October 22: Philippians 2:7d

Philippians 2:7d

kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$
“and in sxh=ma being found as a man”

This is the third of the three participial phrases, containing aorist participles, subordinate to the main aorist verb in 7a (e)ke/nwsen, “he emptied [himself]”); each successive phrase serves to describe and explain what it means that Jesus “emptied himself”:

    • “taking [labw/n] (the) form [morfh/] of a slave” (7b, note)
    • “coming to be [geno/meno$] in (the) likeness [o(moi/wma] of men” (7c, note)
    • “being found [eu(reqei/$] in sxh=ma as a man” (7d)

The predicate (object) for each participial phrase involves a noun referring to the outward, visible appearance of something—morfh/, o(moi/wma, sxh=ma. The first two terms were discussed in the preceding notes; the latter (sxh=ma) will be studied today. Following the approach taking thus far in these notes, each word in the phrase will be considered in turn.

kai/ (“and”)—the force of the conjunction here serves to pivot between the third and fourth phrases, leading (syntactically) to the main clause of verse 8, and joining with it. In English punctuation, we would probably indicate this with a semicolon:

“but he emptied himself, taking (the) form of a slave, coming to be in (the) likeness of men; and, being found in sxh=ma as a man, he lowered himself…”

On the chiastic structure of this portion of the hymn, cf. my outline in the previous note.

sxh/mati—a dative form, equivalent to the prepositional phrase e)n sxh/mati (cp. e)n o(moiw/mati in v. 7c), i.e., “in sxh=ma.” I have left the noun untranslated above to avoid prejudicing the analysis; it also happens to be a word that is difficult to render with precision in English. The noun sxh=ma is ultimately derived from the verb e&xw (“hold”) and its irregular future form sxh/sw, and thus fundamentally refers to the way that something “holds (together)”, specifically, in its (outward) shape or appearance. A suitable English approximation to the noun might be “bearing”, though this still only captures a portion of the semantic range; it is variously translated as “form, shape, figure, fashion, constitution,” etc.

To gain a proper understanding of its meaning and significance here, we would naturally turn to occurrences of sxh=ma elsewhere in the New Testament; unfortunately, there is only one other occurrence (also by Paul, in 1 Cor 7:31, discussed below). It is equally rare in the LXX (just once, Isa 3:17), and thus occurs just 3 times in the entirety of the Greek Scriptures. It is more common in the contemporary Jewish authors Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, who each make varied use of the term in their writings. For Philo, it generally refers to the forms of things as they are perceived by the senses, and then understood by the intellect in their essential character.

Paul’s use of the term in 1 Cor 7:31 is of the utmost importance for our study, regardless of one’s view regarding the Pauline composition of the hymn itself. The word occurs toward the end of his long discussion on marriage (and marital relations) in chapter 7. An important point of emphasis, running through the discussion, is that, it is best if believers remain as they are currently; if already married, to stay married, even if joined with a non-believer; and, if single, to stay single, unless one is unable to do so safely (i.e. chastely). Paul offers several reasons for this, one of which is eschatological—the point he makes here in vv. 29-31, that all things in the present Age are “standing together” at this moment, and the current order of things (in this Age) is in the process of passing away. Here is the exact wording in verse 31:

“for the sxh=ma of this word-order [ko/smo$] leads (the way) along [i.e. passes along]”

The noun sxh=ma applies to the entire ‘order of things’ (world-order) in the present Age; in English idiom, we might say “the shape of things”, i.e., the way things are (and appear) right now. Most human beings live, act, and think in accordance with the way things seem to be in the world, valuing and responding to the outward appearance of things; only believers in Christ are aware of a deeper reality, the promise of a New Age, manifest now only through the presence and activity of the Spirit. Thus, we are to live according to the Spirit, and not according to the form and fashion of the current world-order.

If we now examine the use of sxh=ma in Phil 2:7, in light of the above analysis, we would have to posit two main points of significance:

    • In every aspect of his appearance—including how he lived and conducted himself—Jesus was a human being (a&nqrwpo$)
    • It also refers to a ‘mode of being’, living and acting in the world (of human beings), according to the standards and patterns of the current Age (i.e., eating, drinking, sleeping, working, socializing, etc)

In other words, if we were to see Jesus (objectively) during his life on earth, in his appearance and ordinary behavior, he would look more or less like any other human being. This is what is mean by the last expression w($ a&nqrwpo$ (“as a man”).

As mentioned in the previous note, this emphasis on the outward, visible appearance—reinforced by the trio of terms, morfh/, o(moi/wma, and sxh=ma—could easily be interpreted in a docetic sense. In other words, Jesus was not truly a human being, but only looked like one, merely appearing to be human. However, I see no evidence in the hymn, when judged in its mid-first century context, for anything like the Docetism of the 2nd-century; nor does the hymn serve as an apologetic against such a view of Jesus. How, then, should we understand these terms in context?

First, we must keep in mind the basic significance of the noun morfh/, used in the parallel, contrastive expressions “form of God” (v. 6a) and “form of a slave” (v. 7a). In the prior notes, I have argued that the main point of contrast is one of status and position—i.e., between the exalted position of God in heaven and the lowly position of human beings on earth. The morfh/ is the visible distinction between God and man—the traditional splendor (glory/honor) that surrounds God in visions and theophanies vs. the limitation, weakness, and suffering of the mortal condition. Jesus “took on” (vb lamba/nw) this mortal condition, with its weakness, when he united with humankind (“came to be”, vb gi/nomai), to the point of being born as a human child (implied in the hymn, cp. the use of gi/nomai in Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3). When other people saw him during his earthly life, he “was found” (vb eu(ri/skw, passive), i.e., he appeared, to be just like any other human being (“as a man”, w($ a&nqrwpo$).

Second, there is a definite progression in the lines of vv. 7-8 which needs to be recognized:

    • “he emptied himself” —willingness to give up his exalted (highest) position with God in heaven
    • “taking the form of a slave” —taking on the lowly (lowest) position of humankind on earth
    • “coming to be in the likeness of men” —union/participation with the human condition, implying an actual birth as a human being
    • “being found in form/shape/bearing as a man” —his earthly life, among other human beings
    • “he lowered himself” —suffering and death, and his willingness to endure it

The trio of terms ultimately serve, simply, to refer to Jesus’ earthly life (and death) as a human being.

Finally, these terms can also be seen as part of an early attempt to express what we might call the ‘mystery of the incarnation’. Jesus was a human being—just like all others (in appearance), but different from all others in his unique relationship to God the Father (and in his identity as Messiah and Son of God). This uniqueness was originally understood (almost entirely) in terms of the resurrection, through which Jesus was exalted to a position at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Eventually, however, believers came to the recognition that Jesus must have held this position (as Son of God) even prior to his earthly life (i.e. the pre-existence Christology expressed in vv. 6ff of the hymn). At the time the hymn was composed, Christians were only just beginning to explore what this divine pre-existence meant in terms of Jesus’ earthly life. We cannot expect to find in the hymn a systematic and fully developed Christological statement that dealt with all of the implications of this belief. We can, though, glimpse a powerful Christology taking shape—in some ways, all the more vibrant and compelling for its expression within the limitations of this poetic and hymnic form.

October 21: Philippians 2:7c

Philippians 2:7c

The remaining two phrases of verse 7 build upon the second (discussed in the previous note, on v. 7b), further describing what it means to say that Jesus “emptied himself” (7a). All three descriptive phrases that follow are participial phrases, clarifying and explaining the aorist indicative e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”). Correspondingly, they are aorist participles, a verbal form that is a bit difficult to translate exactly in English; however, the main point is that the participles are subordinate to the main aorist verb e)ke/nwsen:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”)
      • labw/n (“taking…”, active)
      • geno/meno$ (“coming to be…”, middle)
      • eu(reqei/$ (“being found…”, passive)

It is possible that the shift from active to passive could itself be meant to illustrate the “emptying”, in grammatical terms. Such an illustrative structure is made more likely when we consider how the phrases in v. 7cd serve to pivot the syntax (and thought) of the hymn to the next aorist verb, in the main clause of verse 8 (e)tapei/nwsen, “he lowered”). This verbal expression (e)tapei/wsen e(auto/n, “he lowered himself”) forms a precise parallel with e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen in v. 7a. The parallelism is carefully constructed within the poetry of these lines, as the following chiastic outline demonstrates:

    • e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied himself”)
      • morfh\n dou/lou labw\n (“taking [the] form of a slave”)
        • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$
          (“coming to be in [the] likeness of men”)
      • sxh/mati eu(reqei/$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ (“being found in shape as a man”)
    • e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n… (“he lowered himself…”)

There is thus a beautiful symmetry in this portion of the hymn which is easily lost or obscured in translation.

