Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 2)

Psalm 103, continued

For the Introduction (vv. 1-5) of the Psalm, and the first two stanzas (vv. 6-8, 9-11) of the central hymn, see Part 1 of this study.

The Hymn: Verses 6-18 (cont.)

Third Stanza: Vv. 12-14
Verse 12

“Like (the) distance of (the sun’s) rising from (its) setting,
(so) He has made distant from us our breaches (of faith).”

The theme of this stanza picks up from that of the previous (vv. 9-11, cf. the discussion in Part 1)—viz., YHWH’s mercy and compassion in forgiving the sins of His people. In particular, this first couplet builds upon the prior couplet (v. 11), comparing the greatness of YHWH’s loving devotion (ds#j#) with the distance (height) between heaven and earth. Similarly here, the motif of distance (using the root qjr) is employed to express the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Instead of a vertical distance (heaven-earth), a horizontal (east-west) distance is used.

The verb qj^r* means “be far/distant” and occurs in both lines, to express the comparison. In the first line, a stative infinitive is used, for the (fixed) distance between the rising (jr*z+m!) and setting/darkening (br*u&m^) of the sun, i.e., between east and west. In the second line, there is a Hiphil (causative) perfect form, indicating how YHWH puts far away His people’s sins. He removes them from us, virtually to the ‘other side of the world’.

The noun uv^P# essentially refers to a breach of trust, sundering the bond of relationship between two persons or parties. Implicit in the use of the term is the idea of a violation of the binding agreement (covenant) with YHWH, whereby His people break faith/trust, viz., by failing to live up to the terms of the covenant—the Torah precepts and regulations. In this respect, the sins that YHWH removes/forgives are defined in terms of violations of the Torah.

Verse 13

“Like (the) deep love of a father over (his) sons,
(so) YHWH has love over (those) fearing Him.”

The comparison in this second couplet is formed according to the pattern of the first (v. 12). The greatness of YHWH’s compassion and devotion, expressed in vv. 11-12 by the motif of distance (see above), is here captured through the verb <j^r* (note the alliterative wordplay with qj^r* [v. 12]). This verb essentially conveys the idea of a deep love that one person has toward another; the strong connotation is that of caring for a person, treating them with compassion, etc. The example given in line 1 is of the love that a father has for (lit. over, lu^) his sons; this example, can, of course, be rendered more inclusively, as the love a parent has for his/her children.

YHWH has similar love toward His people. The motif of Israel as YHWH’s sons/children, and He as their Father, occurs with some frequency in the Scriptures (e.g., Exod 4:22-23; Deut 32:6, 19; Hos 2:1 [1:10]; 11:1; Isa 43:6; 63:7[8]; Jer 31:9). Here the relationship is limited to, or defined in terms of, the devout/faithful ones of Israel (“[those] fearing Him”). YHWH is particularly a loving Father to those who are faithful to Him (and to the covenant).

Verse 14

“For He (indeed) knows our (very) form,
(and is) mindful that we (are but) dust.”

Here the idiom of YHWH as Father shifts to that of Creator. The two idioms are closely related, as, in ancient Near Eastern religious tradition, the Creator is often referred to as “Father”. See, in particular, Deuteronomy 32:6b for the pairing of these ideas. The noun rx#y@ (“form”) alludes to the traditional mythological image of God as an artisan who forms/fashions a vessel (or image) out of raw material—such as a potter who shapes his work out of the clay. As Creator, YHWH knows the form of each human being; in particular, He knows the form/shape of His people, including their innermost parts (cf. vv. 1ff), and so is able to create them.

The final line anticipates the Wisdom theme in the fourth stanza, emphasizing the limited and transient nature of a created human being. The reference to human beings as “dust” is traditional (Gen 2:7; 3:19, etc); the noun rp*u* can also be used for dirt in a broader sense—including the specific consistency of “mud” or “clay”, which would well fit the artisan/potter allusion here in the verse (cf. Dahood, III, p. 28).

The verb form rWkz` is a bit unusual; as a (passive) participle, or, possibly, an infinitive (cf. Dahood, III, p. 28), it functions here as a verbal adjective. The verb rk^z` is typically translated “remember”, but properly it means “have in mind” or “bring to mind”. Here the verbal adjective carries the meaning “mindful of”, emphasizing again YHWH’s care and concern for His people (cf. on the verb <j^r* in v. 13, above).

Fourth Stanza: Vv. 15-18
Verse 15

“Humanity—like (the) grass (are) its days;
like a blossom of the field, so it blossoms.”

The Wisdom-theme introduced in verse 14, continues here in vv. 15-16, emphasizing the transitory nature of human life on earth. We have seen such an emphasis in previous Psalms, including the comparison of humankind with the grass and flower of the field, that flourishes only briefly—cf. Psalm 37:2; 72:16; 90:5; 102:5[4], 12[11]; cp. Job 8:12; 14:2; Isa 40:6-8.

The noun vona$, rather more so than the parallel vya!, can refer to humankind collectively (or generally), and should be read this way here.

Verse 16

“Then (the) wind passes over him, and he is no more;
even his standing place will not recognize him any longer.”

The brief ‘blossoming’ of a human being on earth (v. 15) is contrasted with his/her vanishing. When the grass or flower has withered (and died), the wind “passes over” it, blowing it away. This aspect of the example is then applied to a human being, to illustrate how he/she ceases to exist (“he is no more”, using the negative particle of absence [or non-existence], /ya@). Even the place where that ‘flower’ stood (“his standing place”) soon will no longer recognize (vb rk^n`) him—there will be no acknowledgment that he was ever there.

Verse 17

“But (the) devotion of YHWH (is), from distant (ages past),
and until (the) distant (future), over (those) fearing Him,
and His loyalty (remains) for (the) sons of sons—”

The transitory nature of human beings (vv. 15-16) is contrasted with the lasting permanence of YHWH. In particular, His devotion and loyalty toward His people—viz. those who are faithful to the covenant (“[those] fearing Him”)—extends from the distant past all the way into the distant future. These two temporal aspects of the noun <l*ou are here combined, so as to express emphatically the idea of “forever”.

The verse has an extended 3+3+3 (tricolon) format, as is fitting for this climactic moment at the close of the hymn. A third line has been added for emphasis (and dramatic effect). It is not simply that YHWH’s devotion lasts for all time, throughout the Ages—it also applies to all the people living during that time, generation after generation (“sons of sons”).

The frequently used nouns ds#j# and hq*d*x=, due to their relatively wide range of meaning, defy easy or consistent translation. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), as I have repeated noted, carries the meaning of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion” when used in the context of the covenant-bond; throughout this Psalm, I have translated it as “devotion”. The noun hq*d*x= basically means “rightness” (i.e., what is right), but the precise meaning can fluctuate depending on the specific context. Here, in light of the parallel with ds#j#, it should be understood in terms of YHWH’s loyalty toward His people (and the covenant). With regard to the covenant-bond, YHWH will always do what is right.

Verse 18

“for (those) guarding His binding (agreement),
and for (those) mindful to do His charges.”

This awkward, irregular couplet reads like a gloss on the final line of v. 17, and may represent a secondary addition to the original hymn. It effectively clarifies that YHWH’s covenant loyalty to the future generations of Israel (“sons of sons”) applies only to those who are similarly loyal to the covenant (tyr!B=, “binding agreement”). This means, of course, fulfilling the requirements and precepts of the Torah.

The suffixed noun wyd*Q%P! is virtually impossible to translate with any sort of poetic concision. The range of meaning of the root dqp, as it is used in the Scriptures, is notorious, and has long vexed translators. In this context, the plural noun <yd!Q%P! means something like “(thing)s (we are required to) attend to”, or “(thing)s (we must) take care of”. It refers to the requirements (regulations and precepts, etc) of the Torah. For lack of any better option, I have followed Allen (p. 25) in translating it as “charges” (i.e., things we are charged with doing).

Conclusion: Verses 19-22

Verse 19

“YHWH in the heavens has set firm His throne,
and (in His) Kingship He rules over all!”

This couplet is transitional, between the Hymn and the conclusion of the Psalm (vv. 20-22). The call to bless YHWH is based upon his Sovereignty over all of creation. The throne of YHWH’s Kingship is in the heavens (viz., the upper half/dome of the cosmos) which arches over the earth below, covering it completely. Thus, YHWH’s Kingship extends over all the earth (and over all humankind).

It is preferable to understand YHWH Himself (rather than “His kingdom/kingship”) as the subject of the verb lv^m* (“rule [over]”). On this point, see Dahood (III, p. 28f), who explains the apparent feminine singular form (which would agree with the noun tWkl=m^) as an archaic masculine form (qatala pattern). He adds that this form was likely used for poetic-stylistic reasons, to lengthen the syllabic count of the second line. The suggestion is intriguing, and I have tentatively followed it.

Verse 20

“Bless YHWH, (you) His Messengers,
mighty of power (and) doers of His word,
(ready) to hear at (the) voice of His word!”

The conclusion of the Psalm properly begins here with verse 20, a call to bless YHWH (using the verb Er^B*) parallel to that of vv. 1-5 (see the exegesis in Part 1). The focus in that first call was on the inward microcosm of the Psalmist’s soul. Here, the focus is on the outward macrocosm of the entire universe (viz., all of creation). He begins with the heavenly “messengers” of YHWH, the mighty (divine) beings who carry out the Creator’s wishes at His command (“word”). The Qumran manuscript 4QPsb has the plural “words” (<yr!b*D=) rather than the singular; the emphasis would then be on the individual commands, rather than a collective reference.

Metrically, the verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon.

Verse 21

“Bless YHWH, all (you) His armed warriors,
(those) attending to Him (and) doing His pleasure!”

A second group of divine/heavenly beings is addressed. Like the “messengers”, these beings also attend to YHWH, responding with obedience to His word, ready to carry it out. Here, the word (and will) of YHWH is expressed in terms of what delights or pleases Him (“His pleasure”).

They are specifically referred to as “armed warriors”, i.e., soldiers. This derives from an ancient militaristic tradition which viewed the heavenly beings—especially those related to the celestial and atmospheric phenomena of the natural world (e.g., sun, moon, stars, winds, rain)—as soldiers who fight at YHWH’s command (and on behalf of His people). This line of tradition was preserved in the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). Here the masculine plural <ya!b*x= (“armed warriors”) is used, rather than the feminine plural toab*x= (“armed forces, armies”).

Verse 22

“Bless YHWH, all (you who are) His works,
in all standing-places under His rule!
*          *         *           *         *         *
May you bless, O my soul, YHWH!”

It is possible that this final couplet, like vv. 20-21, also refers to the divine/heavenly beings. However, it would seem that the scope of the call has widened to include all creation—all created beings. As created beings, they are YHWH’s “works”. In every place where one might stand under YHWH’s rule—which is to say, everywhere on earth and in all of creation—the beings created by Him should bless YHWH, giving praise and honor to Him. The blessing is to be an acknowledgment of YHWH’s Kingship and His ruling presence and power in the universe.

The closing couplet is expanded into a tricolon (to match the initial tricolon of v. 20) by repeating the initial line of the Psalm (v. 1). Thus, in the call to worship YHWH, the macrocosm of the entire universe is joined to the microcosm of the individual worshiper’s soul.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).
References marked “Allen” are to Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (Revised edition), Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Zondervan: 2002/2014).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 92 (Part 2)

Psalm 92, continued

The Hymn: Verses 5-12 (cont.)

Verses 10-12 comprise the second part of the central hymn; for the first part (vv. 5-9), cf. the previous study. Each part begins with the emphatic particle yK!.

While many Psalms evince a royal background, this aspect is particularly prominent here in vv. 10-12, where the protagonist seems rather clearly to represent the king, and certain aspects of the royal theology are vividly expressed. Given the archaic features in these verses (cf. especially below on v. 10), it seems quite possible that the lines, if not those of the entire hymn, were composed in the kingdom period.

