Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 61

Psalm 61

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This short prayer-Psalm differs in many respects from those we have previously examined in the ‘Elohist’ Psalter. The strong lament emphasis of the earlier compositions is not present here. On the other hand, the royal background is more prominent—both in the use of the traditional military imagery, and in the specific reference to the king in vv. 7-8 (on which, cf. below).

Metrically, the Psalm generally follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, though not consistently so. The Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker effectively serves to divide the short Psalm into two parts (vv. 2-5, 6-9). The division is typical of many Psalms: with the Psalmist’s prayer (his plea/petition) emphasized in the first part, and the expectation of an answer to his prayer in the second part.

The heading also shows that Psalm 61 marks the start of new sequence, moving away from the previous miktam (<T*k=m!) compositions, which appear to have been poems without music, set to existing melodies. This Psalm, on the other hand, is presumably a musical composition (the term romz+m! is not used, but perhaps implied), performed on a stringed instrument. In this regard, the singular hn`yg]n+ is used, rather than the more common plural (Ps 54:1, et al); many commentators would ‘correct’ this, vocalizing the construct tnygn as a plural form (tn)yg]n+). The superscription marks this as another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”).

VERSES 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“Hear, O Mightiest, my ringing cry,
incline (your ear) to my prayer.”

The initial couplet has a shortened 3+2 meter, establishing the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH. Two nouns are used for this, the first of which (hN`r!) refers to a ringing or piercing cry, like that of a bird; the second (hL`p!T=) is typically translated “prayer,” but should be understood within the legal/judicial context of a petition (i.e., made for a judge). God, as the Judge, is asked to listen (fairly and attentively) to the plea.

Verse 3a [2a]

“From the end of the earth,
to you do I call (out)
in (the) weakening of my heart.”

Both metrically and thematically, it is better to divide vv. 3-4 into two tricola—the first being a terse 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, and the second a ‘regular’ 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon. The shorter meter of v. 3a reflects the Psalmist’s sense of desperation. The central line contains his plea (“to you I call out [vb ar^q*]”), while the surrounding first and third lines dramatically represent the condition in which he makes this plea. The first line sets a location for the plea—literally, “from the end [hx#q*] of the earth”. Often, in ancient Semitic poetry, the “earth” (Heb Jr#a#) specifically denotes (or connotes) the underworld, i.e., the region under the earth’s surface, being the region of Death (and the dead). It may well be that here the far extremity (end/edge/border) of the earth has a metaphysical meaning, indicating a threat to the Psalmist’s life. On this line of interpretation, cf. Dahood (II, p. 84) and Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 104-6).

The third line emphasizes this threat to the Psalmist’s existence, by referencing a “weakening” (verbal noun [n)a&) of his heart. A bit of wordplay may be involved here, since the root [nu II means “cover over, envelop,” and so may allude to the danger that threatens to engulf and overwhelm the Psalmist.

Verse 3b-4 [2b-3]

“On a rock higher than I (could reach), lead me.
(O) that you would be a place of shelter for me,
a great place of strength from (the) hostile face.”

This tricolon provides a stark contrast with that of v. 3a, both in terms of meter and imagery. The sharp 2-beat staccato rhythm of v. 3a here gives way to a calmer ‘regular’ 3-beat meter. Similarly, the Psalmist’s distress and sense of despair is answered by the hope that YHWH will provide a place of protection for him. This is a frequent motif in the prayer-Psalms, in which the author/composer prays to God for deliverance. All the typical features of this imagery are present: an inaccessible location high up (line 1), YHWH Himself as a place of safety (line 2), and the idea of protection from hostile opponents (line 3).

In the first line, the motif is of a safe/secure location high upon a rock (rWx). The verb <Wr (“be [raised] high”) followed by the preposition /m! (“from”) is best understood as a comparative idiom (i.e., “higher than me”), in the sense of “higher than I (can reach)”. If the Psalmist himself could not reach such an inaccessibly high location, then neither can his enemies. For a different interpretation of the syntax, but following the same thematic explanation, cf. Dahood, II, p. 85.

In the next two lines (v. 4), this location is further described, using locative nouns (marked by a preformative –m). First, we have hs#j=m^, from the root hsj (“seek/find protection”), meaning “place of protection, place of shelter/refuge”; both the verb and noun occur frequently in the Psalms (cf. 14:6; 46:2, etc). The second noun is lD^g+m!, meaning “a great/tall place,” often referring specifically to a tower. It occurs here in the expression “great place of strength” (zu*-lD^g+m!), which, in context, should be understood as a fortified site with walls and towers. YHWH Himself is this place of protection for the Psalmist.

As I have discussed on previous occasions, this relates to the ancient covenant concept; in terms of the religious covenant between YHWH and His people (as also with the king as His vassal), as long as God’s servants remain faithful, He is obligated to provide protection (from all enemies and dangers, etc). These enemies are referenced at the end of the third line, where it is expected that God will protect the Psalmist “from the face of (the one) hostile (to me)”. Poetic concision would require a translation “from the face of the enemy” (proper syntax), or, as an alternative that perhaps better captures the meaning, “from the hostile face”.

Verse 5 [4]

“I would come to dwell in your Tent of distant (time)s,
I would seek shelter in (the) hiding (place) of your wings.”

The conclusion of the Psalmist’s prayer builds upon the triad of protective imagery in vv. 3b-4. He expresses his wish that he might come to dwell in that place of shelter and protection that YHWH Himself provides. Following Dahood (II, p. 86) and other commentators, I read the imperfect verb forms here as subjunctive (“I would…”), similar to the perfect form in v. 4a (following the emphatic particle –yK!, i.e., “O that you would…”). It is also possible to read these in a cohortative/jussive sense (“Let me…!”).

The verb in the second line is hs*j* (“seek/find protection”), on which, cf. above regarding the related noun hs#j=m^. The first line uses the verb rWG, “turn aside,” usually in the specific context of coming to dwell (as a stranger) in a particular place. Like such a traveler, the Psalmist wishes to dwell in the “tent” of YHWH. This could refer to the Temple, but here it should be understood, more generally, in reference to the very presence of YHWH Himself (whether a heavenly or earthly location is in view). The expressions in the two lines have a formal parallelism:

    • “in your tent of distant (time)s” |
      “in (the) hiding (place) of your wings”

However, viewed thematically or conceptually, the lines form a chiasm:

    • “your tent”
      • “distant (times/places)”
      • “hiding (place)”
    • “your wings”

Clearly, the “tent” and “wings” of YHWH are conceptually parallel, both referring to the protection YHWH provides. The root <lu (from which the noun <l*ou derives) has the fundamental meaning of being distant; the noun is often used in a temporal sense—i.e., of a time either in the distant past or distant future. Both temporal aspects are applied, in a religious/theological sense, to YHWH, whose life and existence extends beyond the most distant time past, and into the most distant future; the English “eternal/eternity” provides a rough equivalent. There is a separate/cognate root <lu which denotes being hidden, which corresponds here with rts (noun rt#s#, “hiding [place]”).

Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“(O) that you, Mightiest, would listen to my vows,
(you who) give a possession (to those) fearing your name.”

The 3-beat meter of the first part shifts (in vv. 6 and 9) to a 4-beat (4+4) couplet format. This reflects a shift in emphasis, from the Psalmist’s prayer to an expectation that his prayer will be answered. This leads to a certain ambiguity regarding the perfect verb forms here in v. 6: are they ordinary (past-tense) perfects, or should they be read as precative perfects reflecting what the Psalmist wishes (and expects) will happen in the future? I follow Dahood (II, p. 86, cf. also I, pp. 20, 241) and other commentators in reading them as having precative force.

However, I also feel that the second line here is epexegetical, functioning almost as a relative clause, and that the verb /t^n` is meant to describe the conduct of YHWH, i.e., “(you who) give…”. In other words, since YHWH is the One who gives covenant-rewards to His faithful servants (those “fearing His name”), He surely will grant to the Psalmist blessing in response to what he has (faithfully) vowed. The hV`Wry+ (“possession”), in such a covenant-context, often refers to a piece of land given to someone as a hereditary property.

The “vows” (<yr!d*n+) here should be understood in a comprehensive sense, covering the Psalmist’s prayer in vv. 2-5 (cf. above), but also to his faithfulness in praising the name of YHWH on a regular basis (v. 9). That the Psalmist fulfills what He vows to YHWH, serves to demonstrate his faithfulness, and that, as a result, YHWH has a covenant-obligation to provide protection and blessing, etc.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“Days upon (the) days of (the) king may you add,
(and) his years for a cycle and (another) cycle;
may he sit (for) the distant (future) before (the) Mightiest,
goodness and firmness, measured (out), may they guard him!”

The 3-beat couplets of vv. 7-8 interrupt the 4-beat couplets of vv. 6 and 9; moreover, the introduction of a prayer-wish (to God) for the king seems abrupt and jarring to the overall context. Thus, many commentators would regard these lines as a secondary addition (interpolation) to the original composition; cf. the discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 106-7. Dahood (II, pp. 83-4) is among those who argue for the originality of the lines, on the theory that the king is the speaker throughout the Psalm. He cites the example of a 5th century B.C. Phoenician inscription by Yeµawmilk of Byblos, which contain a similar shift from 1st-person to 3rd-person voice. I have previously noted how many of the Psalms envince a royal background, reflecting important themes and motifs (and language) from the kingdom-period, which often were preserved even as the compositions were further shaped by other forces (e.g., Wisdom traditions, an emphasis on communal worship, etc).

Verse 7 is a prayer for long life to the king. In line 1, extra “days” are to be added (vb [s^y`) to the days that would otherwise be alloted to his life-span. The same idea is expressed in the second line, of an extension of his “years” beyond that of a single generation (roD, “age, cycle, circle [of life]”). The expression rodw` roD occurs frequently in the Psalms (at least 16 times, 10:6; 33:11; 45:18; 49:12, etc), as an idiom for long life, sometimes being paired with the noun <l*ou (cf. below). The expression is often translated “(from) generation to generation,” but the sense of perpetual progression is perhaps better captured by the more literal idea of “(this) age and (the next) age”.

In verse 8, the wish is for a long and prosperous reign for the king, in which he will sit (vb bv^y`) on the throne, being safeguarded (vb rx^n`) by YHWH. As noted above, the noun <l*ou is parallel to the expression rodw` roD, with a similar connotation of long life. The specific denotation of <l*ou is for a period of time extending into the distant future. The protection YHWH provides, to the king as His faithful vassal, is here defined through the terms ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) and tm#a# (“firmness”)—both are covenant-terms, connoting faithfulness and loyalty.

Verse 9 [8]

“So (then) will I sing your name until (the end),
for my completing of my vows day (by) day.”

The basic idea here, as we find often in the Psalms, is that once YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, he, in turn, will give praise to YHWH. A public worship setting is often assumed for this act of praise, and the very musical inspiration of the Psalmist (as a poet-composer) is tied to such praise. There is a presumed context, whereby the Psalmist’s petition to YHWH is connected with a religious vow (rd#n#). If God answers the Psalmist’s prayer, then he is obligated to fulfill the vow. Here, the verb <l^v* (“complete, fulfill”), often used in a covenant-context, relates to this obligation.

The expressions du^l* (“until [the end]”) and <oy <oy (“day [by] day”) are conceptually parallel (as time indicators) with <l*ou and rodw` roD in vv. 7-8 (cf. above). <oy <oy represents a microcosm of rodw` roD, but capturing the same sense of perpetuity, while du^l* has much the same meaning as <l*ou, as an indicator of a period of time lasting into the distant future.