In the previous note, I pointed out that the contrast being established was not between “God” and “man” per se, nor between the divine and human “nature” as such; rather, it is primarily a question of status and position—between the exalted position of God in heaven and the lowly status of a human slave. The contrasting expression is “form of a slave” (morfh\ dou/lou), not “form of a man” (morfh\ anqrw/pou). However, the word a&nqrwpo$ (“man, human [being]”) does feature in the last two phrases of the verse, making it clear that we are dealing with a human slave, and of Jesus’ status as a human being. We begin here with the phrase in 7c:

e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$
“coming to be in (the) likeness of men”

The key element, however, is not the noun a&nqrwpo$, but the prepositional expression e)n o(moiw/mati. The noun o(moi/wma is derived from the verb o(moio/w, “to be like (one), be the same”, i.e., “be (or make) similar, resemble”. It thus refers to the likeness or similarity of one thing (or person) to another. Much like the noun morfh/ (“[visible] form, shape”, vv. 6-7), o(moi/wma is rare in the New Testament, occurring just 6 times; four of the other five occurrences are also by Paul (in Romans, 1:23; 5:14; 6:5; 8:3), cf. also Rev 9:7. It is somewhat more common in the LXX (41 times, Exod 20:4; Deut 4:12, 15-16, et al). In Rom 1:23 and 5:14, as also in Rev 9:7, the word is clearly used in reference to the image of something, rather than of the thing itself. Based on this usage, the phrase here could be taken to mean that Jesus did not truly become a human being, but only resembled one. This will be discussed further below.

Romans 6:5 and 8:3 provide a closer contextual parallel to the use of o(moi/wma here in Phil 2:7. First, let us consider Rom 6:5:

“For if we have come to be [gego/namen] (one)s planted together in the likeness [tw=| o(moiw/mati] of his death, then also shall we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection]”

We have here the same combination of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) and the dative (prepositional) expression [e)n tw=|] o(moiw/mati. While the ‘death’ and ‘rising’ of believers is not exactly the same as Jesus’ own, we are united with it in such a way that, through the Spirit, we share in its very power and essential reality. Thus, in this instance, o(moi/wma signifies something more than a mere “image” or “likeness”. Romans 8:3 is even more to the point, as it refers to Jesus as a human being, just as here in the hymn:

“…God (did), sending his own Son in (the) likeness [e)n o(moiw/mati] of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh], and, about sin, brought down judgment on sin in the flesh”

The similar wording in Gal 4:4f makes clear that Paul understood God’s “sending” of Jesus to entail his birth as a human being. The verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) sometimes can mean specifically “come to be born,” though this is better expressed through the related verb genna/w; it has such a connotation in Gal 4:4, as also in Rom 1:3, referring to the real (physical/biological) birth of Jesus as a human being. Thus, it is very possible that a human birth is implied here in v. 7c as well, though, on the whole, a better parallel is found in Rom 6:5, where the motif is one of a transforming, participatory union, rather than coming to be born.

The use of the noun o(moi/wma in our phrase could easily be understood in a docetic sense—that Jesus did not truly become a human being, but only seemed to be one in appearance. Our interpretation might further point in that direction when we consider how Paul uses the term in Rom 8:3, where he seems to indicate that Jesus did not come to be a human being in every respect—that is, not in the sinfulness of humankind, its bondage under the power of sin (cp. 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus only resembled sinful human beings (in their sinfulness); by extension, could not the same usage apply in Phil 2:7—viz., that Jesus only resembled human beings?

From an orthodox Christological standpoint, such a view is referred to as Docetism. There is little evidence of docetic tendencies in the New Testament itself, and it is unlikely that a docetic view of Jesus’ humanity could have become widespread among believers until the end of the first century, after a pre-existence Christology had been developed and firmly established. The hymn in Phil 2:6-11 is an early example of pre-existence Christology (c. 60 A.D.), and was not intended to support the weight of later (orthodox) Christological concerns. It certainly is no witness to 2nd century docetic Christology, nor does it serve as an apologetic against such a view of Christ. We must read and study the hymn in its mid-1st century context.

How, then, are we to understand this pointed emphasis on outward, visible appearance, when it comes to Jesus’ humanity, with the use of terms such as morfh/ (“[visible] form, shape”), o(moi/wma (“likeness”) and sxh=ma (“bearing, shape, form, appearance”)? This will be examined further in the next daily note (on v. 7d).

October 20: Philippians 2:7b

Philippians 2:7b

Our analysis on the first phrase of verse 7 (cf. the previous note on 7a), a)lla\ e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“but he emptied himself”), can be summarized with the following two points:

    • The adversative particle a)lla/ (“but”), and the main point of contrast, relates primarily to the phrase a(rpagmo\n h)gh/sato (cf. the discussion below)
    • The figurative use of the verb keno/w (“[make] empty”), in common with the other 5 NT occurrences of the verb (all by Paul), is applied here to a person (Jesus); it should be understood in the sense of make him(self) to be of no significance or importance.

The following phrases in the verse are subordinate and explanatory, beginning with v. 7b:

morfh\n dou/lou labw/n
“taking (the) form of a slave”

That is to say, this phrase explains what it means that Jesus “emptied himself”, and indicates what this “emptying” entailed. Our analysis again will look at each word in detail.

morfh\n (“form, shape”)—the noun morfh/ in the accusative (object of the following participle labw/n). The same noun was used in verse 6a, and the expression morfh\ dou/lou (“form of a slave”) is clearly intended as parallel with morfh\ qeou/ (“form of God”). The noun was discussed in detail in the prior note (on v. 6a). The two instances of the noun here in vv. 6-7 are the only occurrences in the New Testament (apart from the ‘long ending’ of Mark [16:12]), and it is equally rare in the LXX (occurring just 8 times). A related verbal noun mo/rfwsi$ is also rare (Rom 2:20; 2 Tim 3:5), along with the verb morfo/w (only in Gal 4:19); neither word is used in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the morf– word-group is that of the (external) form or shape of something—often specifically of human beings or animals, but it could apply to any object or feature of the visible world. It is important to keep in mind that the emphasis is on the visible form or appearance of something.

doulou/ (“of a slave”)—The noun dou=lo$ refers to a slave; related is the corresponding feminine noun dou/lh (for a female slave), the more abstract noun doulai/a (“slavery”), adjective dou=lo$ (“enslaved, [act]ing as a slave”), and verb douleu/w (“be a slave”). It is a common noun, occurring 126 times in the New Testament, including frequently in the Pauline letters. Paul sometimes uses it in reference to people who are actually slaves (in Greco-Roman society), but just as often it is used figuratively or metaphorically, either in a negative (e.g., human beings enslaved to the power of sin) or positive sense (e.g., believers bound in service to God). Of particular importance is the idiom of believers (esp. ministers of the Gospel) as “slaves” (dou=loi) of God and Christ (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1, etc).

How should the word be understood here? We must bear in mind, first, that the expression “form of a slave” is set as a contrastive parallel with “form of God” in v. 6, with “slave” (dou=lo$) forming a precise contrast to God. As a contrast, this can be taken two ways:

    • By “slave” is meant primarily a human being, in contrast with God
    • The term signifies a lowly status and position, contrasted with the exalted status/position of God (in heaven)

If the former were intended, we would perhaps expect the parallel to be with “form of a man” (morfh\ a)nqrw/pou), rather than “form of a slave”. The noun a&nqrwpo$ does occur in the final two phrases of v. 7 (to be discuseed), making it clear that we are dealing with a human slave; however, this does not change the fact that the wording carefully avoids making a precise contrast between deity (God) and humanity (man) per se. The further terminology (in vv. 8ff), of “making low” and “making high,” strongly suggests that the point of the contrast here is one of status and position. God in heaven has the highest, most exalted position, while a human slave has one of the lowest.

Given the early Christian usage of the noun dou=lo$ to refer to believers (esp. ministers) as “slaves” of God and Christ (cf. above), is it possible that the term is meant to indicate Jesus’ position as a slave (or servant) of God? Some commentators have thought so, even suggesting that the Isaian “Servant of the Lord” motif is in view, by way of the “Servant Songs” of (Deutero-) Isaiah (esp. 52:13-53:12). There is no doubt that Jesus, as the Anointed One (Messiah), in his earthly life and ministry, and all the more in his sacrificial death, was seen by early Christians as fulfilling these Isaian Servant Songs (Acts 8:30-35, etc). Moreover, there does seem to be a certain similarity of theme between, for example, Isa 52:13-53:12 and our hymn. However, an emphasis on Jesus as the “slave of God” here, in my view, defeats the force of the contrastive parallel. The point is that Jesus went from the highest position to the lowest, which is symbolized by the motif of a human slave, a person with limited rights and freedoms, dependent entirely on the power and control of one’s human master(s), which could (at times) be harsh and cruel.

labw/n (“taking”)—an aorist active participle of the common verb lamba/nw (“take, receive”). It is clearly epexegetical to the main aorist verb e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”); the only real interpretive question is whether the participle should be understood as a consequence of Jesus’ “emptying”, or characteristic of it. In other words, does his “taking the form of a slave” describe the emptying, or is it the result of a prior action? I believe the participles of v. 7 are best understood as descriptive—i.e., what Jesus’ “emptying” of himself entailed. It was an action, not of seizing/holding to an exalted heavenly/divine status (v. 6), but of taking on a lower and humbling status instead. This will be discussed further in the next note.

