December 31: Psalm 89:31-35

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

Psalm 89:29-38, continued

(Verses 29-30 [28-29] were discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 31-32 [30-31]

“If his sons should leave behind my instruction,
and by my just (decision)s should not walk,
if my engraved (decree)s they would violate,
and my commands would not guard,”

This section deals with the question of what happens to YHWH’s binding agreement (covenant) with David, if his royal descendants violate the agreement. The tradition in 2 Samuel 7 (vv. 14-15) also deals with this aspect of the covenant, and these verses in the Psalm function as an exposition of that tradition.

The pair of couplets in vv. 31-32 form a double-conditional clause, each couplet beginning with the conditional particle <a! (“if…”). The covenant is broken when its terms are violated. With regard to the broader covenant, between YHWH and His people Israel, the terms of the covenant are embodied by the commands, regulations, and precepts laid down in the Instruction, or Torah (hr*oT), given by God to Moses, beginning with the “Ten Words”. The covenant with David (and his descendants) is dependent upon the binding agreement made with Israel.

Verse 31 makes clear that violation of the Davidic covenant is defined as violating the Torah, expressed in terms of “leaving” (vb bz~u*, i.e., forsaking, abandoning) it. This is traditional language (e.g., Deut 31:16-17), as is the wording that is used in the following lines of vv. 31-32. The Instruction (Torah) is described and characterized by three nouns: fP*v=m!, hQj%, and hw`x=m!.

All three of these terms refer principally to the authority exercised by rulers and governments, and characterize the Torah as regulations laid down by a ruler (i.e., YHWH as King and Judge). A fP*v=m! is an (authoritative) decision rendered by a ruler or judge; hQ*j% (or qj)) denotes a ruling that is engraved (or inscribed), meaning that it applies to all people in the realm, with the implication that it is permanent; a hw`x=m! refers, more generally, to any command or order that is given. All these terms are regularly used in the Scriptures, in reference to the Torah; however, here in Psalm 89, the theme of YHWH as Sovereign—both over the universe as a whole, and over His people Israel—is specifically emphasized.

The couplets in vv. 31-32 are parallel in presentation. In the first line, the breaking of the Torah is presented as a direct action, defined either as—abandoning it (vb bz~y`) or by profaning it (vb ll^j* II), the latter connoting the dissolution of the agreement in its binding and sacred force. In the second line, violation of the Torah is expressed through a negative—i.e., what one does not do—with the verbs El^h* (“walk”) and rm^v* (“guard”). These verbs are customary in religious and ethical instruction, in reference to keeping the regulations of the Torah, etc.

As a textual note, it is worth mentioning that, in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsx, verse 31 follows v. 28; however, at this point, the MS breaks off, so there is no way of knowing if vv. 29-30 are missing, or if they occur somewhere after v. 31.

Verse 33 [32]

“then with a rod I will deal with their breaking (of the bond),
and with blows (will punish) their crookedness.”

The apodosis (result clause) of the conditional statement is given here: if David’s descendants violate the terms of the covenant, then… (here the w-conjunction is to be translated “then”).

YHWH makes clear that He will, indeed, punish such violations of the covenant quite severely—as indicated by the parallel reference to use of a “rod” (fb#v@) with which one makes harsh physical contact (ug~n#, i.e., a “blow”). The noun uv^P# denotes the breaking of an agreement, or breaking faith—i.e., being disloyal, sometimes in the more extreme sense of being rebellious. The parallel noun /ou*, refers to the “crookedness” of the one breaking the covenant, often in the religious-ethical sense of “perversion”, or, more generally, as “deviation” from what is right.

The governing verb of the clause is dq^P*, a verb with a wide semantic range, and (notoriously) one of the most difficult to translate in all the Old Testament. The basic meaning appears to be something like “attend to”, “deal with”, “take care of”; however, it frequently is used in a number of specialized contexts, one of which involves a person (in a position of authority) exercising supervision over a subordinate. There are several variations of this aspect of meaning; when YHWH is the subject, the verb often is used in the context of YHWH, as King and Judge, disciplining and punishing those who defy His authority. Here, the verb could be translated “punish”, or “visit (punishment on)”; however, I feel it is just as well to retain the base meaning (i.e., “attend to, deal with”), understanding it in a harshly ironic sense—viz., YHWH will “deal with” the transgressors, and will “take care of” them.

Verse 34 [33]

“And (yet) my loyal devotion I will not break with him—
indeed, I will not be false in my firmness!”

Even if David’s descendants break faith with YHWH, He Himself will not break with David—viz., with the promises that He has made to him (cf. 2 Sam 7:8-16). The verb rr^P* (II), “break”, is here parallel with the root uvP used in v. 33; indeed, the conjunction of r^rP* with ds#j#/hn`Wma$ captures the basic meaning of uvP (“break [faith]”). The noun pair ds#j#/hn`Wma$, introduced in vv. 2-3, has been used repeatedly in the Psalm, to express the idea of YHWH’s faithfulness and loyalty (the noun hn`Wma$ denoting “firmness”).

Verse 35 [34]

“I will not violate my (own) binding (agreement),
and (what) goes forth (from) my lips, I will not change.”

Here, in the first line, YHWH states directly the point made in v. 34: that He will not violate His binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David. This creates a certain ambiguity with regard to the Davidic covenant. On the one hand, if David’s descendants break the agreement, then it has been nullified (for them, on their account). At the same time, since YHWH Himself does not break the agreement, then it remains in force—at least in terms of the promise(s) that He made to David. This aspect of the covenant is particularly emphasized here in the second line: “(what) goes forth (from) my lips” (i.e., His spoken promise).

The ambiguity surrounding the Davidic covenant, which goes back to the traditions of 2 Samuel (as presented in that narrative), will be discussed in the next note (on vv. 36-38).

Comments for Christmas

The juxtaposition of the failure of David’s royal descendants (to uphold the covenant), against the enduring force of YHWH’s promises to David, is directly relevant to figure-type of the royal/Davidic Messiah. The historical reality of the fall of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (and the Exile) clearly demonstrates how the covenant was violated by David’s descendants. At the same time, the promise to David remains, to be fulfilled by the Messiah. As previously noted, this is clearly relevant to the early Christian identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah—a theme that features prominently in the Gospel Infancy narratives. The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, in the person of Jesus, is most clearly expressed in Luke 1:32-33 (cf. the previous note).

December 29: Psalm 89:29-30

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

Psalm 89:29-38 [28-37]
Verse 29 [28]

“Into (the) distant (future) will I guard for him my devotion,
with my binding agreement holding firm for him.”

In this second strophe of the second division (vv. 20-38) of the Psalm, the emphasis is on YHWH’s binding agreement (tyr!B=) with David, and, in particular, on its firm and enduring character. This strophe continues (and develops) the key theme of God’s firmness (hn`Wma$), both in the sense of His strength and His faithfulness. The theme, with its keyword(s), was established at the beginning of the Psalm (vv. 2-3), expressed by the word-pair ds#j# and hn`Wma$. The same pairing is present here in v. 29, but with the verb /m^a* in place of the noun hn`Wma$.

As previously noted, even though ds#j# fundamentally means “goodness, kindness”, it frequently (and especially in the Psalms) carries the connotation of faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant)—a meaning comparable to that of hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#). I have translated ds#j# in the sense of “loyal devotion”, alternating between the renderings “loyalty” and “devotion”.