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 60

Psalm 60

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is yet another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics. The characteristic shift, from a plea for deliverance to an expectation that YHWH will answer the Psalmist’s prayer, has occurred in a number of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms we have recently studied. The structure of the composition, in this instance, is peculiar, due primarily to the divine oracle present in vv. 8-10 [6-8]. Within both Judaism and early Christianity, the Psalms came to be regarded as prophetic (to be counted among the Prophets); however, this is one of the few Psalms which actually contains a prophetic oracle.

The meter follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a notable shift to a 3-beat tricolon (3+3+3) format in vv. 8-10. This shift marks off the divine speech of vv. 8-10 in poetic terms.

For the structure of the Psalm, I feel it is best to divide it into parallel sections, separated by the oracle in vv. 8-10:

    • Part 1: Lament over the suffering experienced as a result of YHWH’s anger (vv. 3-5 [1-3])
    • [Oracle regarding the Kingdom] (vv. 8-11 [6-9])
    • Part 2: A second lament (v. 12 [10]) and prayer for deliverance (vv. 13-14 [11-12])

The heading designates this Psalm as another  <T*k=m! (miktam, on this term, cf. the study on Psalm 16). The previous miktams were apparently poems without music, to be sung to an existing melody. This also seems to be the case here, with the melody being /v*Wv (“lily,” or possibly “lotus”), resembling the name in Pss 45 and 69 (pl. <yN]v^ov, “lilies”). The poem is also designated as an tWdu@, usually translated “testimony,” but properly referring to words that are to be repeated. There is thus a didactic purpose to the poem, which is “to be taught” (dM@l^l=), much like the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.

The superscription marks the poem as yet another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), attributing it (in verse 2) in relation to the historical David-tradition recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-14 (par 1 Chron 18:1-13). This tradition relates to the nations mentioned in vv. 8-11, in the context of the establishment of the kingdom of David and Solomon—which represented the territory of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent.

In this regard, there have been a good many theories regarding the specific dating of the poem, along with the critical question of how the oracle in vv. 8-10 fits within the overall composition. It is generally thought that the oracle represents a significantly older piece of traditional material, around which the remainder of the Psalm was composed. A common view is that the Psalm proper dates from the late kingdom-period, around the time of the Babylonian conquest, thus creating a stark juxtaposition with the territorial promises in the oracle. For a good survey of the question of dating, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 95-8.

PART 1: VERSES 3-7 [1-5]

Verse 3 [1]

“O Mightiest, you rejected us, you scattered us;
you were angry—(but) may you turn back to us!”

Two points of interpretation are important for determining the thrust of this opening couplet. First, does the verb jn~z` mean “reject,” or “be angry” (corr. to Akkadian zenû, cf. Dahood, II, p. 77). Second, does the imperfect verb form bb@ovT= reflect an indicative or jussive? If a jussive (with imperatival force) is intended, the the verb bWv here would have the positive meaning “turn back, return”; but, if it is a past tense indicative, then it has a negative sense of “turn away, withdraw”. Dahood opts for the latter, along with reading jnz in the sense of “be angry”; this creates a parallel couplet of pure lament:

“O Mightiest, you were angry with us, you scattered us;
you snorted with anger, (and) you turned away from us!”

The force of the couplet might even be clearer if jnz has the typical meaning “reject”, creating a chiasm:

    • “you rejected us”
      • “you scattered us”
      • “you were angry” (i.e. snorting like an enraged bull)
    • “you turned away from us”

My translation above reads bb@ovT= as a jussive, adding a hopeful prayer-note to the lament.

Verse 4 [2]

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open);
may you heal its broken (piece)s, for it is slipping!”

The force of this couplet also hinges on a point of interpretation—regarding the word hpr. The MT vocalizes it hp*r=, usually understood as an alternate spelling of the imperative ap*r= (“heal!”). But the actual verb hp^r* means “(let) sink, drop,” which would fit the image here of a handful of broken pieces, potentially giving to the couplet a sense of unmitigated disaster, i.e., “(you) let drop its broken pieces”. Dahood (II, p. 78) would vocalize as the adjective hp*r* (“slack, drooping,” i.e. “weak”), which leads to a quite vivid couplet, that I would translate as:

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open),
(and) weak (from) its broken (part)s, how it is slipping!”

Verse 5 [3]

“You made your people see hardship,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling.”

Instead of the rather bland Hiphil “you made see” (vb ha*r*), Dahood (II, p. 78) vocalizes htyarh as ht*ar@h), deriving it from the root ary II (“pour”), and also understands hv*q* in connection with the Ugaritic noun q¹š (“cup,” cp. Heb. hw`c=q^, “jug, jar”). This line of interpretation admittedly keeps the imagery more consistent, and also gives to the couplet a striking synthetic parallelism:

“You poured out (for) your people a cup,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling!”

Verse 6-7 [4-5]

“(May) you give to (those) fearing you a (flag) to raise,
to be raised from (before the) face of the bow(men)!
To (the end) that your beloved should be pulled out,
keep (us) safe (with) your right hand, and answer us!”

The imperatives in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), if correct, would seem to require that the perfect form hT*t^n` (lit. “you gave”) be understood as a precative perfect—i.e., a wish (for the future) expressed in terms of something that has already happened. In English, this is almost impossible to translate in a way that works in poetry; we might say “(that) you (would have) given,” but it it is easier simply to render it like an imperative or jussive (“may you give…!”). The prayer thus takes the form of a clear petition, a plea to God for deliverance.

The noun sn@ in the first line is related to the verb ss^n` (II) in the second. Both are difficult to translate; the fundamental denotation seems to refer to something raised up high so that everyone can see it—e.g., in a military-political context, a flag or banner, around which people can rally. The reference to archers/bowmen (sing. “bow”, tv#q# in place of MT fv#q) [so most commentators]) certainly indicates a military context, with God’s deliverance (from enemies) in terms of a military victory.

Indeed, a military rescue is described in verse 7, using the verb Jl^j* (I), “pull out, withdraw”, in the sense of YHWH pulling His people (and their king) out of danger. The noun dyd!y`, related to dod (in the Song of Songs, etc), means “(my) love, loved one, beloved”; it could be used here of the people Israel (collectively), or of the king as their leader and representative. The Hiphil imperative of the verb uv^y` in the second line literally means “save (us)…!,” but here it is better understood in the sense of the protection YHWH provides (i.e., “keep [us] safe!”). Following the rescue in line 1, God’s protection (in a military sense) will ultimately lead to victory for His people, a victory which is the answer (vb hn`u*) to the Psalmist’s prayer.

The placement of a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker between verses 6 and 7 is curious. It does not seem to relate to the structure of the Psalm, but may simply be used to alleviate the syntactical transition between the two verses.

Oracle:  Verses 8-11 [6-9]

There is a sudden shift in verse 8, both structurally and rhythmically. Verses 8-10 [6-8] constitute a prophetic oracle in which YHWH Himself speaks. In place of the 3-beat bicolon (couplet) format in vv. 3-7 (cf. above), there is a tricolon (triplet) format in vv. 8-10.

Verse 8 [6]

“(The) Mightiest has spoken in His Holy (Place):
‘I will exult (and) will make Šekem (my) portion,
and the valley of Sukkot I will measure out.'”

The 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon format of the oracle is established here. As in verse 3 [1], the title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’) is used, presumably in place of, originally, the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH)—a substitution that occurs consistently throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms. YHWH speaks in His “Holy (Place),” —that is, the sanctuary of His Dwelling (Temple)—though the noun vd#q) could also mean “holiness” (i.e., “in His holiness”).

The geographical association between the city of Shechem and the “valley of Sukkot” here probably alludes to the tradition in Genesis 33:17-18. It may refer generally to the northern territory (and kingdom) of Israel; the northern extent of the kingdom is referenced by David’s conquests over Syria (Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus) in 2 Sam 8:3-8. The verb dd^m* means “stretch a line,” i.e., to measure something, and thus refers to measuring the extent of territory belonging to the king/kingdom. Here, the territory belongs specifically to YHWH Himself, as King, but by extension it also belongs to the kingdom of His people (Israel/Judah).

Verse 9 [7]

“To me (belongs) Gil’ad, and to me Menaššeh,
and Ephrayim (is) a protected place (for) my head,
(while) Yehudah (is) my engraved (staff).”

In this verse, the Davidic kingdom of Israel—the united kingdom—is summarized. As noted in the introduction above, if the Psalm proper is dated near the time of the Babylonian exile, then the lamentable situation of the kingdom at that time would be set in stark contrast to the original divine promises regarding the extent of territory (realized, albeit briefly, in the reigns of David and Solomon). The northern territories are represented by the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (along with the region of the Gilead), depicted in terms of the king’s head—that is, a helmet (lit. “place of protection,” or “protected place,” zoum*). Judah represents the southern territory, and, with its capital of Jerusalem, is the locus of the ruling power and authority of the king (his engraved [vb qq^j*] staff). Again, YHWH is the ultimate King, with the king of Israel/Judah ruling over the people as His representative or vassal.

Verse 10 [8]

“Mo’ab (is the) pot for my washing;
upon Edom I will throw down my sandal;
over Pelešet I will cry out (in triumph).”

Here the territories of Moab, Edom and the coastal cities of the Philistines are included as Israelite territory (belonging ultimately, of course, to YHWH as King). Moab and Edom, in particular, are belittled, described as a mere washpot for the king, or as a place to thrown down (or set down) his sandals. David’s victories over Moab and Edom are referenced in 2 Sam 8:2, 12-14, while his victories over the Philistines headline that passage (v. 1). Here YHWH simply declares that He will “cry out” (vb u^Wr) over Philistia—that is, a cry/shout of triumph over them. The text of the third line should be read in light of the doublet in Ps 108:10 [9].

Verse 11 [9]

“Who will carry me (to the) city (with) strong walls?
Who will guide me (to come) unto Edom?”

The meter now shifts back to the 3-beat couplet (bicolon) format of the Psalm; and, indeed, verse 11 is not part of the oracle, and it is no longer YHWH who is speaking. The verse is transitional, leading the way from the oracle into the concluding verses (a second lament-prayer).

The first line could be understood either as coming to the walled city for protection, or for conquest. In the context of the oracle, the latter seems more likely. The Psalmist envisions a situation when Israel will once again realize the promises of YHWH regarding the kingdom and its territory, and where the conquests by David may, in some sense, be repeated. The specific mention of Edom in the second line may reflect the heightened tensions (and hostility) between Judah and Edom in the late kingdom period (early-6th century, and thereafter). The envisioned conquests will begin with the near adversary Edom (along with Moab, we may assume, to follow).

Part 2: Verses 12-14 [10-12]

Verse 12 [10]

“Is it not you, (O) Mightiest, you (who) rejected us,
and did not go out, Mightiest, with our armies?”

This couplet answers the question (“Who…?”) in v. 11. Even though YHWH had rejected His people (for the verb jn~z`, cf. on v. 3 above), and, for a time, allowed Israel to be defeated and conquered, the hope (and prayer) is that now God will once again return to fight on His people’s behalf. The couplet here thus blends together lament with a hope (prayer) for deliverance, echoing the themes of the longer Part 1. For a different way of reading these lines, cf. Dahood (II, pp. 76, 82).

Verse 13 [11]

“Give to us help from [i.e. against] (our) adversary,
(for) indeed empty is (the) saving (help) of man!”

Only the power and strength of YHWH will allow His people to prevail against their enemies. The noun rx^ can be derived from three different roots, meaning (respectively): (1) “narrowness” (i.e., a “tight spot”), (2) “distress, oppression”, or (3) “adversary, enemy”. All three would be applicable, but the military context here suggests the third meaning is most likely in view. The very acknowledgement of YHWH’s saving power, contrasted with the “emptiness” (aw+v*) of human strength, can be taken as an implicit indication of the people’s current faithfulness (as represented by the Psalmist), and give them reason to believe that YHWH will, indeed, hear and answer their prayer.