This may be an appropriate time to consider again the three lines of interpretation I put forth for understanding the term a(rpagmo/$ (“seizing, [something] seized”) in v. 6b (cf. the earlier note):

    • Though Jesus had an exalted position alongside God, he was not equal to God in all respects; he might have been inclined to seek this greater status, this equality, but he chose not to grasp after it. Some commentators see here a contrastive parallel between Jesus and Adam, who was tempted by the promise of becoming just like God.
    • Jesus did possess this equality with God, but not as something which one grasps hold of in an ambitious way, or to protect one’s position; he was willing to let go any attachment to his divine status for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth.
    • The exalted position of Jesus alongside God, by which he shares equal rule with the Father, is not characterized by a grasping after power, such as ambitious human rulers do; rather, it is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of those over whom one rules.

The analysis above suggests that the second view is closest to what is being expressed in the hymn—viz., a willingness by Jesus to give up his exalted divine position (equal to God) and take on the low position of human “slave”. At the same time, the contrast between God and “slave” suggests the natural contrast between the slave and a lord or master (i.e. ruler). This, indeed, would frame the contrast even more sharply: ruler with God in heaven vs. lowly slave among human beings on earth. Thus, I believe, there is also an implicit emphasis in the hymn on Jesus’ willingness to abandon his ruling position for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth. The idea, common to many strands of developed orthodox Christology, that Jesus became a human slave while still maintaining his ruling position in heaven, is foreign to the hymn and should not be read into it. Indeed, I would assert that such a Christological interpretation, while legitimate in its attempt to balance the full weight of the theological implications brought about by the New Testament witness, actually contradicts (and defeats) the thematic structure and thought of the hymn itself. This will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

October 19: Philippians 2:7a

Philippians 2:7-8

Verses 7-8 follow and are subordinate to v. 6, discussed in the previous notes (on 6a and 6b). There are any number of ways to outline these; my arrangement below illustrates some of the linguistic and conceptual parallels:

a)lla\ e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen  (but he emptied himself)

morfh\n dou/lou labw/n (taking [the] form of a slave)

e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$ (coming to be in [the] likeness of men)

kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ (and being found [in] shape/appearance as a man)

e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n (he lowered himself)

geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$ me/xri qana/tou (becoming obedient [lit. hearing/listening] until death)

qana/tou de\ staurou= (—but a death of [i.e. on] [the] stake!)

Each of these clauses and phrases is important for an interpretation of vv. 6-8 (and of the hymn as a whole). It is thus worth devoting an individual note to a careful examination of each of them, and thereby establishing a sound exegesis for the lines of the hymn, taken together. Attention must be paid to both the vocabulary and syntax. We begin with the first phrase of verse 7.

Philippians 2:7a

a)lla\ e(autw\n e)ke/nwsen
“but he emptied himself”

a)lla/ (“but”)—the connection of the adversative particle is a major question: does it tie back to ei@nai i&sa qew=| or to a(rpagmo\n h(ghsato? If the former, then it signifies that Christ forsook equality with God (in some sense); if the latter, that he forsook any desire to seize it (or hold it) through force. The latter phrase provides the more immediate syntactical connection, and point of contrast; on the meaning of that difficult phrase in context, cf. the three lines of interpretation mentioned at the close of the previous note (and to be discussed further).

e(autw/n (“himself”)—this reflexive personal pronoun, referring to Jesus Christ (v. 5), is the predicate, providing the object of the verb that follows. That is, it declares what was “emptied” (by Jesus)—he emptied himself!

e)ke/nwsen (“emptied”)—an aorist active form of the verb keno/w (“[make] empty, empty out”), one of a sequence of aorist verb forms that govern the hymn and guide the syntax of the passage:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
    • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
    • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
    • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

The verb keno/w can refer to a concrete physical/material emptying, or, in a more figurative and metaphorical sense, to removing/nullifying the significance of something. The four other occurrences in the New Testament, all by Paul in his letters, use the verb in the latter (figurative) sense:

    • Rom 4:14—Paul’s argument in chapter 4 (repeating that of Galatians 3) makes the claim that, if the promise to Abraham is fulfilled through observance of the Torah, then the significance of trust (pi/sti$) in Christ is “made empty”
    • 1 Cor 1:17—Similarly, to rely on ordinary human wisdom and eloquence in preaching (the Gospel), risks “emptying” the central message of the sacrificial death (the cross) of Christ of its meaning and power
    • 1 Cor 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3—In these two passages, the verb is used in connection with the “boast” of Paul (and other Christian ministers), by which he refers to the practical effect of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel—believers coming to trust in Jesus, the establishment of local congregations, their growth in faith, etc. The negative behavior and attitude of some believers (and churches) can effectively “empty” that boast of its meaning and validity.

But what does it mean for a person to “empty himself“? Based on the Pauline usage of the verb, utilizing a figurative sense of keno/w, it would have to mean something like making oneself to be of no significance or importance. Use of the verb this way, of a person, is quite rare; rather more common is the idea of something a person possesses being taken away. And, indeed, many commentators would interpret the phrase here in something like that latter sense—i.e., Jesus gave up (gave away) his divine attributes, or his divine status/position.

To speak of Jesus’ divine “nature” or “attributes” is out of place here in the hymn of Phil 2:6-11. It is understandable, of course, why commentators would feel impelled to read the passage in terms of a later, more developed, Christology; however, this should be avoided, if one wishes to gain a proper understanding of the passage in its original (first century) context. This important point will be discussed further as we proceed through vv. 7-8 (and the remainder of the hymn).

Which is not to say that there is no relationship between Phil 2:6-11 and the orthodox Christology held (and debated) by subsequent generations. Indeed, the passage has been key to Christological discussion and debate, much of it quite fascinating and provocative. An entire Kenotic theology developed, based largely upon this passage, framed by the conceptual matrix of vv. 6-8. The word kenosis, a transliteration of the Greek noun ke/nwsi$ (“emptying”, related to the verb keno/w), came to be used as a technical term for the idea that, in the incarnation, Jesus “emptied” himself, in a metaphysical sense, of the divine attributes which he possessed (as the Son of God) in his eternal existence alongside God the Father. Such “emptying” would explain many aspects of the New Testament portrait of Jesus, though not without resulting in a number of other difficulties that have to be considered.

However, I would maintain that all of this is quite foreign to our passage here. Neither the hymn, nor the way Paul uses it in his letter, indicates any attempt to make a definitive statement regarding the divine or human “nature” of Jesus Christ. The early Christology of the first century A.D. had a very different orientation, working from a different set of theological premises. We can gain a better sense of this through a careful study of each word and phrase, read in light of the theology expressed by Paul in his letters, and of the New Testament witness as a whole. In particular, we must pay close attention to the Christology that prevailed in the period prior to c. 60 A.D. (the time when Philippians was likely written).

The next phrase in verse 7 will be examined in the next daily note.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 32

Psalm 32

Dead Sea MSS: (Psalm 32 is not preserved among the surviving Dead Sea Psalms manuscripts).

This Psalm is akin to the prior Pss 30 and 31, blending the setting of prayer for deliverance (from illness, etc) with praise and thanksgiving to YHWH for having rescued his faithful follower. Psalm 32 is simpler in structure and more streamlined in its thought. The idea of repentance and forgiveness (from sin) also features more prominently, to the point that Ps 32 came to be counted as one of the seven “Penitential Psalms” in Catholic ritual and liturgical tradition.

The musical direction of the superscription indicates that this composition is a lyK!c=m^, a term of uncertain meaning, but presumably derived from the root lk^c* which characteristically occurs in the Hiphil stem (= lyK!c=h!). The root fundamentally indicates the use of reason and intelligence—i.e., wisdom, understanding, prudence, etc. As a poetic or musical term, it could refer to a harmonious composition, a work of great skill and artistry (or requiring skill to perform), a poem/song used for instruction, or something else entirely. Like most of the Psalms we have studied thus far, the superscription marks it as “belonging to David”.

As noted above, this Psalm is not present in the surviving Dead Sea Psalms manuscripts; there is no way to be certain whether this means the Psalm was unknown by the Qumran Community, or that its absence is simply an accident of survival.

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Verses 1-2: Beatitude regarding forgiveness of sin
    • Verses 3-7: Prayer for healing/deliverance that includes confession of sin to YHWH
    • Verses 8-9: Response of YHWH instructing/exhorting the Psalmist
    • Verses 10-11: Closing exhortation to the righteous

The outer portions (vv. 1-2, 10-11) reflect the strong influence of Wisdom tradition on the Psalms (a point made numerous times in these studies). The inner portions (vv. 3-7, 8-9) form the dramatic heart of the composition, presenting the prayer for deliverance, along with God’s answer.

Verses 1-2

“Happiness of (he whose) violation (is) being lifted,
(whose) sin (is) being covered (over)!
Happiness of (the) man (when)
YHWH does not determine for him (any) perversion,
and (indeed) there is no deceit in his spirit!”

This section is comprised of a pair of beatitudes, the second of which is longer and more difficult (poetically) than the first. For this particular wisdom-form, with ancient roots in religious ritual and concepts of the afterlife, cf. the study on Psalm 1, as well as my earlier article (on the background of the beatitude form) in the series on the Beatitudes of Jesus. As in Psalm 1:1, these beatitudes begin with the plural construct form yr@v=a^; literally, this would mean something like “happy [thing]s of…”, but the plural actually should be understood in an intensive or superlative sense, with the force of an exclamation: “(O, the) happiness of…”, “How happy (is)…!”.