Verse 10 [9]

“For, see, (those) hostile to you, O YHWH,
for, see (those) hostile to you shall perish—
shall be scattered, all (those) making trouble!”

This three-beat (3+3+3) tricolon builds upon the Wisdom-theme in the first part (in vv. 7-8f) alluding to the destruction of the wicked. Here in vv. 10-12, the wicked are presented as hostile enemies of the (royal) protagonist, against whom he calls to YHWH for protection. As a faithful servant of God, and a representative of God’s people, the king’s enemies are also God’s enemies, as this verse clearly expresses.

Scholars have long recognized the similarity of verse 10 to a tricolon from the Ugaritic Baal Epic (Tablet II, column iv, lines 8-9):

ht ibk b±lm
ht ibk tm—s
ht tƒmt ƒrtk

“Now your enemy, O Ba’al,
now your enemy may you strike,
now may you silence your foe!”

The first two lines of each are quite close, following an a+b+c / a+b+d pattern.

Sarna (p. 160ff) cites the parallel in support of his proposal that the hymn draws upon ancient cosmological mythic tradition, whereby the victories of YHWH (over His enemies) refer primarily to those which took place at the time of creation. In bringing forth the ordered universe out of the dark and watery chaos of the primordial time, God is depicted as subduing monstrous adversaries. For more on this ancient mythological tradition, and its application to YHWH in Hebrew poetry, see my earlier article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In light of this background, it is possible to read the imperfect (yqtl) verb forms as describing past events (cf. Dahood, II, p. 337). However, almost certainly, any cosmological allusions are being applied here to the context of the hymn—namely, the expectation that YHWH will use His great power to protect His people, defeating their adversaries even as He did the primordial opponents. The verb dr^P* in the third line means “separate, divide”; here, in reference to the defeat of enemies, it can mean “scatter, disperse”, or, more cruelly, “take apart” (i.e. dismember).

Verse 11 [10]

“While you lift high my horn like (the) bull,
you make me wet with luxuriant oil.”

The initial w-conjunction establishes a contrast with v. 10: while YHWH’s enemies are defeated (and destroyed), His faithful servant (the king) is exalted. The image of the horn (esp. of a bull or ox) as a symbol of strength and vitality is traditional, as is the specific application of the motif as a reference to royal power and prestige—cf. Psalm 18:2 [2 Sam 22:3]; 74:4-5; 89:17, 24; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21; Dan 7:8ff; Mic 4:13; Luke 1:69. The derivation of the noun <a@r= remains uncertain, as does the precise animal intended by the term (wild bull, buffalo, antelope, etc); a bull is most appropriate to the royal context.

The second line probably refers to the anointing of the king, however the use of the verb ll^B* for this is unusual. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is used in the context of mixing together oil; however, in Akkadian the cognate verb can mean “moisten”, and this may be the basic sense here—a person made wet by having oil poured (or rubbed) on him. The MT form and/or vocalization is problematic; it should rather be vocalized as a passive form (yT!L)B%,
“I have been made wet”), or, perhaps, emended to read yn]t^L)B^ (“you have made me wet”). I have opted for the latter.

It has also been suggested that the text should be emended to read instead the verb gl^B* (“be bright, glad, cheerful”), so that the line reads something like “I shine with fresh oil”; cf. Thijs Booij, “The Hebrew Text of Psalm XCII 11,” Vetus Testamentum [VT] 38 (1988), pp. 210-4.

While the idea of a royal anointing may be implicit, the immediate context suggests that strength and vitality (and blessing from YHWH) is the primary idea being expressed (cp. Ps 23:5). The adjective /n`u&r^ literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh, luxuriant”. The protagonist is honored by being anointed (or rubbed) with luxuriant oil.

Verse 12 [11]

“My eyes shall look on (those) watching me,
of (those) standing against me my ears shall hear.”

The final verse of the hymn is the most difficult. The irregular and seemingly overloaded lines suggests a corruption—perhaps a gloss has made its way into the text. As it stands, the MT is best parsed as an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon. However, the parallelism is better served by omitting the word <yu!r@m= (“[those] doing evil”) as a gloss, resulting in a cleaner, though still slightly irregular (4+3), couplet. The participles of the verb rWv (“watch” [i.e., with hostile intent]) and <Wq (“stand up” [in opposition]) serve as fitting descriptions of the protagonist’s enemies. According to the royal background of these verses, the verbs may refer specifically to traitors plotting against the king, even to the point of (armed) rebellion against his rule.

Based on vv. 10-11, the implication is that these adversaries have been defeated (or will be so). It is in this condition that the protagonist looks upon them and/or hears reports about them.

Conclusion: Verses 13-16

Verse 13 [12]

“(The) righteous, like (the) palm tree, will sprout,
like a cedar in the white mountains he grows tall.”

The conclusion of the Psalm is comprised of a sequence of couplets that draw heavily upon Wisdom tradition. Taken in relation to vv. 7-8 (cf. the previous study), the familiar theme contrasting the righteous and the wicked—and the correspond fate of each—is expounded. The fate of the wicked was dealt with, however briefly, in vv. 7-8, while here in vv. 13-16 the fate of the righteous is described.

The tree-motif, utilized here, is better known from its use in Psalm 1:3; the context is the same—contrasting the righteous and the wicked (and their fates). The righteous will flourish like a tree planted next to the life-giving waters. Here, the righteous will similarly flourish, sprouting and blossoming like a palm tree, and growing tall (vb hg*c* [ag*c*]) like the cedars of Lebanon (lit. the “white mountain[s]”).

Even though the Wisdom-orientation of these closing verses is quite different from the setting of vv. 10-12 (cf. above), the two sections are related according to the general concept of the exaltation of the righteous (v. 11). The growth of the horn parallels the image of the growth of the tree.

Verse 14 [13]

“Having been planted in (the) house of YHWH,
in (the) enclosures of our Mighty (One) they sprout.”

In verse 14, the location of the “sprouting” (vb jr^P*) of the righteous, like a tree, is given. They will be planted (as shoots) in the dwelling (“house”) of YHWH. The expression “house of YHWH” can, of course, refer to the Temple, but that is not the point of reference here. Rather, it is a reference to the heavenly dwelling of God. The blessed afterlife is being expressed, just as in the beatitude setting of Psalm 1 (cf. the earlier study).

Verse 15 [14]

“Still they will bear fruit (even) in old age—
(full of) fat and luxuriant they will be!—”

The promise of long life has two-fold significance in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. On the one hand, the present life on earth is intended; on the other hand, this sense of duration also extends to the idea of the blessed afterlife (cf. above)—dwelling with God in heaven. In any case, the image is clear enough: the righteous while still be vital and full of life, able to “bear fruit” (vb bWn), even in old age. This vitality is expressed here by the traditional motif of “fatness” (i.e., richness); as the adjective /v@D* can also mean “juicy”, possibly the specific idea of a tree still full of sap is intended. The adjective /n`u&r^ was used earlier in verse 11; as noted, it literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh” or “luxuriant”.

Verse 16 [15]

“(able) to put out front how straight YHWH (is),
my Rock, and (how there is) no deviation in Him!”

The final couplet of the Psalm returns to the worship-context of the introduction (vv. 2-4, cf. the previous study), even repeating the use of the verb dg~n` (Hiphil), “put in front” —that is, show or declare publicly the faithfulness of YHWH (v. 3). Here the characteristic of faithfulness is expressed by the attribute of “straightness” (adj. rv*y`, “straight, level”), which is also a traditional Divine attribute—parallel with qyd!x* (“right[eous]”). Being straight, there is no deviation (lw#u*, hl*w+u^) of any kind in Him. Both rvy and lwu are frequently used in an ethical-religious sense, with rvy connoting personal integrity, honesty, and “upright” conduct; conversely, lwu can connote injustice, sin/iniquity, and (moral) perversion.

The traditional motif of YHWH as a rock (rWx) is another way of expressing the idea of His faithfulness (hn`Wna$, v. 3, lit. “firmness”).

Syntactically, verse 16 should be seen as a continuation of v. 15.

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 “Sarna” are to Nahum M. Sarna, “The Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92),” Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 81 (1962), pp. 155-68.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 90 (Part 2)

Psalm 90, continued

Prayer: Verses 11-16

Verse 11

“Who knows (the) might of your (burning) anger,
and <who> sees (the) center of your boiling (rage)?

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 11-16) constitutes a prayer, following the lament in the first part (vv. 3-10, discussed in the previous study). The Wisdom orientation of the lament continues in this initial unit (vv. 11-12), which can be viewed as transitional to the prayer proper (in vv. 13-16).

The MT of this verse is problematic. The meter is irregular (3+2), and the first word of the second line creates an awkward reading and syntax— “and according to your fear your boiling (rage)”. A parallelism of the lines would indicate that “and according to your fear” (;t=a*r=y]k=W) should match “who (is the one) knowing (the) might of…?” (zu) u^d@oy ym!) in the first line. It has been suggested (cf. Kraus, p. 214, following Gunkel; HALOT, p. 1730) that the MT should be emended slightly—from itaryk to itarym—and redivided and vocalized as Et) ha#r) ym!. This emendation finds support in the LXX, which translates beginning with a)po (“from…”), assuming a preposition /m! (prefixed –m).

While the LXX translator may have understood a prefixed preposition (-m), it is more likely that an interrogative particle (ym!) was present in the original, being repeated from the first line to create a double rhetorical question. The parallelism would then be formal:

    • Who (is) | knowing | (the) might of | your anger?
    • Who (is) | seeing | (the) center of | your rage?

The verb ha*r* (“see”) in this case would have the sense of “perceive, recognize, understand”, bringing out the parallel with ud^y` (“know”). The word ET) (defective for EoT) is understood as the substantive (meaning “midst, middle, inside”) derived from the root Ew#T*; for concision, I translate it above as “center,” though “heart” would make a better poetic rendering. As a parallel with zu), (“strength, might, power”), the sense is probably something like “substance, essence, force”. The noun hr*b=u# denotes something “crossing over”; when used of the anger of YHWH (as earlier in v. 9), the sense is of an ‘overflowing’ rage that bursts forth (or, in the idiom I am using here, “boils over”).

Verse 12

“(How) to number our days, so may you help us know,
that we might bring (in) a heart of wisdom.”

The implication of the double question in v. 11 is that no human being is able to understand fully the reasons for God’s anger—and, in particular, why it should last as long as it does. The length of YHWH’s anger is tied to the related theme of the shortness of human life; this was a key Wisdom-theme in the lament (cf. the exegesis in Part 1), and it continues here. The wise person knows how to “number” (vb hn`m*) his/her days; the point is not simply to know the length of one’s life, but to make the most of it. This is achieved through YHWH’s instruction (vb ud^y` Hiphil, “make know, bring knowledge”); the person who knows (v. 11) receives the teaching provided by God.

The corresponding Hiphil of the verb aoB in line 2, “make come” (i.e., “bring”), should be understood in the sense of “bring in”, with the contextual connotation of acquiring something and bringing it into one’s possession. In this instance, the possession to be desired is a “heart of wisdom” (i.e., a wise heart).

Verse 13

“Turn back, O YHWH—until when?—
and ease (your anger) over your servants!”

As noted above, the prayer properly begins here in verse 13. The Psalmist pleads for YHWH to “turn back” from His anger (v. 11, and in vv. 7-9). The verb bWv (“turn back”) can also be understood here in the sense of YHWH returning to His people, so as to give them blessing and protection once again. However, the idea of God refraining from His punishing anger would seem to be the dominant aspect of meaning. The verb <j^n` in the second line can be difficult to translate; when used in the Niphal (passive-reflexive) stem, as it is here, it typically refers to a person finding relief, with the easing of strong emotions (such as anger or grief). Here, the verb, as applied to YHWH, clearly refers to an easing of His anger, to the point where it eventually subsides.