Verse 14 [12]

“With the Mightiest, we shall act with strength,
and He (indeed) shall trample down our adversaries!”

The people will act together with (-B=) YHWH to defeat their enemies, just as Israel did (under David’s leadership) in times of old. They will act with strength (ly]j*), since the power of God Himself will be on their side. Indeed, it is YHWH who does the real fighting, trampling down the enemies of Israel (note the emphatic position of the pronoun aWh [“He”]).

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 59 (Part 2)

Psalm 59, continued

As noted in the previous study, there are two stanzas to the poem (miktam) of Psalm 59, each of which contains a common refrain (vv. 7-11a, 15-18). The poetic and thematic structure is as follows:

    • Stanza 1 (vv. 2-6 [1-5])—A prayer to YHWH for protection and deliverance from the Psalmist’s enemies, with a contrast established between the wicked and the righteous
      • Refrain (vv. 7-11a [6-10a])
    • Stanza 2 (vv. 11b-14 [10b-13])—Imprecation-prayer to God, calling for judgment on the wicked
      • Refrain (vv. 15-18 [14-17])

Stanza 2: VV. 11-14 [10-13]

Verse 11bc [10bc]

“(The) Mightiest shall go before me,
He shall let me look on (those) watching me.”

The opening verses of the second stanza follow a different meter—a 2-beat (2+2) rather than 3-beat (3+3) couplet. As discussed in the previous study, the traditional verse division here is incorrect, and the first line of verse 11 [10] (a) belongs with v. 10 [9].

The theme of the second stanza—God’s judgment on the wicked (i.e., the Psalmist’s adversaries)—is established here in the initial couplet. The Psalmist expects (and anticipates) that YHWH will answer his prayer (stanza 1), acting to protect and deliver him from his enemies. The first line expresses this clearly and concisely: “the Mightiest shall go before me,” using the verb <d^q* in the sense of “go first, go ahead,” so as to meet the Psalmist’s enemies and strike them.

The verb in the second line is ha*r* (“see”); the nuance of this common verb in the hiphil stem (“make/let me see”), in this context, is tied to the idea of the judgment/punishment of the wicked. I have translated it here as “let me look on (them)” —that is, look on their punishment (indeed, with some satisfaction). The enemies are described as “watchers” (from the root rWv [II]), that is, they watch his every move, with wicked intent, waiting for a chance to strike. There is thus a bit of semantic wordplay here, with the Psalmist looking on those who have been watching him.

Verse 12 [11]

“Mighty (One), slay them, lest my people wither;
stagger them with your strength,
and bring them down!
(You are) our protection, (O) my Lord.”

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 71) in vocalizing the initial word as la@ (“Mighty [One],” El, i.e., ‘God’), rather than the negative particle la^. Asking God not to slay his enemies makes little sense in context. Also reading the divine title la@ here provides a fitting parallel for the related <yh!l)a$ in the first line of the prior couplet (cf. above).

Quite possibly, the reference to “my people,” which otherwise seems somewhat out of place here, is a vestige of the royal background we see in many such Psalms. The king represents the people and serves as their protector; an attack on the king ultimately affects the people as well. The verb jk^v* is best understood in the specific sense of “wither” (rather than “forget”); this particular meaning may derive from a separate root jkv (II).

Military imagery is utilized in the second line, indicating that YHWH will defeat the Psalmist’s enemies. The two verbs (in the hiphil imperative) are u^Wn (“shake, waver, stagger”) and dr^y` (“go down,” hiphil “make go down, bring down”). To “go down” here carries the specific added meaning of going down to the realm of the dead (Sheol), i.e., being killed. The imperfect verb form in the first line is to be read with jussive force, matching the imperatives in the second line.

The specific motif is of YHWH (“my Lord”) as the Psalmist’s protection, drawing upon a covenantal theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms; the noun used is /g@m*, literally “place of protection”.

The rhythm of this expanded couplet is 3+3+2.

Verse 13 [12]

“(By the) sin of their mouth and pestilence of their lips,
may they be captured!
In their rising (up) and cursing and lying,
may they be counted!”

The meter of this verse also is irregular (loosely, a 4-beat couplet). One might be inclined to emend the text (along with that of v. 12) and reorder (or redivide) these lines to achieve metrical consistency (i.e., 3-beat couplets); cf. Kraus, p. 539. Indeed, the only way both stanzas of the Psalm could (originally) have been sung to the same melody, is if they had the same meter. Unfortunately, such consistitency is practically impossible to recover now (if it ever truly existed). It must be said that the poetic structure of v. 13, as we have it, seems to demand a 4-beat couplet format.

Each line ends with a niphal imperfect with jussive force:

    • Wdk=L*y] (“may they be captured”)
    • WrP@S*y] (“may they be counted”)

I follow Dahood (II, p. 73) in reading wrpsy as a niphal form, rather than the piel of the Masoretic vocalization (WrP@s^y+). The idea of being “counted” should be understood as being judged (by God) as wicked. The root rps can relate to the act of recording—i.e., of a person being written down. Quite plausibly the intended image here is of the wicked being recorded as destined for death (and Sheol); cp. Jeremiah 17:13. This is parallel to the image of the names of the righteous being recorded in God’s book [rp#s@] ‘of life’ (Exod 32:32-33, etc). To be “captured” (vb dk^l*) in this context means to be captured by death and the grave.

The behavior of the wicked that results in their punishment (and death) is defined in terms of the evil that they speak. In the first line are the twin expressions “sin of their mouth” and “pestilence [rbd] of their lips”; in the second line, these are matched by the collective (verbal) nouns hl*a* (“cursing”) and vj^K^ (“lying”). There is a bit of wordplay in the first line with the word rbd, since rb*D* generally means “word,” while rb#D# means “pestilence” —i.e., the pestilence of the wicked is in their evil/sinful speaking.

Verse 14 [13]

“Finish (them) in your hot (anger), finish (them),
and may they no longer (be)!
Then they shall know that (the) Mightiest is ruling in Ya’aqob,
(even) to (the) ends of the earth.”

This is another long 4-beat (4+4) couplet, followed by an extra 2-beat line; the last line fits uneasily, and may be a secondary addition to the stanza.

The Psalmist’s call for judgment on his enemies reaches a high pitch in this final couplet, repeating the imperative hL@K^ (“finish [them off]!”). It is almost as though the protagonist is attempting to stoke the flames of YHWH’s hot anger (“heat,” hm*j@) himself. The extreme nature of this imprecation is indicated by the concluding word “may they no longer (be)”. This act of judgment, however, also has a higher purpose, beyond simply punishing (and putting to death) the wicked—it will demonstrate, in the most dramatic terms, that YHWH (the Mightiest, <yh!l)a$) is indeed the King and Judge over all the earth.

Refrain: vv. 15-18 [14-17]

This refrain matches that of the first stanza (vv. 7-10a [6-9a]); however, the wording is not identical. Only the points of difference will be noted below; for the remainder of the refrain, cf. the previous study.

Verse 15 [14]

“They sit until evening,
they howl like a dog
and go around (the) city.”

Essentially identical with v. 7 [6] (discussed in the previous study).

Verse 16 [15]

“Howling, they wander (about for something) to eat,
(and) if not satisfied, they do (not) stop for the night.”

This couplet holds the same place as v. 8 [7] in the first refrain, but differs entirely in wording (and emphasis) from that earlier couplet. Here the action of the wicked fits much better, contextually, with the image of a pack of hungry dogs roaming the city at night. Indeed, v. 16 continues the imagery of v. 15. I follow Dahood (II, p. 73f) in reading the initial word hmh as a verbal element (from the root hmh, “cry [out], howl, growl,” same as in v. 15), rather than the pronoun hM*h@ (“they”). Also (with him) I recognize an implied (second) negative particle in the second line.

Verse 17 [16]

“But I, I will sing of your strength,
and will ring out your goodness in the morning;
for you have been (the) place high up for me,
and a place to flee in (the) day of distress for me.”

This pair of couplets corresponds to the couplet in v. 9 [8], but they are altogether different, both in form and content. The lines here are more fitting for the conclusion of the Psalm as a whole, emphasizing the aspect of public praise and worship that we find frequently at the close of Psalms. The first couplet expresses this theme of praise, in traditional/conventional terms. The strength (zu)) of YHWH is praised in tandem with His goodness (ds#j#); the latter noun often connotes faithfulness and loyalty (in the context of the covenant-bond), and frequently so in the Psalms.

The second couplet returns to the central theme of YHWH as the Psalmist’s protection. Two locative nouns are used, in parallel, to express this: (1) bG`c=m! (“place high up”), and (2) sonm* (“place [to which] to flee”, i.e., place of refuge).

Verse 18 [17]

“My Mighty (One is) my strength—
thus shall I be guarded;
for (the) Mightiest (is) my (refuge) up high,
my Mighty (One is) my loyal (guard).”

These lines are essentially identical with those of vv. 10-11a [9-10a] which close the refrain of the first stanza (cf. the previous study). In the second line of v. 10, the verb is rm^v*, while here it is rm^z`, but the meaning is certainly the same (“guard”). If rmz is correct here, then it would seem to be a stylistic variant, with no difference in meaning. It may reflect an older/archaic meaning of the root rmz (zmr), attested, it would seem, by the Ugaritic cognate root (¼mr).

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 59 (Part 1)

Psalm 59

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsd (vv. 5-6, 8 [4-5, 7]) 

This Psalm is another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics, similar in many respects to those in the ‘Elohist Psalter’ that we have recently studied. The focus on the punishment of the wicked is especially strong.

There are two stanzas to the poem, each of which contains a common refrain (vv. 7-11a, 15-18) following the Selah pause-indicator. The meter is irregular, with a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format dominating the first stanza; one is perhaps inclined to modify the second stanza to match the rhythmic pattern, but any attempt would be questionable at best. Unfortunately, the second stanza does not survive in the only Qumran manuscript of this Psalm (11QPsad), which otherwise might have provided help in confirming the Hebrew text.

On the heading, cf. the previous studies on Psalm 57 and 58. On the term <T*k=m! (miktam), cf. the earlier study on Psalm 16. The David tradition alluded to in the superscription is that of 1 Samuel 19:8ff.

The two stanzas of the Psalm are clearly delineated:

    • Stanza 1 (vv. 2-6 [1-5])—A prayer to YHWH for protection and deliverance from the Psalmist’s enemies, with a contrast established between the wicked and the righteous
      • Refrain (vv. 7-11a [6-10a])
    • Stanza 2 (vv. 11b-14 [10b-13])—Imprecation-prayer to God, calling for judgment on the wicked
      • Refrain (vv. 15-18 [14-17])

Stanza 1: VV. 2-6 [1-5]

Verse 2 [1]

“Snatch me away from (those) hostile to me, O Mightiest;
from (the one)s standing up against me, set me up high!”

This opening couplet has a loose 3-beat rhythm which establishes both the meter and the tone of the Psalm. The prayer in the first stanza takes the form of a lament. The Psalmist calls out for help against his enemies. The parallelism of the couplet is conceptually precise, though formally presented as a chiasm:

    • “snatch me away” (vb lx^n`)
      • “from those hostile to me” (verbal noun, vb by~a*)
      • “from those standing against me” (verbal noun, vb <Wq)
    • “set me up high” (vb bg~c*)

In terms of the theme of deliverance, the aspect in the first line is rescue, while in the second line it is protection. YHWH protects the Psalmist by bringing him up to a high and inaccessible (and thus secure) place.

Verse 3 [2]

“Snatch me away from (the one)s making trouble,
and from men of blood, make me safe!”

