of Jesus’ death (also in v. 30), which reads:

“And, (hav)ing bent the head, he gave along the spirit [pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma].”

On the surface, this would simply indicate that Jesus breathes his last breath (i.e. “gave along his spirit”), as in Mark 15:37:

“And Yeshua, (hav)ing released a great voice [i.e. cry], breathed out [e)ce/pneusen] (his last).”

The Lukan version (23:46) is closer in sense to Jn 19:30, seeming to be a combination of the Markan/Synoptic and Johannine versions:

“And, (hav)ing given voice to a great voice [i.e. cry], Yeshua said, ‘Father, into your hands I place along my spirit [parati/qemai to\ pneu=ma/ mou]. And, (hav)ing said this, he breathed out (his last).”

The strong emphasis on the Spirit throughout the Gospel of John, along with the important idea that the death/resurrection of Jesus results in the presence of the Spirit in believers, suggests that there is a bit of dual-meaning wordplay in 19:30, and that the phrase pare/dwken to\ pneu=ma could rightly (and more literally) be rendered: “…he gave along the Spirit” (cf. 20:22).

The same idea seems to be at work in the detail of the “blood and water” that come out of Jesus’ body after his death (v. 34). Many commentators have sought to explain this as an authentic historical/physiological detail. While this may be legitimate—and the Gospel writer does take care to point out that it was an actual observable event (v. 35)—it rather obscures the importance of the detail from a theological standpoint. The “blood and water” represents the life-giving power of Jesus’ death (and incarnate life) that is conveyed to believers through the Spirit. The parallel with the Spirit is clear enough (both come from Jesus after his death), but receives absolute confirmation, from the Johannine theological standpoint, in 1 Jn 5:6-8 (considered in the previous note).

If we might summarize the Johannine theology surrounding Jesus’ death:

    • It represents the completion of the mission given to him by the Father
    • His death ‘releases’ the life-giving power he possesses (from the Father, as the Son), manifest in his earthly life and death (“water and blood”)
    • This life giving power is communicated to believers through the presence of the Spirit
    • The (eternal) life given through the Spirit, makes believers complete—and is, in a real sense, the final completion of Jesus’ mission (cf. Jn 17:23).