The expression “your servants”, as it is used here in the Psalms (and elsewhere in Scripture), specifically designates the faithful ones among God’s people. Even though they have been loyal to YHWH (and to the covenant), they still have endured, along with the rest of the people, the punishing anger of God. The Psalmist typically identifies himself with these faithful/loyal ones.

The temporal expression yt*m*-du^, “until when…?” (i.e., “how long…?”), echoes the tone of lament from Part 1 (vv. 3-10). It occurs with some frequency in the Psalms, and can be used in the context of both a personal and national lament—cf. 6:4 [3]; 74:10; 80:5 [4]; 94:3; for the comparable expressions hm*-du^ and hn`a*-du^, cf. 13:1; 74:9; 79:5; 89:47[46]; note also 35:17.

Verse 14

“May you fill us in the break (of day) (with) your goodness,
that we may sing out and be glad in all our days!”

The Psalmist here draws upon the language from the lament, utilizing the day-motif (also in v. 12, cf. above)—both in the temporal sense of the passing of a day (and the “days” of a person’s life), and in the symbolic sense of the daylight that marks the end of the darkness of night. On the interplay of these two aspects of meaning, cf. the notes on vv. 4-9 in Part 1. The noun rq#B) specifically denotes the “break (of day), daybreak”, and was used in vv. 4-5. Here, it represents the moment when the ‘night-time’ of YHWH’s anger against His people comes to an end, the darkness being dispelled by rays of light—symbolizing the blessing and favor that God once again shows to His people.

This idea of blessing/favor is expressed two ways in the first line: (a) by the verb ub^c* which generally means “be filled (up)”, to the point of abundance, overflowing, etc; and (b) by the familiar noun ds#j#, meaning “goodness, kindness”, though often in the covenantal sense of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. With regard to ds#j#, here the idea of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant is certainly present, however it is the primary aspect of goodness (i.e., blessing and favor) that is being emphasized.

The blessing that comes at daybreak will allow the righteous to rejoice (singing/ringing out, vb /n~r*) and to be glad (vb jm^c*) all of their days.

Verse 15

“Let us be glad, according to (the number of) days you pressed us,
(according to the) years (that) we have seen evil.”

The Psalmist asks that he (and the other faithful ones of his people) be allowed to experience gladness (vb jm^c*, repeated from v. 14) for a length of time commensurate with their experience of suffering. This suffering occurred when the people were “pressed down” (vb hn`u*) by YHWH, afflicted by His punishing anger. The period of this punishment seems to have been quite long, indicated by the mention here of “years”, as well as the temporal expression yt*m*-du^ (“until when…?”) in verse 13. This suggests that the Exile is in view, with a corresponding exilic (or post-exilic) dating for the Psalm; however, the reference here is brief and general enough that other periods in Israel’s history could also provide the relevant background.

The feminine plural form tomy+ (“days”), rather than the masculine <ym!y`, is a bit odd, and may simply be used for poetic assonance with the following tonv= (“years”). The same pair of word-forms occurs in Deut 32:7, and it is likely that there is an intentional allusion to that verse here; cf. Dahood, II, p. 326.

Verse 16

“Let your act be visible to your servants,
and your (very) splendor upon their sons!”

The Psalmist’s short prayer (vv. 13-16) concludes with this request a manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people. The implication is that God, in His anger, has turned away from His people; but now, according the Psalmist’s petition (v. 13), it is hoped that He will return. The Niphal (passive) of the verb ha*r* (“see”) means “be seen”, i.e., be visible, be manifest/apparent. YHWH’s action (lu^P)), that which He does (and will do) on behalf of His people, will be seen. This probably is an allusion to the historical traditions of the mighty deeds performed by YHWH in the past, which, in their miraculous nature, would be looked upon with wonder by all people.

In manifesting Himself, His very splendor (rd*j*) will be revealed to future generations, even as it was to those in the past. There may be a veiled reference here to Moses’ request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18), though the noun rd*h* (relatively common in the Psalms) is used instead of dobK*. More broadly, the various theophanies of the Moses/Exodus traditions (e.g., Exod 19-20, 24, 33-34f, 40) are likely in view, being alluded to by the Psalmist in his prayer.

Benediction: VERSE 17

“And let (the) favor of our Lord (the) Mightiest be upon us,
and may He make firm (the) work of our hands for us,
and (also) make firm for Him (the) work of our hands!”

The Psalm concludes with this benediction, an irregular tricolon that is rather awkward in both rhythm and phrasing. It may have been added subsequently by an editor; the repeated use of the verb (/WK, “make firm”) reminds one of the “firmness” theme that runs throughout the prior Psalm 89.

I have translated the noun <u^n) in the first line as “favor”. This noun has a relatively wide semantic range (“loveliness, pleasantness, beauty, kindness”), but it is best understood here in connection with the idea of blessing and favor from YHWH returning to His people. In this context, <u^n) would carry the primary sense of “kindness”, being close in meaning to ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”), used in v. 14. The favor shown by YHWH reflects His loyal devotion to the covenant; He will show favor to those who are faithful to Him.

The final two lines of this tricolon each express the same basic wish—viz., that YHWH would “make firm” (vb /WK, Polel) the “work” of His people’s hands. However, this is stated oddly, with slight variation in each of the two lines. In the first line, the prepositional expression Wnyl@u* (“upon us”) is added. Since this same word occurs at the end of the first line, it is possible that it was repeated here by scribal error, and should perhaps, then, be omitted. Eliminating it has the advantage of producing a clean 3-beat (3+3) meter for the two lines. If Wnyl@u* is original, then it would seem to be specifying that the “making firm” of the people’s work is for their benefit; in this case, the prepositional expression (“upon us”, “over us”) could be rendered, more simply, “for us”.

In the final line, the MT apparently includes, for the imperative, a third person singular suffix (Wh-). One is inclined to alter this to match the suffix on the verb in the prior line (paragogic h-). If this were done, along with eliminating the prepositional expression at the end of line 2 (in the MT), then the two closing lines would be identical, each reading:

hn`n+oK Wnyd@y` hc@u&m^W
“and (the) work of our hands may you make firm”

If the MT is correct, then the third person suffix on the verb in the final line may be intended as a datival suffix (a dative of advantage), as Dahood (II, p. 327) suggests. It would then serve a purpose comparable to the prepositional expression in the prior line. That is to say, it expresses who the action (i.e., the making firm) benefits; in line 2, the action is done for the people (“over us,” i.e., for us), while in line 3 it is done for God’s own sake (his honor, 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).
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).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 85

Psalm 85

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-6 [1-5])

This is the second in a set of Psalms (84-85, 87-88) attributed to “the sons of Qorah [Korah]”; cf. the earlier studies on Pss 42 and 84.

This Psalm has a clear two-part structure: a prayer-petition to YHWH (vv. 2-8), and YHWH’s answer (vv. 9-14) presented in the form of a prophetic oracle. Each part can be further divided into two strophes (vv. 2-4, 5-8; 9-10, 11-14), cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 359, 363. The meter of the composition is relatively consistent, following a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format.

Like the prior Psalms (82-84), Ps 85 is not preserved among the Qumran Psalm manuscripts; however, it does survive in a Dead Sea manuscript from Masada. Though fragmentary and incomplete, the text of this MS is very close to the Masoretic Text, with no variants of note.

Part 1: Verses 2-8 [1-7]

Verse 2 [1]

“May you show favor to your land, O YHWH;
may you (bring) back a return for Ya’aqob!”

The perfect verb forms in this opening couplet (also in vv. 3-4) are best read as precative perfects—expressing the Psalmist’s wish for what will come to pass (cf. Dahood, II, p. 286). They have also been explained as prophetic perfects (cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 360, 362), declaring what will happen as though it has already occurred. If they were to be read as past-tense perfects, then the Psalm would certainly date from the post-exilic period, referring to Israel’s restoration and return from exile.

The noun tWbv= (Qere tyb!v=) has typically been explained as deriving from the root hb*v*, and thus meaning “captivity”; however, a strong argument has been made for deriving it from bWv (“turn back, return”), in which case it would mean something like a return to how things were before. The close parallel in Job 42:10 would seem to confirm this; cf. also Psalm 14:7; 53:7 [6]; 126:4. Thus, we have here an early example, probably dating from the exilic or early post-exilic period, of the prophetic theme of the restoration of Israel.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“May you lift (away the) crookedness of your people;
may you cover (over) all their sin!
Selah
May you gather up all your fury;
may you turn back (the) burning of your anger!”

These two couplets form a symmetrical poetic unit: a 3+2+2+3 quatrain, with a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker in the middle. The first couplet deals with the sin of the people; in the second line the regular noun denoting wrongdoing (lit. missing the mark, ha*F*j^) is used, while in the first line it is /ou* (“crookedness,” i.e., perversity). The Psalmist asks that such sin be forgiven; the action of YHWH is two-fold in this regard—(a) lifting/carrying it away (vb ac*n`), and (b) covering it over (vb hs*K*).

The second couplet deals with YHWH’s response to the people’s sin, having punished it, the punishment being described in terms of God’s anger. The noun hr*b=u# means something like an overflow (of anger); for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “fury”. The noun [a^ properly denotes the nostrils, but it is often used in the general sense of anger, perhaps abstracted from the more concrete (and colorful) image of burning/flaring nostrils (as a sign of anger). The Psalmist asks that this punishing anger be removed, again using two different actions by YHWH to express this: (a) gather it all up (vb [s^a*), and (b) turn it back (vb bWv, Hiphil).

By forgiving the people’s sin, and removing the punishment for it (as an expression of Divine anger), YHWH will be able to restore the fortunes of His people, returning them to a condition (in the land) as it was prior to the exile.

Verse 5 [4]

“Return us, O Mighty (One) of our salvation;
break (off) your (anger), provoked by us!”

The motifs from the first strophe (vv. 2-4) continue here, as the Psalmist calls on YHWH—now using imperatives rather than precative perfects—both to return/restore the people (again using the verb bWv), and to turn away His anger against them. The Psalmist now includes himself (“our/us”) among the people. Dahood (II, p. 287) would read the suffix Wn– on the verb in line 1 as a dative, rather than an accusative object suffix; in this case, the request would be for YHWH to “return to us”. The verb in the second line is presumably rr^P* I (“break”), though Dahood (II, p. 287) identifies it with the cognate Ugaritic prr meaning “flee” —in context, the Hiphil would mean “make your anger flee away from us”. Other commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 173) would instead, following the LXX, read a form of the verb rWs (“turn aside/away”). The noun su^K^ fundamentally means a disturbance or “stirring up” of anger—i.e., a provoking, or provocation.

Verse 6 [5]

“Will you be angry with us into (the) distant (future),
drawing your anger (endlessly) for cycle and cycle?”

The first line begins with a prefixed interrogative particle (-h), by which the Psalmist reinforces his petition with an earnest, but rhetorical, question. The question assumes/expects a negative response: surely, God will not be angry with His people forever. The noun <l*ou signifies a (period of) time extending either into the distant past or distant future; here it refers to the future. The noun roD has the basic meaning “circle, cycle”, but is often translated as “generation” —i.e., “for generation and generation”. Even if one renders roD this way here, it is important to realize that the time-frame of a generation is being emphasized, more so than the people in it; the parallel with <l*ou makes this clear. For the specific expression rwdw rwd[l] elsewhere in the Psalms, cf. 10:7 [6]; 33:11; 45:18 [17]; 49:12 [11]; 61:7 [6]; 72:5; 77:9 [8]; 79:13; 89:2 [1], 5 [4]; 90:1; 100:5; 102:13 [12]; 106:31; 119:90; 135:13; 146:10.