This second couplet matches the form and focus of the first almost precisely. The Psalmist’s enemies here are generalized as the wicked who corrupt society and would persecute the righteous (and harm the innocent). They are characterized verbally in the first line as “(one)s making [i.e. who make] trouble [/w#a*]”. In the second line, they are described as “men of blood [<ym!d*]”. The plural <ym!d* (lit. “bloods”) almost always means “acts of bloodshed,” often understood generally as acts of violence (even when no blood is actually shed). Dahood (II, p. 67) would understand <ym!D* here as “images” (that is, idols), from the root hm*D* (I), “be like, resemble”, as also in Ps 26:9; 55:24 [23] (I, p. 163; II, p. 39). Both interpretations would be valid, since, from the standpoint of the Psalms, violence and idolatry (i.e., worship of other deities) are equally characteristic of the wicked.

The suffixed hiphil imperative of the verb uv^y` could be translated “save me”; however, given the parallel with verse 2 [1], it is better to bring out the aspect of protection (“make me safe”), parallel with the verb bg~c* (cf. above).

Verse 4 [3]

“For, see!—they lie in wait for my soul,
(the) strong (one)s gather against me;
(with) no breaking (of the bond) by me,
and no sin by me, O YHWH.”

The 3-beat (3+3) couplet has been expanded with the addition of another 3-beat line, which here in translation is better represented as a short (irregular) couplet. The added line introduces the important theme of the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The Psalmist wishes to make clear that he his innocent—he has neither broken the bond with YHWH (and his fellow Israelites), nor has he sinned. The verb uv^P* is typically used in the context of the covenant—i.e., breaking the bond or trust between two people (or parties). To say that one has upheld the covenant and has not sinned, means that a person is righteous (and right/just before God). There is thus no reason or cause for attacks against the Psalmist; the attacks come only because of the wickedness of his adversaries.

Here the wicked are called “strong (one)s” (<yz]u*), indicating that they possess worldly power and influence. In terms of the royal background of such Psalms, the Psalmist’s opponents would be princes, nobles, or other vassal kings, people who actually could muster a military force. However, in the Psalms, this aspect has been generalized, often under the influence of Wisdom tradition, so that the motif of strength/power more properly characterizes the oppressive (and violent) might of the wicked.

Verse 5 [4]

“(I am) without crookedness, (yet) they run and stand (against me)—
rouse (yourself) to meet me, and see (for yourself)!”

The first line repeats the sense of verse 4 [3]: the Psalmist’s righteousness/innocence is again expressed in negative (or privative) terms—he is without (yl!B=) any “crookedness” (/ou*). Yet the wicked run to attack him, taking up a position against him (vb /WK, “be fixed/firm,” in something of a military sense).

In the second line, the Psalmist again calls on YHWH to rescue/deliver him. In particular, he asks God to come meet him (vb ar^q*); because of the urgency of the situation, the Psalmist would dare seek to stir God to action (vb rWu [I], “rouse [oneself], awaken”). Once YHWH comes and sees the situation, He cannot but act to rescue and protect His faithful servant.

Verse 6 [5]

“You, YHWH, (commander) of (the heavenly) armies,
(you the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael,
awaken to reckon (judgment on) all (the) nations!
May you not show favor to (those) traitors making trouble!”

The final two lines of v. 6 form a couplet that builds upon the second line of v. 5 (cf. above). The verb JWq (“wake [up]”) here is generally synonymous with the earlier rWu (I) (“awaken, rouse oneself [from sleep]”), and the basic idea is the same: God is to rouse Himself and come to rescue/deliver the Psalmist. In so doing, YHWH will effectively bring judgment against the wicked. Here the wicked are identified (in traditional religious-cultural terms) with the “nations”; but, more specifically, they are traitors to the covenant with YHWH. The verb dg~B* generally denotes deceptive or treacherous behavior. By making “trouble” (/w#a*, cf. also in v. 3 [2]) for the righteous, the wicked show that they have rejected and betrayed the covenant bond between YHWH and His people.

The root dqp is notoriously difficult to render into English; here, it is probably best understood in the sense of meting out judgment (punishment) on the wicked. Two of the fundamental meanings could apply: (1) “appoint” (i.e., an appointed moment of judgment), or (2) “reckon” (i.e., call to account); I have opted for the latter.

In this Psalm, the hl*s# (Selah) pause-marker serves to indicate the structure of the composition; this is not always the case, but here, in each stanza, the refrain follows directly after the pause.

Refrain: vv. 7-11a [6-10a]
Verse 7 [6]

“They sit until evening,
they howl like a dog
and go around (the) city.”

The refrain begins with a distinct shift in rhythm (aided by the preceding Selah-pause), with verse 7 (= v. 15) taking the form of a 2-beat tricolon (2+2+2). These terse, staccato-like lines express the habitual conduct of the wicked in simplistic terms, using the animal-motif of a pack of dogs. The initial verb bWv means “turn, return,” and the line would then be translated “they return at evening”. However, I am inclined to follow Dahood (II, p. 69) in reading bwv here as a byform of bvy (“sit”). This seems to make better sense in context—i.e., the wicked (like dogs) sit and wait until evening; it is only at night that they howl and then come out to wander around the city. This behavior is also appropriate to the treacherous character of the wicked (cf. verse 6 above).

Verse 8 [7]

they gush out by their mouth,
swords (come out) by their lips:
‘For who is hearing (us)?'”

Verse 8 is essentially another 2-beat tricolon (like v. 7); only the initial interjection hN@h! (“see!”) distorts the rhythmic pattern slightly. Again, the behavior of the wicked is crude and repellent. The verb ub^n` in the first line means “pour/gush out”, but often in the decidedly negative sense of something uncontrolled or foul. Some translations render it here as “belch”, which would be quite appropriate for the context. What comes out of the mouth of the wicked is foul-smelling and extreme, but it also indicates a violent purpose—i.e., the image of “swords” coming from the lips in the second line. The third line, it seems, summarizes the thinking of the wicked. There is no need to curb or restrain their crude and evil speech, for “Who is there hearing it?”

Verse 9 [8]

“But you, YHWH, will laugh at them,
you will mock at all (the) nations!”

Like the stanza itself, the refrain shifts in tone, from describing the behavior of the wicked to an anticipation of the judgment YHWH will bring upon them. Their own mocking taunts will be turned back on them. God will laugh at them and mock them, using the parallel verbs qj^v* (“laugh”) and gu^l* (“mock, deride”). The wicked are identified here with the “nations” (cf. v. 6 [5] above); but this is merely a traditional way of speaking, even when the wicked within Israel are in view.

A shift in rhythm matches the shift in tone, as we have here a 3+2 couplet.

Verses 10-11a [9-10a]

“My Mighty (One is) my strength—
thus shall I be guarded;
for (the) Mightiest (is) my (refuge) up high,
my Mighty (One is) my loyal (guard).”

The final lines of the refrain are problematic. The parallel in v. 18 [17] rather clearly shows that the verse division here is in error–the first two words of v. 11 belong with v. 10. Again, one very much wishes that these verses were preserved in the Qumran manuscript (11QPsad), and could thus assist us in establishing a secure text, but that is not the case. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 70f) in emending iyla, dividing it into two words yK! yl!a@, and also parsing hrmva as a passive (niphal) form, hr*m@V*a# (“I shall be guarded”). Also the opening word oZu% (“his strength”) should be modified to yZu% (“my strength”), based on the parallel in the second stanza. The first part of verse 10 would then read:

hr*m@V*a# yK! yl!a@ yZ]u%
“My Mighty (One is) my strength,
thus I shall be guarded [i.e. protected]”

Much the same is expressed in the final two lines, in a simple parallel couplet:

“for (the) Mightiest (is) my place up high,
my Mighty (One is) my loyal (guard).”

In each line the plural title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e. ‘God’), possibly substituted for the Divine name (hwhy, YHWH) originally (as is typical in the ‘Elohist’ Psalms). The suffixed nouns yB!G~v=m! and yD!s=j^ are parallel (synonymous) terms. The first noun, bG~v=m!, means “place up high”, referring to high and inaccessible location that serves as a safe, protected place; the related verb bg~c* was used in a similar sense in v. 2 (cf. above). The noun ds#j# fundamentally means “goodness, kindness,” but also frequently denotes faithfulness and loyalty, especially in relation to the covenant bond; and, indeed, ds#j# typically carries this sense in the Psalms. The suffixed noun here would seem to mean something like “my loyal (protector)”.

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 58

Psalm 58

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics, similar in many respects to those in the ‘Elohist Psalter’ that we have recently studied (cf. the previous study on Ps 57). Indeed, Psalm 58 has the same musical direction as Ps 57, designating it as a  <T*k=m! (miktam, cf. the study on Psalm 16) sung to the melody “Do not destroy” (or “May you not destroy”), tj@v=T^-la^, apparently the name of a well-known lament (the phrase itself probably is an allusion to Deuteronomy 9:26).

However, if both Psalms were to be sung to a common lament-melody, it is worth nothing that the meter of each poem is different; Psalm 58 contains longer verses, predominantly 4-beat (4+4, or 4+3) couplets.

The thematic structure of the Psalm may be outlined as follows:

    • Verses 2-6 [1-5]: Descriptive lament regarding the wicked
    • Verses 7-10 [6-9]: Imprecation-prayer to God, calling for judgment on the wicked
    • Verses 11-12 [10-11]: The reward of the righteous (contrasted with the fate of the wicked)

VERSES 2-6 [1-5]

Verse 2 [1]

“Are you firm, mighty (one)s, (in) justice (when) you speak?
You should judge (with) straightness (the) sons of men.”

These opening line is probably best read as a rhetorical (and accusatory) question. The MT <l#a@ should be parsed as a defective form of <yl!a@, “mighty ones;” alternatively, it could be a plural of ly]a^ (“leader, ‘ram’ [figurative for a human noble or ruler]), with defective spelling (<yl!ya@ > <yl!a@). Clearly, the Psalmist is referring to those powerful men who are supposed to be leading and ruling the people; when they are corrupted by wickedness, society becomes oppressive, characterized by lawlessness and perversion of justice. The emphasis here is thus on speaking (vb rb^D*) with justice (qd#x#), and on rendering judgment (vb fp^v*). The concept of being firm (root /ma) in justice (line 1) is parallel with the idea of judging in a straight (rvy, i.e., fair and right) way (line 2).

Verse 3 [2]

“Yet, in (your) heart you act (with all) crookedness,
in (the) land your hands balance (the scales with) violence!”

The wickedness of the situation here is contrasted with what it should have been (v. 2). The first line strikes a formal (contrastive) parallel with the first line of v. 2:

    • “…(with) justice | you (should) speak” (v. 2)
    • “…(with) crookedness | you act” (v. 3)

The plural form tl)ou (lit. “crooked/perverse [thing]s”) may perhaps be intended as an intensive or comprehensive plural. On the other hand, the plural could be understood in the judicial sense of “crooked judgments”. Dahood (II, p. 58) suggests that this spelling represents a Phoenician dialectal form of the Hebrew singular hl*w+u^. The noun lw#u* (“crookedness, perversion”) is often used in the specific socio-legal sense of injustice, and, given the context of v. 2, the idea of a perversion of justice is certainly in view.

The verb in line 2 is sl^P*, which specifically refers to weighing something out on the balance-scales; here it can be understood in the sense of the ‘scales of justice’. Injustice and corruption among the rulers in society inevitably leads to lawlessness, oppression, and violence (sm*j*).

