Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 1)

Psalm 69

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 1-19 [18])

It is generally acknowledged that this Psalm, in comparison with the previous Ps 68, is in much better textual condition. Despite being comparable in size, the MT of Ps 69 presents far fewer textual and interpretive difficulties. Even so, its length and complexity remain challenging for commentators. In particular, there a number of different theories regarding the composition of the work. It seems likely that some measure of development and expansion took place, by which the current Psalm grew into shape, from a simpler/shorter original composition. The three-stage development posited by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 176) is worth citing as a plausible hypothesis:

    • Stage 1: A pre-exilic psalm of lament, consisting of vv. 2-5, 14c-19, 31; the structure of this Psalm follows a familiar pattern of lament-petition-praise.
    • Stage 2: The primary psalm was expanded, according its three structural elements: lament (vv. 6-14b), petition (vv. 20-30), praise vow (vv. 32-34).
    • Stage 3: The call to praise, mentioning the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem (vv. 35-37), was added to the end of the psalm; this last portion certainly comes from an exilic (or post-exilic) setting.

In terms of analyzing the structure of this lengthy Psalm, it seems best to keep things relatively simple, following a broad 3-part division that, I think, can be discerned rather clearly:

    • Part 1: Lament to YHWH (vv. 2-13)
    • Part 2: Prayer to YHWH (vv. 14-30)
    • Part 3: Praise to YHWH (vv. 31-37)

Metrically, a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format dominates; however, this is far from consistent. As one might expect, in a poem of such length and complexity, the meter varies considerably. Notable rhythmic departures from the 3+3 pattern will be mentioned in the notes.

The short heading to the Psalm simply marks this as another Davidic composition (“[belonging] to David”). The musical direction indicates that the lyric of the poem should be performed to the melody “Lilies” (<yN]v*ov); the same direction occurs in Psalm 45 (cf. also Ps 60:1; 80:1).

It should be mentioned that a significant portion of this Psalm, though fragmentary, survives in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa, covering vv. 1-19. This includes an interesting number of variant readings, compared with the Masoretic text. Some of these will be touched upon in the next study.

Part 1: Verses 2-13 [1-12]

Verse 2 [1]

“Save me, O Mightiest,
for there have come
waters up to (my) neck!”

The initial verse, which I read as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, presents, in sharp and vivid detail, the danger facing the protagonist of this Psalm. There are a number of instances (always in poetry) where the word vp#n#, usually translated “soul”, should be understood in the concrete physical sense of “neck, throat”; this is certainly one such instance. The image (symbolic of mortal peril) is of the Psalmist in water up to his neck, and the implication is that the waters are still coming. In other words, he is in danger of being submerged, and drowning.

Verse 3 [2]

“I have sunk in mire of (the) deep (sea),
and there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
and (the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

This verse expands the imagery in v. 2, expressed through a pair of 3+2 couplets. The first line in each couplet depicts a similar idea:

    • I have sunk in the mire of the deep (sea)
    • I have come in(to) the depths of the waters

Two different words are used to express the idea of deep water, watery depths: hl*Wxm= and qm*u&m^; both words essentially mean “deep place”. The noun /w@y` adds the motif of “mud, mire” to the portrait of the surging and swirling (lbv) waters.

The second line of each couplet is also parallel. The idea of having no “place to stand” (dm*u(m*) is followed by the more dramatic image of the waters “engulfing”(vb [f^v*) the Psalmist.

Verse 4 [3]

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my eyes are finished,
from waiting for my Mighty (One).”

Following the idea of being submerged by water, in vv. 2-3, the image now shifts to one of being dried out. The Psalmist’s throat (/orG`, cf. the parallel with vp#n# in v. 2, above) is literally “burned” (vb rr^j*), best understood in the sense of being “parched,” i.e., dry (and scorched) as in the desert. His throat is parched from all his “crying (out)” to God; this constant outcry has exhausted (vb ug~y`) him, and weakened him so that his eyes fail (lit. are finished). The parallelism in these couplets is chiastic:

    • I am exhausted crying out (to God)
      • my throat is burnt
      • my eyes are finished
    • (I have been) waiting for my God

That is, the Psalmist has been waiting for YHWH to answer his cry for help. Dahood (II, p. 156f) would read the prefixed –l on yh*l)al@ as a vocative— “…from waiting, O my Mighty (One)”. This is certainly possible; it would preserve the direct address to God throughout.

Metrically, in this verse we have a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets. The terse rhythm captures the urgency of the situation.

Verse 5 [4]

“Many (more) than (the) hairs of my head
(are those) hating me for nothing,
strong (those) putting an end to me,
my enemies (acting with) deceit.
That which I did not strip away,
must I then return (it)?”

Here it becomes clear that the imagery of being engulfed by deadly waters was figurative of the danger facing the Psalmist. In its place is the familiar idiom of the danger posed by hostile enemies and opponents, expressed through the regular verbal nouns (in the plural), “(one)s hating” (vb an@c*) and “(one)s being hostile” (vb by~a*). Their force is characterized by the verbs (in emphatic position) “be many” (bb^r*) and “be strong/mighty” (<x^u*). They are more numerous than the hairs on the Psalmist’s head (note the use of the preposition /m! [“from”] in the comparative sense, “[more] than”). In light of this expression, some commentators would emend the MT of the third line slightly, reading yt!M*x^m! (“from my locks[?]”) instead of yt^ym!x=m^ (“putting an to me”, vb tm^x*). This would create a parallelism with the first line:

    • “they are more numerous than the hairs of my head” /
      “they are more mighty than the locks (of) my (hair)”

For the possible meaning of hM*x^ as “lock(s of hair),” cf. the context of its use in Isa 47:2; Song 4:1, 3; 6:7.

The meter of v. 5 (as it stands) is irregular: a 3+2 couplet, followed by a 2+2 couplet. An additional 2-beat couplet seems to express the nature of the enemies’ action:

“That which I did not strip away
must I then return (it)”

Apparently the protagonist is accused of theft, expressed in terms of violent robbery, using the verb lz~G` (“pluck off, strip away, take [by force]”). The idea of having to return what he did not steal suggests the possibility of a legal action.

Verse 6 [5]

“Mightiest, you (indeed) know of my foolishness,
and my faults, from you they are not concealed.”

After the terse rhythm of vv. 2-5, the meter changes suddenly here, to a longer 4+3 couplet; then, for the remainder of this part of the Psalm, a 3-beat (3+3) couplet pattern becomes regular. The sense of danger and pleading is replaced by a more reasoned petition to YHWH. It expresses the traditional religious idea that a person’s sins and faults are known to God (the All-knowing), and cannot be kept away from Him.

Verse 7 [6]

“May they not be ashamed by me,
(those) looking to you, my Lord,
O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!
May they not be disgraced by me,
(those) seeking you, Mighty (One)
of Yisrael!”

The repeated prayer by the Psalmist here functions as an affirmation that he would conduct himself in a manner worthy of the righteous/faithful ones. It is an expression of his heart’s desire and intention. He would never willingly do the sort of thing of which his enemies accuse him.

The meter of this verse, as we have it, is truly unusual. It consists of a pair of uneven couplets—2+2 and 2+3; an extra 2-beat line is added to the first couplet, producing a 2-beat tricolon. The couplets are parallel in concept, and could be seen as 2-beat couplets with expanded honorifics applied to YHWH; I have tried to illustrate this with the poetic arrangement of the lines above.

The righteous are characterized as those “looking for” (vb hw`q* I) God and “seeking” (vb vq^B*) Him.

Verse 8 [7]

“For (it is) over you (that) I have carried blame,
(and) humiliation has covered my face.”