Verse 7 [6]

“Will you not return (and) make us live (again),
so (that) your people may be glad in you?”

The Psalmist asks a second question, this time in the negative, and assuming/expecting a positive response: surely, God will restore his people to life! Again the verb bWv (“return”) is used, with the verb pair bWv / hy`j* probably functioning as a hendiadys: i.e., “return (and) make us live” = “restore us to life”. The restoration of God’s people would naturally lead to their rejoicing and praise of Him.

Verse 8 [7]

“Make us to see, O YHWH, your goodness,
and your salvation may you give to us!”

The Piel of hy`j* (in the sense of “make live”) is followed here by the Hiphil (causative) stem of ha*r* (“see,” i.e., “cause to see, make see”). The restoration of God’s people entails blessing. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) refers to the blessings that YHWH gives to His people, when they are faithful/loyal to the covenant bond; ds#j#, in this covenantal context, connotes the faithfulness and loyalty (of YHWH). The blessing, and the covenant-obligation of YHWH for His people, also includes providing protection—i.e., giving “salvation”, as the noun uv^y# can also mean “well-being, safety, victory”. This is a frequent theme in the Psalms.

Part 2: Verses 9-14 [8-13]

Verse 9 [8]

“I shall make heard what the Mighty (One) speaks,
for YHWH (indeed) does speak fullness
to His people and to His devoted (one)s,
and they shall not return to a false hope!”

With Dahood (II, p. 288), I vocalize humva as a Hiphil imperfect (jussive/cohortative) form, hu*m!v=a^. The Psalmist here functions like a prophet, receiving an oracle from YHWH, which he then reports (makes heard). The oracle represents the answer of YHWH to the prayer of vv. 2-8.

The noun <olv* is typically translated “peace”, but properly denotes “fullness, completion”. It is often used (especially in the Psalms) in the context of the covenant-bond with YHWH. Fulfilling the binding agreement leads to blessing—well-being, security, and peace—from God. The adjective dys!j* (“good, kind”), like the related noun ds#j# (in v. 8), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness and loyalty; I have translated it here as “devoted”. The phrase “to His people and His devoted (one)s” is another example of hendiadys (cf. verse 7 above); it essentially means “to the devoted ones of His people”.

The final line is problematic, and may be corrupt. For lack of any better option (the lone Dead Sea manuscript is not preserved beyond v. 6), I more or less follow the MT, understanding the noun hl*s=K! in the sense of a “false/foolish hope”. The promise is that, with the restoration of the people by YHWH, they will no longer be inclined to return to such folly (trusting in other gods, etc), but will be fully devoted and faithful to YHWH, placing their trust in Him alone.

Verse 10 [9]

“Truly, His salvation (is) near for (those) fearing Him—
(and His) weight (is again) to dwell in our land!”

As noted above, the noun uv^y# has a somewhat broader semantic range than the primary denotation of “salvation”; it can also mean “well-being, safety, victory” —referring to the blessings and protection that YHWH provides to His faithful followers, as an obligation of the covenant. The second line is a bit obscure, but it seems to be referring to the promise of YHWH’s presence—expressed here by the noun dobK* (“weight,” i.e., His glory)—among His people. The noun dobK* may also allude to the blessings that stem from His protective and abiding presence in the land.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“Goodness and firmness meet (as one),
rightness and fullness join (together);
firmness sprouts (up) from (the) earth,
and rightness leans down from (the) heavens.”

In the first couplet, four nouns, each of which has a wide semantic range, are used; all four allude to covenant loyalty, and the bond between YHWH and his people:

    • ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”)—cf. verse 8 (and the adjective dys!j* in v. 9b); in the context of the covenant, it can specifically connote “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”.
    • tm#a# (“firmness”)—i.e., faithfulness, trustworthiness, etc., sometimes in the sense of being truthful (and thus, more abstractly, “truth”).
    • qd#x# (“right[ness]”)—or “righteousness,” when a religious-ethical emphasis is intended; also “justice”, in a socio-ethical context; in the context of the covenant, it has a meaning that overlaps with ds#j# (i.e., loyalty).
    • <olv* (“fullness, completion”)—sometimes in the specific sense of “well-being, security”, or, more narrowly, “peace”.

These four are divided into two groups: ds#j# / qd#x# and tm#a# / <olv*. The two sides “come/join together”, a meeting or union that is expressed in the first couplet by the verbs vg~P* and qv^n` (the latter verb can specifically mean “kiss”, including the idea of embracing). The meeting can be understood as taking place in a horizontal direction. In the second couplet (v. 12), a vertical direction is indicated—i.e., coming (lit. “sprouting”) up from the earth, and leaning down from the heavens.

These verses express the presence of Divine blessings on the land and its people, in a thorough and comprehensive way. As noted above, the four attribute-nouns all reflect, with slightly different nuances, the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. The faithfulness of the people in the time of Israel’s restoration will mirror that of YHWH Himself.

Verse 13 [12]

“Indeed, YHWH shall give (forth) the good,
and our land shall give along her produce.”

Here, the blessing from YHWH is described specifically in terms of the fertility of the land. There is a formal parallel here:

    • YHWH | gives (vb /t^n`) | the good
    • the land | gives (vb /t^n`) | her produce

While the noun bof (“good”) should be understood in a general and comprehensive sense—viz., as the richness and blessing that God provides—the specific expression “the good” (boFh^) likely is allusion to the rain that comes down from heaven (from YHWH) to water and make fertile the land (cf. Dahood, II, p. 290, and elsewhere). For an agricultural and pastoral society, rain certainly would be among the foremost of the good things and blessings that God could provide.

The noun lWby+ is a bit difficult to translate in English. It basically denotes something that is brought/carried along, or refers to the process of such carrying. The fertile land brings forth its produce, bearing it and carrying it along.

Verse 14 [13]

“Right(eous)ness shall go before His face,
and shall set (the) path for His steps.”

This concluding couplet is rather ambiguous. Who is the subject and/or what is the precise scenario being so allusively described? If it is the returning of the people that is principally in view here, then it would make sense that YHWH’s right(eousness) (qd#x#) would go before His people and set the path for them on their return. It is also possible that the emphasis is on YHWH returning, to His land and His people, in which case qd#x# would be going before Him. It may be that both points of reference are in view, as in the general parallels one finds, for example, in the book of Isaiah and the deutero-Isaian poems—e.g., 35:8ff; 40:3; 42:16; 43:19ff; 51:10-11.

Here qd#x# stands for all four of the attribute-nouns related to the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant (cf. on vv. 11-12 above). It represents the overarching characteristic of the New Age of Israel’s restoration—referring to the restored people as the righteous and faithful ones, those fully devoted to YHWH, and who walk in His footsteps, following His example.

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).
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 84

Psalm 84

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-13 [1-12])

This is the first in a set of Psalms (84-85, 87-88) attributed to “the sons of Qorah [Korah]”; Pss 42-49 have the same ascription. The Korahites were priestly officials who served in the Temple, as attested in the books of Chronicles (1 Chron 9:19; 26:1, 19), and also as a company of singers (2 Chron 20:19). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, they are simply designated as Levite clan (Exod 6:21; 1 Chron 6:7, 23 [22, 38]), with no additional information provided. Clearly it is the group of Temple singers that is most relevant to the superscription here. It is possible that they were responsible for the editing of the ‘Elohist Psalter’.

This Psalm has a clear three-strophe structure, with the hl*s# (Selah) pause-marker here serving as a structural indicator. Each strophe concludes with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). There is also a certain step-parallelism that joins the strophes together; the concluding thought and imagery in the strophe is picked up at the beginning of the next strophe.

Psalm 84 evinces a strong Zion-theology, emphasizing the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple. Whether or not the composition derives from a festal setting, it unquestionably makes use of such associations. The pilgrimage festival of Sukkot (Booths) is probably in view, given the theme of “dwelling-places” (vv. 2-5, 11) for the faithful, as well as the idea of God providing rain (vv. 7, 12) as a blessing for the land; the latter was a traditional association with the fall harvest festival, when the people offered prayer to God for the coming rain.

The Psalm in its finished form probably dates from the Exilic period. If so, then the imagery in the central strophe would relate to the promise of the people’s return from exile, much in the manner of the Deutero-Isaian poems. The pilgrimage motif would then apply to the exiles’ return to Jerusalem. It is possible that the current three-strophe Psalm represents an expansion of an earlier two-part composition, the core of which is preserved primarily in the first and third strophes. Like many Psalms, the third strophe of Ps 84 evinces a royal background, featuring the king as the protagonist. An emphasis on Jerusalem and the Temple is very much part of the Judean royal theology, and the Psalm could have its origins in the pre-exilic (late monarchic) period.

Metrically, Psalm 84 follows a 3+2 couplet format, especially in the first two strophes. Any irregularities will be noted below. In addition to its attribution to the “sons of Korah” (cf. above), the heading gives the musical direction tyT!G]h^-lu^ (“upon the tyT!G]“), which also is indicated for Psalms 8 and 81. It is not clear whether this refers to a melody, musical style (or mode), or a kind of instrument; probably tyTG]h^ (“[at] the winepress” [?]) designates a particular melody or type of song (to be sung at the winepress?).

Like the prior Psalms (82-83), Ps 84 is not preserved among the Qumran Psalm manuscripts; however, it does survive, virtually complete in a Dead Sea manuscript from Masada. The text of this MS is very close to the Masoretic Text, with no variants of note.

Stanza 1: Verses 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“How lovely (are) your dwelling-places,
YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!”

The title toab+x= hwhy, which occurs at the close of all three stanzas, is established here in the opening couplet. The origins of this title are not certain; it may preserve the verbal force of the name YHWH, referring to God (la@) as the Creator, who brings into existence the heavenly beings and entities (cf. Cross, pp. 68-71). These are the “armies” (toab*x=) of the heavens, including the celestial bodies of the sun, moon, and stars, and related natural phenomena. They are under YHWH’s control, and ‘fight’ like soldiers at His command. This militaristic imagery relates to the storm-theophany as it is applied to El-YHWH in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. God’s control over the heavens, and waters above, is manifest in the awesome power and fury of the storm, bringing wind and rain, etc. In Old Testament tradition, expressed mainly in the ancient poetry, the celestial phenomena (of the storm, etc) work at YHWH’s behest, doing battle against the enemies of His people—cf. Exodus 15:3-10; Judg 5:4-5, 20-21; Hab 3:4-6, 8-13. For more on the background of the storm-theophany, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

The “dwelling-places” (tonK=v=m!) of YHWH are, indeed, in (and above) the heavens. Yet the term also alludes to His dwelling on earth, among His people; the Temple sanctuary (like that of the earlier Tent-shrine) is His dwelling in a ritual and symbolic sense. The plural of the noun /K^v=m! is rather rare; it is applied, as here, to the dwelling(s) of YHWH in Ps 43:3 and 132:5, 7. Dahood (I, p. 262; II, p. 279) notes the Canaanite poetic practice of using plural forms with singular meaning when referring to a building or site. Thus, the plural here can very much refer to the Temple sanctuary. The Zion/Temple theology draws upon ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) mythic-religious tradition, whereby the Creator (El) dwelt in/on a great cosmic mountain; this cosmological motif could be applied to any local mountain, even the modest elevation of a hilltop-site such as Zion.

Verse 3 [2]

“My soul is longing, yes even is consumed,
for (the) enclosures of YHWH;
my heart and my flesh rings out (completely)
to (the) Mighty (and) Living (One)!”

