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!
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!”

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!”

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),”

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!”

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.”

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).

Saturday Series: Galatians 3:7-14

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

In this series of studies, looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we are now proceeding through the probatio—that is, Paul’s demonstration, exposition, and proof of the central proposition in 2:15-21 (on which, see the earlier study and notes). His proposition given there, regarding the Torah, is so striking, running so contrary to the traditional religious view of Jews at the time (including many Jewish Christians), that it was necessary for him to offer a thorough and detailed treatment. In the probatio section (chapters 3-4), Paul makes use of a wide range of arguments and rhetorical devices. I divide the probatio according to six main lines of argument. The first of these (in 3:1-6) was discussed last week, and may be summarized as: an appeal to the Galatians’ experience—in particular, their experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.

This week, we turn to the second line of argument (3:7-14), which is an argument from Scripture. The substance of the argument may be summarized as follows:

    • the blessing of Abraham comes by faith
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)

Section 2: Galatians 3:7-14

The second argument (Gal 3:7-14) of the probatio (chapters 3-4) builds on the first, the transition being the example of Abraham (citing Genesis 15:6) in 3:6— “Abraham trusted in God and it was counted for him unto justice/righteousness”. In verses 1-5 the emphasis is on the transformation/conversion which occurs for the believer through the work of God (giving the Spirit); here, the emphasis switches to the idea of justification, of a person being made (or declared) just by God. Sometimes this is understood as an initial stage in the process (or order) of salvation, but “justification” is more properly regarded as eschatological—the righteous person appears before the heavenly/divine tribunal at the end (or after death) and is admitted into the heavenly/eternal realm of God. In such a judicial process, a person is declared righteous, usually on the basis of his/her behavior and attitude, conforming, in a religious and ethical sense, to the justice/righteousness of God. For a good example of this in the New Testament, see the beatitudes and the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7; Lk 6:20-49). An important aspect of early Christian thought—and one which was shared in part by the ancient mystery religions—is that this end-time justification is applied in the present for the believer (or initiate), with the blessing and holiness of God understood as active and real in the life and soul/spirit of the individual (and, by extension, to the religious community). This is often referred to under the specialized term “realized eschatology”, but it was actually a fundamental aspect of early Christian identity. This realized justification/salvation not only offered hope for the future, it served as a point of exhortation and encouragement for believers to live and act in a manner corresponding to their real condition (cf. Gal 5:16, 25).

In tandem with the idea of justification (Abraham being declared just/righteous), this section emphasizes the blessing which God gave to Abraham. The blessing was part of the promise to Abraham; however, the theme of promise is not developed by Paul until the next section (3:15-29). Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 record this promised blessing (cf. also Gen 18:18), and Paul refers to this specifically in Gal 3:8-9. However, Paul blends together Genesis 12:3/22:18 with 15:6 (Gal 3:6), so that the blessing which will come to “all nations” through Abraham is identified being “counted just/righteous” by God (as Abraham was)—and this justification comes by faith/trust (ek písteœs). This is an extraordinary way of interpreting the blessing of Abraham to the nations, which traditionally would have been understood as a product of Israel’s faithfulness to God and obedience to the Torah, and by which various benefits (material, intellectual and religious-spiritual) would be spread, either directly or indirectly, to the Gentiles. Jewish tradition even held out the hope and expectation, based largely on the writings of the later Prophets (esp. so-called deutero/trito-Isaiah, Is 40-66), that at the end-time all nations would be drawn to Israel (to Judah and Jerusalem) and would come to know and serve faithfully the true God. This came to provide part of the background for the early Christian mission to the Gentiles. Paul has introduced an entirely different approach here by identifying this blessing directly with “justification by faith” —it effectively eliminates the mediating role of Israel and the Torah, making it depend entirely on a person’s trust in Christ. It is this thinking which underlies his shorthand declaration in Gal 3:7:

“Know, then, that the ones (who are) of trust/faith [ek písteœs]—these are (the) sons of Abraham”

There is here a slightly different nuance to the preposition ek (“out of”) in this expression than used earlier in the letter (2:16, also 3:2, 5). Previously, “out of” indicated “as a result of” or “through, because of”; here it means “from” in the more concrete sense “coming out of”, as according to the biological/genealogical metaphor—believers come “out of” Abraham as off-spring, but only to the extent that they specifically come out of his faith/trust (in this respect ek can also denote “belonging to”). In other words, they are not physical/biological but spiritual descendants; Paul clarifies this further throughout the remainder of chapters 3 and 4.