The Psalmist expresses here the real reason for the attacks by his wicked adversaries. It is because of (lit. “over”) his righteous devotion to YHWH (“over you”). It is for God’s sake that he is facing blame and disgrace from his accusers.

Verse 9 [8]

“A stranger I have become to my brothers,
and (one) foreign to (the) sons of my mother.”

His righteous conduct and devotion to YHWH has effectively made the Psalmist a stranger to his own people. This idea is expressed through two roots: (1) rWz and (2) rk^n`. I follow Dahood (II, p. 157) in separating the prefixed –m from rzwm, and attaching it (as an enclitic suffix <-) to the last word of the previous verse. This yields a smoother syntax. The first word of v. 9 would then be vocalized rz`w+.

Verse 10 [9]

“Indeed, ardor for your house consumes me,
and (the) scorn of (those) scorning you
has fallen upon me.”

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon, though this is a bit difficult to capture in translation. The noun hP*r=j# is the same as in v. 8, where I translated it “blame”; here the same idea is expressed through the harsher rendering “scorn” (with the connotation of insult, mockery, contempt). The plural of the noun would be properly captured in English by “insults”. The related verb [r^j* is used side by side with the noun, for emphasis and dramatic effect.

The noun ha*n+q! in line 1 is also a bit tricky to translate. It essentially denotes a strong attractive emotion; the typical translations, “zeal” and “jealousy” are perhaps too precise, and can be misleading. I have translated it above as “ardor,” implying an intense, faithful devotion to the things of God. The “house” could refer specifically to the Temple, or to the more general idea of God’s ‘household’. I translate the initial yK! here as an emphatic particle (“indeed…”). The line is cited in John 2:17, where the context certainly is the Jerusalem Temple (though given a unique Christological interpretation in that passage).

Verse 11 [10]

“When I poured out my soul with fasting,
it even came to be as scorn toward me.”

The idea seems to be that the Psalmist was mocked and abused for his intense religious devotion, expressed in terms of fervent fasting. Since fasting can effect a person’s mood and physical appearance, it may be this that is the brunt of his enemies’ ridicule.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 158) in repointing hkbaw as hk*B)a#w`, from the verb Eb^n` (= Ep^n`), meaning “pour (forth)”; cf. the noun Eb#n# (“spring [of water]”) in Job 28:11; 38:16. This seems to make better sense of the line.

Verse 12 [11]

“And I gave rough cloth for my garment,
and I became for them as a byword.”

This verse essentially expresses the same idea as v. 11. The Psalmist’s religious devotion, so intense as to verge on an extreme asceticism, was a source of mockery to people. The noun lv*m* has a relatively wide range of meaning, and is not easily translated; there is not really an English equivalent. The basic connotation here is that the Psalmist becomes an example of foolishness, the butt of insulting jokes that are spread around. The translation “byword,” though not common in English, perhaps is closest to the mark; however, one should not exclude the idea of the Psalmist becoming a kind of ‘proverbial’ figure, in the sense of being a (comical or pathetic) example of the foolishness of religious devotion.

Verse 13 [12]

“About me they rehearse, (those) sitting (at the) gate,
even songs strummed (by those) feasting on drink.”

The Psalmist as a source of mockery, as an example of silly religious devotion, extends even to devising catchy ditties and songs sung at drinking feasts. The verb j^yc! here should be understood in the sense of “rehearse” —that is, of going over a little song in one’s head. Probably the idea is that mocking songs devised by people “sitting at the gate” eventually come to be sung by boisterous drinkers at feasts. The noun hn`yg]n+ properly denotes a song (or musical composition) performed on a stringed instrument.

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).

March 13: Psalm 68:33-36

Strophe 9: Psalm 68:33-36 [32-35]

Strophe 8 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 33 [32]

“(You) kingdoms of the earth,
sing to (the) Mightiest,
make music (to our) Lord,”

The opening verse of this final strophe is a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. As previously noted, a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker occurs after the first verse of the third strophe in each part of the Psalm. Probably, the initial verse is meant to establish the musical pattern for the strophe, in some way.

This verse continues the theme of the previous strophe (cf. the previous note), calling on the nations (“kingdoms of the earth”) to join Israel in giving praise to YHWH. They are to sing and make music, just as in the scene of worship depicted in the first strophe of this part (strophe 6, vv. 25-28). In vv. 29-32, the emphasis was on the surrounding nations submitting to YHWH, resulting in their coming to Jerusalem to pay homage to Him. This homage is now expected to take the form of worship.

Verse 34 [33]

“to (the One) riding on (the) heavens,
(the) heavens of (times) before,
see!—He gives (forth) with His voice,
(the) voice of (His) strength.”

It is probably best to see this verse, syntactically, as continuing the thought of the previous v. 33. The One to whom the nations are to give praise, YHWH, the God of Israel (“my Lord”), is further identified as the Creator God and King of the universe who “rides on the heavens”. This is a variation of YHWH’s designation in v. 5, as “Rider on the Clouds” (“[one] riding on [the] clouds”); cf. also Deut 33:26. For more on this expression, cf. the earlier note on strophe 2.

The “heavens” on which YHWH ‘rides’ are further described as “(the) heavens of (times) before [<d#q#]”; this alludes to the primeval period at the beginning of Creation, when El-YHWH subdued the dark and chaotic waters, bringing order to the universe. His control over the waters, means, in particular, that He is able to bring life-giving rain in its season. The language and imagery here is cosmological.

This is also so with regard to the “voice” that YHWH gives forth (vb /t^n`). Traditionally, in the ancient Near East, thunder was thought of as God’s voice. Indeed, typically in the Old Testament, thunder is referenced simply by the word loq (“voice”), just as it is here. It is a voice of incomparable strength (zu)) and power.

Verse 35 [34]

“Give (praise with) strength
to (the) Mightiest, High (One) of Yisrael,
His height and strength (are) above (the) clouds!”

This strength (zu)) of YHWH needs to be acknowledged correspondingly through the praise given to Him by humankind. I have tried to preserve something of the wordplay (completely lost in most translations) between vv. 34-35:

    • YHWH gives (forth) [/T@y]] His voice of strength [zu)]
    • People are to give [WnT!] acknowledgment (with their voices) to God’s strength [zu)]

This one instance where I follow Dahood (II, p. 152), in reading lu as a Divine title “High (One),” or “(Most) High” (cf. the root hlu and the related title /oyl=u# [±Elyôn]), rather than the preposition –lu^. Here the poetic context and syntax seems to require such a reading. The titles <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One]”) and lu^ (“High [One]”) correspond to the attributive nouns zu) (“strength, might”) and hw`a&G~ (“height, elevation,” i.e., majesty) in the following line. More to the point, “High (One) [lu] of Israel” precisely matches the expression “Mighty (One) [la] of Israel” in v. 36 (cf. below); and the validity of this reading is thus confirmed.

The final word, the plural noun <yq!j*v= more or less corresponds to <y]m^v* (“heavens”), but specifically in terms of the atmospheric vapors or “clouds”. As in v. 34, the preposition B= here means “(up)on”, but perhaps with the specific nuance of “above”. Dahood would read the meaning here as comparable to /m! (“from”) used in a comparative sense (“more/greater than”). This is certainly possible.

Verse 36 [35]

“(To be) feared (are you), Mightiest, from your holy places!
(The) Mighty (One) of Yisrael,
He (is the One) giving
strength and might (to His) people.
Blessed (be the) Mightiest!”