The “loveliness” (adj. dyd!y+) of YHWH’s dwelling-place was expressed in v. 2. This beauty and appeal causes the protagonist to desire it greatly. In the first couplet here in v. 3, his soul is said to “long for” (vb [s^K*) the “enclosures” of YHWH. The plural torx=j^ is largely parallel (and synonymous) with tonK=v=m!, referring to YHWH’s dwelling-place in a comprehensive way. The specific wording may allude to the idea of the Psalmist being within (inside) the dwelling. He longs for this experience, even to the point of his soul being “finished” (vb hl*K*); in English idiom, we would probably say “my soul is consumed with longing”. Though in the Qal stem here, the verb hl*K* really needs to be translated in a passive/stative manner much like the Niphal of [s^K*.

In the second couplet, this longing bursts forth with a great cry or shout (vb /n~r*, “ring out”) that encompasses the Psalmist’s entire being—both “heart” and “flesh”, soul and body. This reflects a primal sense of worship that stems from the deepest part of a person. This same idea is expressed in the famous Shema (Deut 6:5). For the devout worshiper, the dwelling of God is desirable because He Himself dwells there.

Verse 4ab [3ab]

“Even (the) chirping (one) finds a home,
and (the) swift a nest for her,
where she may set her sprouting (young),
near your places of slaughter.”

The curious imagery in these two couplets is the means by which the Psalmist approaches the idea of a human being taking up abode in the dwelling of God. He makes the striking juxtaposition of a bird establishing a nest for her young right next to the place where animals are slaughtered for sacrifice. The particle ta# in the last line is best understood in terms of proximity (i.e., “with, near, beside”). The noun j^B@z+m! literally means “place of (ritual) slaughter”, i.e., an altar where animal sacrifices are offered; even though it can be used for other kinds of altars as well, the emphasis on the slaughter of animals should be preserved, in order to bring out the paradoxical contrast of the altar as a safe location for a bird to have her nest. The plural (“places of slaughter”) follows the use of the plural in vv. 2 and 3a (“dwelling places,” “enclosures”) with singular meaning—i.e., as a reference the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple courtyard. One might also note the tradition of the altar as a place of sanctuary, where a person could take refuge for protection (e.g., 2 Kings 2:28-29ff).

Verses 4c-5 [3c-4]

“O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies,
my King and my Mighty (One),
happiness to (those) sitting in your house,
(who) continually give praise to you!”
Selah

As noted above, all three stanzas close with an invocation using the title toab*x= hwhy (“YHWH of [the heavenly] armies”); on which, cf. verse 2 (above). Verse 4c can be read as either a 4-beat line or a 2-beat (2+2) couplet. Like the bird who makes her nest (v. 4ab), the righteous/faithful ones are said to be “sitting” (vb bv^y`), i.e. dwelling, in the “house” of God. The possibility is thus raised that a human being might take up residence in God’s dwelling-place.

Stanza 2: Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“Happiness for (the) man whose refuge (is) in you,
(the) pathways up (to it are) in (his) heart.”

I have noted how there is a certain step-parallelism in this Psalm, whereby the thought and imagery at the close of a stanza is picked up at the beginning of the next stanza. Here the beatitude-motif from verse 5 is essentially repeated here. The idea of a person finding a place of refuge (zou[m*]) in YHWH is parallel with the image of people “sitting” (i.e., dwelling) in His house.

A place of refuge/protection is usually understood as a secure location up high, and this is reflected here by the use of the noun hLs!m= (“highway”), denoting a pathway or road that is “built up” (raised) above ground level. The paths that lead a person to God’s dwelling are located in the heart. On the one hand, this is a spiritualization of the Temple concept; but, at the same time, it reflects the fundamental idea that a person’s devotion, which enables him/her to be able to dwell with God, stems from the intention and purpose of the heart. Cf. the longing-theme, along with the use of the noun bl@ (“heart”), in verse 2.

The image of a highway or road suggests the notion of a pilgrimage—that is, of people journeying to Jerusalem (and the Temple) for a festival (such as Sukkot, cf. above). I also discussed the possibility that there is an allusion here to the people’s return from exile, and their restoration in the land (with a new kingdom centered at Jerusalem). The noun hL*s!m= is used in such a context in the book of Isaiah (11:16; 40:3; 49:11; 62:10).

With Dahood (II, p. 280), I read the <– suffix on <bblb as an enclitic, though it is also possible that a plural suffix (“their heart”), i.e., the righteous ones collectively, is meant as a counterpart to the singular (“[the] refuge for him”, i.e. whose refuge).

Verse 7 [6]

“Passing through (the) valley of shrub(s),
they set it (to be) a place of spring(s),
(the) blessings (with which) rain covers (the land).”

The precise meaning and syntax of this verse is difficult. The subject of the first two lines is by no means clear. There would be some clarity if the intended subject were the “blessings” brought by the rain, expressed in the third line; this would indeed be sensible, except that the feminine plural noun tokr*B= does not agree with the masculine plurals in the prior lines. Many commentators view the subject as an implicit (and otherwise unspecified) group of pilgrims, or of the people (collectively) on their return from exile. Overall, in spite of the disagreement of gender, it seems best to view the verse as referring to the effect of the rain, giving water to the dry desert land, and thus making it fertile. Such imagery could well be meant to symbolize the restoration of Israel.

The noun ak*B* apparently refers to the balsam shrub of the Judean hill country. It presumably is used to represent the shrubbery of an arid/dry terrain, but there may also be a bit of wordplay with the root hk*B* (“weep”).

Verse 8 [7]

“(So) they go from rampart to rampart, (until)
they see (the) Mighty of Mightiest in ‚iyyôn.”

How does verse 8 relate to the prior verse 7? It is possible that an unspecified (and generalized) collection of righteous/devout people is the implied subject of both verses (cf. above). The imagery then would be of the people passing through the Judean desert (v. 7) until they reach the walls of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Certainly the righteous ones, collectively, seem to be in view here. As they approach, and then enter, the Temple, they see God—that is, the place of His dwelling, where He resides. The verb form ha#r*y@ is a Niphal (passive) singular form (“he/it is seen”), which does not agree with the plural of line 1. I follow Dahood (II, p. 282) in vocalizing as a Qal active plural, War=y] (“they see”). If the MT is retained, then the line would read: “(until the) Mighty of Mightiest is seen in Zion”.

There is likely a bit of word play involving the noun lyj, which (vocalized lyj@) could mean “surrounding wall, rampart”, or (vocalized ly]j^) “strength, wealth, riches”. The rain brings blessings (i.e., richness) to the land, and the people experience similar blessings as they come near to YHWH’s dwelling-place in Jerusalem.

With other commentators, I read <yhla la (with la vocalized la@) as a double-superlative Divine title: “Mighty of Mightiest (One)s,” i.e., “God of Gods”.

Verse 9 [8]

“YHWH, Mightiest (One) of (the) armies,
may you hear my prayer—
give your ear, O Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob!”
Selah

This stanza, like the first (see v. 5, above), closes with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy), in an expanded form with the inserted appellative <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” i.e., God). The Psalmist asks YHWH to hear his prayer.

Stanza 3: Verses 10-13 [9-12]

Verse 10 [9]

“May you, our Protector, see, O Mightiest (One),
and look upon (the) face of your anointed.”

Continuing with the step-parallelism in this Psalm, the invocation (and prayer) at the close of the second stanza is picked up at the beginning of the third. The noun /g@m* is often translated “shield” but literally means “protection”. YHWH is the protection for His people (the righteous); the same idea was expressed at the beginning of the second stanza (v. 6), referring to God as the place of refuge for the righteous. I translate /g@m* here as “protector”, personalizing the noun, rather than as the more abstract “protection”.

The protection for the Israelite/Judean people naturally extends to the king (“your anointed”). This suggests that the origins of Psalm 84 stem from the pre-exilic (monarchic) period; indeed, many of the Psalms evince such a royal background, in which the king functions, at least in part, as the protagonist and vassal-servant of YHWH in the Psalm.

Verse 11 [10]

“For good is a (single) day in your enclosures
(more) than a thousand in the grave;
(better) to be at the threshold of (the) house of (the) Mightiest
than to go around in (the) tents of wickedness.”

The Psalmist returns here to the idea of dwelling in the house of God, the principal theme of stanza 1 (see esp. the climactic verse 5). He would much rather spend a single day in the “enclosures” of God’s house, than to spend a thousand days “in the grave”. The final word of the second line of the first couplet is problematic. It can be dealt with three ways:

    • The MT can be retained, yT!r=j^B*, a verb form of rj^B* (“choose”); the line would read “(more) than a thousand I might have chosen”.
    • It can be parsed as the preposition B followed by the noun trj, meaning “grave”; this noun would be cognate with Ugaritic —rt and Akkadian —£r£tu (cf. Dahood, II, 282f).
    • The text could be emended to yr!d=j#B= (“in my chamber”), cf. Kraus, p. 166; the line would then be “(more) than a thousand in my (own) chamber”.

I have chosen the second option, as being more fitting to the parallelism of the verse. It also has the benefit of not requiring the text to be emended; the postformative y-, if retained, could be explained as an archaic case ending that was unwittingly preserved, or the author may be personalizing the object/location as “my grave”. The “grave” probably is meant figuratively, parallel in meaning with the expression “tents of wickedness”.

In both couplets the preposition /m! (“from”) is used in a comparative sense; in English, this has to be translated “(more) than, (better) than,” etc.

Verse 12 [11]

“(For) indeed, (our) Sun and Shield
(is) YHWH (the) Mightiest;
favor and weight does He give (us),
nor will YHWH hold back (the) good
to (those) walking in complete(ness).”

The structure and meter of this verse is somewhat complex. I think it is best read as a 3+2 couplet (in the metrical pattern of the Psalm), following by a 3+3+2 tricolon.

The noun /g@m* (“protection”), as a title (“Protector”), is repeated from verse 10 (cf. above); for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “Shield”. It is paired with the noun vm#v# (“sun”), also used as a Divine title. Referring to YHWH as “Sun” suggests the bestowal of life-giving and sustaining blessings (like the rain-motif in verse 7). These blessings are defined here as “favor” (/j@) and “weight” (dobK*), the latter term understood in the sense of “worth, value, honor”. Moreover, YHWH is faithful in His bestowal of blessings, fulfilling His covenant obligation in this regard; indeed, He will not “hold back” (vb un~m*) any good thing from those who are faithful and loyal to Him—lit. “(those) walking in complete(ness),” or “…with a complete (heart)”, “…in complete (loyalty)”. The adjective <ym!T* (“complete”), in this ethical-religious sense, connotes faithfulness, loyalty, and (personal) integrity.

Again, YHWH is like the rain (v. 7) in bringing down what is good (blessings, etc) on the land and its people; indeed, there is some indication that the noun bof (“[the] good”) can be used as a specific reference to the rain; compare, for example, Amos 4:7 with Jer 5:25 (cf. Dahood, I, p. 25f; II, p. 283).

Verse 13 [12]

“O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies,
(how) happy (is the) man
taking refuge in you!”

As mentioned above, all three stanzas conclude with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). Also, like the first stanza (v. 5), this stanza closes with a beatitude expresses the happiness (rv#a#) that belongs to the one who resides with God in His dwelling-place. Here the beatitude is virtually identical in meaning with the one in verse 6; in both instances, the happiness is defined in terms of seeking/finding refuge in YHWH. This is expressed in verse 6 by the noun zou (“[place of] refuge”), while here the verb jf^B* is used; this verb occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (46 times). The theme of YHWH providing protection, as part of His covenant-obligation, to those who are faithful/loyal to Him, is prominent in many Psalms.

For poetic concision, I have rendered the beatitude formula here “(how) happy (is)…”. The meter of this concluding verse I read as a terse 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon.