YHWH’s devotion (ds#j#) for David will last “into (the) distant (future)” —a literal, if somewhat verbose, translation of the expression <l*oul=. This means that His devotion applies, not only to David himself, but to subsequent sons of his line. This devotion will be preserved (“guarded”, vb rm^v*) into the future, for the generations to come.

YHWH’s loyal devotion to David (and his descendants) is defined in terms of a “binding agreement” (tyr!B=), rendered more conventionally as “covenant”. It is important to emphasize the etymological aspect of the binding force of the agreement (or covenant). At least from God’s own standpoint, His agreement with David is binding—He Himself will not violate it. This is important, since from the Psalmist’s frame of reference, writing in the exilic (or post-exilic) period, the promises in the Davidic covenant would seem to have been nullified. The question of how the agreement could still be binding (and in effect) is dealt with in the third division (vv. 39-52). For the promises of this covenant, as rooted and expressed in the Davidic traditions, see 2 Samuel 7:8-16, with vv. 12b-13 and 15-16 being most relevant to this unit in the Psalm.

Here, in the second division—and in this strophe—the focus is on the binding character of the agreement, which YHWH (speaking prophetically in the Psalm) declares will be “holding firm” for David’s line. This is expressed by the participle tn#m#a$n#, from the verb /m^a* (“be firm”), and from which also the noun hn`Wma$ is derived. The participle indicates a regular/continuing condition, while the passive (Niphal) stem suggests that this characteristic (“holding firm”) of the covenant is due to the action of YHWH (i.e., His guarding it), giving to the covenant its fundamental character.

Verse 30 [29]

“And I will set his seed (to be enduring) for ever,
and his throne like (the) days of (the) heavens!”

Both the dynastic line (“seed”) and the kingship (“throne”) of David will be preserved, according to the binding agreement, lasting into the far distant future. This temporal aspect is here expressed by du^l*, parallel to <l*oul= in v. 29. The noun du^ is a bit difficult to translate, essentially denoting something (i.e., a period of time) going on (and on); “for ever” is as good a translation of du^l* as any, the expression being somewhat more abstract in meaning than <l*oul=.

Dahood (II, p. 317) interprets du^ (±ad) here (and in v. 38) in relation to Ugaritic ±d  II. The precise meaning of that Canaanite term is not entirely clear, but in at least one instance (Kirta III, col. 6, line 22) the expression l±dh (comparable to du^l* in the Psalm) is clearly parallel to lksi mlk (“at/on [the] throne of kingship”), and also lkµ¾ drkt (“at/on [the] seat of dominion”), lines 23-24. Based on this parallel, one could see du^l* and having a meaning like “on the seat of rule”, corresponding with “his throne” in the second line. The essence of the promise would then be that there will always be a descendant of David (his “seed”) on the throne.

The Davidic kingship will be like “the days of the heavens” in its continuity and enduring character. The “firmness” of the heavens, reflecting YHWH’s own hn`Wma$ (as Creator), was a key theme in the opening section (vv. 6-9). The parallel between the heavens and the Davidic covenant was specifically established in the introduction (vv. 2-3, 4-5). This parallel is all the more significance since YHWH’s throne is in/over the heavens (vv. 8-9, 15); He is the King over the entire universe (heaven and earth), while the (Davidic) king, correspondingly, is the ruler on earth (over the people of God, and the nations).

Comments for Christmas

The identification of Jesus as the promised royal Messiah from the line of David is a key component of the Gospel Infancy narratives, particularly the Lukan narrative. This has been discussed in the prior notes. Here, in relation to vv. 29-30 of the Psalm, we must focus on three specific elements: (1) Jesus as David’s “seed”, (2) the motif of the ruler’s throne, and (3) the enduring character of this rule.

The first element is basic to the Gospel tradition in the Infancy narratives, establishing Jesus’ Davidic ancestry—from a legal, rather than biological standpoint—through his father Joseph (Matt 1:1, 6, 17, 20; Lk 1:27; 2:4; 3:31). The specific expression “seed of David” occurs in the New Testament, in a Messianic sense, in Rom 1:3, Jn 7:42 and 2 Tim 2:8, clearly being applied to the person of Jesus. The parallel between Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of (the) seed of David”
    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”

raises the possibility that Paul may have understood Jesus’ mother (Mary) as being of Davidic descent—a belief which came to be accepted among early Christians, but which is absent from the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives. For further discussion on Jesus as the “son of David,” cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The second and third elements mentioned above are hinted at at various points in the Infancy narratives; see, for example, the citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:6, in light of the remainder of v. 2 and v. 4b (which are not cited). However, those themes are dealt with directly only in one passage—the Angelic announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38. Verses 32b-33 could almost be read as a Christian commentary on vv. 29-30 of the Psalm:

“…the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father,
and he will reign as king over the house of Ya’aqob into the Age,
and of his kingdom there will not be (any) end!”

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).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 2

“And the Word became flesh…”
kai\ o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement in Jn 1:14a; the first of these (the noun lo/go$) was discussed in part 1. We now turn to the next two components.

2. sa/rc

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) occurs rather more frequently in the Gospel of John (13 times) than in the Synoptics (11 times, combined); these occurrences are distributed over seven references (1:13, 14; 3:6; 6:51ff, 63; 8:15; 17:2). In addition, the noun occurs twice in 1 John (2:16; 4:2 [par 2 Jn 7]).

For the most part, in the Gospel, sa/rc is used in the context of a contrast, between that which is physical/material and that which is spiritual. However, this contrast is not defined as sharply as it is in Paul’s writings, with the fundamental ethical-religious dualism between Spirit (pneu=ma) and flesh (sa/rc)—cf. Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17ff; 6:8; Rom 8:4-9ff; Phil 3:3. Only in 1 John 2:16 do we find anything like the negative ethical connotation that Paul attaches to sa/rc. The Johannine and Pauline usage of sa/rc is, though, comparable in the way that the term stands for the natural life and existence of a human being. It connotes, in particular, the mortality of the human condition, and its limitations (in relation to God).

This concept of “flesh” is not negative, per se, in the Johannine writings. The flesh cannot give birth to what is spiritual (or born of God); but this is simply because a human being (“flesh”) can only give birth to another human being (“flesh”). Only the Divine Spirit can give birth to something that is of the Spirit. That is the point Jesus makes in 3:6, and it is also emphasized by the Gospel writer in the Prologue (1:13).

There is a bit more denigration of “the flesh” in 6:63, where, again, the contrast is with the Spirit. As Jesus puts it in this famous saying, “the Spirit is the (thing) making alive [i.e. giving life], the flesh is not useful (for) anything”. This saying comes in the context of the Bread of Life Discourse of chap. 6, and, especially, the closing verses 51-58 with their apparent eucharistic language. Jesus refers to the importance of eating his “flesh” (and drinking his “blood”), which communicates life to the one eating it (vv. 53ff). And yet, in light of v. 63, it seems clear that Jesus is not referring to his physical flesh, per se, but to his life and existence as a human being. In particular, the reference is clearly to his death, by which he gives up his own life, sacrificially, for the good of humankind.