Metrically, this final verse is comprised of another 2+2+3 tricolon unit, bracketed by two exclamations of praise to YHWH—a longer 3-beat line (1) and a short 2-beat line (5). The central tricolon continues the theme of strength in this strophe. Previously, it was the strength/might of YHWH Himself that was emphasized; here, the focus is on how God, in His power, gives strength to His people (cf. the same idea expressed in v. 29). YHWH is described with the verbal noun (participle) /t@n), “(the one) giving,” i.e., the one who gives. It implies that this is characteristic of YHWH, reflecting regular activity, by which He acts/works to protect and strengthen His people.

The two nouns expressing what He gives to His people are more or less synonymous—zu) (used repeatedly in prior verses, cf. above) and hmx%y&T^—both essentially meaning “strength”. The latter noun occurs only here in the Old Testament, but other related words are more common: <x#u), hm*x=u*, <Wxu*. Possibly twmxut represents a feminine singular form, rather than the apparent feminine plural; cf. Dahood, II, p. 152. If a plural is intended, it should probably be understood in a collective or comprehensive (or intensive) sense.

The initial line of the verse continues the theme of YHWH’s dwelling-place that has run through most of the Psalm. Three different such dwellings have been emphasized: (1) His heavenly dwelling, (2) the mountain dwelling of Sinai, and (3) the Temple in Jerusalem (on ‘mount’ Zion). YHWH is to be acknowledged and worshiped in all these “holy places”. The final line repeats this point, in the simplest possible terms, with the declaration “Blessed [EWrB*] (be) the Mightiest!”

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).




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

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

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

Verse 29 [28]

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

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

“Your Mighty (One) commanded your strength”

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

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

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

Verse 30 [29]

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

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

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

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

Verse 31 [30]

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

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

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

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

Verse 32 [31]

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

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

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

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

March 12 (1): Psalm 68:25-28

Strophe 7: Psalm 68:25-28 [24-27]

Strophe 6 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 25 [24]

“They have seen your goings (forth), O Mightiest,
(the) goings of my Mighty (One),
my King, in the holy place.”

Metrically, this opening couplet begins with a 3-beat line, and forms a 3+2+2 tricolon, thus reversing the more typical pattern (2+2+3) of this Psalm.

The idea seems to be that, following the victorious entry of God’s people into the Promised Land, YHWH now takes up His new dwelling-place in the “holy place” on mount Zion. Having gone forth from His dwelling on mount Sinai, He now proceeds to the new sanctuary. Possibly the Psalm itself, in this final part, is meant ritually to reenact and commemorate this event. The opening verb “they have seen” implies a general audience, without any specific persons in mind.

The final prepositional expression, vd#Q)b^, is slightly ambiguous. Properly, it means “in the holy place,” i.e., God is present in His dwelling, in the sanctuary. However, the preposition B= can carry the specific meaning “into”, implying YHWH’s entry into His dwelling-place, but also (on occasion) a meaning similar to /m! (“from,” i.e., from within).

Verse 26 [25]

“(Those) singing go in front,
(and those) playing strings behind,
(and) in between (are the) maidens drumming.”

This verse gives us a clearer portrait of a ritual event, with a procession of musicians—singers, those playing stringed instruments, and young women playing tambourines/timbrels—commemorating YHWH’s entrance into His dwelling-place (the sanctuary of the Zion Temple).

Metrically, there is here a return to the more common 2+2+3 pattern of the Psalm, the inverse of the 3+2+2 tricolon of v. 25.

Verse 27 [26]

“In (their) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) water dug for Yisrael.”

The “assemblies” here refer, not just to the musicians mentioned in v. 26, but to all the people who are gathered for the ritual event. The MT vocalizes the verb as an imperative, but a Piel perfect form (Wkr=B@) seems more appropriate to the context. If an imperative is correct—i.e., calling upon the people to honor and worship YHWH—then the verb in the opening line of the strophe (War) should also be parsed as an imperative (“see, look…!”).

The identification of YHWH as the “Mighty One” (la@, here <yh!l)a$), in line 2, has greater religious and theological significance than may appear at first glance. For ancient Israelites, especially in the earlier periods, it was an important tenet of their religious identity, that their God YHWH was to be identified with the Creator God °E~l (la@). In the Patriarchal period, the latter was the principal name of God, but the former (YHWH) came into prominence with the Exodus, and Israel’s long migration from Sinai into Canaan. It was important that the Yahwist religion (worship of YHWH) be seen as a legitimate extension of the earlier °E~l-worship.

The final line associates YHWH with the ‘source of water’ for Israel, presumably alluding to His providential sustenance of the people during their wanderings in the Sinai. Several key traditions deal specifically with the need for water, and God’s provision—Exod 15:20-27; 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13; 21:16-18. The noun roqm* literally means the “place dug” (i.e., for water), but can also refer specifically the water that comes forth (i.e., a “fountain”); on the religious-symbolic use of the word, cf. Psalm 36:10[9]; Isa 51:1; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 13:1.

Some commentators would emend roqm* to read instead, e.g., ar*q=m!, which has essentially the same meaning as lh@q=m^ in line 1, viz., an assembly, a group of people called to assemble, in a particular location; cf. Kraus, p. 47. Dahood (II, p. 148) interprets the line in much the same way, but without emending the MT, deriving rwqm here from a separate root rwq meaning “call”. This, admittedly, gives a sensible parallelistic reading to the verse:

“In (the) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) congregation of Israel.”

Verse 28 [27]

“(See) there (is) Binyamin,
(the) little (one), leading them,
(the) princes of Yehudah (in) their throng,
(with the) princes of Zebulûn,
(and the) princes of Naptalî.”

Similar to the procession of musicians in v. 26, here we have a procession of the leaders of the various tribes. Specifically, the northern territories of Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned together with Benjamin and Judah. The meaning of the word <t*m*g+r! in line 3 is quite uncertain; the noun (presumably, hm*g+r!) occurs only here in the Old Testament. It has been related to late Hebrew <g~r* (“to stone”), and cognate roots in Aramaic and Arabic; and cf. the noun hm*g@r=m^ in Prov 26:8. Others would cite Akkadian rag¹mu, “cry out”, and Ugaritic rgm, “say, speak”. The context suggests a noisy throng, uttering words of praise to YHWH.

If this strophe is meant to record an actual ritual event, it must have been a grand affair, including chief men (rulers/princes, <yr!c*) from at least three other tribes, joining with the crowd of Judeans. To avoid cluttering the poetry, I have left all four tribe-names transliterated above, rather than translating them.

The northern tribes uniting with the south, under the rule of Jerusalem, was a key theme during the Kingdom period. It took on even greater meaning after the great schism (between north and south), the ideal of reuniting the tribes lasting through the Exile, and helping to fuel Messianic expectations in the post-Exilic period.

Metrically, there are five lines to this verse, best viewed as a 2+2+3 tricolon, followed by an additional 2-beat couplet; it yields a 2+2+3+2+2 meter.

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, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

March 11: Psalm 68:20-24

Strophe 6: Psalm 68:20-24 [19-23]

Strophe 5 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 20 [19]

“Blessed (be the) Lord
day (after) day,
He lifts the burden for us,
the Mighty (One) (is) our salvation!”

As previously noted, in the third strophe for each part of this Psalm, a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker occurs after the first verse. The reason for this is not at all clear. It may be that the opening verse in the final strophe functions as a refrain, setting the musical pattern, in some fashion, for the lines that follow.

Here, the opening verse consists of a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets, very much according to the overall metrical pattern of the Psalm. The familiar theme of salvation (hu*Wvy+) is established in this strophe; we may assume that the earlier thematic elements, involving the historical tradition of the Exodus/Conquest, and of YHWH’s cosmological role as a warrior, who fights on behalf of His people, are continued here.