The first beatitude (v. 1) is a tight 3+2 couplet, though it is difficult to capture this meter in a literal translation, which requires glossing (cf. above). The parallelism of the couplet is precise, enhanced by its use of terse rhythm and rhyme:

uv^P# yWcn+
ha*f*j& yWsK+
n®´ûy peša±
k®sûy µ¦‰¹°â
“being lifted (the) violation,
“being covered (the) sin”

The noun ha*f*j& (“sin, error”) in the second line is set parallel with uv^P# in the first line, a term which, in the covenant setting, refers to a breach or violation of the binding agreement. In a more extreme connotation, uv^P# can even refer to the revolt or rebellion of a vassal against his sovereign. Given the religious dimension of the covenant between YHWH and Israel, any sin or transgression (whether from a ritual or ethical standpoint) constitutes a violation of the covenant. That person is truly blessed (i.e. “happy”) when God forgives such a violation—forgiveness here signified by the verbs ac^n` (“lift, carry [away]”) and hs*K* (“cover”).

The second beatitude (v. 2) is more complex, with an irregular meter. Here a specific individual is in view (“Happiness of [the] man…”), with the noun <d*a* used in this sense (rare in the Psalms). The short introductory line leads into the couplet proper, which defines the forgiveness of sin as an action performed specifically by God (YHWH). In point of fact, there are two aspects to the idea of forgiveness in this couplet:

    • What God determines (vb bv^j*) regarding the person—that he/she is not ‘crooked’ or perverse (/ou*); there is a judicial connotation here
    • What is truly in the person’s spirit—that there is no deceit (hY`m!r=), implying no intention toward perversion; the noun can also connote treachery or betrayal (in a covenant context).

Ultimately, what YHWH determines regarding a person reflects that person’s true nature and character (what is “in the spirit”); God simply makes a (judicial) determination to this effect. Even so, the divine decree of forgiveness is a cause for great happiness among the righteous.

Verses 3-7

Verse 3

“For I keep quiet, (yet) my substance is worn out,
in my roaring (that still occurs) all the day.”

The verb form yT!v#r^j#h# in the MT is problematic. It would seem to be derived from the root vrj II (“be silent, quiet), which occurs regularly in the Hiphil stem; but, if so, the sense of the parallelism in the couplet becomes difficult to determine. Perhaps, it reflects a sort of grim irony–even though the protagonist keeps quiet (i.e. says no words), the suffering he experiences in his body produces “roaring” that goes on all day long. Dahood (p. 194) suggests that the verb here should be taken as deriving from crj (“scrape, scratch, cut”), more or less identical in meaning with vrj I. The noun cr#j# refers to a shard of pottery, etc, used for scraping, and the noun occurs in Psalm 22:16 in an idiomatic context quite similar to what we find here: the Psalmist feels his “strength dried up like a shard (of pottery) [cr#j#]”. If this line of interpretation is correct, then the verse would need to be translated as a tricolon, something like:

“For I became a scraping(-shard),
my substance was worn out
by my roaring all the day.”

In both renderings, I have translated the plural of <x#u# in an abstract or collective sense that preserves the fundamental meaning of “strength, substance”; however, it also frequently alludes specifically to a person’s bones (as the strength/substance within the body).

Verse 4

“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me,
my <tongue> was turned up by (the) dry (heat) of summer.

As most commentators would point out, yD!v^l= of the MT in the second line is unintelligible, and would seem to require emendation. I tentatively follow the suggestion of Olshausen, adopted by other commentators (cf. Kraus, p. 367), of reading yn]v^l= (“my tongue”) instead. It entails the small correction of a single letter, and fits the imagery of the line (along with that of v. 3, above): that of the harsh heat of summer drying out a person’s tongue. The use of the verb Ep^h* (“turn over, turn about”) here may refer to the motion of the parched tongue in one’s mouth desperately seeking moisture. This oppressive heat is symbolic of the Psalmist’s suffering, recognized as coming from the “hand” of God. Most likely, this suffering is to be understood as stemming from an illness or disease of some kind (cf. the setting of Pss 30-31, discussed in the most recent studies).

Verse 4 concludes with the musical-poetic indicator hl*s# (Selah). The meaning and significance of this term remains one of the most persistently puzzling, if minor, elements of Psalm Studies. The term, as it occurs in the texts that have come done to us, often does not appear to be applied in a clear or consistent manner. Almost certainly it relates to some aspect of the performance tradition of the Psalms, presumably indicating a pause of some kind—marking a change or shift of tone, tempo, etc, perhaps even something like a musical key change. In any case, here the term occurs three times in close succession, and may carry a definite structural and thematic significance for the composition; note:

    • Vv. 3-4: The suffering of the Psalmist—Selah
      • V. 5: His confession of sin and forgiveness—Selah
    • Vv. 6-7a: The safety and protection for the Psalmist—Selah

The confession of sin (and forgiveness by YHWH) in verse 5 is central to this structure, providing the transition between suffering (in violation of the covenant, vv. 3-4) and security (back under the covenant protection provided by YHWH, vv. 6-7).

Verse 5

“My sin I made known to you,
and my perversion I did not cover;
I said, ‘I will throw (out) over me
my violation toward YHWH!’
and you lifted (away from me)
(the) perversion of my sin.”

There is a similar three-part structure to this central verse, involving each of the three pairs of couplets:

    • Repentance/recognition of sin (violation of the covenant) [5a]
    • Formal confession of sin, as being directed toward YHWH [5b]
    • Forgiveness of sin (restoration of the covenant bond) [5c]

The syntax of the middle couplet is a bit difficult; in particular, the expression hwhyl (“to YHWH”) is ambiguous, and may carry a double meaning: (a) he makes his confession “to YHWH”, but also (b) admits that his is sin is a violation directed “toward YHWH” (that is, in violation of the binding agreement with YHWH). Dahood (p. 195) suggests that the lamed (l=) here is vocative (“O, YHWH”), and this also is possible.

Note that the idiom of “covering” (vb hs*K*) sin here has the exact opposite meaning as it does in v. 1 (cf. above). When the sinful human being “covers” sin, he/she tries to hide it; when God “covers” that person’s sin, he removes it from consideration, wiping it away.

Verse 6

“Upon this shall he pray,
every loyal (one), to you—
for (in the) time of outpouring reaching,
through a flood of many waters,
they will not touch him (at all)!”

This is a most difficult verse, both metrically and syntactically. A two beat (2+2) bicolon is followed by three beat (3+3+3) tricolon. The overall idea is clear enough: the faithful/loyal (dys!j*) follower of YHWH will pray to Him in the manner described in v. 5, repenting and confessing any sin, and the covenant bond will be restored. At that point, the faithful one comes back under the covenant protection provided by YHWH, and he will then be kept safe from any danger or trouble that he might encounter (symbolized as a flood of “many waters”). The manner of expressing this matrix of ideas, in terms of the syntax of the verse, however, is quite difficult, at least in the text as it has come down to us. The main problem lies in the third line (the first of the tricolon), which in the Hebrew MT reads:

qr^ ax)m= tu@l=

The word qr^, as vocalized, would normally be understood as an adjective meaning “thin, weak”, which is often used (in prose) as a more generic adverb (with restrictive force), i.e., “only”. However, here qr more likely derives from the root qyr! (“pour out, draw out, empty”). This would fit the idea of an outpouring of water, as well as the violent/military aspect of the verb—i.e., drawing out the sword, an armed force pouring out (Gen 14:14), etc. This does not eliminate all of the syntactical difficulties (note the awkwardness in English of the literal translation above), but it at least provides a plausible framework for the verse as a whole.

Verse 7

“You are (the) covering for me,
from oppression you shall guard me,
(with) cries of deliverance you surround me!”

Here the protection provided by YHWH is more clearly emphasized. He serves as a “covering” (rt#s@), a “guard” (vb rx^n`), and one who “surrounds” (vb bb^s*) the righteous.

The precise meaning of the last line is a bit obscure. The verb /n`r* means “shout, cry”, i.e., making a piercing, ringing cry, like that of a bird. The use of the verb in Psalm 63:8 [7] suggests a similar connotation of protection that is otherwise not clearly attested elsewhere in the Old Testament. The allusion here may be precisely that of Ps 63:8—viz., the cry of bird protecting its young, surrounded by the parent’s wings. Also possible are the metaphorical “cries” of attackers against the shields (?) that surround and protect the righteous, or even the cries of soldiers holding the protective shields. The same verb is used, in a somewhat different sense, in the closing lines of verse 11 (cf. below).

Verses 8-9

Verse 8

“I will make you understand and give you direction in (the) way that you shall walk,
I will give you counsel, my eye (ever) upon you.”

With verse 8, the remaining lines of the Psalm become longer—here a 4+3 couplet. In vv. 8-9 YHWH responds to the Psalmist’s prayer. Even though God had already given answer by healing/delivering him, now He provides a direct (formal) response. It comes in the form of a promise to give understanding and direction to His faithful follower; we can see rather clearly here the influence of Wisdom-tradition, which is found quite frequently in the Psalms (especially the closing portions). The verbs are in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicating what YHWH will make happen for the Psalmist:

    • “I will make you understand” (vb lk^c*), i.e., give knowledge, wisdom; see the note on the term lyK!c=m^ in the superscription, above.
    • “I will give you direction” (vb hr*y`), lit. “I will cast (the arrow) for you”, pointing the way, giving direction; this use of hry is often summarized as “instruct[ion]”, the proper translation of the derived noun hr*oT (Torah).