This is in accordance with Johannine usage, whereby sa/rc refers to the life of a human being, especially in its mortality and limitations. The term, in 8:15 and 17:2, connotes the human condition more generally; and, yet, mortality and limitation is clearly being emphasized (in comparison with God). The reference in 17:2 is particularly significant in the way that humankind (“flesh”) is related to the person of Jesus (the Son), with two key points of emphasis:

    • Jesus’ authority over human beings, with the idea that certain human beings (believers) have been given to him, suggests a strong point of connection and affinity between the Son and human believers.
    • The eternal life possessed by God is not normally accessible to human beings (who are mortal); it can only be communicated to humans through the person of Jesus, which again suggests a point of contact (that would make such communication possible).

Whether or not this Johannine theological orientation applied to the (original) Logos-poem of the Gospel Prologue, it is definitely present in the full Prologue. We can see this by the way that verse 14 is juxtaposed with vv. 12-13. The rather clear implication is that the Logos “coming to be” (vb gi/nomai) a human being (“flesh”) took place so that human beings could “come to be (born)” (vb genna/w) as God’s offspring. The Gospel writer likely would have had in mind that this communication of eternal life, from the Logos/Son to human believers, could only take place because the Logos/Son had himself become a human being.

The reference in 1 John 4:2 (par 2 Jn 7) emphasizes the theological—and, I think, soteriological—importance of the Son becoming “flesh”. The author was combating Christians, (former) members of the Johannine Community, who (from his standpoint) held a false view of Jesus Christ, and thus were false believers. In two passages (2:18-27; 4:1-6), he calls these false believers “antichrists”, and provides confessional statements meant flatly to oppose their view of Jesus. In 4:2, the statement is:

“By this, you may know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses/acknowledges Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) having come in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] is of God.”

The implication, clearly, is that any would-be believer, supposedly speaking from the Spirit, who does not confess/acknowledge (vb o(mologe/w) Jesus Christ as having come “in the flesh”, is not of God. Such a person speaks from another spirit—a spirit of the world that is opposed to God, a spirit of “antichrist”, a false and lying spirit. Note how this is stated in 2 John 7:

“(It is) that many who lead (people) astray [pla/noi] have gone out into the world, the (one)s not confessing/acknowledging Yeshua (the) Anointed (as) coming in (the) flesh—this [i.e. such a person] is the (one) leading (people) astray [pla/no$] and the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$]!”

Scholars continue to debate the precise nature of the opponents’ view of Jesus, with the following three lines of interpretation being the most plausible:

    • The opponents held an early (or rudimentary) docetic view of Jesus—viz., that the Son of God only seemed to be a human being, but was neither really (or fully) so.
    • They accepted his human incarnation, but denied that the Son actually suffered and died like an ordinary mortal.
    • They accepted the reality of his human life (and death), but denied (and/or downplayed) the importance and significance of it (for salvation, etc).

I have discussed the matter at length in earlier studies (see, most recently, the discussion in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), and will not repeat any of that here. The author’s emphasis on Jesus’ death (“blood”) in 5:6ff, with the expression “having come…in water and blood” seeming to qualify the earlier expression “having come in (the) flesh”, all suggests that the opponents denied, in some fashion, the reality of Jesus’ death.

In any case, the author’s polemic in 1 John provides evidence that there were early Christians—even those within the Johannine congregations—who struggled to understand and to explain the nature (and consequences) of the incarnation of Christ. It is likely that the author of 1 John, his opponents, and many of his intended readers, were all familiar with the Gospel Prologue—and especially Jn 1:14—and sought to interpret it in various ways.

In Part 3, we will examine the use of the verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) in the wider Johannine context. Along with this analysis, we will consider what differences or nuances of meaning there might be between the idiom of “coming to be” flesh (Jn 1:14) and “coming” in the flesh (1 Jn 4:2 par).



December 27: Psalm 89:27-28

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

Psalm 89:27-28 [26-27]
Verse 27 [26]

“He shall call to me: ‘My Father you (are),
my Mighty (One) and (the) Rock of my salvation!'”

In this short unit of vv. 27-28, YHWH is still the speaker, continuing the prophetic Discourse of vv. 20-26. It is possible to read v. 27 as part of vv. 20-26, and v. 28 with the following vv. 29ff. However, I have chosen to follow the structure outlined by Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 400, 407, 410f), who emphasizes these verses as containing (and epitomizing) a “two-sided declaration of covenant”, between YHWH and the king (David). The emphatic pronouns in each verse—aWh (“he”) and yn]a* (“I”)—support this structural approach. Each party to the covenant makes an affirmation of the binding relationship, using the terminology of a father-son paradigm. The king declares of YHWH that “you (are) my father”, while YHWH, in turn, declares that the king is his “firstborn” son (v. 28).

The importance of this father-son bond makes the metric division of the verse as a 4+3 couplet preferable, as it highlights the declaration of this bond in the first line. In the second line, the king expounds on the covenantal relationship, by making a further (dual) declaration—calling YHWH his “Mighty (One)” (i.e., God) and “Rock” (rWx) of salvation. The familiar Rock-motif emphasizes YHWH as a source of protection for the king, echoing a theme from vv. 18-19 and earlier in the current division (vv. 20-24). It also builds upon the key theme of God’s firmness—i.e., a rock as a firm foundation, providing strong support for the kingship of the Davidic ruler. The inclusion of the noun hu*Wvy+ (“salvation”) implies that YHWH will not only protect the king, but will also bring him victory over his enemies (vv. 11b, 23-24ff).

Verse 28 [27]

“And (as for) me, I will give him (to be my) firstborn,
(the) highest of (all) kings of (the) earth!”

As noted above, the first line of v. 28 parallels the first line of v. 27, with YHWH’s declaration of the king as His firstborn (son), matching the king’s declaration of YHWH as his father. While the idea of the Israelite king as God’s “son” (in a symbolic sense) is natural, in light of ancient Near Eastern religious and cultural tradition, it is somewhat rare in the Old Testament (2 Sam 7:14 par; Psalm 2:7; Isa 9:5-6 [6-7]). Much rarer still is the specific designation of the king as God’s “firstborn” (rokB=). In at least one passage (Jer 31:9), Israel (also referred to as “Ephraim”) is called God’s ‘firstborn’, but nowhere else is this said of the king, apart from v. 28 here. The closest parallel is in Zech 12:10, where it is said that the people of Jerusalem will mourn, like a parent grieving over a firstborn son; this prophecy is given in the context of a reference to the “house of David”.

The idea of the Davidic ruler as God’s firstborn represents, in many ways, a natural extension and enhancement of the core concept of the king as God’s son. In particular, David could be seen as the first Israelite/Judean ruler who was specially chosen by God, to act as His faithful and loyal servant. The support and strength of YHWH, given to the king by the covenant-bond, along with his special status as “firstborn son”, enables him to rise to a position higher than all other earthly kings.

The comparative adjective /oyl=u# (“high[er]”), often used as a superlative (“highest”), is frequently utilized as a name/title of God (“Highest [One], Most High”). It is rare that the term is applied, as a comparable title, to a human being; there is a notable parallel in Deut 26:19; 28:1, whereby God declares that Israel will be higher than all the other nations, just as the king (i.e., the Davidic ruler) will be higher than all other kings. The usage is natural in this regard, since the king effectively represents the people; what applies to them (as a nation) also applies to him (as their king).