The verb sm^u* denotes carrying a load or burden, but here the idea is surely that of God relieving His people of their burden; Dahood (II, p. 143f) would parse smu in this verse as a Piel privative form, specifically emphasizing the removal of a burden. The Exodus motif of Israel’s deliverance (by God) from bondage and hard labor in Egypt is likely in view. The definite article on la@ (la@h*) in the final line is presumably emphatic, perhaps emphasizing that YHWH (the Mighty [One]) Himself is the source of Israel’s salvation.

Verse 21 [20]

“The Mighty (One) (is indeed) for us
(the) Mighty (One) for (our) salvation,
and to YHWH (our) Lord (we owe)
(our) going forth from death.”

The first couplet of v. 21 essentially repeats the message of v. 20, the repetition itself having an emphatic function. Again the definite article on the first occurrence of la@ is emphatic—i.e., “the Mighty One is indeed for us…”. There is a subtle bit of wordplay, virtually imperceptible to us, in the double use of la@. I have translated the word the same way in both lines; however, it is worth noting that in the first line la@ functions as a proper name (“Mighty [One]”), while in the second line it is a more general term (“[the] mighty [one]”). This is practically identical to the way that we use the word “God” in English; to capture the distinction, we might translate the lines as:

El (is indeed) for us
the God for (our) salvation”

For ancient Israelites, of course, YHWH was identified with the Creator God (la@, El), and the Divine name is used here in the second couplet. This Yahwistic emphasis was an important aspect of Israelite religion that is sometimes overlooked by modern readers of the Old Testament. It is more prominent in the older layers (including the poetry) of the Old Testament Scriptures.

The plural noun toax*oT (“goings forth”) is probably being used in a comprehensive (or intensive) sense, with the reference being primarily to the Exodus. It could also encompass other episodes in Israelite history when YHWH worked salvation for His people. The preposition l= occasionally is used with a meaning similar to /m! (“from”), which would be required by the context here.

Verse 22 [21]

“Indeed, (the) Mightiest struck
(the) head of His enemies,
(the) crown He split (open)
(of him) walking about in his sins.”

Salvation for God’s people means defeat for His enemies, lit. “(those) hostile to Him”. Almost certainly an ordinary military action is implied, though this may be accompanied by supernatural events, such as we see recorded in the Exodus event at the Reed Sea, and in the defeat of Jabin/Sisera (Judges 4-5); the miraculous side of the enemies’ defeat is particularly emphasized in the poetic accounts (Song of the Sea, Song of Deborah).

The defeat is described by the action of YHWH striking (vb Jj^m*) their heads. I follow Dahood (II, p. 144f), in reading MT ru*c@ (“hair”) as a form of the verb ru^v* I (“split [open]”); this root is attested primarily by the noun ru^v^ (“opening, gate[way]”), but cognate occurrences of the verb are known in Ugaritic (¾²r) and Arabic (¾a²ara). This preserves a proper parallelism between the middle lines: “He struck | (their) head / (their) crown | He split”.

The final line, following the ordinary interpretation of the MT, is problematic:

“(of the one [?]) waking about in his sins”

While this rather banal description would certainly characterize the “enemies” of YHWH (i.e., the wicked), it seems awkward and slightly out of place at this point in the strophe. I am tempted to adopt the interpretation of Dahood (II, p. 145), who explains the aleph (a) in wym*v*a&B^ as a prosthetic aleph, and thus reads the word as a form of <y]m^v* (“heaven[s]”), rather than <v*a* (“sin, guilt”). The participle EL@h^t=m! (“walking about”) then would refer to YHWH, not the wicked person (cf. verse 25). Dahood would read the line as follows—

“going (forth) from His heavens”

which would continue the theme from the earlier strophes, emphasizing YHWH’s march alongside His people to the Promised Land, fighting their enemies (who are also His enemies) along the way, making war on their behalf.

Verse 23 [22]

“(The) Lord said:
‘From /v*B* I make (them) return,
return from (the) depths of (the) sea.'”

This verse, as it stands, is even more difficult and enigmatic than v. 22. To begin with, there is no object specified for the Hiphil (causative) verb byv!a*, used twice, in lines 2 and 3. The verb bWv means “turn (back)”, and the Hiphil form here thus means “I make turn (back), I make return”. Presumably the people Israel, God’s people, are the implied object. Moreover, the act of making them ‘return’ must be related in some way to the salvation He works on their behalf, defeating their enemies, etc.

The use of the idiom of “the depths [tolx%m=] of the sea” suggests a general reference to the rescue of His people out of grave danger. In view of this, it is unlikely that /v*B* in the prior line is another reference to Bashan (cf. verse 16). One suspects that a bit of wordplay is involved, which certainly would be typical of the Psalmist’s style. An answer is at hand, by explaining /vb (bšn) here as cognate to Ugaritic b¾n (cf. also Akkadian bašmu), a reference to the great mythic-cosmic Serpent (or Dragon) associated with the Sea (and the primeval waters). In ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth, the Creator God subdues the (dark and chaotic) primeval waters, an act often depicted in terms of defeated a great Serpent-monster. I discuss this mythic tradition in an earlier article. There are a number of references and allusions to this tradition in Old Testament poetry, including several in the Psalms; perhaps the most explicit reference is in Isa 27:1, where the cosmological event is given an eschatological interpretation (cp. in the book of Revelation).

It is significant that, in several passages, the defeat of the sea-monster is tied to the Exodus event (at the Reed Sea), and to the deliverance of the Israelite people from Egypt; cf. Isa 51:9-10; and note the parallel in Ezek 29:3ff. In Psalm 74:12-14, the cosmological tradition of God subduing the Sea-monster is clearly applied, in a general sense, to the idea of His “working salvation in the midst of the earth”. Thus, the idiom could be understood here either in a general sense, or in the specific context of the Exodus. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 145.

Verse 24 [23]

“‘So then you may <wash>
your feet in (the) blood,
(and for the) tongue of your dogs
(your) enemies (shall be) their portion!'”

The final two couplets of this difficult strophe are vivid in their imagery, but rather awkward in terms of the clarity of the poetic syntax. The twisted character of these forceful lines could well be intentional, as if meant to convey, in poetic terms, the harshness of the enemies’ fate. The words of YHWH continue from the previous verse.

There is no doubt that, in accordance with the idea expressed throughout this strophe, YHWH works salvation for His people by defeating their enemies. A military defeat (in battle) is implied, as with the earlier imagery of crushing heads and splitting skulls (v. 22). Here the dominant image is of a bloodbath; i.e., so much blood has been spilled that the victorious Israelites will be able to wash their feet in it. Most commentators are in agreement that the verb Jj^m* (“strike”) in the first line of the MT should be emended to the verb Jj^r* (“wash”), cf. Ps 58:12 [11]; the error presumably was introduced under the influence of the occurrence of Jj^m* in v. 22 (cf. above).

The imagery is extended, in a cruder and more grotesque manner, in the final couplet, as it is announced that the dogs of the Israelite people will have the corpses as their “portion” (hn*m*), able to lick up the blood and feed on the flesh of the bodies (cf. 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23-24, 38, etc).

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).

March 10: Psalm 68:16-19

Strophe 5: Psalm 68:16-19 [15-18]

Strophe 4 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 16 [15]

“(O) mountain of mighty (one)s,
(you) mountain of Bašan,
mountain of high (peak)s,
(you) mountain of Bašan!”