Verse 4 [3]

“Perverse (are the) wicked (one)s, from (the) womb they stray,
(and) from (the) belly (they are) speakers of lie(s)”

This couplet has something of an awkward structure with an off-beat (4+3) rhythm, which may well be intentional, as if expressing poetically how the wicked stagger and stray (vb hu*T*). They are said to be perverse and deceitful (“speakers of lie[s]”) from birth. Again, the primary idea is of the perversion of justice brought about by the wicked leaders, and the corrupting effect this has on the whole of society.

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“The hot poison of them (is) like that of a (venomous) snake,
like that of a deaf adder (which) closes its ear,
which does not listen to (the) voice of (those) whispering,
(the) binding of (those) binding (who) are (so) wise.”

These two verses should be taken together as a pair of 4+3 couplets that form a quatrain. The syntax of each couplet is a bit uneven. It would seem that the second occurrence of construct noun tm^j& in the first line ought to be omitted, in order to preserve the meter (cf. Kraus, p. 534). The image itself is straightforward: the deceit, perversion, and violent impulse of the wicked is like the venom of a poisonous snake. In particular, the figure of an adder is used,one which is “deaf,” a motif clarified (in v. 6) as referring to a snake that cannot be rendered harmless by the sounds of a snake-charmer. This person who “whispers” (vb vj^l*, resembling the ‘hissing’ of a snake) the charms represents the vain and futile wisdom of the world, which is unable to curb the wickedness in society.

Verses 7-10 [6-9]

Verse 7 [6]

“O Mightiest, break down their teeth in their mouth!
(The) fangs of (the) young lions, pull down, YHWH!”

The tone of the Psalm shifts here from a lament, describing the wicked, to a call for YHWH to bring down judgment on them. There is thus an imprecatory character to the Psalmist’s prayer here.

These lines have a chiastic syntax spread over the eight (4+4) beats:

    • O Mightiest [Elohim]
      • break down
        • their teeth
          • in their mouth
          • (the) fangs
        • of the young lions
      • pull down
    • [O] YHWH

The image is of the wicked as a group of ravenous lion-whelps, with their deadly and oppressive teeth/fangs. The plural noun touT=l=m^ is apparently the same (by metathesis) as touL=t^m=, referring to the devouring teeth/bite of an animal.

Verse 8 [7]

“Let them flow (away) like waters (that) go to their (place);
like (the) <grass> (on which) one treads, may they wither!”

The second line of the MT as we have it makes little sense. Here we are very much in need of a reliable Dead Sea manuscript to offer clarity, but, alas, nothing of Psalm 58 survives. A reasonably sound line can be achieved by a small emendation of the text (cf. Kraus, p. 534), reading ryx!j* (“grass”) instead of wyX*j! (Qere, “his arrows”). The motif of the grass that is worn down on the path (ird) is a suitable parallel with the flowing waters in line 1, preserving the nature-imagery of the couplet. This also fits the verb in the second line, which I take to be ll^m* (III), “wither, languish, fade”; also possible is ll^m* (IV), “cut off”. My translation above of the second line requires a reordered text (with the one emended word) that reads:

Wll*m)t=y] Er)d=y] ryx!j* omK=

Verse 9 [8]

“Like a <miscarriage> dissolving, may they go (away);
(like the) failed birth of a woman, may they fail to see (the) sun!”

Instead of the MT lWlB=v^, I am inclined to read lWKv* (or loKv*), which is a less significant emendation than it might at first appear, since some manuscripts read lwlkv instead of lwlbv. The image of a miscarriage provides a suitable parallel for the motif of a failed birth (lp#n#, i.e., stillbirth or abortion) in line 2 (cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 77f).

Verse 10 [9]

“Before thorn-bush(es) can <produce> their thorns,
(the) Living (One in His) burning anger, shall sweep them away!”

The MT of this verse makes very little sense, and is doubtless corrupt. Again, one wishes a reliable Dead Sea manuscript of the Psalm had survived, as it likely would have clarified the situation; but unfortunately that is not the case. Any reading or reconstruction of these lines will have to remain hypothetical and speculative. I have adopted the following changes, so as to produce a relatively clean 4+3 couplet that makes decent sense:

    • Following at least one Hebrew MS, I read <h#yt@r)ys! with the third-person suffix (“their thorns”)
    • I follow Kraus (p. 534) in reading WbWny` (“they bear [fruit],” “they produce”) in place of MT Wnyb!y`.
    • I omit the two occurrences of the suffixed preposition omK= in the second line; these probably crept into the text at this point due to their presence in the prior lines.

Here we have an announcement of YHWH’s coming judgment on the wicked, with the Psalmist anticipating God’s answer to his imprecatory prayer.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

Verse 11 [10]

“The righteous shall be glad when he sees (the) vengeance;
(with) his footsteps, he shall wash in (the) blood of (the) wicked.”

The contrasting fates of the wicked and the righteous are presented in these closing verses. The scene, in spite of the promise of rejoicing, will doubtless strike modern readers as unduly harsh and gruesome. Very few Christians, I think, would find any enjoyment in the idea of washing our feet in the blood of the wicked who have been slaughtered. However, there can be no denying that the terrible death and destruction of the wicked is an integral part of the tradition of the (end-time) Divine judgment inherited by early Christians. It is depicted vividly enough in the book of Revelation (6:10ff; 14:14-20; 16:3-6; 19:2, 13).

Verse 12 [11]

“And man will say, ‘Surely (there is) fruit for the righteous!
Surely there is a Mightiest (One) making judgment on the earth!'”

The eschatological dimension of the Judgment is expressed here rather clearly, as humankind (collectively) is forced to admit that God exists, and that YHWH is the true God (Elohim, “Mightiest [One]”). He has the power and authority to act as Judge over the entire world (“making judgment on the earth”). By contrast to the imagery in verse 10 [9] (cf. above), where the wicked are depicted as thorn-bushes that are swept away in the wind, the righteous are presented as plants that produce a rich and succulent fruit. This is part of a well-established Wisdom tradition that was inherited by the Psalms, and which exerted a significant influence on many of the compositions. The same basic contrast is featured in the famous Psalm 1 (vv. 3-4) at the beginning of the collection.

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 57

Psalm 57

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics, similar to a number of the Psalms we have studied recently (cf. the previous study on Ps 56). In this instance, the hl*s# (Selah) pause markers seem to provide an indication of the structure of the composition: two stanzas (vv. 5-7, 8-12) preceded by an opening prayer (vv. 2-4). However, the meter could suggest a different structural division, with a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format dominating in vv. 2-6 and 11-12, and a 3+2 meter in vv. 7-10.

Psalms 56-60 are each designated as a <T*k=m! (miktam), a term whose meaning remains uncertain (cf. the previous study, as well as the earlier study on Psalm 16). One characteristic of these mitkams is that they seem to be poems without music (words only), which are then sung to an existing melody. This may be compared, for example, with the many Psalms designated as a romz+m! (mizmor), which are musical compositions (words and music). This particular miktam is sung to the melody “Do not destroy” (or “May you not destroy”), tj@v=T^-la^, apparently the name of a well-known lament. The miktams of Psalm 58 and 59 are sung to the same melody. The phrase itself probably is an allusion to Deuteronomy 9:26.

The superscription marks it as another Psalm “belonging to David”, associating its composition with the David tradition(s) narrated in 1 Samuel 22:1ff and 24:1ff.

VERSES 2-4 [1-3]

Verse 2 [1]

“Show me favor, Mightiest, show me favor,
for in you does my soul seek refuge,
and in (the) shade of your wings I take refuge,
until (the) falling (calamity) passes over (me).”

These opening couplets show that we are dealing with another prayer-Psalm, with lament characteristics. The Psalmist prays to YHWH (Elohim, “Mightiest”) for protection and deliverance from a “calamity” (hW`h^) that threatens him. This is best understood here in the concrete sense of the root hwh, referring to something falling (down). YHWH provides protection for the righteous from this ‘downfall’, using both the motif of shade/shadow (lx@, i.e. protection from heat, etc) and the protective wings of a bird (on this aspect of the ‘wings’ of YHWH, cf. Deut 32:11; Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4, etc). The similar imagery in Psalm 91 suggests that the “calamity” here could refer to disease or plague. The plural toWh^ is perhaps best understood as an intensive plural.

Here the verb used (twice) for seeking/finding protection is hs*j*; elsewhere in the Psalms, the more common verb used to express this idea is jf^B*.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“I will call to (the) Mightiest, (the) Highest,
to (the) Mighty (One) completing (the bond) over me;
(the) <Mightiest> will send (help) from heaven,
and will save me (from the) scorn of (those) panting after me!”

The tone of prayer (a direct plea) in the first two couplets (of v. 2 [1]), shifts to a dramatic description, depicting the Psalmist’s prayer and anticipating YHWH’s answer. Verse 3 [2] describes the prayer, as the Psalmist “calls” (vb ar*q*) to God. The use of the title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “[the] Mightiest [One],” i.e. ‘God’) is typical of the Elohist Psalms; almost certainly, it replaces the Divine name YHWH (originally in the Psalm) throughout. Retaining the Divine name here would yield much better poetry:

“I will call (out) to YHWH (the) Highest,
to (the) Mighty (One)…”

The participle rm@G), used as a descriptive title of YHWH, must be understood in the context of the covenant. The verb rm^G` fundamentally denotes finishing or completing something; here it is roughly synonymous with the more common root <lv, referring to the completion/fulfillment of one’s covenant obligations, which, in turn, completes the covenant bond. YHWH completes His covenant obligation over (lu^) the righteous by providing protection in time of need.

This covenant loyalty (an important theme in the Psalms) means that the Psalmist can be confident that YHWH will answer his plea, and will provide salvation (vb uv^y`) for him. In v. 2 [1] the specific nature of the “calamity” facing the Psalmist was unclear; I had mentioned how the parallel in Ps 91 suggested disease or plague, but here in v. 4 [3] we are clearly dealing with the familiar motif of attacks by the wicked. The verb [r^j* has a relatively wide range of meaning, but the primary idea is of throwing blame (or scorn, reproach, etc) on a person; slanderous accusations and insults are characteristic of the wicked in the Psalms. The verb [a^v* means “pant (after),” and evokes the image of a ravenous animal chasing after its prey; it was used, in a similar context, in Psalm 56:2-3 [1-2].

In any case, verse 4 [3] describes YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. In order to maintain a consistent 3-beat (3+3) meter, I have emended the first line of v. 4, adding another <yh!l)a$, though there is no real textual support for this. Along these lines, it may well be that the final line of v. 4 in the MT (following the Selah-marker) is essentially a duplication of the first line (possibly an explanatory gloss) that could be omitted; I have done so in the translation of v. 4 above. The line, if it were to be retained, reads:

“(The) Mightiest will send (with) His goodness and His firmness”

Verses 5-7 [4-6]

Verse 5 [4]

“My soul (is trapped) between lions,
I lay (amid those) raging at (the) sons of men;
their teeth (are) spears and arrow-points,
and their tongue a sharpened sword.”

The Psalmist returns to his lament in this stanza, describing the wicked who threaten him as ferocious lions. The participle <yf!h&l) in the second line literally means “blazing”, but perhaps is better rendered here in the more general sense of “raging” (i.e., a raging fire), which would better suit the image of a lion (cf. Dahood, II, p. 52).

Verse 6 [5]

“(Your) height is over the heavens, Mightiest,
your weight over all of the earth!”

The lament is interrupted, curiously, by this declaration of YHWH’s majesty and glory; it is identical with the closing lines of the Psalm (v. 12 [11]), where it makes more sense. The opening word, hm*Wr is typically parsed as an imperative (“be high/exalted…!”), however Dahood (II, p. 53f) makes a reasonably compelling argument for reading it as a substantive (verbal noun), parallel with dobK* (“weight, worth,” i.e., honor), noting the occurrence of hm*Wr as a proper noun (place name) in 2 Kings 23:36. The couplet is a declaration of YHWH’s sovereignty over all of creation (heaven and earth); as Creator and King of the universe, He is certainly able to act as Judge on behalf of the righteous.