The father-son bond, as it is formulated here in vv. 27-28, derives primarily from the Davidic tradition in 2 Samuel 7:14 (cf. the parallels in 1 Chron 17:13; 22:10; 28:6):

“I will be for him as a Father, and he will be for me as a son”

This tradition includes promises regarding the establishment (vb /WK) of the Davidic kingship (“throne”), a royal line that will endure into the distant future (i.e., for ever), vv. 13, 16, and also that the faithfulness and devotion (ds#j#) of YHWH will remain with the ruler (lit., will not turn aside from him) and his kingdom, v. 15. This ideology and terminology is very much reflected here in vv. 20-38 of our Psalm.

Comments for Christmas

The central theme of vv. 27-28—namely, the Davidic ruler as the son of God (with YHWH as his Father)—is an important component of the identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. This applies to the identification as we find it in the Gospel Infancy narratives, though it is clearly expressed only in a pair of statements within the Lukan narrative. As part of the Angelic announcement to Mary (Lk 1:26-38), we find the following declarations about the child (Jesus) who is to be born:

    • “He shall be great, and he shall be called ‘Son of the Highest [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou]’, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father.” (v. 32)
    • “(the) holy Spirit will come upon you, and (the) power of (the) Highest [u%yisto$] will cast shade upon you; therefore, indeed, the (child) coming to be (born) will be called holy, (the) Son of God.” (v. 35)

The use of the adjective u%yisto$ (“highest”) echoes the corresponding Hebrew term /oylu# (as a divine title) in Ps 89:28b. Moreover, the idea of this ruler’s kingdom being greater than all earthly kingdoms—and he greater than all other kings—is certainly implied in the Angel’s announcement. It is more or less specified in v. 33, where the promise is given that the Messianic ruler’s kingdom will last “into the Age” and “there will be no end” to it—ideology that is found both in the original Davidic covenant tradition (2 Sam 7:13-16), and reflected throughout Ps 89 (esp. in vv. 20-38).

References above marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).


December 26: Psalm 89:25-26

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

Psalm 89:20-26, continued

(For verses 22-24, see the previous note)

Verse 25 [24]

“My firmness and my devotion (are) with him,
and in my name his horn shall (be) lifted high.”

The keyword of this Psalm is hn`Wna$, emphasizing the firmness of YHWH. That term combines both the idea of God’s strength and His faithfulness. The former has been the focus in verses 18-24, as also in the prior vv. 10-14; however, it is the latter that is emphasized by the pairing of hn`Wma$ and ds#j#. These same two nouns were paired at the opening of the Psalm, in vv. 2-3, and also in v. 15 (with the related tm#a# in place of hn`Wma$). Though hn`Wma$ has the basic meaning “firmness”, it frequently carries a meaning of “faithfulness, trustworthiness”; similarly, ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) often has the meaning “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. These are fundamental attributes of YHWH, relating particularly to the covenant loyalty that he shows to His people.

Here, in line 1, it is declared (and promised) that these attributes are with (<u!) the king—that is, the Davidic ruler, chosen by God, and expected to be a loyal servant to Him. The same preposition was used in v. 22 (cf. the previous note), where it was stated that YHWH’s strong and supporting hand/arm is “with him” (oMu!). This may allude to the statements regarding David in 1 Sam 18:12, 14; 2 Sam 5:10:

    • “And Ša’ûl was afraid from before (the) face of David, because YHWH was with him [oMu!]” (v. 12)
    • “And in all his ways David was having success, for YHWH (was) with him [oMu!]” (v. 14)
    • “And David kept on, going on and becoming great, for YHWH (the) Mighty (One) of (the) armies (was) with him [oMu!]” (2 Sam 5:10)

Much the same was said of the Judean king Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:7:

“For he clung on(to) YHWH; (and) he did not turn aside from following Him, but guarded His commands, (those) which YHWH had commanded Moshe. And YHWH was with him [oMu!], so (that), in whichever (way) he went forth, he had success…” (vv. 6-7)

The thought expressed in v. 7a, regarding Hezekiah, may well relate to the name la@ WnM*u! in Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10 (cf. below).

The wording of the second line is similar to that in vv. 17-18, both with the idea of being/acting “in the name” of God, along with the specific idiom of one’s “horn” (/r#q#) being “raised/lifted high” (vb <Wr in the Hiphil stem). The horn-motif applies particularly to a ruler or king, and was applied specifically to the Davidic ruler in Ps 132:17; cf. also 148:14; a Messianic interpretation of the idiom is suggested by Ezek 29:21, and certainly in Luke 1:69 (cf. below). Being “in the name” of YHWH implies that the king is faithful and loyal to God, able to participate in the Divine blessing and protection that He provides.

Verse 26 [25]

“And I will set his hand on the sea,
and his right (hand) on the rivers.”

This couplet alludes to the imagery from vv. 10-11 (cf. the discussion in the earlier note), describing YHWH’s sovereignty over the universe in the terminology of cosmological myth—viz., His subduing of the primeval waters at the time of Creation. The Davidic king, drawing upon the strength of YHWH Himself, similarly has authority over the waters—described by the pair of terms <y` (“sea”) and torh*n+ (“streams, rivers”). An allusion to the cosmological myth of the Creator’s victory over the primeval waters seems all the more likely, given how, in the Canaanite Baal Epic, the foe defeated by Baal-Haddu is both called Sea (ym = <y) and River (nhr = rhn, “judge River”, ¾p‰ nhr); cf. Dahood, II, p. 317. For more on this subject, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In verse 11, the dark and unruly waters (a) are compared with hostile human adversaries (b), and the “waters” here in v. 26 almost certainly have the same significance. Through God’s strength, the king has protection from all enemies, and is able to achieve victory over them; thus his rule is allowed to extend over the surrounding nations. Historically, this may allude to the Israelite conquests under David, which allowed the kingdom to reach its zenith during the reign of Solomon.

Metrically, verse 25 follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet format that dominates this division of the Psalm; however, verse 26 has a shorted 3+2 meter.

Textually, it is interesting to note that, in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsx, verse 26 appears between vv. 22 and 23, and that vv. 24-25 appear to be missing.

Comments for Christmas

Verse 25b, repeating as it does the horn-motif from v. 18, can be understood in a Messianic sense. This motif was applied to Jesus in Luke 1:69, as mentioned in the prior note. The added promise in v. 25a, that YHWH’s strength and devotion will be with the Davidic king (“with him,” oMu!), naturally reminds one of the name la@ WnM*u! (±Imm¹nû °E~l) in Isa 7:14; 8:8 (cf. also 8:10), and the identification of Jesus with the promised child of 7:14 (on which, cf. my earlier study and notes). This identification features prominently in the Matthean Infancy narrative (1:22-23), with Isa 7:14 representing the first of the Gospel’s Scripture citations. There is likely a similar use of the “God-with-us” motif in Luke 1:28, which clearly occurs in a Messianic context, identifying Jesus with the promised Davidic Messiah (vv. 27, 32f).