This strophe continues the mountain-theme of verse 15 (cf. the previous note), which included use of the Divine title yD^v^ (Šadday), meaning something like “(The) Mountain(ous One),” or “He of the Mountain”. In ancient Near Eastern religious tradition, the Creator God was identified with a great cosmic mountain; in particular, El-YHWH was thought to dwell upon such a mountain, which could be associated locally/regionally with any prominent mountain or hill. As part of the ancient Israelite historical tradition—associated especially with the Exodus event—YHWH was seen as dwelling upon mount Sinai (v. 9, and cf. below).

A mountain in the region of Bashan (/v*B*), Hauran (Jebel Druze) was already mentioned in v. 15—called /oml=x^ (Grk [A]salmanos), the ‘dark mountain’. Hauran was located on the eastern boundary of Bashan, and mount Hermon was at the northern boundary; there were also hills to the west (east of the sea of Galilee). These mountains are referenced here in v. 16, as a way of designating the region of Bashan as a whole. This fertile area to the east of the Jordan is best known in connection with the historical tradition of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land, following the Exodus and years of wandering in the desert—cf. Num 21:33-35; Deut 1:4; 3:1-17; Josh 12:4-5; 13:11-12, 30-31. It became part of the trans-Jordan Israelite tribal territory, assigned to the half-tribe of Manasseh.

The repeated expression “mountain [rh^] of Bashan”, is paired with parallel descriptive expressions:

    • “mountain of mighty (one)s [<yh!l)a$]”
      “mountain of high (peak)s [<yn]n%b=G~]”

The first expression could be translated “mountain of the Mightiest [i.e. God]” (cf. on v. 17, below); however, the parallel with <yn]n%b=G~ here indicates that, in this instance, <yh!l)a$ should be read as a real plural—either “mighty (one)s”, in reference to the mountains as supposed dwelling places of the (Canaanite) deities, or “mighty (hill)s”, as a designation of their grandeur, etc.

Verse 17 [16]

“For what do you look with envy,
(you) high-peaked mountains
(at) the hill (of which) takes delight
(the) Mightiest to sit (upon) it?
Indeed, YHWH dwells (there) to the end!”

Verse 16 utilized a 2-beat (2+2) couplet format, as generally throughout the Psalm, and the pattern continues here, with another pair of couplets (followed by a climactic 3-beat line). The Psalmist asks a rhetorical question, posed as a taunt, as to why (“for what [reason]”) the great mountains of Bashan (i.e., Hauran and Hermon) look with envy (vb dx^r*) at the mountain YHWH chooses as His dwelling-place (cf. above). He rejects the mountains in Bashan, choosing instead a hill further west, across the Jordan. The hill chosen by God is, of course, the hill-top location of Jerusalem (Zion), the old Canaanite site and “city of David”, where the Temple would be built. YHWH takes delight (vb dm^j*) to dwell (lit. “sit [down]”, bv^y`) upon this ‘mountain’. In terms of cosmological-mythic tradition, Zion takes the place of Sinai as the local manifestation of God’s cosmic dwelling. Israel encountered YHWH at Sinai, and He accompanied them on their long journey to the Promised Land, where He would dwell among them, in the sanctuary on Zion.

Here in v. 17, <yh!l)a$ once again is used as a title for YHWH (“Mightiest,” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’), producing a bit of wordplay with its use in v. 16 (cf. above). The final line serves as a dramatic exclamation, affirming that Zion will be YHWH’s dwelling-place “to the end” (jx^n#l*).

Verse 18 [17]

“(The chariot) ride(s) of (the) Mightiest
(are) myriads—thousands repeated!
My Lord (is there) among them
in the holy (place) (at) Sinai.”

When YHWH moves out from Sinai, accompanying His people, He does so with the heavenly army mobilized (cf. Deut 33:2). Here the army is represented by horses (and chariots); the collective singular bk#r# (“ride”) is used, corresponding to the earlier title referring to YHWH as “the Rider on the Clouds” (v.5; cf. also Deut 33:26).

The word <y]t^B)r! is a dual form, meaning something like “a multitude twice (over)”; as a numeric expression, it can mean twice ten thousand (i.e., twenty thousand). This concept is enhanced by the following expression /a*n+v! yp@l=a^, “thousands repeated” —i.e., many thousands, or ‘thousands upon thousands’. There is, however, some textual uncertainty surrounding MT /a*n+v!; there is slight manuscript support for /n`a&v^ (“security”), while the Greek (LXX) translation may be reading /oav^, suggesting the roar/noise of a great crowd. Dahood (II, p. 142f) would interpret /anv in light of Ugaritic ¾nn (also Alalakh šan¹nu), referring to a kind of soldier, perhaps a chariot archer/bowman; cf. also the Egyptian term snn. This would certainly fit the context, and provide a more comprehensive description of the heavenly army—i.e., a multitude of chariots accompanied by thousands of soldiers/archers.

YHWH Himself is among this great army, which moves from the “holy place” (vd#q)) of Sinai, to accompany the Israelite people on their journey. The presence of the army means, of course, that YHWH is able to fight, engaging in warfare, as needed, on His people’s behalf.

As it stands, the meter of this verse is irregular: 2+3+2+2.

Verse 19 [18]

“You went up to the high place,
you took captive (prisoners) captive,
you received gifts by <their hands>;
but as for (the) rebellious (one)s,
(you) set (them) down, YH(WH), Mightiest!”

The “high place” <orm* here should be seen as parallel with the “holy place” in v. 18. It refers to YHWH’s mountain-dwelling, symbolic (on earth) of His heavenly dwelling on top of the cosmic ‘mountain’. As noted above, the Exodus theme of this Psalm assumes that YHWH proceeds from mount Sinai to the mountain of his dwelling (with His people) in the Promised Land, that is, the sanctuary at Zion/Jerusalem. The imagery in the first three lines (following the 2+2+3 metrical pattern) is relatively clear and straightforward. Establishing his new ‘mountain’ dwelling requires military conquest, which results in taking prisoners captive, as well as receiving tributary gifts from the surviving peoples (those willing to submit to Him). I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 143) in reading <dab (MT <d*a*B*, “by [i.e. from] men]) as preserving a contracted form of <y]d^y` (dual, “[their] two hands”); for other examples, identified by Dahood as contracted northern dual forms, cf. I, pp. 70, 88f, and especially (on Ps 17:4) 95.

The final lines of the strophe are especially difficult.  For example, how does the fourth line, <yr!r=os [a^w+, relate to the thought expressed in the strophe? Does [a^ function as an emphatic conjunction, i.e., “and also/even (the) rebellious (one)s,” implying (apparently) that even they are forced to submit to YHWH (and to give Him tributary gifts)? Or, is the force of [a^w+ adversative?—i.e., “but as for (the) rebellious (one)s…” The previous use of the verbal noun <yr!r+os (“[the one]s rebelling”) in v. 7 suggests the latter. Indeed, it seems likely that the Psalmist here is alluding back to that earlier line: “but (the) rebellious (one)s will dwell (in) a scorched/parched land”. The same verb (/k^v*, “dwell”) is used here, and I believe the idea expressed is much the same. However, in order to capture the force of the context in v. 19, I have translated the verb in the visceral sense of “set (down)”, rather than “dwell”, with God as the actor. Cf. Psalm 7:6 [5] for an example of this verb in the context of setting something down in the dust (i.e., burying it); this is essentially the interpretation that Dahood (II, p. 143) gives to the line.

In passing, one should also mention the creative use of v. 19a made in Ephesians 4:8ff, applying the lines to the death and resurrection (exaltation) of Jesus. This, of course, takes the original Psalm verse completely out of context, and yet such Christological application of Scripture is very much part of early Christian thought and practice, and occurs many times in the inspired writings of the New Testament.

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).

