March 12 (2): Psalm 68:29-32

Strophe 8: Psalm 68:29-32 [28-31]

Strophe 7 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 29 [28]

“Summon your strength!
Strengthen, O Mightiest,
that which you have done for us!”

The meter of the opening verse in this strophe, as it stands (in the MT), is a bit irregular: a 3+2+3 tricolon. One would rather expect a 2+2+3 meter, which is the general pattern of this Psalm. In the translation above, I have tentatively omitted the second word in the first line. This also resolves the problem of the second person suffix (;-) on ;yh#l)a$. The MT of the first line reads—

“Your Mighty (One) commanded your strength”

which doesn’t make much sense. Dahood (II, p. 149) solves the problem by reading the verb as an imperative, and separating the final kaph (i-) of the second word and attaching it to the beginning of the third word (-k)—;Z#u%K*, parsing the preposition K= as an emphatic (asseverative). The line would then read:

“Summon, my Mighty (One), your (very) strength”

It is an intriguing proposal, and I do agree that the verb should be vocalized as a Piel imperative: hW#x^, “command…!”, which is best rendered here as “summon…!”.

Verse 30 [29]

“Your palace (is) upon Yerushalaim,
(and) to you they make flow,
(the) kings, gifts (in homage).”

The prefixed –m on ;l#k*yh@ (“your palace”) in the MT is difficult to explain, and, if retained in place, would make translation of the line difficult. Dahood (II, p. 149) would separate it from ;l#k*yh@ and attach it to the end (<-) of the previous word (WnL*, “for us”), as an enclitic suffix. This is perhaps as good a solution as any.

The theme of the (conquered) peoples of Canaan paying tribute to YHWH was introduced in verse 19, and is repeated here, though the noun yv^ is used rather than hn`T*m; both words mean “gift,” but yv^ specifically connotes a gift brought in homage to a sovereign (cf. the two other OT occurrences, Ps 76:12; Isa 18:7, where the context is much the same as here). The verb lb^y` means “bring, carry (along),” often reflecting the imagery of flowing water; i.e., the kings make their gifts flow to YHWH in Jerusalem.

The “palace” (lk*yh@) is, of course, the Temple in Jerusalem, YHWH’s new dwelling-place among His people. The ritual scene described in the previous strophe (cf. the previous note) presumably celebrates YHWH’s entry into this new dwelling, following the victory He achieved for His people, bringing them into the Promised Land. It is possible to read the preposition lu^ in the concrete sense of “upon”, since the elevated position of Jerusalem (Zion), however modest, allows it to fulfill the role, taken over from Sinai (cf. verses 9, 18), of God’s mountain dwelling (vv. 15-17).

Verse 31 [30]

“Rebuke (the) creature of (the) reed(s),
(the one) appointed of bulls,
(among the) calves of peoples,
trampling in delight of silver,
who scatters (the) peoples,
(those who) desire an encounter.”

This verse is difficult to interpret, and the translation above can only be tentative. Metrically, in the MT as we have it, there is an initial 3-beat line, followed by a succession of five 2-beat lines. In the opening line, the Psalmist calls on YHWH to rebuke (vb ru^G`) the “living (creature) of (the) reed(s)”. It is hard to know what to make of the latter expression, though one is immediately reminded of the “beast” who comes out of the sea in the book of Revelation (13:1ff, etc), inspired by the earlier figure in the book of Daniel (7:3ff). It should probably be understood here in light of the apparent allusion to the mythic sea-creature (of the primeval waters) in v. 23 (cf. the prior note on strophe 6). The reference to “reed(s)” further suggests that this ‘creature’ is specifically associated with Egypt (cf. on v. 32 below) and the Nile; indeed, the application of the sea-monster tradition to Egypt (and the Exodus), in Isa 27:1ff and Ps 74:12-14, was previously noted.

It is probably not going too far to state that this figure represents, not just Egypt, but all the nations and their kings, embodying the most powerful (and ruthless) of them. The subsequent lines characterize him as “appointed (one) of the bulls”, suggesting a strong ruler among princes; the “bulls” themselves are further described as “(unruly) calves” (cf. Jer 31:18; 46:21), alluding to their violent and warlike tendencies. Such rulers “trample” (vb sp^r*) other peoples and “scatter” (vb rz~B*) them; they have a lustful delight (hx*r*) for silver, and desire armed encounters.

By “rebuking” them, YHWH will bring these nations (and their kings) into submission; instead of warring and conquering, they will become faithful (and peaceful) vassals of YHWH (and, thus, to the Israelite kingdom), bringing tributary gifts to Jerusalem in homage. This expectation is stated specifically in v. 32.

Verse 32 [31]

“Let (gift)s of fine cloth
come (forth) from Egypt,
let Kush run (bringing)
his hands (full) to (the) Mightiest!”

These lines confirm that the “creature of the reeds” in v. 31 (cf. above) is a reference to Egypt. From the earliest times of Israelite history, Egypt represented the pinnacle of worldly wealth and prestige. This continued to be so through much of the Kingdom-period. The kingdom of Israel, especially during the reign of Solomon, sought to cultivate commercial and diplomatic ties with Egypt; and Egyptian economic and cultural influence in Israel/Palestine was significant. Beyond this, the place of Egypt within the context of the Psalm is due to the Exodus-theme running throughout.

The gifts Egypt brings are represented, apparently, by luxury items of fine cloth—relating Hebrew /m*v=j^ (which occurs only here in the OT) to Ugaritic/Akkadian —ušm¹nu. The name “Cush” designates territories to the south and East of Egypt (Sudan, Ethiopia, Arabia, Yemen, etc), which would have been largely under Egyptian control or influence at the time. In other words, representatives from the wider Egyptian (commercial) sphere will come running/rushing to Jerusalem, with their hands full of gifts. This theme of the nations paying homage to God (and His people) in Jerusalem, coming with great gifts, would become a key component of the Israelite/Jewish eschatological worldview. It is already expressed, as such, in several of the Trito-Isaian poems (cf. 60:5-7ff; 61:6b). However, it clearly has older origins in the royal theology of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (cf. Psalm 72:8-11).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

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