As for the extent of the Davidic ruler’s kingdom, and of his reign over the nations (symbolized by the waters), this is indicated in Luke 1:33. The worldwide scope of the Messiah’s rule, which the Lukan author compares (implicitly) with that of Augustus (and the Roman Empire), is established in 2:1ff, 10ff, and then is further interpreted in 2:30-32 as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission. For more on the parallels between Jesus and Augustus, in the context of 2:1ff, 10ff, cf. my earlier note on the subject.

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).

“The Word Became Flesh…”: The Johannine Gospel, part 1

John 1:14 in the context of the Johannine Gospel

Having examined John 1:14 in the context of the Gospel Prologue (the first division of our study), we shall now consider the verse in relation to the Gospel of John as a whole. It is actually the overall Johannine context that we will be considering, including the Johannine Letters (esp. 1 John) in addition to the Gospel.

“And the Word became flesh and set up (his) tent among us, and we looked on his splendor, (the) splendor as of an only-born (Son) alongside (the) Father, full of favor and truth.”

We begin, as in the first division of our study, with the key words in the first main phrase (v. 14a):

“the word became flesh”
o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto

There are three components to this statement: (1) the articular noun lo/go$ (o( lo/go$), (2) the noun sa/rc, and (3) the verb of becoming (gi/nomai). We must examine the Johannine usage of these terms outside of the Gospel Prologue.

1. lo/go$

Outside of the four occurrences in the Prologue (3 in v. 1, and once in v. 14), the noun lo/go$ occurs 37 times in the Gospel of John. As lo/go$ is a common word with a wide range of meaning, this relatively extensive usage is not unusual, nor does it necessarily tell us anything about the relation of the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel. By comparison, the word occurs nearly as often in the Gospels of Matthew (33) and Luke (32).

In the Gospel of John, the noun lo/go$ is used predominantly in reference to the words spoken by Jesus (to his disciples, etc) during his earthly ministry. In this regard, lo/go$ is synonymous in meaning with r(h=ma (“utterance”). Indeed, when occurring in the plural (lo/goi), it is virtually identical with r(h/mata—both essentially meaning “words” (i.e., things said). The plural occurs in 7:40; 10:19; 14:24; cf. also 19:13.

The singular of lo/go$ tends to be used in much the same way, referring to Jesus’ words in a general or collective sense; occasionally a specific (individual) saying is being referenced (e.g., 2:22; 4:50; 7:36). The Gospel writer gives to this use of lo/go$ a very distinctive theological (and Christological) meaning. Frequently, it is used in the context of trusting (vb pisteu/w) in Jesus; this means, principally, trusting in the message (i.e., the word[s]) about who Jesus is. We see this connection, between lo/go$ and pisteu/w, clearly enough (for example) in 2:22; 4:39, 41, 50; 5:24. However, we find this lo/go$-theme developed most extensively in the great Discourses of chapters 5-10, and again in chapters 14-17. We must examine this usage, in at least a summary fashion, comparing it with the usage in the Prologue.

With regard to this Johannine theological usage of lo/go$, the fundamental idea is that of the “word” of Jesus being in a person. The concept is expressed a number of ways, such as by the use of the verb e&xw (“hold”), in 5:38. The believer “holds” Jesus’ word, meaning that the one who does not hold his word is not a believer; indeed, those who do not (or will not) trust, have no space (i.e., room) for Jesus’ word in them (8:37).

This relationship, between a person and Jesus’ word (lo/go$), defines the true believer. The Gospel expresses this two ways: (a) through the use of the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”), and (b) with the verb thre/w (“keep watch [over]”). Jesus’ word remains in the true believer (8:31; cf. also 15:7; 1 Jn 2:15), and that person guards it, keeping watch over it (8:51-52, 55; 14:23-24; 15:10, 20; 17:6; 1 Jn 2:5).

But what is this word? One could understand lo/go$ here as referring to Jesus’ teaching. Certainly, a disciple will possess and hold firmly to the teachings of his/her master. However, in the Johannine context, the emphasis is particularly on the message regarding who Jesus is. Throughout the Gospel Discourses, Jesus’ teaching relates primarily to his identity as the Son (of God) sent from heaven (by God the Father). The true believer remains in this message, keeping watch over it.

The author of 1 John certainly has this Christological emphasis in mind; and, it is just here that the Johannine use of the term lo/go$ (in the Gospel and in 1 John) most closely approaches the use of it in the Prologue. In 1 John, the noun lo/go$ occurs six times—1:1, 10; 2:5, 7, 14; 3:18—and in these references we find an interesting alternation, between an emphasis on the words of Jesus, and on the person of Jesus himself. The author, however, defines this largely in terms of the word of God—which is manifest in and through Jesus His Son.

In 1:10 and 2:5, 7, it is the word (lo/go$) of God, as communicated through the teaching of Jesus, that is in view—in particular, the great command/duty to show love to fellow believers (cf. also 3:18). However, in 2:14, “the word [o( lo/go$]” would seem to refer to the person of Jesus (the Son), in a way that echoes the Gospel Prologue (Jn 1:1):

“I have written to you, fathers,
(in) that you have known the (one who is) from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$];
I have written to you, young men,
(in) that you are strong, and the Word [o( lo/go$] of God remains in you…”

1 John 1:1f also seems, rather clearly, to echo the Gospel Prologue, including in its use of the term lo/go$:

“That which was [h@n] from (the) beginning [a)p’ a)rxh=$], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked at and (which) our hands touched, about the word of Life [o( lo/go$ th=$ zwh=$]—and th(is) Life was made to shine forth, and we have seen (it)…”

There definitely appears to be a double-meaning to this use of lo/go$. One the one hand, it refers to the message about [peri/] Jesus (“the Life”); but, on the other hand, it refers to Jesus himself, who is “the Word (of Life)”. The disciples, the first believers, were able to see and touch this Word, much as the Prologue declares in Jn 1:14ff. This is an important point of emphasis for the author of 1 John, who is combating a view of Jesus which, from his standpoint, has departed from the historical tradition and witness (preserved from the first believers), and yet would claim to be an inspired account of the truth.

For the author of 1 John, then, the use of the verb me/nw (“remain”) has a special significance. The true believer remains in the truth, and does not depart from it. This truth comes from the Spirit, but does not (and cannot) contradict the witness of the Gospel tradition. This usage in 1 John generally corresponds with that of the Gospel Discourses, whereby the true believer, by “remaining” in Jesus’ word (lo/go$) also “remains” in Jesus himself (cf. the 10 occurrences of me/nw in 15:4-10). The believer remains in the Son, just as the Son remains in the Father (14:10); and the Son remains in the believer (and the believer in the Son) through the Spirit (14:17; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). For the author of 1 John, this use of me/nw defines the true believer in Christ, as one who has “come to be (born) of God”; cf. the key references in 2:6, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 9, 14ff, 24; 4:12-16; also 2 Jn 2, 9.

In particular, the wording in 2:14 and 24 makes clear that there is fundamentally no real difference between the idea of the Son’s word (lo/go$), and the Son himself (who is the Lo/go$), remaining in believers. The things said by Jesus (his word[s]) represent one main component of his abiding presence in the believer. How this is represented in the Gospel, with regard to the use of the verb me/nw, I have illustrated by the following diagram:

This study demonstrates, I think, that, even if the Johannine writings, apart from the Gospel Prologue, do not contain anything quite like the Logos-doctrine of Jn 1:14, they still evince an understanding of the term lo/go$ that is fundamentally Christological in nature, and which relates primarily to an understanding of who Jesus is—the eternal Son and Word of God, who was with the Father “from the beginning” (a)p’ a)rxh=$).