March 9: Psalm 68:12-15

Strophe 4: Psalm 68:12-15 [11-14]

This strophe marks the beginning of the second part of the Psalm; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 12 [11]

“My Lord gave (forth)
a word bringing news
(to) an army (of) many.”

I divide this opening verse as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, following Dahood (II, p. 141) in parsing the text as torC=b^m= hr*m=a!. The feminine noun hr*m=a! better agrees with the participle that follows. Dahood would read the to– ending as preserving an old feminine singular ending—a northern reading reflecting Phoenician influence. However, the plural form could be retained, perhaps understood in a collective or intensive sense.

If the MT is to be followed, then the verse would have to be treated as a 3-beat couplet, something like:

“My Lord gave (forth the) word,
th(ose) bringing the news (are) a vast army.”

To whom does the “army (of) many” (br* ab*x*) refer? By the ancient traditional use of the term ab*x* (“army”), associated with El-YHWH, the reference is to the heavenly host (of the stars, etc). This would fit the cosmological context of the first part of the Psalm, where YHWH is called the “Rider on the Clouds,” controller of the celestial waters, who brings down rain from the heavens (cf. on v. 15 below).

Verse 13 [12]

“(The) kings of (the) armies
flutter—they flee—
and (the) beauty of (the) house
she divides (the) spoil(s).”

This verse (metrically a pair of 2-beat couplets) is somewhat difficult to interpret. First we have the relationship of the “armies” (toab*x=) here to the “army” in v. 12. In my view, the word ab*x* is used in a dual sense. In verse 12, it refers to the heavenly army that is under YHWH’s command. To that army, God gives the word, which means good news (rcb) for His people. Then, in v. 13, the focus shifts to human armies (and their kings). The heavenly army fights on YHWH’s behalf, resulting in the defeat of the human forces. This could refer to Exodus and the Conquest, or to other traditional episodes from Israel’s history. Probably the best parallel is in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5, cp. chap. 4), where it is said that the stars fought from heaven against the forces of Jabin and Sisera (v. 20). The waters also played a role in routing the army (v. 21); and note the similarities of imagery between vv. 4-5 of the Song and strophe 3 of our Psalm (cf. the previous note).

I have translated the repeated verb dd^n` (in line 2) two ways, as “flutter” and “flee” (i.e., fly away, take flight), so as to capture two distinct nuances of meaning: (1) the kings flutter (in fear), and then (2) they fly away, fleeing the scene.

The second couplet is difficult, mainly due to the noun hw#n` and its lack of agreement with the verb that follows in the next line. The word hw#n` typically refers to a field or enclosure (sheepfold, etc) where herd animals dwell. The meaning could thus be that it is in the field/enclosure of the house where the victorious Israelites divide/distribute (vb ql^j*) the spoils. However, following the parallels with the Song of Deborah (cf. above), it may be that the Psalmist is specifically emphasizing the humiliation of the kings’ defeat by stating that women are dividing the spoils (Judg 5:29-30). In this case, MT hw#n` should instead be read as the feminine substantive adjective hw#an` (“beautiful [one], beauty”); this would fit the parallel with the Song of Deborah, and would agree with the feminine verb form qL@j^T=. Cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 160.

Verse 14 [13]

“O, that you would lay down between (the) <campfires>
(the) wings of a dove
covered in silver,
and her yellow (plumage)
with feathers of gold.”

This is a difficult and enigmatic verse. First, one notes the close similarity between the first line and Judg 5:16a (on other parallels between this strophe and the Song of Deborah, cf. above). In the Song, it is posed as a question:

“For what (reason) [i.e. why] do you sit [vb bv^y`] between the campfires?”

The meaning of the final word (tP*v=m!) is not entirely certain, but something like “campfires” seems close to the mark. The MT here in v. 14 of the Psalm is almost certainly a variant (or corrupted) form of the same word. The verb used is bk^v* (“lay down”), which is close conceptually to bv^y` (“sit [down],” sometimes in the sense of “remain, dwell”). The opening particle <a! can sometimes reflect a wish (“Oh, that…”), and that is probably the best way to understand the meaning here.

If the line is not a corruption (e.g., a gloss from Judg 5:16), how does it relate to the context of vv. 13-14? Based on the evidence from Job 38:37 (cf. Dahood, II, p. 141), it is possible to use the verb bk^v* in the sense of laying out the contents of a vessel, etc, upon the ground. Is this line meant to depict a scene of people laying out the spoils (from the defeated army) for distribution, with the wish (“Oh, that…”) representing the eagerness of people to receive their portion? If so, then perhaps the noun hw#n` (“field, enclosure”) in v. 13 is correct (cf. above), followed by this portrait of dividing the spoils out in the fields (“between the campfires”).

The remaining lines most likely refer to objects taken as spoils from the defeated army. The silver and gold bird may represent a symbolic standard or insignia used by the army, like the golden eagle of the Roman imperial army.

Verse 15 [14]

“At (the) scattering by Šadday
(of the) kings on it,
white fell on (the) dark mountain.”

This verse (a 2-beat tricolon) effectively blends together the idea of the defeat of human armies with the YHWH’s command over the celestial/heavenly army. The strophe began with the heavenly focus, then shifted to the human sphere, and now returns to the celestial motif of rainfall from heaven. Here the rainfall takes the form of white snow falling upon the mountain-tops. The verb gl^v* literally means “be(come) white”; the final line could be translated “it [lit. she] came to be white on the dark-mountain”.

The name “dark mountain” is something of a literal rendering of the Hebrew name /oml=x^. Most commentators would identify it with mount Hauran, Djebel Druz (³ebel ed-druz). Its designation as ‘dark’ is due to the characteristic black volcanic rock (basalt), and provides a contrast with the “white” (Lebanon) mountains. The designation of the Lebanon as ‘white’ stems from its majestic snowy peaks, as well as from its white-colored limestone rock. Here the snowfall on the ‘dark’ rock of the /oml=x^ makes for a dramatic contrast. This mountain-imagery continues in the next strophe (5), which will be discussed in the next daily note.

I left the name yD~v^ (Šadday) untranslated above; however, as a Divine title, it most likely means something like “He of the Mountain” (cf. the discussion in Cross, pp. 52-6), referring to the traditional association of the Creator God with a great (cosmic) mountain, and of El-YHWH’s dwelling upon a mountain (manifest locally on Mt. Sinai, etc). This well fits the mountain-motif introduced here, and which continues in the next strophe; it was thus appropriate for the Psalmist to refer to YHWH by this title.

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).

Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel, (Harvard University Press: 1973).


March 8: Psalm 68:8-11

Strophe 3: Psalm 68:8-11 [7-10]

The second strophe was examined in the previous note; on the structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 8 [7]

“O Mightiest, in your going forth
before (the) face of your people,
in your stepping in (the) desolate (land),”

Syntactically, this verse (a 2-beat tricolon) is only the first part of a statement that extends into the next verse. It is interrupted by a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker. As I mentioned in the introductory study, a pause-marker occurs following the initial couplet of the third strophe in all three parts of the Psalm. This may indicate that the first couplet establishes a musical pattern for the strophe, like the hirmos in a Greek liturgical ode. Even so, its occurrence at the midway point of a grammatical sentence is most unusual.

In the previous note, I mentioned that the final couplet of verse 7 likely contained an allusion to the Exodus tradition (spec. the years of wandering in the desert). This would seem to be confirmed by the rather clear reference to the Exodus here in v. 8. There is also a bit of wordplay, picked up from v. 7, in the use of the verb ax*y` (“go/come out”). In the middle line of verse 7, the Psalmist refers to God bringing bound prisoners out of their confinement. This was a part of a general reference to YHWH acting on behalf of the poor and oppressed (the righteous). Here, the reference is to the specific historical tradition of God bringing His people out of their bondage in Egypt. In doing so, YHWH Himself goes out in front of them (“before the face of your people”), leading the way. The image in the third line is of God marching right there with his people, stepping (vb du^x*) along in the “desolate land” (/omyv!y+).