The main verb in the second line would appear to be Ju^y` (“counsel, advise, guide”), keeping with the same line of imagery. However, Dahood (p. 196) offers the intriguing suggestion that the form hx*u&ya! should be parsed as the verb hx*u* (“close, shut”, cf. Prov 16:30) preceded by the negative particle ya!, otherwise clearly attested in the Old Testament only at Job 22:30. I am very nearly persuaded by this analysis, which, if correct, would mean that the second line should be translated as “my eye upon you is not (ever) closed”.

Verse 9

“You must not be like a horse (or) like a mule, without understanding,
with muzzle and harness (needed) to curb its surging (nature)—
otherwise (there is) no coming near to you!”

This verse, an extended and irregular (4+4+3) tricolon, continues the address of YHWH to the Psalmist, following the Wisdom-aspect of this section with a colorful bit of proverbial instruction. There is some difficulty in the second line, particularly the meaning of MT oyd=u#. I tentatively follow Dahood here (p. 197), deriving it from a root ddu, rare in the Old Testament (cf. Job 10:17), but attested in Ugaritic as the cognate ²dd, with the meaning “swell (up), expand”. The illustration of the horse that needs a muzzle and harness to control it suggests a comparable meaning for wydu here—viz., a wild and untamed nature, that swells and surges and is difficult to control.

There is also some difficulty in determining the precise meaning of the third line. We would expect the third person singular, rather than the second person suffix of ;yl#a@ (“to you”); but this may simply indicate a sudden shift applying the proverb directly to the Psalmist. In this respect, the shorter third line functions as a warning: if you act in a reckless and heedless manner, ignoring the sound instruction and wisdom (from God), no one will want to come near you! Perhaps, the idea in view is that YHWH Himself will not wish to come near such a person.

Verses 10-11

In this brief final section, the Wisdom instruction is broadened, directed to the people of God, the righteous ones, as a whole. This is typical of the closing lines of many Psalms, as has been previously noted.

Verse 10

“Many (are the) afflictions (belonging) to (the) wicked,
but (the one) seeking protection in YHWH will have goodness surrounding him!”

Ultimately, the wicked will have “afflictions” (pl. of the noun boak=m^), or “pains”; the root bak can also connote sadness and sorrow. Probably this refers to the final fate of the wicked, the punishment which God has in store for (l=) them. By contrast, the righteous will continue to be surrounded vb bb^s*, used above in v. 7) by the covenant protection and blessing provided by YHWH. The loyal and faithful one both seeks the protection of God, and also finds it; this is the fundamental meaning of the verb jf^B*, used frequently in the Psalms, and, quite naturally, it also connotes the trust one places in YHWH. The common noun ds#j# means “goodness”, but often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, in the context of the covenant; here it signifies the blessing that comes to those who are loyal to YHWH. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is a staple of Wisdom literature, and features in many of the Psalms (cf. especially in Psalm 1).

Verse 11

“Rejoice in YHWH, and spin round (with joy), (you) righteous (one)s,
and give a (ringing) cry all (you the one)s straight of heart!”

The final couplet is an exhortation for the righteous to praise God. The joyous twirling (spinning/dancing in a circle) of the righteous parallels the motif of the righteous being surrounded (vb bb^s*) by His protection (v. 7). The same verb /n`r* was also used in v. 7, referring to a ringing cry. There it seems to allude to the piercing cry of a bird protecting its young (cf. also Ps 63:8 [7], noted above). Here it is the protected ones (i.e. the righteous) who cry out, in joy. Those faithful and loyal to YHWH (and to the covenant with Him) are characterized in traditional terms as “just, right[eous]” ones (<yqyD!x^); like dsj, the root qdx can also connote faithfulness and loyalty. Another traditional expression is “straight of heart” (here bl@ yr@v=y]), which implies the faithfulness of one’s intention, which goes deeper than a practical observance of the covenant (i.e., the Torah).

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, I. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed. Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); in English translation as Psalms 1-59. A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

October 14: Philippians 2:6b

Philippians 2:6b

The first clause of verse 6, the opening line of the hymn, was discussed in the previous note; it reads as follows:

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn
“who, in beginning under in (the) form of God”

The translation above is extremely literal; however, a more precise rendering which properly captures the full sense of the line is difficult (cf. the detailed exegesis in the prior note). The morfh/ (“[visible] shape, form”), as applied to God, is perhaps best understood in terms of the kind of visible “splendor” (do/ca) manifest when human beings, traditionally, behold God in a vision or theophany. As a visual mark, or designation, it serves to set the divine apart and distinct from human beings. The present participle u(pa/rxwn indicates that Jesus exists in that condition, an exalted status and position alongside God in heaven—and he possessed that same position even prior to his earthly life (and resurrection). A more nuanced (interpretive) translation might be:

“who, being present (there) in the visible (glory) of God…”

This first clause, as weighty as it might be, actually serves to set the stage for the second line, the Greek of which reads:

ou)x a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

I will again refrain from any initial translation, allowing it to be established through exegesis of each word and phrase. The clause begins with a negative particle (ou)[x]); this particle directly precedes the noun a(rpagmo/$, but actually governs the entire clause, negating it.

The key noun is a(rpagmo/$, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the Greek Old Testament [LXX]); the related noun a(rpagh/ occurs several times, along with the verb a(rpa/zw (14 times, 3 by Paul [2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Thess 4:17]). The noun a(rpagma/, close in meaning to a(rpagmo/$, while not used in the New Testament, occurs 18 times in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the verb a(rpa/zw  is “seize, take by force”; the noun a(rpagmo$ can be used in an active (verbal) sense (“[act of] seizing”), or in a passive sense (“something seized”), which is similar in meaning to a(rpagma/, i.e. something that is “seized” —a prize gained in contest, plunder in battle, etc.

The verb that follows is h(ge/omai, a middle deponent verb related to a&gw, meaning “lead”, especially the sense of functioning as a leader, one who leads the way, etc. It can be used figuratively for leading something out before one’s mind—i.e., to think, consider, regard. The verb occurs 28 times in the New Testament, including 11 times in the Pauline letters; of the 9 (or 11) instances where Paul uses it, six are here in Philippians. It was used earlier in 2:3, in referring to how believers conduct themselves, giving attention and priority to the needs of others, rather than one’s own interests (cf. the recent note on 2:1-4). This provides the context for the hymn in vv. 6-11, and Paul’s use of h(ge/omai in v. 6 very much needs to be understood in light of v. 3—in terms of a way of thinking and acting.

How then shall we understand the expression a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato taken together? Literally, it would mean “he led a seizing” or “he led himself to seizing”, which, in terms of our understanding of the verb as indicating a way of thinking and acting, would then seem to connote an inclination or tendency toward seizing something. The ‘something’ is represented by the cognate object phrase to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|, a phrase which has proven most difficult to interpret. Literally, it means “the being equal to God” (or “…equal with God”), which we should perhaps gloss as “the (position/condition of) being equal to God”. From the standpoint of orthodox theology, “equal to God” is a loaded expression, but we must be careful not to read the developed Christology of later times into this first-century passage.

The modifying adjective/adverb i&so$, which can be used in a qualitative or quantitative sense, occurs just 8 times in the New Testament. It is not a Pauline term, as it only occurs here in all the letters. Let us briefly survey the other instances where it is used:

    • Mark 14:56, 59—in reference to the testimony of the ‘false’ witnesses during the Sanhedrin interrogation of Jesus, to the effect that the witnesses were not in agreement (i.e. their testimony differed, and was not the same).
    • Matthew 20:12—in Jesus’ parable, all the workers are given equal pay (i.e. the same amount, regardless of how long they worked)
    • Luke 6:34—likewise in this proverbial teaching, a more or less equal amount of money is involved
    • Acts 11:17—again the idea is of a gift that is essentially the same, regardless of who receives it
    • Revelation 21:16—the reference is to (precisely) equal distances

Of special interest is John 5:18, where, as part of the reaction to Jesus’ provocative saying (v. 17), and his healing miracle performed on the Sabbath, it is narrated that some of the people wished to kill him, both for his violation of the Sabbath, but even more importantly because

“…he counted God (as his) own Father, making himself equal [i&son] to God”

The episode itself, rather than abstract theological considerations, must define what i&so$ signifies here; the answer is twofold:

    • Jesus identified himself God’s Son, possessing a special relationship to God (YHWH) as his Father; so close are they that they say and do very much the same things.
    • Jesus claims to do the same kind of work as God the Father, which includes miracles that manifest the life-giving creative power of God

I would argue that the significance of i&so$ here in Philippians is comparable, but defined by way of the exaltation of Jesus, rather than the miracles performed during his earthly ministry. Through the resurrection, Jesus was raised to a position at God’s “right hand”, which entails a ruling position that is essentially equal to God’s own. He stands alongside God the Father, sharing the same exalted (divine) position and status. The pre-existence aspect of Phil 2:6ff attributes to Jesus the same sort of exalted position even prior to his earthly life. The motif of sonship is not prominent here in the hymn, unlike in the Gospel of John (where it is pervasive); however, in the early Christology, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was very much tied to his exaltation. As this Christology further developed, the same sense of divine Sonship was recognized as part of his eternal pre-existence as well (Heb 1:2-3, etc).

