Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 35 (Part 3)

Psalm 35, continued

Verses 22-28

This final section of the Psalm represents the second of two stanzas. The conflict in the first stanza (vv. 1-10) is expressed primarily in military terms, while here in the second stanza the aspect is judicial. This shift in imagery took place throughout the intervening middle/development section(s), vv. 11-21, discussed in the previous study.

Verse 22

“See, YHWH, and do not keep silent,
my Lord, do not keep wide [i.e. far] from me!”

The call for YHWH to act parallels the opening couplet of the first stanza (v. 1). There the call is for God to give military aid, attacking the protagonist’s adversaries and doing battle with them. Here, in the second stanza, the expectation is for YHWH to function as a judge, to render a decision against those who slander the Psalmist. The motif of seeing is picked up from the close of v. 21, where the wicked are described as false witnesses; they testify as to what they supposedly saw the Psalmist do, but it is a false accusation, delivered in the form of a taunt. As the Judge, YHWH sees their evil—being God, indeed, He must see it; the petition is that He should respond to what He has seen, acting (in justice) on the Psalmist’s behalf.

Verse 23

“Rouse (yourself) and awake to my judgment,
my Mighty One and Lord, to (contend) my case!”

The Psalmist’s plea is expressed more directly here in this couplet. The parallel with the first stanza is made clear, again, by the common use of the root byr! (“contend”) in verse 1. The noun byr! here is parallel with fP*v=m! (“judgment”), and refers to a cause or case that is being contending, that is in dispute. As such, it is somewhat difficult to translate concisely in English; I have attempted to preserve the verbal aspect (of the root byr)—i.e., that YHWH would contend on the Psalmist’s behalf.

A minor note on the above translation; so as better to maintain the poetic rhythm of the second line, I did not translate the suffix on the noun /oda* (“Lord”). Literally, it should read “my Mighty One and my Lord”; the suffixed yn`d)a& (“my Lord”), of course, came to serve as a traditional substitution for the divine name YHWH (Yahweh) when recited.

Verse 24

“Judge me according to your justice, YHWH,
my Mighty One, do not let them rejoice at me.”

Even more direct is the Psalmist’s request here: YHWH is to act as judge and render judgment on the Psalmist’s behalf. This act of delivering judgment is to be done according to the qd#x# of YHWH. The judicial aspect of the word (i.e., “justice”) needs to be brought out in this context; however, as I have noted on many occasions, the root qdx also connotes “faithfulness” and “loyalty”, especially when used in the context of the covenant-bond. The verb jm^c* (“rejoice, find/take joy, delight”) here has the sense of the wicked taking a gleeful, mocking delight at the Psalmist’s expense. This attitude of the wicked, reflected by their actions, is described in some detail in vv. 11-21 (cf. the previous study).

Verse 25

“Do not let them say in their heart, ‘Ha! (in) our throat!’
don’t let them say, ‘We have swallowed him (up)!'”

This couplet expands upon the request in the second line of v. 24, asking that the wicked not be allowed to take joy in their slander, as they taunt and mock the Psalmist. The wordplay here is quite impossible to translate; even so, it is important to render it in as literal a manner as possible. To begin with, the wordplay is brought out by the repetition in the opening part of each line: “Do not let them say…” (Wrm=ay)-la^). This common wording highlights the detail in the remainder of each line:

    • “(say) in their heart, ‘Ha! our throat!'”
      Wnv@p=n~ ja*h# <B*l!b=
    • “(say) ‘we have swallowed him (up)!'”