Verse 9 [8]

“(the) earth shook,
(the) heavens dropped (rain),
from (the) face of (the) Mightiest
—the (One) of Sinai,
from (the) face of (the) Mightiest
—(the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael!”

As noted above, this verse continues the statement begun in v. 8; grammatically, vv. 8-9 form a single sentence-unit. The verse contains six 2-beat lines, and is best parsed as a couplet, followed by a hymnic quatrain, with the kind of repetition that is typical of the earliest Hebrew psalm-poetry.

The response of earth and heaven to the approach of YHWH should be understood on two levels. First, it reflects the authority and control that God has over the cosmos. This was discussed in the previous note (on v. 5). Certainly the mention of the heavens dropping (vb [f^n`) rain follows the imagery in v. 5 of YHWH as “Rider on the Clouds” (cf. also Deut 33:26), with His control over the heavens and their rain-water. The shaking (vb vu^r*) of the earth is also a response to YHWH’s authoritative command.

At the same time, these disturbances in nature are a sign of fear. Indeed, the “dripping” of moisture (rain) could be understood in terms of a person sweating, out of fear. Poetically, the forces of nature are personified as beings who react (with the emotion of fear and awe) to the presence and power of YHWH. In the context of ancient Near Eastern polytheism, the forces of nature were either thought of as being themselves deities, or as under the manifest control of personal deities.

The association of YHWH with Sinai is an indication that this poetry is part of the same ancient line of tradition, dealing with the Exodus and Conquest, that we see, for example, in Judges 5:4-5 and Deut 33:2-3 (cf. also Hab 3:3-6). The expression yn~ys! hz# (“the [one] of Sinai”) also occurs in Judg 5:5. The demonstrative-relative particle z/d reflects ancient Semitic usage, which was preserved in old/archaic Hebrew poetry, after its use had largely disappeared during the classical/kingdom period. It is represented as early as the 15th century proto-Canaanite (Sinaitic) inscriptions: i.e., °l ¼ ±lm (°il ¼¥ ±ôlami), meaning something like “(the) Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of eternity”; cf, Cross, pp. 18-20; Dahood, II, p. 139.

Verse 10 [9]

“Rainfall of willingness
you made drop, O Mightiest;
your inheritance and <dominion>,
you (yourself) established it.”

Again, the principal motif is on rainfall (here, <v#G#), emphasizing YHWH’s role as controller of the heavens, utilizing the ancient religious idiom of the storm-theophany. If the specific emphasis in v. 9 was on the Exodus, here it is on the establishment of God’s people (Israel) in the Promised Land. This, of course, implied the historical tradition of the Conquest, but here the primary idea is on YHWH providing for His people—principally by the bringing of rain to make the land fruitful.

The unusual expression “rain of willingness [tobd*n+]” connotes something which God gives willingly and in abundance—i.e., generously; the plural form tobd*n+ could indicate multiple/repeated gifts of rain, or it could be understood in a collective (or intensive) sense.

The noun hl*j&n~ (“inheritance, hereditary possession”) refers to both the people and the land, as belonging to YHWH; it also alludes to the covenantal idea of the land (of Canaan) as the territory which Israel would inherit. This is an important component of the ancient Exodus tradition, as expressed notably, for example, in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:17 [discussed in an earlier note]).

The pairing of hlj&n~ and ha*l=n] almost certainly needs to be understood in light of the similar pairing of nhlty (“my inheritance”) and tliyt (“my dominion”) in Canaanite poetry (cf. the closing lines of the repeated refrain in the Baal Epic, III, col. 3, 30-31, etc). This suggests that the MT ha*l=n] (whether or not textually corrupt) is related to the Ugaritic root l°y, denoting the use of strength/might, i.e., “prevail, overcome”; cf. Dahood, II, pp. 139f. Thus, the land of Canaan, in which God’s people would be settled, is His dominion, to be established through the exercise of His might. This, again is an integral part of the Exodus/Conquest tradition in ancient Hebrew poetry—cf. Exod 15:17, where the same verb /WK (in the Polel) is used.

Verse 11 [10]

“Your family (that) dwells in it,
you established in your good(ness),
(even) for (the) afflicted, O Mightiest!”

I follow Dahood (II, p. 140) in relating tyj to Ugaritic µwt, referring to a family-line or ‘house’; cf. also 2 Sam 23:13. The Israelite people are thus understood, according to tradition, as a royal household belonging to YHWH, similar to the idea of Israel as God’s hereditary possession. He established them in the Promised Land; again the verb /WK is used, however this verb can also connote the idea of making something ready or prepared, making provision, etc. This would well fit the motif of YHWH bringing the blessing of abundant rainfall, making the land fruitful for His people.

The last line revisits the theme from vv. 6-7, emphasizing the concern and care God has for the poor and afflicted. Throughout the Psalms, the adjective yn]u* (“pressed [down], oppressed, afflicted”) occurs frequently (29 times out of 73 OT occurrences), usually as a general designation for the righteous (and often emphasizing their mistreatment by the wicked). It is part of a wider Wisdom-emphasis, on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, that is quite prevalent in the Psalms.

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 “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel, (Harvard University Press: 1973).

March 7: Psalm 68:5-7

Strophe 2: Psalm 68:5-7 [4-6]

The first strophe was examined in the previous note; on the structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 5 [4]

“Sing to (the) Mightiest,
make music (to) His name!
Raise a highway for (the) Rider of (the) Clouds!
<Be glad> in YH(WH)
and leap before His face!”

This verse is comprised of a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets with a longer 3-beat line in between: 2+2+3+2+2. The short couplets emphasize the need for all people—indeed, all of creation—to give praise to YHWH. The two verbs in the first couplet—ryv! (“sing”) and rm^z` (“make music”)—match the terms in the Psalm heading: ryv! (“song”) and romz+m! (denoting a musical composition). It is most appropriate, of course, for the Psalmist to worship God through music and song.

In the second couplet, it seems likely that the Masoretic text is corrupt. The MT of the first line reads omv= Hy`B= (“in/by YH[WH] His name” [?]), which does not make much sense. The reading omv= may have been influenced by the occurrence of the word in the first couplet. I have followed Kraus’ suggestion (p. 46) that wm? could be emended slightly to read Wjm=c! (“be glad, rejoice”); Dahood (II, p. 136) obtains a comparable result, by reading Wmc=, as an imperative of a theorized root <cy (“be pleasant”). In either case, we should assume an imperative form of a verb essentially meaning “rejoice, be glad”. This is both appropriate to the context, and establishes a formal parallelism between the two couplets:

    • Sing | to the Mightiest /
      make music | (to) His name
    • Be glad | in YHWH /
      leap for joy | before His face

The longer middle line provides the setting—and the reason—for giving praise to YHWH: He is “(the One) riding on the rain-clouds”. This descriptive title is known from Canaanite tradition, as an epithet of the storm-deity Baal-Haddu; however, such epithets and imagery are also used of El-YHWH in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 33:26; Psalm 18:10-13). The first term is a participle, bk@r), “(one) riding, rider,” in construct relationship with the plural noun tobr*u& (with prefixed preposition B=). Here Hebrew tbru should be taken as a variant spelling of tpru (“rain-clouds, storm-clouds”), being an example of the interchange of b and p in NW Semitic (cf. Dahood, II, p. 136).