Bringing the words of verse 6b together, we have:

a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

An attempt at a literal, glossed translation would be:

“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as) seizing (something)”
or, reading a(rpagmo/$ in a passive, concrete sense:
“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as something) to be seized”

The negative particle governing the clause (cf. above), of course, says that this is just what Jesus did not do. But exactly what did he not do? Here the views and opinions of commentators have differed considerably. It depends largely on the precise meaning of “seizing” (a(rpagmo/$, vb a(rpa/zw) in context. There are several possible lines of interpretation:

    • Though Jesus had an exalted position alongside God, he was not equal to God in all respects; he might have been inclined to seek this greater status, this equality, but he chose not to grasp after it. Some commentators see here a contrastive parallel between Jesus and Adam, who was tempted by the promise of becoming just like God.
    • Jesus did possess this equality with God, but not as something which one grasps hold of in an ambitious way, or to protect one’s position; he was willing to let go any attachment to his divine status for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth.
    • The exalted position of Jesus alongside God, by which he shares equal rule with the Father, is not characterized by a grasping after power, such as ambitious human rulers do; rather, it is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of those over whom one rules.

Most other interpretations I have seen tend to reflect some variation on the three views given above. Before we can narrow down a more definite interpretation, it will be necessary first to examine the remainder of verses 7-8. In the next daily note, we will beginning grappling with arguably the most problematic and controversial lines of the hymn, in verse 7.

There have been a number of detailed modern studies on the meaning and background of the word a(rpagmo/$ (see above), among the most notable of which are:

        • R. W. Hoover, “The HARPAGMOS Enigma: A Philological Solution”, Harvard Theological Review [HTR] 64 (1971), pp. 95-119.
        • N. T. Wright, “a(rpagmo/$ and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5-11″, Journal of Theological Studies [JTS] 37 (1986), pp. 321-52.

For a good summary of the evidence, cf. Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991), pp. 211-16. Any reputable (critical) commentary will provide a bibliographic list of the relevant resources related to the passage.

October 13: Philippians 2:6a

Philippians 2:6a

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn

The “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11 can be divided into two halves which mirror each other conceptually. This structure of the hymn will be discussed in more detail in the concluding note to this series; however, it is important at the outset to have at least the basic outline in mind. Verses 6-8 describe the lowering of Jesus from an exalted heavenly place alongside God the Father, while vv. 9-11 correspondingly describe the exaltation, the raising of him back to heaven. This may be framed as a chiastic outline—moving from divine/heavenly (pre-)existence, and back to an exalted status (as God/Lord) in heaven:

    • God sends his Son from him (i.e. from heaven)
      • to be born (lit. come to be) of a woman (Gal 4:4)
        • into the suffering/slavery of the human condition (v. 7a)
        • suffering/death on the cross (v. 8)
      • through the resurrection, Jesus is “born” (i.e. firstborn of the dead)
    • God exalts him to heaven, at his right hand, as Son of God (cf. Ps 2:7 / Acts 13:32-33) and Lord

This same sequence is indicated, in simpler form, by the four main aorist verbs that guide the syntax of the passage:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
    • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
    • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
    • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

This will be studied in detail as we proceed through the hymn.

The opening lines of the hymn, in verse 6, establish the position of Jesus in heaven. This is usually taken as evidence of a pre-existence Christology, and correctly so; indeed, it would appear to be the earliest example of such a Christology in the New Testament (c. 60 A.D., or somewhat earlier). In the prior period (c. 35-60 A.D.), an exaltation Christology dominated Christian thought, whereby the deity of Jesus—his nature and status as the Son of God—was located almost exclusively in the resurrection, and his exaltation to heaven to reside at the “right hand of God”. Needless to say, Phil 2:6-11 attests both aspects of first-century Christology, with a pre-existence dimension (vv. 6-8) added to the (earlier) exaltation-aspect.

There are two clauses in verse 6, the first of which will be examined in today’s note. I have left it untranslated (above), so that its meaning (which has been much disputed) can be established through careful exegesis.

The initial clause begins with a relative pronoun (o%$, “which, who”), referring back to Jesus Christ (e)n Xristw=| Ihsou=) in v. 5 (cf. the prior note). There are number of hymn-like early Christological statements in the New Testament, where the lines are similarly governed by an initial relative pronoun (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:3). In context, the pronoun provides a transition between verse 5 and the hymn proper: “…in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who [o%$]…”. The remainder of the clause is considerably more difficult; the central phrase follows:

e)n morfh=| qeou=
“in (the) morfh/ of God”

The interpretive crux involves the precise meaning of the word morfh/, which occurs only here in the New Testament (apart from once in the ‘long ending’ of Mark [16:12]); it is also relatively rare in the Greek Old Testament (LXX), occurring just 8 times (Judg 8:18; Job 4:16; Isa 44:13; Dan 3:19; Tobit 1:13; Wisdom 18:1). A related verbal noun mo/rfwsi$ is similarly rare (Rom 2:20; 2 Tim 3:5), along with the verb morfo/w (only in Gal 4:19); neither word is used in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the morf– word-group is that of the (external) form or shape of something—often specifically of human beings or animals, but it could apply to any object or feature of the visible world.

Given the connotation of morfh/ as referring to something visible, one should perhaps understand the expression morfh\ qeou= in traditional terms—of the divine/heavenly “splendor” that surrounds God when He appears in a vision (or theophany) to human beings. In other words, it is a visible mark which sets a divine/heavenly being apart, distinct from a human being. If we are to apply this to Jesus, it would mean that he is to be considered as something more than an ordinary human being. Early Christians would have affirmed this unquestionably of Jesus following the resurrection, with his exaltation to heaven; however, as noted above, vv. 6ff here attests to some form of pre-existence Christology as well—that Jesus had a comparable exalted status even prior to his life on earth.

The term “exalted” well captures the connotation of morfh/ as it is used here, and there can be little doubt that the early exaltation-Christology informs the imagery in vv. 6ff. The key image of this Christology is of Jesus standing in heaven “at the right hand of God”; that expression, or allusions to it, are frequent in the New Testament, and attest clearly to its central position in the earliest Christology (cf. Mk 12:36 par [citing Ps 110:1]; 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). Thus, it was well accepted that, after the resurrection, Jesus held an exalted position of supreme glory and honor alongside God Himself in heaven. The developing pre-existence Christology attributed a comparable divine position for Jesus in heaven, even prior to his earthly life.

Equally important for an understanding of the word morfh/ here in verse 6 is its parallel usage in verse 7, where the expression morfh\ dou/lou (“form of a slave“) is precisely parallel with morfh\ qeou= (“form of God“). If a position alongside God in heaven represents the highest, most exalted point, the position of a human slave represents the lowest point. This will be discussed further in the note on verse 7.

The final word of the clause in v. 6a is the (present active) participle u(pa/rxwn. The verb u(pa/rxw is quite difficult to translate in English; literally it means “begin under”, in the sense of beginning at a certain place or point. It came to be used in the more general sense of “be present, exist”, sometimes with the nuance of being in a particular state or condition or set of circumstances. It can also be used of something which belongs to a person, being “under” his/her control. This relatively wide range of meaning makes an interpretation of its use here, in relation to the phrase “in the morfh/ of God”, rather difficult.

It is helpful to consider how Paul uses the verb u(pa/rxw elsewhere in his letters; the most obvious example is in 1 Cor 11:7, where it is used in connection with the do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”), which, as noted above, is roughly comparable to morfh\ qeou= (“[visible] form of God”). In that verse, the same verbal form (present active participle) refers to the circumstances whereby someone is marked as possessing a certain (exalted) status or position. Here in Philippians, the verb is used again at 3:20, where it refers to the exalted position that awaits for believers in heaven; right now, at this moment, such a place exists in heaven, belonging to the heavenly realm, but we are yet to enter into it.

With this line of interpretation in mind, let us now turn to a translation of v. 6a; an extreme literal rendering would be:

“who, beginning under in (the) form of God”

We must remember that morfh/ refers to a visible shape or appearance, and that morfh\ qeou= is best understood in terms of a visual designation that sets God (or the divine) apart from human beings—i.e., the divine “splendor” (do/ca) manifest in traditional heavenly visions or theophanies. By using the verb u(pa/rxw (as a present active participle), the phrase emphatically affirms that Jesus exists (and existed) under just such circumstances, in an exalted position alongside God in heaven. Though not stated specifically in this verse, the context (of the hymn) indicates that Jesus held this position prior to his life on earth (which means prior to his death and resurrection).

Many commentators and theologians would seek to read a more expansive Christology into the hymn here in vv. 6-7, drawing upon later, developed Christological notions regarding Jesus’ divine nature and attributes, his precise relationship to the Father (from an orthodox, trinitarian standpoint), etc. However interesting such speculation may be, and important in its own right, it goes far beyond the thought of the hymn—and, indeed, of Paul’s own thought (for the most part) all throughout his letters. The tensions between orthodox Christology and the language and imagery used in the hymn becomes even more pronounced in verse 7, as we shall see. It is vital that we keep close to the actual wording and syntax of the text, avoiding the temptation to read wider theological concerns into the passage. Indeed, we can see the importance of this disciplined approach as we turn to the second clause of v. 6, which we shall do in the next daily note.