Verse 7 [6]

“A net they have set up for my foot-steps,
(and) a noose for my throat;
they have dug a pit before my face—
(that) they would fall in (the) midst of it!”

The lament returns here in v. 7 [6], the meter now shifting to a 3+2 format, giving the lines a terse and more dramatic feel. The menacing and threatening actions of the wicked are again described, but in terms of crafty human hunters, rather than fierce lions (v. 5 [4]), going after their prey. I follow Dahood (II, p. 53) in explaining the word [pk in light of the Akkadian kippu(m), meaning a curved noose or snare. This provides a fitting parallel with tv#r# (“net”) in line 1; and note the similar conceptual pairing in Job 18:8-9. Occasionally the noun vp#n# (usually translated “soul”) carries the more concrete physical meaning of “throat”; such instances are limited to the poetic idiom, as here, where it does seem to fit the context.

I also follow Dahood in understanding the perfect verb in the final line (“they have fallen”) as a precative perfect—i.e., the Psalmist describing what he wishes to occur as something that has already happened. Here it has imprecatory force, as a kind of curse, calling down the judgment of God on his wicked adversaries. The idea of the wicked falling into the very trap they constructed occurs frequently in the Psalms, and is part of the imprecation.

Verses 8-12 [7-11]

Verses 8-9 [7-8]

“Set firm (is) my heart, O Mightiest,
set firm (is) my heart—
I will sing and make music!
Awaken, my <liver>, awaken!
(with) the lyre and harp
I will awaken (the) dawn!”

The lament of the prior stanza now gives way to an expression of praise, anticipating YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. As is fitting for the Psalmist, as a poet and musical composer, this praise relates to his artistic inspiration. These two verses have an off-beat structure, consisting of two 3+2+2 tricolons. The first line of each emphasizes the Psalmist’s inspiration, referring to his inner organ (i.e., the source of thought and feeling/emotion), located specifically in the “heart” (bl@) and “liver” (db@K*, rather than MT dobK*). This inspiration leads to singing and music-making (esp. on the lyre or harp [roNK! / lb#n@]).

Verse 10 [9]

“I will throw you (praise) among the peoples, Lord,
I will make music to you among the nations.”

A more conventional expression of praise by the Psalmist, promising to make public what YHWH has done for him; this also refers to the dissemination of the Psalmist’s work as an artist and musician.

Verse 11 [10]

“For great unto (the) heavens (is) your goodness,
and unto (the) vapors (of heaven) your firmness!”

This couplet marks the beginning of Psalmist’s praise to YHWH. The deliverance which he expects to receive from God (in response to his prayer) is described as being related to the characteristic “goodness” (ds#j#) and “firmness” (tm#a#, i.e., trustworthiness) of YHWH. Both terms must be understood primarily in terms of His faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. This pairing of nouns also occurred in the third line of v. 4, which probably should be viewed as an explanatory gloss (cf. above).

Verse 12 [11]

“(Your) height is over (the) heavens, O Mightiest,
(and) your weight over all of the earth!”

If the greatness of YHWH’s attributes extends even beyond the heavens (v. 11), this is because He Himself is greater than the heavens. These lines are identical with v. 6 [5] (cf. above), but they make more sense here, and their inclusion at the earlier location could conceivably be the result of a secondary interpolation. In any case, the lines here make for a fitting conclusion to the Psalm, as a declaration of the sovereignty of God over the entire universe.

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 56 (Part 2)

Psalm 56, continued

The second half of the Psalm generally follows the pattern of the first half (vv. 2-7 [1-6], cf. the previous study), with a pair of short stanzas separated by a central refrain. The tone of lament in the first half gives way to the expectation that YHWH will deliver the Psalmist, rescuing him from his wicked adversaries.

VERSES 8-14 [7-13]

Verse 8 [7]

“Against trouble make escape for <us>!
In (your) anger (against the) peoples,
bring (them) down, O Mightiest!”

Metrically, this opening verse is somewhat irregular; it can be read, loosely, as an odd 2+4 couplet, but much better as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. However, in that format, the thought of the last two lines is divided; conceptually, a longer 4-beat line would be more appropriate: “In (your) anger, bring down (the) peoples, O Mightiest!”

There are textual difficulties related to the first line. The verb fl^P* of the MT, meaning “(make) escape, deliver,” would seem to require a first-person plural suffix on the preposition l= that follows (rather than the 3rd person plural of the MT). This problem could be solved by emending oml* (“for them”) to Wnl* (“for us”), while Dahood (II, p. 44; cf. also I, p. 173) would read wml (here and in other OT poetic passages) as a first-person form, without emendation. This is the solution I have followed above. Another possibility is to emend the verb, from fl^P* to sl^P* (cf. Kraus, p. 525), with the meaning “weigh, balance,” indicating a context of judgment against the wicked:

“Weigh out (judgment) to them for (the) trouble (they cause)”

It is also possible to preserve the MT as it stands, reading it as a kind of rhetorical question:

“Against (their) trouble can there be escape for them?”

Verse 9 [8]

“My waving may you yourself recount,
set my tears (as record) on your skin.
Are (they) not (there) in your account?”

This tricolon may be viewed as a straightforward 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by an additional short 2-beat line. The question posed in the extra line adds to the tension and dramatic effect of the poetic scene. The basic image is of YHWH writing down an account (rps) of the Psalmist’s suffering. The meaning of the second line, in this regard, is somewhat ambiguous: the image could be of setting (vb <yc!) down his tears on (B=) a piece of parchment (“skin,” dan)), or of setting them in a skin-bottle to preserve a record of them. There is an obvious word-play between dan) (nœ°¼) in the second line and don (nô¼) in the first line; the latter refers to a waving movement, and the parallel with tears suggests a gesture of mourning or lamentation.

The written accounting of the Psalmist’s suffering, and thus also of the actions by the wicked, is essential for YHWH to bring judgment (against the wicked) on his behalf.

Verse 10 [9]

“When (the one)s hostile to me turn back,
(falling) behind on (the) day I call (out),
(by) this I shall know that (you are the) Mightiest for me!”

Metrically, this verse is a tricolon similar to v. 9, but with an extended 3-beat (3+3+3) format. The Psalmist anticipates that YHWH, indeed, will bring judgment on his behalf, rescuing him from his enemies. The initial particle za*, a demonstrative adverb indicating time and place, is best rendered here as “when”. When what the Psalmist describes happens, then by this (hz#) it will truly be confirmed for him (“I shall know”) that YHWH is the Mightiest One (<yh!l)a$, i.e., ‘God’).

The covenant bond between the righteous Israelite (and/or the king as the representative of Israel) is indicated by the statement that YHWH is God “for me” —He is my God, and I am His faithful servant. The image of the  Psalmist’s enemies “turning back” (vb bWv) and falling back (roja*) suggests a military encounter, which would be appropriate to the royal background of this and many other Psalms. However, it tends to be the case that this royal/military setting of the Psalms has become generalized, referring in a more common sense to God delivering His people (the righteous ones) from the forces of wickedness.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“In (the) Mightiest, (in) whose word I boast,
[in YHWH, in whose word I boast,]
in (the) Mightiest I find protection!
I shall not be afraid—
what can man do to me?”

This central refrain is virtually identical to that in the first half of the Psalm (v. 5 [4], cf. the discussion in the previous study). The line in square brackets is a gloss that, almost certainly, preserves the original form of the opening line, where the Divine name hwhy (YHWH) occurs rather than the title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’). This Psalm is part of the ‘Elohist’ Psalter, in which Elohim is consistently substituted for YHWH (cf. above). Verse 12 here also has “man” instead of “flesh” in v. 5, but the meaning is the same.

Verse 13 [12]

“Upon me, Mightiest, (are my) vows to you;
I will complete (them) casting (praise) to you.”

The Psalmist’s “vows” (<yr!d*n+) relate to his deliverance by YHWH; that is, once YHWH has acted to rescue him, he is obligated to fulfill what he has promised—his vows are binding upon (lu^) him. Principally, he is obligated to give praise to God, and that is how the Psalmist will “complete” (vb <l^v*) his obligation. As discussed repeatedly, the root <lv in the Psalms typically is used in a covenant context. The protection YHWH provides to his faithful servants (i.e., the righteous) is part of His covenant obligation.

The suffix ;– on ;yr@d*n+ should be read as an object suffix—i.e., “(my) vows to you,” rather than a possessive (“your vows”).

Verse 14 [13]

“For you (will) snatch my soul from death,
so as (surely) to prevent my feet from falling,
(and thus) to walk before (the) face of (the) Mightiest
in (the) light of the Living (One).”

The perfect verb form T*l=X^h! may be translated in the simple past tense, with the Psalmist describing a condition after the deliverance from YHWH that he anticipates (as an answer to his prayer). However, it is perhaps even better to understand the verb here as a precative perfect—that is, the Psalmist describes what he hopes (and expects) will happen as something that has already occurred. The verb lx^n` is another way of referring to the idea of being delivered or rescued by God; the verb fl^P* in verse 8 [7] (cf. above) denotes making an escape, while lx^n` carries the more vivid and concrete meaning of being “snatched away” from danger.

The negative particle (al)) in the second line, prefixed by the interrogative particle –h&, is a bit unusual (and difficult to translate) in context. Literally, emphasizing the interrogative aspect, the line would read: “will not my feet (be kept) from falling?” But this would be extremely awkward within the poetry of the verse; thus, it is better to understand the prefixed particle as an expression of certainty.

By keeping the Psalmist’s feet from falling (yj!D=), YHWH enables him to walk securely, upright and straight ahead (as befits the righteous). This walk takes place “before (the) face” of God (preserving the concrete sense of <yn]P*, “face”). The plural <yY]j^ (lit. “living [one]s”) in the final line should be understood as an intensive plural, and as a Divine title (“Living [One]”), precisely parallel with <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One]”). The expression “light of the Living (One)” is clearly parallel with “face of the Mightiest (One)”.

This verse is conceptually parallel with v. 7 [6] at the close of the first half of the Psalm, sharing the combined motifs of feet/walking and life. However, verse 7 is part of the Psalmist’s lament, referring to the desire of the wicked to destroy the life (soul) of the righteous. Here, we find quite the opposite, with God protecting the life of the righteous. Moreover, the path before God ultimately leads to the blessed/heavenly afterlife in His presence; as the Living One, YHWH is the source of (eternal) life for those who trust in Him.

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 56 (Part 1)

Psalm 56

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (v. 4 [3])

This Psalm has an interesting bipartite structure, with two parts (vv. 2-7 [1-6] & 8-14 [7-13]), each of which contains a pair of stanzas separated by a central refrain (vv. 5, 11-12). This refrain is an expression of trust in YHWH, in the midst of a lament. The lament-character of Psalm 56 is stronger in the first division. 

Like Psalm 16 (cf. the earlier study), this Psalm is described in the heading as a <T*k=m! (miktam), a term whose meaning remains uncertain. It has been related to the word <t#K# (“gold”), and to a separate root <tk that only occurs once elsewhere in the Old Testament (Jer 2:22). The Greek Septuagint and Aramaic Targums translate it as referring to an inscription on a stone slab or pillar (Grk sthlografi/a).

In addition to this term, we have the musical direction that the Psalm is to be performed on (lu^, according to) “Doves of (the) distant terebinths[?],” which was apparently a well-known melody. The meter of the Psalm is irregular, though a three-beat (3+3) couplet format tends to dominate.

The superscription marks it as another Psalm “belonging to David”, associating its composition with the David tradition narrated in 1 Samuel 27.