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).
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).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:54-61

1 Kings 8:54-61

With the conclusion of Solomon’s prayer to YHWH (cf. the previous study) in verse 53, it is narrated that the king “stood up” (vb <Wq), from the position of worship in which he had delivered the prayer (according to v. 54): i.e., kneeling before the altar, with his hands (lit. palms) “spread out” toward the heavens. Such a gesture with the hands (cp. verses 22, 38) is a traditional element of worship and prayer, indicating a person’s devotion to God (cf. Job 11:13; Psalm 44:21[20]; 143:6; Isa 1:15). The additional act of kneeling reflects an attitude of submission, prostrating oneself before God, as one would before royalty. Solomon, though king, acknowledges YHWH as his Sovereign; this idea of the king as a faithful/loyal vassal to God (and to the covenant) is a vital component of the Israelite/Judean royal theology. Solomon’s position in prayer, kneeling with hands outstretched to heaven, is matched by Ezra in 9:5ff, where he likewise prays to YHWH as a leader representing the people.

In vv. 56-61, Solomon blesses the gathering of the people, much in the manner of the blessing to be uttered by the priests during times of public worship and sacrifice (cf. Lev 9:22-23; Num 6:23-27; cp. the setting in Lk 1:10, 21-22). The blessing is introduced as follows:

“And he stood (there) and blessed all (the) assembly of Yisrael (with) a great voice, saying…” (v. 55)

The verb Er^B* is usually translated “bless”, but it can also be synonymous with the verb ur^K*, used in v. 54, meaning “bend the knee, kneel”. The noun Er#B# means “knee”, and it has been thought that the verb Er^B* may be denominative, derived from this noun; more likely, perhaps, is that the range of meaning reflects a fundamental connection between the act of kneeling and the receiving of a blessing. In any case, Er^B* only rarely carries the strict meaning “kneel” in the Old Testament; in the vast majority of the 330 occurrences, it refers to the utterance of words intended to bring well-being and prosperity (i.e., blessing), or to the bringing about of such a condition of well-being.

The spoken blessing, like the curse (cf. the prior note on v. 31-32), had a quasi-magical character in ancient Near Eastern thought—i.e., the blessing uttered in speech was expected to come to pass. In the context of a binding agreement (covenant), where blessing and curse formulas were utilized, it was thought that the blessings would ensue if the agreement was upheld, while the curses would be realized if the agreement was violated. Cf. the famous examples in Deuteronomy 27-28.

There can be little doubt that the blessing uttered here by Solomon has adherence to the covenant in mind. This is clear by the way that the blessing is framed. The first part features a series of jussive verb forms, indicating what the speaker wishes and expects God will do for the people (vv. 57-58), while the blessing closes (v. 61) with a similar expression of what he expects from the people. This reflects the two sides of the binding agreement, where each side has an obligation to fulfill. The initial blessing, directed toward YHWH (v. 56), establishes the faithfulness that He has shown toward Israel in the past, throughout the people’s history (cf. vv. 15-20, 23-24, 51-53):

“Blessed [EWrB*] (be) YHWH, who has given a place of rest for His people Yisrael, according to all that He spoke—not one word has fallen from all of His good word that He spoke by (the) hand of Moshe His servant.”

The expectation is that YHWH will continue to be faithful to the covenant, and this expectation is expressed through the jussive forms in verse 57:

    • “May He be [yh!y+]…with us, according to the (way) that He was with our fathers—
      may He not leave us [Wnb@z+u^y~-la^]
      and not forsake us [Wnv@F=y]-la^]—”

The continued presence of YHWH with His people reflects the covenant bond—He is their God and they are His people—whereby He will provide both blessing and protection to them. The portion indicated by the ellipsis (…) in the translation above emphasizes this relationship: “YHWH our Mighty (One) [i.e. God]”.

The purpose of this supervising Divine presence is stated in verse 58, through a series of infinitives, comparable to the jussives in v. 57:

    • to make our hearts bend toward Him,
      (for us) to walk in all His ways
      and to guard His commands… which He commanded our fathers”

YHWH’s gracious presence will enable the people to remain faithful, preserving the covenant bond. And yet, the people themselves are still obligated to fulfill their side of the agreement, since God’s presence will not remain if they do not also stay faithful/loyal to him. This is the expectation for the people spoken at the close of the blessing (v. 61); note the formal parallel with verse 57:

    • May YHWH our Mighty (One) be with us…”
    • “And may your heart be complete [<l@v*] with YHWH our Mighty (One)…”

The same imperfect (jussive) of the verb of being/becoming (hy`h*) is used, along with the preposition <u! (“with”). If the people’s collective “heart” is complete(ly) (<l@v*) with YHWH, then He will be with them. The root <lv is frequently used in the context of the covenant, alluding to one’s (complete) loyalty and the fulfillment of one’s obligation. In particular, the people are to observe the terms of the covenant, represented by the various regulations and precepts in the Torah; the same language from v. 58 is used again here:

“…to walk in His decrees, and to guard His commands, as (on) th(is) day.” (v. 61b)

By assembling in Jerusalem for the festival, in an attitude of worship and devotion, the people are showing themselves faithful; the hope and expectation is that they will continue to do so, in all matters, in the future.

The central portion of the blessing occurs in the intervening verses 59-60, where the same wish—again expressed through an imperfect/jussive form of the verb hy`h*—is applied to the words of the Prayer itself:

“And may my words, these (by) which I have made request for favor before YHWH, be near to YHWH our Mighty (One), day and night, (for Him) to make (good the) just (cause) of His servant, and (the) just (cause) of His people Yisrael—(each) word of a day in its day—so (as) for all (the) people of the earth to know [i.e. that they might know] that YHWH, He (is) the Mightiest, (and that) there is no (one) else!”

The blessing for the people thus entails YHWH’s favorable response to their prayers, the expectation of which is laid out in vv. 30-53. Justice (fP*v=m!) will be done for the people in accordance with the rightness and faithfulness of their prayer, in every situation, as it might come about each day. The blessing that YHWH will show to His people, when the covenant bond is maintained, ultimately will lead other nations and peoples to turn toward the God of Israel, recognizing and worshiping Him as “the Mightiest” [<yh!l)a$h*]—the Creator and one true God.

Next week, we will bring this study on the Prayer of Solomon to a close, examining the conclusion of the chapter (vv. 62-66) as well as drawing together some of the insights to be gleaned from the passage, regarding prayer, that might relate to our circumstances as believers in Christ today.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 72 (Part 2)

Psalm 72, continued

VERSES 12-19

This second part of the Psalm can be divided into three smaller units—vv. 12-14, 15-17, and 18-19.

Verse 12

“(May it be) that he rescue (the) needy calling for help,
and (the) oppressed, when there is no helper for him.”

The exact force of the initial yK! particle here remains disputed. Dahood (II, p. 182) would interpret it as introducing the set of conditional statements (protasis) in vv. 12-14. That is, the long life and prosperous reign of the king (vv. 15ff) depends on his ruling in a just and right manner, fulfilling the conditions of vv. 12-14. Certainly, the theme of social justice is prominent here, echoing the earlier emphasis in the first section of Part 1 (vv. 1-4, cf. the previous study). Here again the pairing of yna* (“oppressed”) and /oyb=a# (“needy”), so frequent in the Psalms, occurs. The rightness of the king’s rule is especially reflected in his providing justice for the poor and oppressed members of society. In particular, when the needy calls out for help (vb uw~v*), and there is no one around to help him (vb rz~u*), the king, with his just government, will make things right and will provide protection.

Verse 13

“May he look with pity on (the) low and needy,
and (the) souls of (the) needy may he keep safe.”

Here the goal of protecting the needy is expressed more directly. In line 1, the adjective lD^ (“low[ly]”) is paired with /oyb=a# (“needy”), emphasizing a person’s low status (in society) and lack of power. The verb uv^y` (“save”) is loosely related to uw~v* (“cry for help”) in v. 12, essentially representing an answer (by the king’s government) to the person’s cry for help. The Hiphil of uv^y` can denote “save” or “bring safety”, but also “keep safe”.

Metrically, verses 12 and 13 each contain 3-beat (3+3) couplets.

Verse 14

“From oppression and violence, may he redeem their soul,
and may their blood be precious in his eyes.”

The king’s protection extends to saving/rescuing the poor from oppression (EoT) and violence (sm*j*). His government functions like a responsible relative who will redeem (vb la^G`) a family member from bondage and exploitation. The preciousness (rqy) of the blood of the oppressed to the king indicates his concern to eliminate and prevent lawless violence in his kingdom.

In contrast to the previous 3-beat couplets, this concluding verse (of the unit vv. 12-14) has an elongated 4+3 meter.

Verse 15

“Then shall he live, and shall be given to him
(the) gold of Šeba’;
and prayer shall be made for him continually,
all the day (long) one shall bless him.”

According to the line of interpretation elucidated above, if the king should rule in a just and right manner, then he and his reign will be blessed by YHWH. This blessing is described here in vv. 15-17, paralleling the second unit of Part 1 (vv. 5-7). Indeed, a promise of long life (vb hy`j*, “live [long]”) is similarly found in v. 5. The “gold of Sheba” reprises the theme of tributary gifts offered to the king (v. 10), where the Arabian kingdom of Sheba (ab*v=) is also mentioned. Prayer will be made on the king’s behalf (such as in this very Psalm), and he will be blessed and shown honor by the people. The continuous nature of this blessing is indicated both by the adverb dym!T* and the expression “all the day (long)”.

The meter of verse 15 is slightly irregular, with a pair of 3+2 couplets, while the rhythm and poetic syntax is a bit off-beat.

Verse 16

“There shall be a mantle of grain (up)on the land,
(even) on (the) head of (the) hills it sways,
like the white (mountains) its fruit sparkles,
(with) <sheaves> like (the) grass of the land.”

This somewhat awkward pair of couplets is beset by a number of textual and poetic difficulties. Unfortunately, nothing survives of this Psalm in the Dead Sea manuscripts to help in solving the problems.

The word/form tS^p! occurs only here in the Scriptures, and its exact meaning and derivation is quite uncertain. It has been related to Egyptian p´š and also Ugaritic (HALOT, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 204). The poetic parallel with Psalm 65:14 suggests the image of vast fields of grain covering the land like a garment (cloak, mantle, etc). The noun sP^, in Gen 37:3, 23, 32; 2 Sam 13:18-19, refers to a long robe, which would perhaps be appropriate to the context here as well. MT tS^P! might thus be explained as a construct form of a noun hS*P! that is comparable in meaning to sP^. I have translated it above as “mantle”; Dahood (II, p. 183) gives the same translation, though he parses tS^P! in a very different way.

The word ryu!m@ in the MT of the final line makes almost no sense in context, as it apparently means “from (the) city”. A solution is at hand, however, if one simply emends ryum slightly, by rearranging the letters to rymu (rym!u*, “sheaf, row of grain”). This is the approach taken, e.g., by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 204), and I have followed it here. This yields a chiastic quatrain, in terms of both the imagery and phrasing:

    • a mantle of grain (up)on the land
      • on the top of the hills it sways/waves
      • like the white mountains its fruit sparkles
    • (with) sheaves like the grass of the land

The reference in the third line is, specifically, to the Lebanon mountains (lit. “white [mountains]”), as a traditional symbol of fruitfulness and wealth/grandeur. The king’s reign will thus be fruitful, both literally (fruitful land) and figuratively (a prosperous/successful kingdom).

Verse 17

“His name shall be for (the) distant (future),
before (the) sun shall his name increase,
and they shall (all) be blessed in him,
all nations shall be made happy by him!”

The king’s “name” (<v@) refers specifically to his progeny, to his male descendants who will continue the royal dynasty under his name. It will both exist for many generations, and will grow/increase. This is expressed chiastically in the first couplet:

    • His name shall be [i.e. last]
      • for the distant (future)
      • before the sun
    • his name shall increase

The verb /Wn should probably be understood as denominative of /yn] (“offspring, posterity”), and thus means bear offspring, by which the king’s name (and dynastic line) increases. The noun <l*ou can refer to either the distant past or the distant future, the latter being intended here; the king’s dynasty will last as long as the sun (i.e., forever). This is the hyperbolic wish of the Psalmist’s prayer.