October 12: Philippians 2:5

This series of daily notes, to run through October and into November, will focus on the “Christ hymns” in the New Testament—that is to say, the early Christian hymn-like confessions or creedal statement preserved in the Scriptures. The two most notable of these are found in Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. We will begin with the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians.

The origin and authorship of Phil 2:6-11 have been much debated by New Testament scholars; this will be discussed in more detail in a concluding note on the passage as a whole. The main argument against Pauline authorship is based on vocabulary—the presence of a number of rare words and expressions which are not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters, or are used in a somewhat different way. As an example, we may note in particular certain key words which occur only in Phil 2:6-11, and nowhere else in the New Testament:

    • morfh/ (“shape, form”, vv. 6-7)—elsewhere it occurs only in the ‘long ending’ of the Gospel of Mark (16:12); it is also rare in the LXX (8 occurrences). Other representatives of the morf– word-group do occur numerous times in the NT (including the Pauline letters).
    • a(rpagmo/$ (“seizing, something seized”, v. 6)
    • u(peruyo/w (“be high over”, v.9)—simple u(yo/w (“be high”) occurs 20 times in the NT, but only once in Paul’s letters (2 Cor 11:7)
    • kataxqo/nio$ (“under the ground”, v. 10)

Such arguments on authorship, based on vocabulary, are far from decisive, especially when dealing with a relatively small data set for comparison. However, they are significant enough that they must be taken seriously. Three main views on the authorship of Phil 2:6-11 are held by commentators:

    • It is a pre-Pauline hymn which Paul has adapted for use within his letter to the Philippians
    • It is a Pauline composition which utilizes traditional language and terminology
    • It is an original Pauline composition throughout, written as he composed the letter

Probably the first view is the one most commonly held by critical commentators today. However one judges the matter, it is of the utmost importance that the “Christ hymn” be studied within the context of its place in the letter. Because of its compelling Christological content, there has been a tendency to read the hymn out of context, as though it were intended as some kind of definitive Christological statement. The best starting point in this regard is to study carefully the wording Paul uses in verse 5, which introduces the hymn. For a brief study of the prior verses 1-4, cf. the recent article in the Monday Notes on Prayer series.

Philippians 2:5

“You must have this mind-set in you, which (was) also in (the) Anointed Yeshua…”

The key word in this introductory statement is the verb frone/w, which is derived from the noun frh/n (pl. fre/ne$), a term itself of uncertain derivation, but used to refer to a person’s inner organs. As such, the noun frh/n came to be used in a figurative sense for the mind—the thought, feelings, and emotions—of a person. The related verb frone/w fundamentally meant “use the mind, think”, but could also be used in the developed sense of “be of a certain mind (or attitude)”, “have a mind-set”, etc. In the New Testament, this verb is virtually a Pauline term, as 23 of the 26 occurrences are in the Pauline letters—most notably 9 times in Romans, and 10 times here in Philippians (also 1:7; 2:2 [twice]; 3:15 [twice], 19; 4:2, 10 [twice]). The occurrences in 1:7 and 2:2 should be used to establish its meaning and significance here in v. 5.

In 1:7, Paul uses the verb to affirm his common bond with the Philippian believers. Even when he is in prison away from them, he still thinks of them, holding them firmly in his mind; this is parallel to the idiom of “holding” them “in (his) heart“. This reflects the unity of believers in Christ—a central theme of the letter. As I discuss in the aforementioned Notes on Prayer study, Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian believers is framed in terms of a prayer-request made to God (1:9ff). His prayer for the Philippians corresponds with their prayers for him (vv. 19ff)—in both instances, the prayers by believers are focused on the needs of others. Such an approach demonstrates the ideal of unity, whereby believers support each other through an attitude of humility and self-sacrifice.

Though this unity of believers occurs fundamentally through the Spirit, the goal is that it should be realized (and demonstrated) in practical terms within the local community, or congregation, as well. Paul understood the challenge of this for local congregations, and so takes great pains to encourage and exhort the Philippian congregations to work toward the goal, with a unity of mind and purpose. This is the emphasis in 2:1-4, as the strong exhortation in vv. 1-2 makes clear; note in particular how the goal is phrased in verse 2:

“…that you should have the s(ame) mind, holding the s(ame) love, like souls (united) together, having one mind.”

Paul uses the verb frone/w twice in this verse, giving special emphasis to a unity of mind and attitude, that believers should share a common way of thinking. And what is this common way of thinking? It involves a willingness to put the needs of others above one’s own self-interest (vv. 3-4). It is this attitude of self-denial and self-sacrifice which Paul has in view in verse 5—an attitude which follows the example of Jesus himself. The force of the imperative fronei=te (“you must have the mind[set]”) is comparative: this (tou=to) mind-set that you should have is that which (o%) Jesus Christ had. The comparison is established by the relative clause: “…which (was) also in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (o^ kai\ e)n Xristw=|  )Ihsou=). The emphatic conjunctive particle kai/ (“and” = “also”) could also be rendered in context here as “even” – “which was even in the Anointed Yeshua” (i.e., within Jesus himself). Since believers are united with Jesus Christ (through the Spirit), it is natural that we would have the same mindset and way of thinking. However, this does not happen automatically; it requires a willingness, a receptivity, on our part, to be guided by the Spirit to live and act in a Christ-like manner. This the reason for Paul’s forceful and carefully argued exhortatory instruction, and helps us understand why he turns to the “Christ hymn” in vv. 6-11 to illustrate his argument.

In the next daily note, we will begin our study of the hymn as it begins in verse 6a.

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 2:1-4

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul frequently uses the language of prayer in the exhortatory sections of his letters, framing the exhortation to believers in terms of a wish or request which he would make to God. The customary verb for prayer in the New Testament is proseu/xomai, a compound middle deponent verb from eu&xw + the prefixed preposition pro/$ (“toward”). Fundamentally, in a religious context, it means “speak out toward (God)”. However, when referring to a specific request made to God, often the noun de/hsi$ is used, even as Paul does at a number of points in his letters—see especially here in Philippians (1:4, 19; 4:6). At 4:6 he uses proseuxh/, related to the aforementioned verb, together with de/hsi$; the former denotes the act of speaking to God, the latter the specific request(s) being made. In 1:9, Paul clearly states that he prays to God on behalf of the Philippian believers, with his specific request—the goal and purpose of his prayer—being:

“…that your love would go over (and above), more and more, in (deep) knowledge and all insight”

This love which is manifest in wisdom and understanding—the true knowledge of God—is characteristic of the believer who is complete; and it is Paul’s fervent wish that all believers would come to be complete in Christ (cf. verses 10-11). It is not just a question of the character and development of the individual believer, but also of believers in community, united together as the body of Christ. This is realized in the Spirit, but the goal is for such unity to be demonstrated within the local community—the congregation or local group(s) of believers—as well. Paul’s experience in founding and guiding congregations, however, had taught him all too well that it can be a most difficult (and at times painful) process to see this ideal of unity in the Spirit realized within the local congregation at a practical level. He very much has this challenge in mind as he begins his line of discussion in chapter 2.

Though prayer is not mentioned, as such, in 2:1-4, there can be no doubt that Paul’s exhortation here is fully in keeping with the prayer-request expressed in 1:9ff. He re-emphasizes his wish for unity among believers in 2:1-2:

“(So) then, if (there is) any calling alongside in (the) Anointed, if any impulse of love alongside, if (there is) any common bond of the Spirit, if any entrails (of compassion) and (feeling)s of mercy, you must make full my delight, (in) that you should be of the s(ame) mind, holding the s(ame) love, like souls (united) together, being of one mind…”

Paul understood that the sort of unity he desires for believers requires a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests for the good of others. This kind of self-denial, an attitude of meekness and humility, is part of the active work of the Spirit in and among believers (the “fruit of the Spirit”, Gal 5:22-23ff), but it requires a receptivity on the part of the believer, a willingness to be guided and transformed by the Spirit of God and Christ (Gal 5:16, 25, etc). For this reason, Paul introduces in verse 3 the ideal of a unifying humility among believers in Christ:

“…(with) nothing (done) according to selfish work [e)riqei/a], and not according to (a desire for) empty esteem [kenodoci/a], but with a lowliness of mind [tapeinofrosu/nh] (you should) be (one)s leading (by) holding others over themselves”

The syntax of the last phrase, in particular, is difficult to render literally in English; but the goal clearly is for believers to conduct themselves in a manner that puts the interests of other believers (in the community) over their own. This point is elucidated in verse 4:

“…(with) each (person) not looking at the (thing)s of himself [i.e. his own things], but (instead) each (person should look at) the (thing)s of others.”

How often do we pray in this manner—for the needs of others rather than our own needs? It is, however, a fundamental principle of Christian prayer in the New Testament, as discussed in recent notes in this series. A prayer for the needs of others more properly reflects the Spirit of God at work in us (cf. the previous study on Rom 8:26-27), and we can be confident indeed that such a prayer, under the guidance of the Spirit, will be answered by God.