VERSES 2-7 [1-6]

Verse 2-3 [1-2]

“Show favor to me, Mightiest, for men gasp (after) me,
all the day (long) their jaws press (on) me;
they would trample me, (those) watching me all the day,
for many (are those) fighting against me!”

These opening couplets show that we are dealing with another prayer-Psalm, characterized as a lament. That is to say, the Psalmist laments his current suffering to YHWH, asking God to deliver him in his time of distress. There are several points of wordplay in these couplets, which are lost completely if one is not careful to preserve the nuances in translation. First, we have the verb [a^v*, for which there are two separate roots, one (I) meaning something like “gasp, pant (after)”, and the second (II) meaning “trample, crush”. In my view, the first meaning is intended in v. 2, depicting the image of a hostile pursuer, like an animal pursuing after its prey. In verse 3, it is the second meaning, viz. that the pursuer intends to crush/trample the protagonist.

The second wordplay involves the consonants <jl. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 42) in reading <jl in v. 2 as a contracted form of the dual <h#yj@l= (> <j@l#), “their (two) jaws”. The idea of jaws pressing on the Psalmist fits well the imagery in v. 2 of an animal chasing after its prey. In verse 3, however, we have the root <j^l*, “fight”, as an active participle characterizing the enemies (plural) of the Psalmist, parallel with the verbal noun rr@ov, “(one) watching,” in the hostile sense of laying in ambush, eying something to devour, etc.

Metrically, verse 2 is a 4+3 couplet, while v. 3 is in the regular 3-beat (3+3) format. The use of <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’), presumably in place of an original hwhy (YHWH), marks this Psalm as part of the ‘Elohist’ Psalter.

Verse 4 [3]

“O (Most) High, (on the) day I am afraid
I will seek protection in you.”

A proper 3-beat (3+3) couplet is achieved by including the last word of v. 3 (according to the standard verse division) at the beginning of v. 4. While the noun <orm* can be understood as a locative (place) noun, meaning a “high/exalted place,” it is best read here as a Divine title, “High/exalted One”, i.e. “(Most) High”. The verb jf^B*, as we have seen, occurs frequently in the Psalms; it fundamentally denotes seeking (and/or finding) protection, but it also connotes the trust that one has in such protection. Given the possible locative meaning of <orm* we should understand by it the idea of YHWH as a place of protection for the righteous. A place situated high up, on an inaccessible location, is especially secure.

Verse 5 [4]

“In (the) Mightiest, (in) whose word I boast,
in (the) Mightiest I find protection!
I shall not be afraid—
what can flesh do to me?”

This central refrain, essentially repeated in vv. 11-12, is an expression of trust in YHWH, even in the midst of the Psalmist’s lament over his suffering. Again the verb jf^B* is used, but here perhaps with the nuance of finding protection (rather than seeking protection, v. 4). The first line is a bit difficult, but it is probably best to read it in a straightforward and conventional sense: “In (the) Mightiest I praise/boast (in) His word”. This can be rendered better poetically by treating the o– suffix on orb*D= (“his word”) like a relative pronoun, i.e., “(in) whose word”.

The meter of this quatrain is irregular, but has a certain symmetry—3+2+2+3. The language in the last two lines is simple and direct.

Verse 6 [5]

“All the day they cause me pain with (their) words,
upon me all their thoughts (are) for evil.”

Following the central refrain in v. 5, a second short lament-stanza follows in vv. 6-7. The same basic theme, of the Psalmist lamenting his suffering at the hands of his enemies, picks up from vv. 2-3. There is a clear bit of contrastive wordplay between the word of God (“his word”) in v. 5, and the words of the wicked here in v. 6. The Hebrew (MT) literally reads “my words”, but it is much preferable to read the y– suffix as an object suffix—i.e., their words against me. This meaning is virtually required by the parallel with “their thoughts” in line 2. Both the words and the thoughts (i.e., intention, plans, designs) of the wicked are directed against the righteous. The verb bx^u* (I) in line 1 denotes causing pain (or sorrow).

Verse 7 [6]

“They gather and hide themselves, they (do),
my heel-tracks they watch as (I) walk,
they lay in wait for my soul!”

Though there are admittedly difficulties in this verse, it is possible to make sense of it, following the MT and with no real emendation. Metrically, I read it as a tricolon, an expansion of a 3-beat couplet with an additional 2-beat line included for dramatic effect, as befits the close of the first part of the Psalm.

The two verbs in line 1 form a proper pair: (1) WrWgy` (vb rWg, I/II), “they band/gather together”; and (2) WnyP!x=y~ (vb /p^x*), “they hide themselves”. Clearly the image is of a group of conspirators laying in wait for an attack/ambush. The pronoun hM*h@ (“they”), assuming that is the correct reading of the text (cf. Dahood, II, p. 44), is emphatic (placed in final position).

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 44) in repointing MT rv#a&K^ as rv@a)K=—Qal participle of the verb rv^a* (“walk, go straight”) with prefixed preposition. This gives a clear and vivid sense to the line: “they watch my heel-tracks [i.e. footsteps] as (I am) walking”. The short final line gives the climax, pointing out the hostile (and violent) intention of the wicked: “they lay in wait [vb hw`q* I] for my soul!”

The second half of the Psalm (to be discussed in next week’s study) follows the same basic format as the first half, though the tone of lament gradually gives way to the hope and expectation that YHWH will answer the Psalmist’s prayer and deliver him from his distress.

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 3)

Psalm 55, continued

We conclude our study of this Psalm with an examination of the third and final section:

The first section (the lament) was discussed in Part 1, the second section, in which the Psalmist prays to YHWH, asking God to act on his behalf, was studied last week in Part 2; now we proceed to the final section, in which YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer is anticipated, with the expectation of deliverance.

VERSES 17-24 [16-23]

Verse 17 [16]

“(And) I, to (the) Mightiest I called,
and YHWH saved me.”

This initial couplet has a 3+2 meter, generally returning to the metrical pattern of the first (lament) section. The answer to the Psalmist’s prayer in this section, balances the opening lament. Though Ps 55 is categorized as an ‘Elohist’ Psalm, in which the term/title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest [One]”, i.e., God) is used in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH), here both of the ‘names’ are used. The imperfect verb forms are used to express past action, as is often the case in Hebrew poetry.

Verse 18 [17]

“(At) sunset and daybreak and mid-day,
I muttered and I moaned,
and He heard my voice.”

The 3+2 meter continues here in v. 18, though, apparently, the couplet has been expanded into a tricolon (3+2+2) with the inclusion of an extra line. The extended rhythm heightens the tension and provides a dramatic effect.

The extent of the Psalmist’s suffering is summarized by the three periods of the day: the setting of the sun (br#u#, i.e., evening), the breaking through of daylight (rq#b), daybreak, i.e., morning), and a point between the two (halves) of day (dual <y]r^h(x*, i.e., mid-day, noon). All this time (i.e., all day long), he makes his lament and prayer to God. This activity is summarized by the two verbs in line 2, which I translate concisely as “I muttered and I moaned,” in order to capture the rhythm of the line. Both verbs, however, have a relatively wide semantic range and can be difficult to translate. The verb j^yc! generally refers to the act of going over a matter (repeatedly), either in one’s mind or in speech; often an agitated state of mind is implied, and it can specifically connote the act of complaining or even repenting. The second verb (hm*h*) is more intensive, denoting the primal act of moaning, roaring, howling, etc, like an animal.

Verses 19 [18]

“He ransomed my soul in fullness from (the) approach against me,
for with many they were standing (against) me.”

The MT as it stands appears to be an elongated 4+3 couplet. However, some commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 519) view the text of vv. 19-20 as corrupt and requiring some measure of emendation. Essentially the verse describes the nature of how YHWH answered (or is expected to answer) the Psalmist’s prayer. God rescues the soul of the Psalmist from his enemies.

This rescue is described using the verb hd*P*, which refers to the making of a payment to achieve the transfer of ownership; it can be used in a more general or figurative sense for the deliverance of someone out of bondage or oppression, etc, and the English “ransom” captures this all fairly well. Based on this ransom/payment idea, there likely are three aspects of meaning for the noun <olv* that are involved here: (1) the soul has been rescued in its fullness (i.e., completely safe/intact), (2) the ransom was paid in full, and (3) the soul is allowed to go free/safe in peace.

There is indeed a military context to the imagery. The Psalmist’s soul is rescued “from (the) approach” (br*Q&m!) of his enemies, and the noun br*q= can specifically refer to a hostile encounter or battle. Moreover, the crowd of “many” (<yB!r^) enemies suggests the image of an attacking army.

Verse 20 [19]

“(The) Mighty (One) heard and answered them,
even (He the) Ancient (One) sitting, [Selah]
in that there is no changing for them,
and they do not fear (the) Mightiest.”

The lines of verse 20 are admittedly difficult, and may be corrupt; the situation is complicated by the odd placement of the hl*s# (Selah) marker apparently in the middle of the verse. If the Masoretic text and verse division is correct, then we have a quatrain—a pair of irregular, but conceptually (and syntactically) related, couplets. This may explain the curious placement of the Selah-marker—i.e., the pause is intended to make clear the shift in subject/person between the second and third lines. This, if correct, strongly increases the likelihood that the second line does not refer to the enemies of the Psalmist, but to YHWH.

The meaning of the second line is thoroughly obscure and ambiguous (at least to us). The noun <d#q# could have several different meanings in context here:

    • It could refer to a confrontation, either from the enemies of the Psalmist set against him, or by YHWH against his enemies.
    • It could refer to sitting in the front/first position
    • It could indicate a geographic location, in the east (sitting/dwelling in the east)
    • It could be a temporal designation, i.e., times long before, in old/ancient times.

In my view, the latter is correct, and <d#q# should be read as a divine epithet of El-YHWH, meaning something like “the Ancient (One)”, as in Deut 33:27. Probably the participle bv@y) (“sitting”) should be understood literally, in reference to God sitting in judgment.

If the word-division of the MT in the first line is correct, and if the suffix <– on the second verb is an object suffix (3rd person plural), then this may explain the placement of the Selah-marker. The first line would read “(The) Mighty (One) heard and answered them“. After the second line, which further describes God sitting in judgment (by which he ‘answers’ the wicked), the final two lines refer back to “them” (i.e., the wicked). The Psalmist (or a later editor) may have wished to avoid any possible (grammatical) misunderstanding, which could happen if these four lines were read/recited together quickly; the pause helps to clarify the situation being described.

The wicked will not repent or change their ways (“there is no changing for them”), primarily because they have “no fear of God”. They are thus deserving of the severe punishment they face from YHWH in the judgment.

Verse 21 [20]

“He sent out his hands on (the) bonds of peace,
he broke his binding (agreement).”

The shift in subject from YHWH (“He”) to the friend (“he”) who betrayed the Psalmist can be confusing at first glance, and raises the possibility that the the Selah-pause marker was intended to be placed at the end of verse 20 (rather than in the middle, cf. above). A pause at that point would help to clarify the shift in subject. This friend-turned-betrayer was introduced in vv. 13-15 [12-14] (cf. the discussion in Part 2).

The word wym*l)v=B! is almost impossible to translate with precision in English and still preserve any sense of the poetry. As discussed above, the noun <olv* has a wide range of meaning. Fundamentally, it means “fullness, completion”, but it is often used specifically in the context of a covenant bond, and that is certainly the case here, where <olv* is parallel with tyr!B= (“binding [agreement]”, i.e., covenant). Here <lv denotes one who is obligated to fulfill the terms of the agreement, establishing a bond of unity, welfare, and peace between those bound by the same agreement. For lack of a better alternative, I have translated the plural above as “bonds of peace”. By betraying the Psalmist, this person broke the binding agreement between them and violated the ‘bond of peace’.