YHWH is here described in the language of storm-theophany, such as we see frequently in early Hebrew poetry. In the ancient Near East, the deity’s control over the waters (and thus the rain) was especially important and was emphasized in religious tradition. That YHWH rides upon the clouds is a way of expressing the idea of His authority and power over the heavens (and the rain it brings). His control over the waters also reflects a cosmological principle—viz., the Creator’s subduing of the primeval waters, so as to bring life-sustaining order to the universe; cf. my earlier article on this subject.

The verb ll^s* specifically denotes raising a mound or a building up a pathway for travel; cf. the famous use of the related noun hL*s!m= in Isa 40:3. The context of YHWH as the heavenly ‘Cloud-Rider’ suggests that the pathway being raised (for God to travel on) is located in heaven (cf. the noun hL*s!m= in Judg 5:20). The underlying mythic-religious tradition surely involves the relationship between YHWH and the divine/heavenly beings under His command. However, the verb ll^s* can also be used in the more general religious sense of “lift up” —that is, to extol or exult God in praise. This is something that all beings—heavenly and human—are called on to do.

Verse 6 [5]

“A Father (for) orphans
and a Judge (for) widows
(is the) Mightiest in His holy dwelling-place.”

Not only does YHWH establish order in the cosmos, bringing beneficent rain from heaven, but He also establishes order (and justice) on earth for human beings. This theme of YHWH as Judge, making judgment on behalf of the righteous—including the poor and oppressed—occurs frequently in the Psalms. He does this from heaven, from the “dwelling-place” (/oum*) of His holiness. The construct phrase “dwelling-place of His holiness” can also be rendered “His holy dwelling-place”, which I have used above for poetic concision.

Verse 7 [6]

“(The) Mightiest settles
(those left) all alone in a house;
He brings out (those) bound in(to) prosperity,
while (the) rebellious (one)s
dwell in a scorched (land).”

The meter of this verse matches that of verse 5 (cf. above)—2+2+3+2+2, with a three-beat line sandwiched between a pair of 2-beat couplets. Again there is a parallelism between the couplets, playing on the idea of a dwelling-place (introduced in the last line of v. 6). The poor and oppressed are settled (vb bv^y`, Hiphil) by God in a comfortable home (lit. house, ty]B^). Here the lowliness and suffering of the righteous is expressed by the adjective dyj!y`, denoting being one, in the sense of being alone. The middle line expands upon this idea of solitary loneliness by introducing the image of people bound (root rsa) in prison; YHWH brings them out (vb ax^y`) of their confinement and isolation into a place/condition of prosperity.

The plural noun torv*oK occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning is difficult to determine. Commentators have related it to cognate roots in Ugaritic (k¾r) and Akkadian (kaš¹ru), with the common meaning apparently being something like “be successful, fortunate, happy” (cf. Kraus, p. 46; Dahood, II, p. 137). The plural form here may have a collective/abstract meaning; I have rendered it loosely as “prosperity”.

By contrast, in the second couplet, the stubborn/rebellious ones (vb rr^s*)—i.e., the wicked—will not live in comfort under the blessing of God; instead, they are doomed to dwell in a “scorched” (hot, dry and parched) land. This may be an allusion to the historical tradition of the Exodus, where the rebellious people were not allowed to enter the land of Promise, but perished in the desert.

The third strophe will be discussed in the next daily note.

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, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

March 6: Psalm 68:2-4

Strophe 1: Psalm 68:2-4 [1-3]

As discussed in the introduction, Psalm 68 has a three-part structure involving nine distinct strophes (or stanzas); each part contains three strophes. The first strophe is comprised of verses 2-4.

Verse 2 [1]

“(The) Mightiest rises (up),
(those) hostile to Him scatter,
and (those) hating Him flee from His face.”

This initial tricolon reflects the meter/rhythm of the Psalm. Though the meter is irregular, varying throughout, the general pattern is of a 2-beat (2+2) couplet, punctuated (or interwoven) by a longer 3-beat line or couplet. The short 2-beat rhythm gives a terse, dramatic feel to the poetry. Here the parallelism of the couplet is synthetic, with the second line building upon the first; indeed, the action in the second line is caused by the action (of YHWH) in the first line. The parallel is formal, better seen if the couplet is translated according to the Hebrew word order:

    • Rises | (the) Mightiest
      scatter | (those) hostile to Him

The three-beat line that follows expounds line 2:

    • they scatter | (those) hostile to Him
      and they flee | (those) hating Him | from His face

God’s enemies are described using suffixed verbal nouns (participles). The verb by~a* means “be hostile to (someone)”, while an@c* means “to hate”; both verbs essentially connote having enmity (toward someone), and thus being an enemy. The actions are also parallel, expressed first by JWP I (“scatter”), then by sWn (“flee, fly [away]”).

The verb <Wq (“rise, stand [up]”) here is used in a military context; however, the sense is that the enemies flee from YHWH even before He strikes them. The very act of His standing up is enough to scare them off and put them to flight.

Verse 3 [2]

“Like driven smoke, they are driven (away),
like melting wax from (the) face of fire,
(the) wicked (one)s perish
from (the) face of (the) Mightiest.”

Metrically, this verse is comprised of a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet. The first couplet has a formal parallelism that is synonymous—describing what happens to the wicked as YHWH begins to act against them. It thus builds upon the last two lines of v. 2. However, now it is not just that the wicked flee from YHWH before He has a chance to act; rather, God does, in fact, strike at them. This is indicated by the verb [d^n`, which signifies something that is scattered by a driving force—i.e., it drives them away. The verb is used twice (for emphasis) in the first line, and commentators (cf. Kraus, p. 46) are doubtless correct in reading the first form as a Niphal vocalized as [d@N`h!. I follow Dahood (II, p. 135) in reading the second form as a Niphal 3rd-person masculine plural (or singular with collective meaning). The context would seem to require this.

Two different (parallel) images are utilized: (1) smoke (/v*u*) that is driven away (by the wind), and (2) wax (gn~oD) that is melted (vb ss^m*) by the heat of fire. For the latter, the specific expression is “from (before the) face of fire” (va@-yn@P=m!); it is parallel with “from (before the) face of God” (<yh!l)a$ yn@P=m!). It is the powerful presence of YHWH that bring the destructive scattering of the wicked, as is clear from the final couplet.

In both verse 2 and 3, the title <yh!l)a$ (°E_lœhîm) is used in place of the divine name (hwhy/YHWH); this characterizes Psalm 68 as an ‘Elohist’ Psalm. On the significance of this plural noun as applied to God (in a monotheistic context), cf. my earlier article; I translate it as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural, “Mightiest (One)”.

Verse 4 [3]

“But (the) righteous (one)s will be glad,
they will leap before (the) face of (the) Mightiest,
and will rejoice (indeed) with gladness!”

This tricolon matches that of verse 2, only with a shift in rhythm—the meter being 2+3+2. The contrast between the righteous (<yq!yD!x^) and the wicked (<yu!v*r=) is a staple of Wisdom literature, and occurs frequently in the Psalms (as we have seen in earlier studies). The fate of the wicked (fear/scattering/destruction) was described in vv. 2-3, and now that of the righteous (gladness/rejoicing) is described here in v. 4. The contrast is focused upon the idea of being in the presence of YHWH—literally His face (<yn]P*). For the wicked, being in God’s presence results in terror and destruction, while the righteous are able to leap for joy, in safety and blessing.

Three different roots are utilized here to express the idea of joy/rejoicing: (1) jmc (used twice), essentially denoting “be glad”; (2) Jlu, signifying a leaping for joy; and (3) cWc, meaning generally to show joy, rejoice.

Strophe 2 will be discussed in the next daily note.

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, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).