This brief study on Phil 2:1-4 is preparatory, in certain respects, to a series of daily notes I am now beginning on the famous “Christ hymn” of 2:6-11. I recommend that you follow along with these notes, as they will help to expound and illustrate the teaching and exhortation Paul gives here in vv. 1-4. Verse 5 is transitional in this regard, and this is where the series of critical and exegetical notes on the passage will begin.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 31 (Part 3)

Psalm 31, continued

Following my three-part outline of this Psalm, the first two parts were treated in the previous two studies (last week and the week prior); we now conclude with the third and final part:

    • Vv. 2-9 [1-8]: An expression of trust in YHWH, that He will deliver the Psalmist from the danger and distress he faces
    • Vv. 10-19 [9-18]: A lament for the illness and affliction which the Psalmist currently endures
    • Vv. 20-25 [19-24]: Praise and thanksgiving to YHWH for His goodness, shown in delivering those faithful to Him (such as the Psalmist) from suffering.

Verses 20-25 [19-24]

Verse 20 [19]

“How much (indeed) is your (treasure of) good
that you have hidden away for (those) fearing you,
(that) you worked for (the one)s seeking protection in you,
(made visible right) in front of (the) sons of men!”

This verse consists of a pair of 3+3 couplets, essentially joined to form a quatrain. As noted in the outline above, the emphasis in the Psalm now shifts to praise of YHWH for His goodness that he demonstrates by delivering those faithful to Him. Such deliverance, as previously noted, is part of the covenant responsibility of YHWH, to provide protection for his faithful vassals. Indeed, the faithful ones seek and request such protection from YHWH, indicated here by the verb hs*j* in the third line; we have seen this verb used frequently in the Psalms we have studied thus far, in a similar covenant-context (2:12; 5:12; 7:2; 11:1; 16:1; 17:7; 18:3, 31; 25:20, and earlier in this Psalm in v. 2). The idiom of “seeking protection” in YHWH is parallel here with “fearing” YHWH, in line 2 (root ary). There is a similar parallelism between the verb /p^x* in line 2 and lu^P* in line 3; the first verb means “hide (away)”, in the sense of storing away treasure, while the second (lu^P*) literally means “work”, here presumably connoting the work performed by YHWH in storing up His treasure. This ‘treasure’ is defined as the “good” (bWf), i.e. the good things belonging to YHWH, which He distributes to His loyal followers; again the covenant imagery is in view here.

The meaning of the last line is a bit obscure: “in front of the sons of men”. Dahood (p. 191) suggests that the idea is, by showing favor to the righteous in front of the rest of humanity (i.e. the wicked), it will put them to shame (or perhaps, provoke them to envy); cp. the idiom in Psalm 23:5.

Verse 21 [20]

“You cover them in the cover of your face,
away from the ties of man;
you hide them in (the) thick (cover)ing,
away from combat by (the) tongue!”

This is another quatrain, but with irregular meter—a 3-beat line followed by three 2-beat lines. The meaning of the expression vya! ys@k=r% in the second line is uncertain, especially as the word skr occurs only here in the Old Testament. Cognate parallels in Akkadian and Ugaritic indicate a basic meaning of tying or binding something together (cf. Dahood, p. 191). Here in the Psalm the expression is parallel with “combat by the tongue(s)” in the fourth line; this suggests an attempt to bind a person through evil speech, perhaps in the sense of a curse, etc. It may simply refer to the general idea of evil speaking—including slander, false accusation, etc.  In any event, part of the protection YHWH provides to the faithful ones is to keep them away from such evil, and its harmful effects. Even if one must endure it for a time, ultimately God will deliver the person who trusts in Him. Three different terms play on this idea of protection in terms of hiding/concealing:

    • Line 1: The verb rt^s* (with the related noun rt#s@)—to hide something by covering it
    • Line 3: The verb /p^x*, “hide away”, used earlier in v. 20 (cf. above)
      and also: the noun hK*s% denoting a thick covering, e.g. of branches or woven material.

In verse 20, the image was of the treasures of YHWH being hidden away for the righteous; now the idea has shifted to the righteous themselves being hidden away from the wicked.

Verse 22 [21]

“Honor be (to) YHWH—
for He does wonders to me (in) His goodness,
(from) within (the) enclosed place of the city!”

This irregular tricolon builds upon the idea of protection and deliverance (provided by YHWH), depicted in vv. 20-21. Through our praise, the righteous/faithful ones show honor to YHWH; the verb used is Er^B*, which is often translated “bless”, but fundamentally denotes an act or gesture by which one does homage or shows honor to someone (by kneeling, etc). As noted repeatedly in prior studies, the noun ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”) frequently connotes faithfulness and loyalty, especially in a covenant-context. The meaning of the last line is not entirely clear. Possibly the sense is that God brings the person into the secure place of protection (depicted by the image of a strong city enclosed by fortifications); or, alternatively, God acts from within that place (i.e. His heavenly dwelling) to bring deliverance for His loyal ones. The latter meaning seems better suited to the line of thought here in the Psalm.

Verse 23 [22]

“Indeed I said, in my sudden (fear):
‘I am cut off from in front of your eyes!’
(but yet) you surely heard
(the) voice of my calls for favor,
in my (cry)ing to you for help!”

In this verse we have a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon followed by a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, which I have combined as a single poetic unit. It summarizes the essence and setting of the entire Psalm—in which the protagonist cries out to YHWH for help, in the midst of his suffering, and God answers him. Even at the pinnacle of the Psalmist’s despair (in which he thinks/says to himself “I am cut off…!”), still YHWH hears (and answers) the prayer of His faithful one.

The verbal expression yz]p=j*b= in line 1 is actually rather difficult to translate. The verb zp^j* itself would seem fundamentally to denote acting in fear or fright, sometimes with the specific response of fleeing, etc; the context here indicates a sudden or abrupt sense of despair, perhaps a very real feeling by the Psalmist that he is in danger of perishing, of his life slipping away without any rescue by God.

Verse 24 [23]

“You shall love YHWH, all (you) His loyal (one)s!
YHWH is guarding (the one)s firm (in loyalty),
and is completing upon (what is) left over
(for the one) acting (with the) height (of pride)!”

This highly irregular quatrain encapsulates a concluding exhortation of praise to YHWH. As is often the case in these Psalms, in the closing portion, the focus shifts from the individual protagonist to God’s people (the faithful/righteous ones) as a whole. As I have noted, this reflects a strong Wisdom-tradition emphasis that has shaped many of the Psalms, at least in the form that they have come down to us. It is possible that this communal component represents a secondary development, as earlier poems were adapted for use in a public worship setting. In any event, the emphasis is clear enough in verse 24, beginning with the call for God’s people to respond to Him with love and devotion (vb bh^a*). The remaining lines establish the familiar contrast between the righteous and the wicked. This dualistic contrast is fundamental to the Wisdom-aspect of the Psalms, as epitomized most famously in Psalm 1 (cf. the earlier study). The righteous are characterized on the one hand as “(the one)s firm” (adj. /m^a*, i.e., firm in faith and loyalty), while on the other hand the wicked are those “acting (with) highness [hw`a&g~]”. That is to say, rather than trusting in God, the wicked act according to their sense of their own strength, position, status, etc; we might say that they act “with the height of pride”.

There is a similar contrast between God’s response to the righteous and wicked, respectively. He guards (vb rx^n`) the faithful ones, bringing them into the protection of His very presence (i.e. the “covering of His face”, v. 21). This continues the covenant-motif of the protection which YHWH provides, as an obligation of the binding agreement, to those who remain loyal to Him. The same covenant imagery is made to apply to the wicked, but in a grimly ironic way, according to the ancient lex talionis principle. What the wicked do, through their own sinful pride, comes back upon them, by way of punishment, in like kind. This is indicated by the use of the verb <l^v*, followed by the preposition lu^ (“upon”). The root <lv has a relatively wide semantic range, but basically denotes making something complete, including the fulfillment of an agreement, and so forth. Here the sense is of God fulfilling what is due to the wicked (on account of their faithlessness and disloyalty), making good on the situation by punishing them as they deserve, according to the evil they have done. Since God does not always punish the wicked fully in their lifetime (or at least so it seems), the “remainder” (rt#y#) of the punishment that is to come upon them is not made complete until the moment of death. Thus, while the righteous (like the Psalmist) are saved from death, the wicked ultimately receive death as their punishment.

Verse 25 [24]

“You must hold firm and let your [pl.] heart be strong,
all of (you), the (one)s waiting for YHWH!”

The closing couplet is a final exhortation addressed to the people of God as a whole (cf. above on v. 24). It is an exhortation to continued faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH. The idea of “waiting” on YHWH is essentially synonymous with that of “calling” on YHWH (cf. the discussion on the verb hw`q* in the earlier study on Psalm 25:3). Here the verb is lj^y`, which occurs relatively frequently in the Psalms (19 times); it tends to connote the idea of waiting with trust or hope, i.e. in God, that He will answer. Such faithful waiting reflects the covenant loyalty of the one who stands by in devotion to YHWH, ready to act on his Lord’s behalf.