The second couplet is more straightforward, with a simple synonymous parallelism:

    • “(they all) | shall be blessed | in him”
    • “all nations | shall be made happy / by him”

The blessing on the king’s reign extends to all the people of his kingdom, and to all the surrounding nations, those who honor and are obedient to him.

Verse 18

“Blessed be YHWH (the) Mightiest,
(the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael,
(the One) doing wonders, only He!”

The final unit of Part 2 (and of the Psalm as a whole) is a blessing to YHWH. The God of Israel is the One who secures and blesses the king’s reign.

Verse 19

“And blessed be the name of His weight for the distant (future),
and let all the earth be full of His weight!
Surely (it is so), and (may it) surely (be so).”

Here the “name” of the king (and his dynasty) corresponds to the “name” of YHWH’s dobK*. I have translated the noun dobK* quite literally as “weight”, even though it often has the more figurative meaning of “worth, value”. Typically, when applied to God, it connotes “honor, glory, splendor,” or the like. YHWH is the ultimate King, with power and dominion over the entire universe, and so his honor and worth far exceeds that of even the greatest earthly king. YHWH’s own personal dobK* stands in place of the human king’s dynasty that spans many generations; as Creator and Sovereign over the universe, YHWH Himself rules “into the distant (future)” (i.e., forever, eternally).

The Psalm concludes with the dual-exclamation /m@a*w+ /m@a*. The adverb /m@a* functions as a ritual declaration (cf. Num 5:22; 27:15-26) with the quasi-magical purpose of establishing that a performative statement (blessing or curse) is valid and binding, and will be expected to come true. As such, /m@a*, deriving from the root /ma, which has a wide semantic range (“be firm, confirm, establish, support”), is rather difficult to translate in English.

We are perhaps more familiar with the declaration through its transliteration in Greek (in the New Testament, a)mh/n), or its anglicized form (in prayers, etc), “amen”. The adverb /m@a* is relatively rare in the New Testament itself, with the double-declaration /m@a*w+ /m@a* rarer still, occurring just once (Neh 8:6) outside of the Psalms. Elsewhere in the Psalms, it occurs at the end of Psalm 41 and 89 (cf. also Ps 106)—that is, at the end of the traditional book-divisions of the Psalter.

Verse 20 is similarly a later editorial comment, added during the process of compiling and editing the Psalter. The comment reads: “(Here) are completed (the) prayers of David son of Yishay”.

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 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),”
Selah

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 67

Psalm 67

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 1-2, 4-8 [1, 3-7])

This short Psalm has a simple and appealing structure. A central hymn in verses 3-6 [2-5] is framed by a prayer-lyric at the opening (v. 2 [1]) and closing (vv. 7-8 [6-7]) of the Psalm. The closing lyric is similar, in a number of respects, to the opening, and thus functions in the manner of repeated refrain. The core hymn shares certain ideas and features in common with the prior Psalms 65 and 66. Most notably, the theme of the nations coming to praise the God of Israel, acknowledging His greatness and power, was prominent in Ps 65 (cf. the previous study).

Like the previous two Psalms (cf. also Pss 30, 45-46, 48), this Psalm is designated both a musical composition (romz+m!) and a “song” (ryv!). As I have noted, since virtually every Psalm could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear precisely what (if anything) is distinctive in the use of the term ryv!. It has been suggested that it refers to a Psalm that was specifically sung in a ritual worship setting (in the Temple); if so, then the characterization of such Psalms as a religious hymns would be appropriate. This Psalm is also directed to be performed on stringed instruments (tonyg]n+), as also in the headings of Pss 4, 6, 54-55, 61 (and 76).

Psalm 67 also has the distinction of being one of the Psalms most completely preserved in the Qumran scrolls. This is due to the brevity of the Psalm, and the happy coincidence that the bulk of it is contained within the surviving fragments of 4QPsa.

Metrically, the Psalm follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with only a couple of exceptions (noted below).

Verse 2 [1]

“Mightiest, show favor to us and bless us,
make your face to shine (and) come upon us!”
Selah

The opening verse is a prayer-couplet, introducing the hymn proper, calling upon God (YHWH) to bless His people—i.e., the Psalmist and the other righteous/faithful ones of Israel. Four verbs are used, two in each line, three jussives along with one (precative) perfect form (cp. on verses 7-8 below):

    • Line 1:
      (a) /n~j* (“show favor”); (b) Er^B* (“bless”)
    • Line 2:
      (a) roa (Hiphil, “make shine); (b) ht*a* (“come”)

I follow Dahood (II, p. 127) in reading wnta as Wnt*a* (“come [upon] us”), rather than MT WnT*a! (“with/to us”). As indicated above, it would then be understood as a perfect form of the verb ht*a* (“come”), cf. Job 3:25; it is read as a precative perfect, to match the three prior jussive forms. The shining of God’s face is parallel to the idea of “showing favor”, while God blessing His people is explained in terms of His presence (and nearness), “coming” upon them.

The use of the term <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, i.e. ‘God’) in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH), marks this as another ‘Elohist’ Psalm.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“For (the) knowing in all (the) earth your path,
(and) in all (the) nations your saving help,
may the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

These two matching couplets, which open the hymn proper, can be viewed grammatically as a single statement. The first couplet (v. 3) describes the nations of the earth coming to know (vb ud^y`) and recognize YHWH, both in terms of His “way” (Er#D#) and the saving help (hu*Wvy+) that He gives to His people. Here the word Er#D# (lit. indicating a trodden path) should be understood in the sense of God’s dominion over the earth. The setting of the foot (of the ruler) on his territory marks it as belonging to him, and under his ruling authority. For the theme of the nations witnessing the great deeds done by YHWH on behalf of His people (Israel), cf. the previous studies on Pss 65 and 66.

The second couplet (v. 4) twice calls upon all the peoples (<yM!u^) to give (lit. throw/cast, hd*y`) praise to YHWH. In the context of the first couplet, it is clear that this praise is in response to a recognition of YHWH’s sovereign power over the world, and of the mighty acts of salvation performed by Him (such as the great Exodus event at the Reed Sea, cf. Ps 66:6).

Verse 5 [4]

“May they be glad and cry (for joy), (the) nations,
for you judge (the) peoples (in) a level (place),
and (the) nations, you shall lead them in(to) the land.”
Selah

This verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, thus departing slightly (for dramatic effect) from the metrical pattern. Even in translation, the chiasm of the verse is rather obvious:

    • May…the nations [<yM!a%l=]
      • you judge the peoples [<yM!a^]
    • and the nations [<yM!a%l=]…

It is possible to parse the chiasm even more finely (cf. Dahood, II, p. 128):

    • May be glad and cry (out)
      (the) nations
      • for you shall judge /
      • (the) peoples (in) straightness
    • and (the) nations
      you shall lead into the land

The plural <yM!a%l= is more or less synonymous with <yM!u^ (“peoples”); however, to preserve the distinction here in v. 5 I have rendered the former as “nations” (like <y]oG in v. 3). A more literal translation might be “communities” or “assemblies” (i.e., assembled peoples).

There is likely a bit of wordplay at work in the second and third lines. The noun rovm! can be translated “straightness” (i.e., fairness, with justice), but it literally denotes a “level place”; thus, it could refer to the place where the judgment occurs, where the nations are gathered together—in other words, a depiction of the afterlife (or eschatological) judgment.

In the third line, the juxtaposition of Jr#a*B* (“in the earth/land”) with the verb hj*n` (“lead, guide”) can be understood two ways. First, the idea could be that YHWH, exercising His sovereign control over the world, will guide all of the nations on the earth, in a general way. Alternately, following upon the motif of the great Judgment (cf. above), the specific sense could be that God will lead the nations (the righteous ones) into the ‘land of the living,’ —that is, into the blessed/heavenly afterlife, along with the righteous of Israel.

Verse 6 [5]

“May the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

Verse 6 repeats the couplet in v. 4 (cf. above), like a recurring refrain to the hymn.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“May the land give (forth) her produce,
may (the) Mightiest, our Mighty (One), bless us!
May (the) Mightiest bless us,
and may they fear Him,
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

Verse 7 essentially matches verse 2, thus forming a frame for the hymn in vv. 3-6. It is a prayer asking YHWH to bless His people (and their land). The idea of material blessing, of output/produce (lWby+) from the land (Jr#a#), certainly is in mind (cp. 65:10-14, with the focus on God providing rain from heaven to make fertile the land). However, the possibility that Jr#a# in verse 5 was alluding to the blessed afterlife (i.e., the ‘land of the living’), could mean that the fertility of the land here should be understood in a similar sense.

In verse 8, a two-beat (2+2+2) tricolon is added to the couplet in v. 7, as a coda that brings the Psalm to a close. The two key themes of the Psalm are brought together: (1) a prayer for God’s blessing (line 1), and (2) the idea that the other nations would come to revere YHWH (as the one true God) along with Israel (lines 2-3). The meaning of Jr#a#, as I have translated it, shifts from the “land” (v. 7) to the cosmic/universal sense of “(the) earth” at the end of v. 8.

It is worth noting that, in the first line of v. 8, the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa has “May they [i.e. the nations] bless you, Mightiest,” rather than MT “May the Mightiest bless us.” The entire closing verse then would refer to the theme in the hymn (vv. 3-6), of the nations coming to worship YHWH:

“May they bless you, Mightiest,
and may they fear you [?],
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

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 65

Psalm 65

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is typically characterized as a hymn to YHWH, emphasizing His role as Creator and providential Overseer of the created order. It is one of a number of Psalms specifically designated as a “song” (ryv!). In a sense, virtually every Psalm could be so designated, being a musical  composition (romz+m!) with lyrics. It may be that the term ryv! is meant to indicate that the Psalm was intended to be sung in a cultic worship setting, in which case, its designation as a religious hymn would be appropriate. The term occurs in the heading of a few dozen other Psalms, including the next three in the canonical collection (66, 67, 68).

I generally follow the division of the Psalm used by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 137), inasmuch as I agree with that three-stanza approach. The first stanza (vv. 2-5) focuses on the relationship between the faithful worshiper and YHWH—beginning with the Psalmist, and widening to encompass all of the righteous ones among God’s people. From a ritual setting of worship (including confession of sin and sacrifice), the scene shifts to the heavenly realm, anticipating a dwelling for the righteous with God in the blessed afterlife.

In the second stanza (vv. 6-9), the Psalmist (representing the righteous) calls on YHWH to answer his/their prayer, displaying the same awesome power by which He created (and now governs) the universe. The third stanza (vv. 10-14) specifically focuses on the fruitfulness that YHWH brings to the earth, through the rain that He provides from heaven. Some commentators would interpret this stanza specifically as a prayer for rain.

Metrically, Psalm 65 is irregular, though, at least through the first two stanzas, a 3+2 couplet format is more common than not. In the final verses (12-14) of the third stanza, a 3-beat (3+3) meter is used.

VERSES 2-7a [1-6a]

Verse 2-3a [1-2a]

“To you one <fashions> praise,
O Mightiest, in ‚iyyôn,
to you shall be fulfilled (the) vow,
(the One) hearing prayer.”

The MT of the first line is problematic, involving the the vocalized word hY`m!d% (“silence”); as it has come down to us, the MT here makes very little sense: “to you silence (is) praise…(?)” The LXX apparently reads a form of the verb hm*D* (I), “be like, resemble,” which can be used in the specific sense of “think, imagine, devise”. This would require a Piel verb form, which matches the verb in the third line. The idea of ‘devising’ praise to YHWH would, of course, be most appropriate for the Psalmist, and provides a fitting parallel to the third line, of fulfilling (vb <l^v*) one’s vow (rd#n#) to God. Both are actions of a faithful and devoted worshiper. More to the point, in prior Psalms, praise and the fulfilling of a vow are closely connected—cf. 22:26[25]; 50:14; 56:13[12], etc. Here the Psalm itself could be understood as the fulfillment of a vow to YHWH.