In the next part of this article, we will examine the two remaining components—the noun sa/rc and the verb gi/nomai—of v. 14a.




December 25: Psalm 89:22-24

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

Psalm 89:20-26, continued

(For verses 20-21, see the previous note)

Verse 22 [21]

“(He) who (by) my hand is kept firm (in place),
with him also my arm will give him strength.”

As the King over all creation, YHWH is the source of power and authority for every human king on earth; and this is certainly so for His chosen king (David) ruling over His people Israel. The power/strength of YHWH was described by the familiar figurative use of the arm/hand motif in verse 14 (cf. the earlier note). The noun pair dy` (“hand”) and u^orz+ (“arm”) occurs again here; only, in this instance, God’s strength is used to support the king (David).

The theme of YHWH’s firmness, established in verse 2 and running throughout the Psalm, continues here, utilizing the pair of verbs /WK and Jm^a*, both of which essentially mean “be firm”. YHWH’s hand/arm—that is, His strength—is the means by which David is set firmly in place (as king), as expressed by the verb /WK in the Niphal (passive) stem. God’s supporting power remains with the king (“with him,” oMu!), strengthening his rule (vb Jm^a*, Piel stem).

Verse 23 [22]

“(The) hostile (one) shall not lift (a hand) against him,
and (the) son of perversion shall not oppress him.”

With the support and strength of YHWH on the king’s side, enemies and wicked adversaries will not be able to attack him successfully. This draws upon the militaristic imagery in verse 19, as well as the earlier emphasis on YHWH defeating His (human) enemies, just as He had subdued the dark and unruly waters at the time of creation (vv. 10-11). The king’s adversaries are defined, in a general sense, by two traditional descriptive terms, set in parallel. The first is the participle by@oa (“being hostile”), as a substantive, i.e., “hostile (one)” = “enemy”.

The second term is the expression “son of perversion” (hl*w+u^ /B#). The noun hl*w+u^, like the related lw#u^, basically means “crookedness” or “deviation”, particularly in the ethical-religious sense of something deviating from what is right; it is often translated as “injustice”, but the more rudimentary “deviation” or “perversion” is preferred. The noun /B# (“son”) often is used in the generic or figurative sense of a person who belongs to a group or category, possessing certain defining characteristics, etc. The expression “son of perversion” is a colorful way of referring to the wicked.

The verbs used, for the actions of the king’s adversaries, are also set in parallel. In the first line, the MT reads aV!y~, apparently a form of the verb av^n`, meaning “lend”. As this seems incongruous to the context, it is, I think, fair to assume that a slight scribal error has occurred, and that the correct reading is aC*y], “lift up (i.e., one’s face/hand)”, in a hostile sense; cf. Dahood, II, p. 317. Parallel with ac^n`, in the second line, is the verb hn`u* III, “press down, oppress”.

Verse 24 [23]

“Indeed, I will crush his adversaries from (before) his face,
and (the one)s hating him I will strike!”

Not only will YHWH’s power protect the king from the attacks of wicked/hostile foes, but He will defeat and destroy them completely. Again, two parallel terms are used for the king’s foes, and also for YHWH’s action against them. First, there is the plural of the noun rx^, denoting someone who is hostile, similar in meaning to the participle by@oa (cf. above on v. 23); to distinguish these terms, I have translated the former here as “adversary”. Parallel to this is a participle of the verb an`c* (“hate”), in the Piel stem, denoting someone “who hates” another.

In the first line, YHWH states that He will “crush” the king’s enemies, utilizing a relatively rare verb (tt^K*) which can have the intensive meaning “pound (to dust), pulverize”. In the second line, the verb is [g~n`, “strike, land a (fatal) blow”.

Comments for Christmas

The Lukan Infancy narrative draws upon some of this same kind of militaristic imagery, tied to the expectation that God, through His servant the (Davidic) Messiah, will defeat the enemies and oppressors of His people. This line of thought is expressed at several points in the canticles of the Lukan narrative:

    • In the Magnificat, 1:51f, we find the idea that God, through the strength of His “arm”, scatters throughout (vb diaskorpi/zw) those who are overly inflated (with wicked arrogance); He does this specifically to help His people Israel, and those of them who are oppressed (vv. 52-54f).
    • In the Benedictus, in the context of the promise of “raising up a horn for salvation” from among the descendants of David (1:69, cf. verse 18 of our Psalm), this salvation is expressed in terms of delivering Israel from the hands of enemies (those who are hostile) and those who hate them (vv. 71, 73f).

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).

December 24: Psalm 89:20-21

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

Part 2: Verses 20-38 [19-37]

Psalm 89:20-26 [19-25]
Verse 20 [19]

“Then you spoke in a vision to your devoted (one)s,
and said:
I have set a youth over a mighty (warrior),
I have lifted high (one) chosen from (the) people.”

The division of vv. 20-38 deals principally with the covenant YHWH made with David (and his descendants). This involves promises regarding the kingship over Israel. Here, in verse 20, we have a reference to the historical tradition of God’s choice of David for the kingship, in place of Saul; on this, cf. the narrative in 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

The initial line emphasizes how YHWH’s choice of David was revealed to the people. Specifically, it refers to a vision, through which God spoke, given to the “devoted ones” (<yd!ys!j&). In the context of the Psalm, such a substantive use of the adjective dys!j* (“good, kind,” but here with the meaning “faithful, loyal, devoted”) would refer to the faithful/righteous ones among God’s people.

However, if the tradition in 1 Samuel 16:1ff is being referenced here, then <yd!ys!j& may specifically designate YHWH’s chosen prophets—as represented by the figure of Samuel. The Qumran manuscript 4QPsx reads iyrjb (“your chosen [one]s”), rather than iydysj (“your devoted [one]s”). Dahood (II, p. 316) explains how iydysj could be understood in a singular sense, with the form either seen as preserving an archaic genitive (singular) ending, or being read as a plural of majesty (in reference to the king). Some manuscripts, in fact, do read the singular form idsjl.

The second line, following the MT, reads:

“I have set [i.e. given] help [rz#u@] upon (the) mighty (one)”

However, it would seem preferable to understand rzu in relation to the term ²zr in Ugaritic, meaning “youth” (sometimes in the sense of a young hero). If this is correct, then the line would presumably allude to the contrast between David and Saul (in 1 Sam 16ff), and possibly also to the famous events in chap. 17. YHWH set this youth (David) over (lu^) a mighty warrior (roBG]). Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 401) suggests that MT rz#a@ should be emended to rz#n@ (“crown”), in which case the line would read “I have set a crown on (the) mighty (one) [i.e. David]”.

The third line speaks of David as chosen (passive participle rWjB*) from the people, by God, to be king. Sometimes the root rjb (“choose”) can be used in reference to a strong/vital youth—especially a young man of fighting age.

Verse 21 [20]

“I have found David, my servant, (and,)
with (the) oil of my holiness, I anointed him.”