Metrically, this verse returns to the 3+2 couplet pattern of the section.

Verse 22 [21]

“Smooth from cream were (the words of) his mouth,
but a (hostile) encounter (was in) his heart;
soft (indeed) were his words from oil,
but they (were) open (sword)s.”

My translation distorts somewhat the meter of these lines, which in the Hebrew are a pair of metrically similar 3+2 couplets (following the pattern of this section). The two couplets also exhibit similar antithetical parallelism, contrasting the smooth words (i.e., friendly and alluring) of this person with the hostile and wicked intention of his heart.

Grammatically, the preposition /m! (“from”) is used, in the first line of each couplet, in a comparative sense; in English idiom, the lines would properly read:

“Smoother than cream were (the words of) his mouth

(indeed) softer than oil were his words…”

The same sort of military imagery is used here (including the noun br*q=, “approach, encounter”), as in v. 19 [18] (cf. above). Probably this imagery is figurative, used in a general sense for the ‘attacks’ of the wicked; however, the royal background of many Psalms also allows for the possibility that an actual political-military rebellion is involved (i.e., against the king).

Verse 23 [22]

“Throw upon YHWH that given (to) you,
and He will hold you (up);
He will not give, (even) into (the) distant (future),
(any) shaking for the righteous.”

The sudden inclusion of a proverbial exhortation here in v. 23 may seem peculiar, but it is important to remember that the Psalms have been influenced considerably by Wisdom traditions. Besides this, in a good many Psalms, the closing verses show signs of adaptation to a communal worship setting, a likely indication that an original composition has been adapted for use in public worship.

The two couplets are parallel, with the first line of each playing on the concept of giving—using the different (but conceptually related) roots bhy and /tn. The noun bh*y+ literally means “something given”, but here the implication is that it refers to something placed upon a person as a burden. The exhortation is to “throw” this burden onto YHWH, and he will hold it for you (meaning also that he will hold you up, i.e., sustain/support you, in the process).

This idea of firm support is expressed in the second couplet in a negative sense, as a lack of any shaking (fom, i.e., slipping, faltering). Not only does YHWH support the righteous, but He also will not do (lit. will not give [vb /t^n`]) anything that will cause the righteous to slip and fall.

For a different way of reading these lines in detail, cf. the discussion in Dahood, II, pp. 37-8.

Verse 24 [23]

“But you, O Mightiest, will bring them down
to (the) Pit of destruction,
(these) men of blood and deceit!
They will not reach half their days,
while I find protection in you!”

Verse 23 [22] is best viewed as an parenthetical aside, if not an editorial insertion (cf. above); verse 24 [23] properly continues the thought from v. 22 [21]. The Psalmist expects that, in answering his prayer, YHWH will bring judgment upon his enemies (the wicked), including the friend who betrayed him. This judgment entails an untimely death, as is clear from the directional verb dr^y` (in the Hiphil, “bring down“) and the expression “pit of destruction” (tj^v^ ra@B=, cf. Psalm 7:16; 9:16; 16:10; 30:10; 35:7; 49:10).

This verse has a complex (and dramatic) poetic structure. It begins with a triad (3+2+3 meter), perhaps best viewed as a 3-beat (3+3) couplet expanded with an intervening 2-beat line (for dramatic effect). The intervening line consists of the terse expression “pit of destruction”, qualifying what it means for YHWH to “bring down” the wicked (i.e., where it is that He brings them). The syntax is clear from the surrounding couplet:

“But you, O Mightiest, will bring them down
(these) men of blood and deceit!”

The pairing of blood (i.e., violence) and deceit is a typical characterization of the wicked, and provides a neat summary of their wicked behavior. The plural <ym!d* (lit. “bloods”) is used for acts of violence, even when there is no actual shedding of blood. For the interpretation of <ym!d* here as a reference to images (idols), derived from the root hm*D* I (“be like”), cf. Dahood, II, p. 39 (and I, pp. 31f).

The Psalm concludes with a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet, contrasting the fate of the wicked and the righteous. The wicked will meet with an untimely death, expressed by the idea of reaching only half (vb hx*j*) of their days. This should not be read in an overly concrete sense, as if it were limited to a shortened life-span here on earth; it can also be understood in terms of missing out on a blessed afterlife (with God), doomed simply to dwell in the realm of the dead. By contrast, the righteous finds protection (vb jf^B*, used frequently in the Psalms) in YHWH, and so has his/her life preserved and kept safe, even into the Age to Come (i.e. the blessed afterlife).

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 2)

Psalm 55, continued

Here is a reminder of the three-part structure of this Psalm:

The first section (the lament) was discussed in the previous study (Part 1); here we turn to the second section, in which the Psalmist prays to YHWH, asking God to act on his behalf.

There is an interesting dramatic structure to this section. The prayer takes the form of an imprecation, in which the Psalmist would bring a curse down on his enemies. The imprecation frames the section in vv. 10-12, 16; however, in vv. 13-15 the protagonist focuses on a specific enemy, addressing him directly, as a supposed friend who has betrayed him.

VERSES 10-16 [9-15]

Verse 10 [9]

“Confuse (them), my Lord,
bring division to their tongue;
for I have seen (much) violence
and strife in the (great) city.”

The Masoretic text as it stands suggests a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets. Each line of the first couplet begins with an imperative, by which the Psalmist calls on YHWH to act. In the second line it is gL^P^, from the root glp (“split, divide”); in which case, the matching imperative uL^B^ in the first line would have to derive from a second root ulb II, meaning “confuse, confound,” rather than ulb I (“swallow”). This second root is similar in meaning to llb, which which it would be related. If the MT is correct, then we would seem to have here a poetic allusion to the Tower of Babel tradition; and the Psalmist’s prayer-curse calls upon YHWH to repeat his action in the Babel episode (Gen 11:7ff).

Dahood (II, p. 33) takes a different approach, reading glp as the noun gl#P# (“split, division”), and as the object of the line (reading the first two lines of the verse as a single 4-beat line):

“Swallow [i.e. destroy], O Lord, (the) split of their tongue [i.e. their forked tongue]”

Kraus (p. 519) finds an even more serious problem with the MT and adopts a more radical emendation of the text. The city motif that is developed in vv. 11-12 tends to support the MT, with its apparent allusion to the Babel scene—Babel (= Babylon) being symbolic of the wicked city, as we see elsewhere in Old Testament tradition (and cf. Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21).

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“Day and night they go around her,
upon her walls (are) both trouble and toil;
in (the) midst of her (evil)s befall,
in (the) midst of her it never departs,
in her wide street, oppression and deceit!”

A 3-beat (3+3) couplet is followed by a slightly irregular 2-beat tricolon. These lines pick up from verse 10, and presumably the subject of the first line (“they go around her”) is the pair of “violence [sm*j*] and strife [byr!]” from v. 10. They “go around” (vb bb^s*) the city, functioning as watchmen; and they are joined by the pair of “trouble [/w#a*] and toil [lm*u*]” who stand guard on the walls. Thus the wicked city is governed and patrolled by wickedness.

Adding to this image of the wicked city is the double emphasis that great evils are in the midst of her, and that they never depart (vb vWm). The plural noun toWh^ is derived from the verb hw`h* I, and refers to some evil or calamity that falls upon (befalls) a person; I have translated the plural noun here with intensive verbal force. The expression “her wide/broad (street)” is generally synonymous with “in the midst of her” —we should understand a central square or main street. Both oppression (implying violence) and deceit—two fundamental characteristics of the wicked—are present, and especially active, in the heart of the wicked city.

Verse 13 [12]

“For (it was) not a hostile (one)
(who) brought on me (the) scorn that I bear,
nor (was it one) hating me
(who) brought great (slander) on me,
that I should hide myself from him.”

Both the meter and structure of this verse are difficult and problematic. However, the first four lines clearly form a pair of parallel couplets (with loose/uneven 2-beat meter). This specific opponent of the Psalmist is identified as neither a “hostile (one)” (vb by~a*) nor “(one) hating” (vb an@v*) him—that is to say, he was not obviously or openly an enemy.

The second line of each couplet is rather difficult. In the first couplet, the difficulty is syntactical, with the MT reading “he reproached me and I bore (it)”. However, the relationship with the first line indicates that the phrase should be translated as a relative clause: “…who reproached me and I bore (it)”. The poetic sense of this line is improved if we treat the w-conjunction on the second verb like a relative particle (cf. Dahood, II, p. 34): “…who brought the scorn on me that I bear”.

In the second line of the second couplet, the difficulty lies in the specific meaning of the verb ld^G` (Hiphil stem, “make grow, make great”) in context. Literally, the phrase would be “he made great over me” (or possibly, “he grew over me”). However, as in the first couplet, this second line also should be read as a relative clause, with a wicked act implied (such as slandering someone), i.e. “…who brought great (slander) over me”.

The final line (“that I should hide myself from him”), as a coda to the two couplets, relates to the idea that this person was not an obvious enemy (at first) to the Psalmist, implying that we was a friend of sorts, so that the Psalmist would not have felt the need to protect himself from this person.

Verses 14-15 [13-14]

“But (it was) you, a man of my (own) order,
my companion and (one) being known by me,
(so) that as one we had sweet intimacy,
in (the) house of (the) Mightiest,
we walked in (the) surging (crowd).”

Verses 14-15 make clear what was implied in v. 13—viz., that this enemy was a man previously considered by the Psalmist to be a friend. He was of the same social rank (lit. “order,” Er#u@) as the Psalmist, both a companion ([WLa^) and someone well-known to him.

The second couplet, expanded into a tricolon, indicates that the Psalmist and this man had some measure of intimacy in their friendship. The noun dos connotes intimate conversation, and the verb qt^m* refers to the fact that the two men had a number of “sweet” moments together. These moments are specifically located in the “house of God”, which suggests the occasion of religious festivals. If the Psalm preserves a royal background, they it could also refer to the king and his court (with his loyal vassals) attending religious festivities in the Temple. The motif in the final line, of walking together in a crowd, certainly suggests a festival and/or ritual occasion.

Verse 16 [15]

“May death take over them,
may they go down (to) Sheol living!
For evils (are) in their dwelling-places.”

Having addressed the friend who betrayed him, the Psalmist returns to the imprecation, asking God to bring a curse (of death) down upon his enemies. This imprecatory language naturally makes Christians and modern readers uncomfortable, but it was very much part of the ancient Near Eastern tradition, and many examples can be found in the Old Testament. This section allows Psalm 55 to be counted among the imprecatory Psalms.

Most commentators (correctly) follow the Qere, parsing the first word of the MT (Kethib) as two words: tw#m* yV!y~. Dahood (II, p. 34) would derive the verb form yV!y~ from the rare root hvy, otherwise attested (only) in the noun hY`v!WT (Job 12:16, etc); the basic denotation would seem to something like “advance, succeed”. The verb used together with the preposition lu^ could fairly be rendered “take over” (overtake): “May death [tw#m*] take over them”. Parallel with death is loav= (Sheol), the realm of the dead. To be taken alive into Sheol would be an especially stunning and miraculous form of death, only to be achieved through the power of God. Here, however, it is probably simply an exaggeration, as befits the curse-formula.

The final line hearkens back to the “wicked city” motif in vv. 10-12 (cf. above). Great evils (plur. tour*), passing through the wicked city, find lodgings in it. They are temporary lodgings—indicated by the noun rWgm*, derived from the root rWg, typically denoting a stranger who comes to live/reside within a population. Evil will only dwell in the city for a short time, since the wicked population will soon face death (viz., the Psalmist’s curse). That the wicked of the city would give lodgings to Evil is altogether proof of their wickedness.

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 “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).