According to my interpretation, verses 2 and 3a combined form a pair of 3+2 couplets. For God to “hear” (vb um^v*) prayer, of course, means to answer it. The Psalmist made a vow to God contingent upon his prayer being answered; this song (psalm) is a fulfillment of the vow he made.

Verses 3b-4 [2b-3]

“Unto you all flesh shall come (bringing)
words of crooked (deed)s (too) great to count,
our breaking (faith), you shall wipe them (away)!”

As it stands, if the MT is essentially correct, I would regard vv. 3b-4 as an irregular tricolon. The theme of worship in vv. 2-3a expands to include the theme of repentance and confession of sin, in a sacrificial or ritual setting. Here “all flesh”, presumably, refers to the community of the righteous, in a collective and comprehensive sense. Whether one parses the suffixed verb waby as a Hiphil or Qal form, the principal idea is of the people bringing their sins before God, perhaps tied specifically to bringing forward a sacrificial offering. The noun rb*D* (here in a plural construct form), literally means “word”, but can also be understood in the more general sense of “thing, matter, affair”; the rendering “words of crooked (deed)s” preserves the idea of confession of sin. These “crooked deeds” specifically entail acts of breaking the covenant bond with YHWH—this is the fundamental meaning of the root uvp, though the noun (uv^P#) is often translated “rebellion,” or more generally as “transgression”.

Note: I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 110) in reading ynm as a poetic infinitive form of the verb hnm (“count”); also possible is the related noun yn]m= (“number”), i.e., “…great (in) number”. Both are to be preferred over the MT yN]m# (“from/for me”).

Upon coming forward in repentance, confessing one’s sins to God, and fulfilling the necessary sacrificial ritual, the sin is forgiven and “wiped (over/out)” (vb rp^K*, Piel).

Verse 5 [4]

“(How) happy (is the one) you choose and bring near,
(that) he should dwell (in) your courts!
May we be satisfied by (the) good(ness) of your house,
(there in) your holy palace.”

Here again we have a pair of 3+2 couplets, as in vv. 2-3a (cf. above). The wish expressed by the Psalmist is for something more than forgiveness and blessedness in this life; indeed, it is the blessedness of the heavenly afterlife that he has in mind. This raises the possibility that the expression “all flesh” in verse 3b could allude to an afterlife (or eschatological) judgment scene. On such a judgment setting as providing the ancient religious background to the beatitude form, cf. my earlier discussion (as part of a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus). See also, the study on Psalm 1, where the same expression yr@v=a^ begins the opening line (of verse 1). Literally, it means something like “(O the) happiness of…”; for poetic concision above, I have translated “(how) happy (is…)”.

In vv. 3b-4, the faithful worshiper comes near to God, in repentance and with words of confession; now, in turn, God brings righteous one near (vb br^q*) to Him. This act of bringing near (into the blessed heavenly realm) also involves a choice (vb rj^B*) made by YHWH. The righteous person is specially chosen to be admitted to the heavenly palace of YHWH, to dwell in its courts (lit. enclosures). The blessedness of this life is indicated by the traditional motif of feasting on the “good” (bWf) found in the heavenly palace, at the royal table, until one is completely filled and “satisfied” (vb ub^c*).

Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“(With) fearful (thing)s may you answer us,
O Mighty (One) of our salvation—
(the One) making secure all (the) ends of (the) earth,
and (the) sea(s that are) far off”

In this stanza, the focus of the Psalm has shifted to a communal prayer offered to YHWH, presumably in the context of a prayer for deliverance (from adversity, enemies, etc), of the kind that we find frequently in the Psalms. The request is that YHWH will answer (vb hn`u*) the people’s prayer with great and wondrous (lit. “fearful”) deeds, implying the sort of miraculous actions by God recorded throughout Israelite and Old Testament tradition.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 112) in reading jfbm as a causative participle, setting the pattern for the participial clauses that follow in verses 7-8. The root jfb denotes being safe and secure—that is, under the protection that YHWH provides for those who are faithful/loyal to Him. This is a theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms, and the verb jf^B* is used often (46 times). Here, however, the specific idea of YHWH’s sovereign power and control over all creation is being emphasized.

Again, metrically we have in this verse a pair of 3+2 couplets.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“(the One) establishing the mountains by His strength,
being girded by (His) might;
(the One) calming (the) crashing of the seas,
(the) crashing of their waves,
and (the) cry of the peoples”

The 3+2 couplet pattern continues, except for the addition of a 2-beat line, for dramatic effect, in the second couplet. YHWH, as Creator, has control over the entire universe, governing it and setting it in order. The imagery here relates principally to His original act of creation, establishing the world’s order; it applies also, naturally enough, to His continuing maintenance and governance of creation. On the ancient Near Eastern cosmological tradition of God subduing the primeval waters, cf. my article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The motif of the raging sea as a symbol for the violent raging of the nations is also traditional (Isa 17:12; 57:20; Jer 6:23; Ezek 26:3; Zech 10:11; Rev 13:1ff, etc), and the parallel allows for humankind to be included as part of the created order over which YHWH has sovereign control.

Verse 9 [8]

“And they shall fear, (those) dwelling (at the) ends, from your signs;
(the) going forth of dawn and dusk you make cry out!”

The stanza concludes with a dramatic (4-beat) couplet, that essentially matches the thought expressed in the opening line (v. 6a, cf. above). The “signs” (totoa) to be shown by YHWH, reflecting His miraculous power over creation, are parallel to the “fearful things” mentioned in the opening line. People of the nations will rightly be in fear of what God will do, in answer to the prayer of His righteous ones. Here, “ends” is shorthand for “ends of the earth,” as in v. 6b.

This reaction of fear and awe will be all-encompassing, occurring all day long, from the break of dawn until the setting of the sun. This is another way of expressing God’s control over the entirely of creation.

Verses 10-14 [9-13]

Verse 10abc [9abc]

“You oversee the earth and give it abundance,
(with) much (rain) you enrich it—
(the) stream of (the) Mightiest (is) full of water!”

Following the theme of YHWH’s control over creation in the second stanza, the focus narrows here to the specific idea of God making fruitful (for humankind) the surface of the earth. For an agricultural and herding society, this fundamentally entails God bringing down rain from the heavens. In ancient Near Eastern cosmological tradition (cf. above), the ability to bring rain stems from the Deity’s control over the waters that surround the cosmos (heaven-earth); this was achieved during the Creation when God subdued the primeval waters. Those waters, in a dark and chaotic state, preceded the ordered universe that God established, and had to be tamed. It is possible to treat the perfect verb forms in this stanza as precative perfects, and the stanza itself as a prayer for rain (cf. Dahood, II, p. 109).

The roots qwv (cp. qqv) and bbr (I) both denote being/having much, i.e., an abundance. Indeed, the plural noun <ybybr= (in v. 11, cf. below) is used to refer to an abundance of rain(drops), and almost certainly the adjective br^ here has a comparable point of reference (i.e., “much [rain]”). The rain also produces much fruitfulness for the land, indicated here by the verb rv^u* (Hiphil, “enrich”).

Verses 10d-11 [9d-10]

“You prepare (her) grain, for thus you have established her—
saturating her furrows,
(soak)ing down her folds,
with many (shower)s you melt her,
(and) her sprouting you bless.”

Assuming that the MT text is essentially correct, I understand verse 10d and 11 together as a poetic unit—containing an initial four-beat line, followed by a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain. The terse lines of v. 11 produce a staccato effect, giving a series of ‘shapshots’ describing the rains and their effect on the earth. The feminine suffixes refer back to the noun Jr#a# (“earth, land”) in 10a.

The initial line is a bit awkward, with its double-use of the verb /WK (and triple-use of the root /wk). The verb has a relatively wide semantic range, and doubtless two or more nuances are intended. For the first occurrence of the verb, I read it in the sense of “prepare, make ready”; for the second, the idea of “found, establish”. YHWH prepares the grain by bringing down the rains, because this is how he has established things for the earth/land in the order of creation (cf. above). On the form <ngd, I read the final mem (<-) as an enclitic element (cf. Dahood, II, p. 115; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 138); this stylistic device is relatively common in Hebrew poetry, and probably occurs more often than most commentators recognize; it can easily be mistaken for the marker of a plural noun (or a plural suffix).

The first two lines of v. 11 are synonymous, very close in meaning. The verb forms can be read either as infinitives or imperatives, depending on how one treats the stanza as a whole—either as a description of God’s creative work (in bringing the fructifying rain), or as a prayer for rain. I have opted for the former approach, which seems more in keeping with the overall tenor of the Psalm. The noun dWdG+ literally means “cut”, i.e., an inroad, something cut through, being here virtually synonymous with <l#T# (“furrow”); I have rendered the former as “fold” (i.e., a fold, implying a trench and ridge, in the surface of the earth).

Once the copious rains (pl. noun <yb!yb!r=, cf. above) have “melted” (vb gWm) the earth’s surface, watering it down, the ground can then sprout forth its plant-growth, the grain and fruit, etc.

Verse 12 [11]

“You crown the (mountain) peak (with) your goodness,
and your tracks drip (down) fatness (below);”

Each of verses 12-14 focuses on a specific area of the earth’s surface that is made fruitful by the rains YHWH sends. Verse 12 begins with the mountain heights, indicated both by the verb rf^u* (in the specific sense of “crown”) and the noun tnv. I follow Dahood (II, p. 116) in explaining the latter on the basis of the cognate Ugaritic word šnt; cp. also Arabic saniya, “be(come) high, exalted”.

The “goodness” (bof) that comes to the mountain peaks, refers both to the fructifying rain and the effect of it—i.e., the fruitfulness of the land. This is parallel with the “fatness” (/v#D#, i.e., richness, fruitfulness). The “tracks” are the pathways and channels by which the rain (and subsequent fruitfulness) “drips” down from the mountaintops to the areas below. It also alludes to the ‘tracks’ made by herd animals (cattle, etc) going to find pasture.

Verse 13 [12]

“the habitations of (the) outback drip,
and (the) hills surround (themselves with) joy;

As was alluded to in verse 12, here the pasture lands—lit. habitations, homes, dwellings—for the herds (and those tending them) are specifically referenced. They, in turn, “drip” with fruitfulness, just as the mountains do in v. 12. As a result, the surrounding hills twirl/spin with joy (lyg), and, in so doing, “surround” (vb rg~j*) themselves with joy. The joyfulness of the entire earth is implied.

Verse 14 [13]

“(the) rounds are clothed (with) flock(s),
and (the) valleys covered (with) field(s)—
they shout (for joy), indeed, and sing!”

The scene here shifts slightly, though still referring generally, in the first line, to the rich pasture-land. The noun rK* essentially means something round, almost certainly continuing the conceptual word-play from v. 13, involving the roots lyg (“turn/twirl/spin”) and rgj (“surround”). Here, the “rounds” refer to areas of pasture-land, probably also to be understood as valleys (cf. Dahood, II, p. 117) that are covered (lit. “clothed”) with an abundance of herd animals. Other “valleys” are used for farmland, and are similarly “covered” (vb [f^u*) with fields (collective noun rB*) of grain.

The subject “they” of the concluding line encompasses all of the areas of the earth covered in vv. 12-14, but also can be seen as referring to the entirety of creation (including humankind). They all shout for joy (vb u^Wr) and sing praise to God. The latter verb (ryv!, “sing”) is, of course, related to the noun (ryv!, “song”) in the heading of the Psalm.

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).