There is alliteration in the Hebrew: b®lib¹m he°¹µ…û / billa±¦nûhû—that is one aspect of the wordplay. At the same time, there is a conceptual wordplay that runs in several directions. First, in the first line we have the parallel of the words bl@ (“heart”) and vp#n#, usually rendered “soul”, but which can similarly connote “desire”. However, on occasion, and almost always in poetry, the word vp#n# can carry the more concrete meaning of “throat”, and this properly fits the second parallel, with the verb ul^B* (“swallow, devour”) in the second line. Most likely the meaning of the exclamation “Ha! our throat!” is “Ha, he is in our throat!” (i.e., we are swallowing/devouring him)—in which case, there is a third parallel to be seen here, as the wicked boast “in their heart” that the Psalmist is ‘in their throat’. The multilayered semantic range of this wording also allows for the parallel of “in their heart” / ‘in their soul’, in the sense that their soul’s desire against him is being fulfilled.

Verse 26

“Let them feel shame and find disgrace together,
(the one)s taking joy (at the) evil (coming to) me;
may they be clothed (with) shame and humiliation,
the (one)s making out great (lies) against me!”

The Psalmist is no longer asking for YHWH simply to eliminate the opportunity for the wicked to take joy in their attacks; rather, now the request is for God to make judgment against them. Through the declaration of His justice, YHWH will make the wicked feel shame (vb vWB) and disgrace (vb rp@j*), as well as a complete humiliation (hm*l!K=). This indicates a sense of guilt, as well as implying a measure of punishment meted out against them.

The verb ld^G` in the final line, in the causative (hiphil) stem, usually means “make great, make firm, make strong”; here, in this context, it must carry the sense of “making great lies”, i.e., slandering someone in the most prominent (and public) manner. However, it is also possible that a cognate meaning of making something firm by twisting (as in a rope or cord) is intended; this would be quite appropriate for the context of twisting the truth, i.e., “twisting out slanders” against the Psalmist.

Verse 27

“Let them shout (for joy) and rejoice,
(the one)s delighting in my justice;
and may they continually say, ‘YHWH (is) great,
the (One who) delights (in the) fulfillment of His servant’!”

Metrically, this is a somewhat awkward verse, with an apparent 2-beat (2+2) couplet followed by a longer irregular 3-beat (4+3) couplet. The parallelism within the lines is similarly mixed. There is the obvious parallel between the righteous delighting (root Jpj) in the the justice experienced by the Psalmist, and the idea that YHWH Himself takes delight (same verbal root) in the well-being (<olv*) of his faithful/loyal servants. It should be pointed out that the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa has a slightly different reading of the second couplet:

“and may they continually say, ‘YHWH (is) great,’
you (who) delight (in the) fulfillment of His servant”

This reading makes for a closer formal parallel with the first couplet, keeping the focus on the righteous (as the ones who take delight), rather than shifting to YHWH as the subject. There is an obvious parallel between the righteous who rejoice and take delight at the Psalmist, in a good sense (i.e., in his innocence and the justice done for him), and the wicked who rejoice/delight in an evil sense (at his misfortune); cf. on vv. 24-26 above. The contrast between the righteous and wicked is a central theme, in this Psalm, and in many others.

The use of the terms <olv* (“completion, fulfillment”) and db#u# (“servant”) point out again that the context of the covenant bond is very much in view in this Psalm. The righteous are described as the faithful/loyal servants (vassals) of YHWH (their sovereign); in response to their continued loyalty, God looks after their well-being, providing the fulfillment of their needs. In so doing, YHWH also fulfills His part of the agreement (an important aspect of the word <olv* in context).

Verse 28

“And my tongue (also) shall utter your justice,
(giving) all the day (long) your shout (of praise)!”

The refrain of the second stanza begins in verse 27 (above) and continues here in v. 28, bringing the Psalm to a close. The focus has shifted from the righteous, collectively, to the person of the Psalmist. Counting himself as one of the righteous, those faithful/loyal to YHWH, the Psalmist makes the same sort of declaration to God, praising Him for the justice that He shows. The implication is that YHWH has heard his prayer and will respond, establishing justice for the Psalmist and punishing the wicked ones who attacked him. The expression “your shout (of praise)” means “the shout (of praise) you (deserve)”; similarly “your justice” means “the justice you established (for me)”.

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