The anointing of David is narrated in 1 Samuel 16:13. It is indicated here that YHWH anointed him, but clearly (in the tradition) this was actually carried out by Samuel (one of YHWH’s prophets). The reference to David as God’s servant (“my servant”) carries several levels of meaning:

    • The king is a servant of YHWH in the general sense that his kingship and authority comes from YHWH, who exercises authority over all things.
    • The Israelite king is (to be) a loyal/faithful servant within the covenant bond; this refers both to the covenant God has made with His people, and to the specific covenant made with David (and his descendants).
    • The ideal king is patterned after David, in his faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH; in this regard, the king represents all those among the people who are faithful/loyal to the covenant.

The oil, with which David was anointed king, is qualified here by the term “my holiness” (yv!d=q*), yielding the expression “(the) oil of my holiness” (i.e., my holy oil). The implication is that the holiness of YHWH, the attribute of Divine holiness, is communicated—ritually and symbolically—by the anointing. The association of such oil with holiness is mentioned in a number of Torah references involving ritual anointing (cf. Exod 29:21; 30:25, 31; 31:11; 37:29; 40:9; Num 35:25). It is significant that, in the tradition, the Spirit of God comes upon David immediately after he is anointed (1 Sam 16:13). Throughout the Old Testament, the king is referred to as God’s anointed (“my/His anointed”); this terminology occurs dozens of times in the books of Samuel and Kings (1 Sam 2:10, 35; 12:3, et al), but also a number of times in the Psalms, where it specifically centers around the figure of David—2:2; 18:51[50]; 132:10, 17; cf. also 20:7[6]; 28:8; 84:10[9].

Comments for Christmas

The figure of David plays an important role in the Gospel Infancy narratives, relating to the birth of Jesus. This is part of the wider Gospel tradition, and shows how early Christians recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of the various Messianic figure-types—notably, the royal Messiah from the line of David (cf. the discussion in Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Messiah”).

Apart from the location of Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus (cf. 1 Sam 16:4ff; 17:12ff; Micah 5:2), the underlying traditions of the Infancy narratives clearly identify Jesus as a “son [i.e. descendant] of David”, legally, through the line of his father Joseph. This detail is emphasized in both the Matthean and Lukan narratives (Matt 1:20 [cf. vv. 1, 6, 17 in the context of the genealogy]; Luke 1:27; 2:4; cf. also 3:31). The citation of Micah 5:2 in Matt 2:5-6, along with the context of the entire narrative episode (in 2:1-12), unquestionably identifies Jesus with the Davidic Messiah of Jewish expectation.

This thematic orientation features even more prominently in the Lukan narrative—due largely to the explicit references in the angelic annunciations (1:32-33; 2:10-11). The allusions in the canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus), in 1:69ff, are closer in tone and spirit to Psalm 89:20ff. We might note, in particular, the specific reference to David as God’s “servant” (cf. above on the first line of v. 21), and to God “raising up” a “horn” of salvation for His people (cf. the previous note on v. 18).

The themes of David as God’s chosen, and of God’s anointing him with the oil of His holiness, are also important components of Jesus’ Messianic identity. In this regard, it is not Jesus’ birth, but his baptism where these themes are most closely associated with him in the Gospel tradition. For the idea of Jesus as the “Chosen [One]”, cf. John 1:34 v.l.; Luke 9:35 (realizing the parallels between the baptism and the transfiguration; cp. 23:35). With regard to the Messianic context of the baptism, the Lukan narrative particularly brings out the association with anointing (by the Spirit)—Lk 3:22 v.l. (citing Ps 2:7, cp. verse 2); 4:18ff (citing Isa 61:1ff), and the context of vv. 1ff, 14; Acts 4:26-27; 10:38. It was noted above how, in the 1 Samuel narrative, after David was anointed (as the future king), it is said that God’s Spirit came upon him (1 Sam 16:13).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

December 23: Psalm 89:16-19

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

Psalm 89:16-19 [15-18]
Verse 16 [15]

“(O, the) happiness of the people knowing (that) shout,
YHWH! in (the) light of your face they shall walk.”

In this last of the three strophes that comprise the praise-hymn of vv. 6-19, the focus shifts from the heavens (vv. 6-9) and the earth (vv. 10-13) to the realm of human beings—and, especially, to God’s people Israel. In the first strophe, the heavenly beings give praise to YHWH, while, in the second strophe, the mighty entities of the earth (seas and mountains) acknowledge and praise His sovereign power. These themes are essentially summarized and reiterated in vv. 14-15 (cf. the previous note), which depict YHWH seated on his throne, exercising power (as King) over the universe.

Now, here in v. 16, we see that it is “the people” (<u*h*) who give praise to YHWH. The beatitude formulation of this couplet (“[O, the] happiness of…!”) suggests that not all human beings are giving praise to God, but only a certain portion. The blessing attached to the beatitude (line 2) applies to those “knowing [i.e. who know] (the) shout”. This expression (hu*Wrt= yu@d=oy) requires some comment. The noun hu*Wrt= denotes a “shout”, sometimes in the general sense of a loud, clamorous noise. It can be applied both in military (Josh 6:5; Jer 4:19; Amos 2:2) and festal (Lev 25:9) settings. Here, it doubtless refers to the shout (and joyful noise) of praise to YHWH, giving Him acclaim; the usage in the Psalms suggests a festal context, perhaps even a ritual setting involving worship in the Temple (27:6; 47:6[5]f; also 33:3; 150:5). The one who “knows” (vb ud^y`) this shout is the person who is faithful and devoted to YHWH, who understands both how and why He is to be praised, and is able/willing to do so.

On the beatitude formula yr@v=a^, see the note on Psalm 1:1 in the earlier study; cf. also the discussion in my series on the Beatitudes of Jesus. The formula occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (32:1-2; 34:9[8]; 40:5[4]; 41:2[1], etc); it is applied specifically to the nation/people of Israel in 33:12; 144:15.

The blessing entails “walking” in the light (roa) of YHWH’s face—that is, in His presence. This likely refers to the blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, being thus allowed to dwell with God in heaven. A heavenly setting would seem to be confirmed by the context of vv. 6-9, as well as the immediately prior vv. 14-15.

Verse 17 [16]

“In your name, they spin all the day (long),
and in your righteousness they rise!”

Those faithful/devoted to YHWH give to Him continual praise—to be understood as an attitude of the heart as much as any physical action. This 3+2 couplet contains a parallelism in the 2 beats (with a third beat [“all the day”] in line 1):

    • “in your name | they spin”
    • “in your righteousness | they rise”

The faithful ones “spin (with joy)” (vb lyG]) in God’s name. In ancient Near Eastern thought, the name of a person represented and embodied the essence of the person. In the Old Testament, particularly within the Deuteronomic tradition, YHWH was understood as being present among His people, on a symbolic and ritual level, through His name. Cf. my recent discussion on this idea in the notes on 1 Kings 8 (in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature). Here, too, an association with the Temple (and its sanctuary) may be implied.

Through this connection with YHWH, the faithful ones participate in His character and attributes. The characteristic of “right(ness), righteousness” (hq*d*x=) is one of the four Divine attributes mentioned in v. 15 (cf. the previous note), using the related noun (qd#x#). This experience of the Divine attributes inspires the faithful to exult and “become high” (vb <Wr), i.e., rise, elevate.

Verse 18 [17]

“Indeed, you (are the) splendor of their strength,
and in your delight our horn is raised high!”

Here the point indicated above is made clear—viz., the name of God essentially refers to God Himself. The explicit pronoun hT*a* (“you”) is emphatic, occurring in the final position of the line; it could be translated “you (yourself)”. The “rising” of the faithful (in v. 17b) implies the experience of gaining/receiving strength, something that is specified here in v. 18a. The faithful ones gain (and possess) strength (zu)) in YHWH, and it is His very glory/splendor (expressed here by the noun hr*a*p=T!, denoting “beauty”) which fuels, and is the source of, this strength.

In the second line, the strength of His faithful ones is expressed by the familiar motif of a horn (/r#q#), such as of a bull, wild ox, or ram—the animal’s horn serving as a symbol of its strength, vigor, power, and prestige. On this motif in the Psalms, see 18:3 [2]; 75:5-6 [4-5], 11 [10]; 92:11 [10]; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; cf. also 1 Sam 2:1, 10 (cp. Lk 1:69); Ezek 29:21, etc. In mentioning the “raising high” of the horn, the same verb (<Wr) is used as in v. 17b (cf. above); the Hiphil form of the MT Ketib (<yr!T*) should be followed.

Regarding the expression “in your delight”, which parallels the prepositional expressions in v. 17, the noun /oxr* (“pleasure, delight”) here refers to the pleasure/delight which YHWH has in those who are faithful/devoted to Him. Often the noun signifies the favor shown to the person(s) in whom one is pleased; certainly, that nuance of meaning applies here as well.

It is to be noted that, while the third person plural suffix (“their strength”) is used in line 1, the first person plural (“our horn”) is used in line 2. The Psalmist thus identifies himself with the faithful ones of Israel, showing solidarity with his people and emphasizing the corporate identity of people/kingdom of Israel. The first person plural continues into verse 19.

Verse 19 [18]

“For to YHWH (belongs) our protection,
and, to (the) Holy (One) of Yisrael, our king!”

Here, in this concluding couplet, the national focus of the strophe comes firmly into focus. Though the overall emphasis is clearly on the faithful ones of God’s people, still it is God’s people, Israel, that are meant in this context. Insofar as the nation, as a whole, remains faithful and loyal to YHWH, it will receive the blessings of the covenant with Him. This blessing includes the provision of protection, especially from hostile (foreign) enemies. In this regard, the motif of strength in this strophe is now defined in terms (and imagery) of military strength.

The noun /g@m*, often translated “shield”, more properly means “place of protection” —that is, a place behind which a person is protected. This protection belongs to YHWH; He is the source and ultimate means of protection. We find this theme frequently in the Psalms, utilizing a range of verbs and terms (including /g@m*).

Also belonging to YHWH (the idiom of belonging expressed, in both lines, by a prefixed preposition –l) is the people’s king, who functions (on the human level) as the protector of the people. It is he who governs and leads, including leadership of the military in battle, etc. Yet, ultimately, it is God who is the source of strength for His people, and the basis by which they achieve protection and victory over all enemies. The human king effectively receives his power from YHWH, the supreme King and Sovereign, who exercises authority and control over the entire universe (the principal theme of strophes 1 & 2).

This reference to the king, along with the introduction of the horn-motif in v. 18 (cf. above), sets the stage for the second division of the Psalm (vv. 20-38), where YHWH’s promises to David (regarding the kingdom/kingship) are treated extensively. As will be discussed, the context of this exposition by the Psalmist relates to the early development of Messianic thought and expectation in Israel.


December 22: Psalm 89:14-15

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

Psalm 89:14-15 [13-14]

Verses 14-15 are best treated in the manner of an intermediary refrain, occurring between the second (cf. the previous note) and third strophes of the first division (vv. 6-19) of the Psalm. These lines summarize and reiterate several key themes from the prior sections, and genuinely seem to constitute a distinct poetic unit. See the outline of the suggested structure by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 399f) along with their brief discussion (pp. 406-7).

Verse 14 [13]

“To you (belongs) an arm with might—
strong is your (left) hand,
high is your right (hand).”

This opening verse is an irregular 3+2+2 tricolon, with a governing 3-beat line followed a short two-beat couplet. The power of YHWH—His strength and might—is emphasized, building upon the descriptive imagery in vv. 10-13 (discussed in the previous note), but also developing further the thematic motif of God’s firmness (hn`Wma$), established in the introductory unit (vv. 2-5).

The imagery is that of YHWH as a warrior, referring back to the cosmological tradition of the Creator-deity subduing the primeval waters (v. 11), and, in a similar manner, defeating all human enemies (viz., those of His people). The noun hr*WbG+ (“strength, might”) indeed suggests the strength of a warrior. YHWH’s “arm” —an anthropomorphic way of referring to His power and strength—is filled with this ‘warrior-might’.

The same point is elucidated poetically in the terse couplet that follows, in the second and third lines. YHWH’s “hand” is strong (vb zz~u*), and His “right (hand)” is high (vb <Wr). The term “right (hand)” (/ym!y`) may simply be an intensification of “hand” (dy`), since the right hand particularly designates strength (as well as similar positive aspects of blessing, etc); however, I have adopted the suggestion of Dahood (II, p. 315), that “hand” here implies the left hand, allowing for a left-right pairing in the couplet.

Verse 15 [14]

“Right and justice (are the) firm base of your throne,
(while) loyalty and fidelity stand before your face.”

The motif of YHWH’s throne—symbolizing His sovereignty over the universe (including over the divine beings in the heavens)—was introduced in verse 5. This image was presented in the context of the firmness theme that was established in vv. 2-5. In vv. 2-3, the noun ds#j# was paired with hn`Wma$, while here, in the second line, it is paired with the related noun tm#a#. Both hn`Wma$ and tm#a# essentially mean “firmness”, in the sense of faithfulness, trustworthiness, and also truthfulness (tm#a# frequently carries this specific nuance of meaning). As I have mentioned, while ds#j# denotes “goodness, kindness”, in the context of the covenant it tends to carry the specific meaning(s) of faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion.

Here the nouns should be understood somewhat more abstractly, as detached attributes which characterize the domain of YHWH’s Kingship; thus I render the pair in this verse as “loyalty [ds#j#] and fidelity [tm#a#]”. They “stand before” (vb <d^q*, possibly, “travel before”) God’s throne, like dutiful servants. Similarly, the pair of attributes, “right(eousness)” (qd#x#) and “justice” (fP*v=m!), in line 1, function as servants to YHWH, supporting His throne. The noun /okm= denotes a firm/fixed place, which I render here as “firm base” (that is, for the throne); the verbal root /wK is very close in meaning to /ma (“be firm”), and thus continues the Psalm’s thematic motif of YHWH’s firmness (hn`Wma$).

YHWH, seated on His throne as King, is surrounded by these four Divine attributes. They also characterize His Kingdom (and His Kingship). The idea of God’s throne being supported by right and justice (as their firm base), means that His rule is based on these same attributes. Similarly, the loyalty and fidelity that stand before Him reflect the way that God handles the affairs of His kingdom. In particular, they allude to His covenant with His people Israel.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the third (and final) strophe (vv. 16-19) of the praise-hymn, where the aspect of YHWH’s faithfulness toward His people is emphasized.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).