It is not just that the (positive) mediating role of the Law (Torah) is removed from the equation, for Paul actually attributes to the Law an entirely different purpose—one which is decidedly negative, though ultimately it has a positive effect. His remarkable (and original) view of the Law is expounded rather clearly in vv. 19-25; here in vv. 10-13 he focuses on just one aspect—the Law as curse, in contrast to the blessing which comes by faith. He begins in verse 10 with the statement:

“For as (many) as are out of [i.e from, ek] works of (the) Law, (these) are under a curse [katára]…”

The expression ex érgœn nómou (“out of works of Law”) is precisely parallel to ek písteœs (“out of trust/faith”) in verse 9, and the preposition ek has the same force. The roughness of Paul’s expression has caused translators to fill it out, glossing it as “those who depend/rely on works of Law”, and so forth. However, this is a highly interpretive rendering, and not necessarily accurate; it very much softens the expression, shifting the emphasis from the Law itself to a person’s attitude toward it. In my view, this is a basic (though well-intentioned) distortion of Paul’s meaning. It is important to maintain the juxtaposition of the literal expressions, while attempting to interpret them accordingly:

hoi ek písteœs
“the ones out of trust/faith”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, trust/faith
hoi ex érgœn nómou
“the ones out of works of Law”
—those persons who come from, and belong to, works of Law

In other words, two groups of people are described—Christian believers (those “of faith”) and all others (those “of [works of] Law”). The expression “works of Law” might lead one to conclude that Paul limits this distinction to observant Jews, but it is clear that Paul would include all human beings (all non-believers) in this category, there being a similar legal-religious dynamic at work for pagan Gentiles, parallel to that of Israelites and Jews. It is, therefore, not so much a question of how one regards the Law (“relying” on it, i.e. for salvation), but of a more fundamental religious identity—whether one belongs to faith (in Christ) or to works of Law.

The people who are (or who remain) “of the Law” are under a curse (hypó katáran). The word katára literally means a “wish (or prayer) against (someone/something)”, in other words, a “curse”, though the term imprecation is perhaps more appropriate. In modern society, the magical-dynamic force and significance of imprecatory language has been almost entirely lost, “cursing” having been reduced to empty profanity, so it can be difficult for us today to appreciate exactly what Paul is describing. He turns to the books of the Law (Pentateuch), and draws two examples of “curses”:

    • Deut 27:26: “a curse upon [i.e. cursed] every (one) who does not remain in the (thing)s written in the book [lit. paper-scroll] of the Law, to do them”—this version Paul cites (in v. 10b) differs slightly from the LXX (“…who does not remain in all the words of this Law…”) which is generally an accurate rendering of the Hebrew.
    • Deut 21:23: “a curse upon [i.e. cursed] every (one) hanging upon (a piece of) wood [i.e. a tree]”—Paul’s citation (v. 13b) is modified to match the formula in Deut 27:26.

Deuteronomy 27 records a ceremony in which the people of Israel publicly accept the agreement (covenant) YHWH has established with them, the statutes and commands of the Law (Torah) serving as the basic terms of the covenant which Israel agrees to follow. In verses 15-26 the people together announce a curse on all who violate the commands—vv. 15-25 specify specific kinds of violation, while v. 26 is a general declaration related to the Torah as a whole. The actual curses themselves are stated in 28:15-68, parallel to the (much shorter) statement of blessings (28:1-14). Deuteronomy 21:23 is not a curse as such, but rather a statement that a person executed by hanging is the “curse [q®l¹lâ] of God”. The verb qll has the basic meaning “to make small, weak, of no account”, etc, and refers to the uttering of the curse (that is, the words). In the Deuteronomic injunction, the corpse of the hanged person must not be left on the tree (and unburied) through the night, or it will defile the land—i.e., the dead body serves as the curse-vehicle, the means by which the effect of the curse comes upon the land. “Cursed” in Deut 27 translates a different verb (°rr), which, based on the cognate (arâru) in Akkadian, appears to have had an original meaning “to bind” —i.e., to bind a person by a magic formula, the words being efficacious to produce what they describe. In the context of Israelite monotheism, it is God who brings it about, according to the words of the curse-formula. A person cursed is thus bound—the punishments or detrimental consequences laid out in the curse-formula will surely come to pass upon him (or her).

Paul use of these two passages is interesting. First, the application of Deut 21:23 to Jesus’ death is relatively straightforward, especially since the punishment of crucifixion (being “put to the stake”) may be referred to as hanging “upon a tree” (cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39). His use of Deut 27:26 is more difficult. Gal 3:10 is often understood in the sense that no one is able to obey and fulfill the Law completely, the transgression of a single command or regulation being enough to violate the entire covenant. However, Paul never quite says this; it could, perhaps, be inferred from Gal 5:3, but otherwise has to be understood on the basis of statements regarding the general sinfulness of all human beings, etc. I will discuss this question in more detail in a separate note, but I would say that the immediate context of Galatians 3-4 is a better guide to what Paul intends here; and, in 3:19-25, he clearly states that a primary purpose of the Law was to bring about (and increase) transgression. By a profound paradox, which Paul never entirely explains (either here or in Romans), even the person who appears blameless according to the Law (cf. Phil 3:6) ultimately ends up violating the very thing that he/she wishes to uphold. The underlying argument is somewhat complex, but the line of reasoning here in Gal 3:10-13 would seem to be as follows:

    • The one who is (or feels) bound and obligated to the “works of Law” ends up violating the Law/Torah
      • and is thus under the curse of God (acc. to Deut 27:26)
        • Jesus frees (redeems) us from the curse (slavery metaphor)
      • becoming the curse of God by his death (acc. to Deut 21:23)
    • Jesus, in his own person (and by his death), fulfills/completes the Law (cf. Rom 10:4)

In a technical sense, one might find problems with Paul’s reasoning here, but it has a definite logic, and believers will recognize the theological (and Christological) truth of it. The logical framework relates primarily to verses 10 and 13, but in vv. 11-12 we find embedded a smaller core argument which likewise draws upon two Scripture passages:

    • “No one is made right [dikaioútai] in [i.e. by] the Law alongside [i.e. before] God” (v. 11a)
      • The just (person) will live out of trust [ek písteœs]” {Hab 2:4} (v. 11b)
    • “The Law is not of trust/faith [ek písteœs]” (v. 12a)
      • The (one) doing [poi¢¡sas] them will live in [i.e. by] them” {Lev 18:5} (v. 12b)

The two Scripture references are set to confirm the pair of statements regarding the Law, which affirms that a person is declared just by God according to faith/trust (and not by observing the Law). Vv. 11-12 are intimately connected with the central proposition of vv. 10-13that Jesus frees (redeems) us from the curse—and can be regarded as virtually synonymous with it.

The association with the Torah as a curse is striking, and certainly a very un-Jewish thing to say—it appears to be virtually unique and original to Paul. We ought also to understand precisely what this signifies: the “curse of the Law” refers primarily to the Torah as the vehicle or means by which the binding (enslaving) curse comes upon people. Paul realized that this could easily be misinterpreted, and attempts to clarify his meaning with the exposition in vv. 19-25.

In verse 14, Paul concludes the section by:

    1. Re-iterating that the blessing of Abraham has indeed come to the Gentiles—by faith (in Christ), and
    2. Introducing the wider context of the promise to Abraham—identifying it with the (Holy) Spirit

This promise will be the theme of the next section.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 37 (Part 3)

Psalm 37, continued

(The previous two studies cover verses 1-11 and 12-22).

Verses 23-29

Verses 23-24

m “From YHWH [hw`hy+m@] (the foot)steps of the strong (one are secure),
He makes him firm (who) delights (in) His path,
(so) that he shall shall (no)t fall nor be hurled down,
for YHWH supports (him with) His hand.”

The theme of this section is established in the initial pair of couplets, continuing the 3+3 meter that dominates the Psalm. After the focus in the previous section on the hostility and evil plans of the wicked, directed against the righteous, here the emphasis shifts to the help and support offered by YHWH in the face of such danger. There is some difficulty of interpretation in these lines, due to the ambiguity of the persons (and associated pronoun suffixes): does “he/his/him” refer to YHWH or to the righteous person? There are also several minor textual difficulties in the second and third lines, which cannot be resolved completely.

The basic image in the first couplet (v. 23) is that of a person walking—a common enough idiom in Old Testament religious and Wisdom tradition, where it refers to a person’s behavior and way of life. Here the noun is du*x=m!, literally a “place of stepping”, i.e., where one’s foot steps. This signifies the action and conduct of the righteous person in his/her regular daily life. The noun in the second line is Er#D#, again indicating a place where a person frequently walks or steps—specifically, a trodden path. The suffix o (i.e., “his path”) could refer to the path that the righteous person takes, but also to the path as set out by YHWH (“His path”). Such a dual meaning is common with this idiom, but I would emphasize here the latter aspect—viz., as a reference to the way of God.

Indeed, YHWH gives help to the righteous in both aspects of this daily walk. He guides the person’s footsteps; there is no verb specified in the first line, but God’s action is indicated by the preposition /m! (“from YHWH…”), implying that He is the source of guidance for the righteous. He also makes this path firm and secure, establishing the righteous person’s footing as he/she walks. The verb wnnwk should perhaps be vocalized as onn+oK (“he makes him firm”). Thanks to YHWH’s support, the righteous person, one who “delights” (vb Jp^j* I) in the way of God, has strength to walk firmly upon the path, and so is characterized as a “strong (one)” (rb#G#).

The apparent reading of the first line of the second couplet (v. 24) is problematic. If YHWH makes the righteous secure, walking with firm footing, how could such a person fall (vb lp^n`)? The typical way this is rendered is, “if he falls, he will not be hurled down”, but this seems incongruous with the idea that the feet of the righteous will not slip at all (v. 31). Dahood (p. 231) suggests that lp^n` here should be understood in the sense of “fall upon” (an enemy), drawing upon the military imagery that occurs so frequently in the Psalms.

I am inclined to retain the ordinary meaning of lp^n`, and to consider the possibility that the negative particle al) here does double duty, effectively governing both verbs in the line: “he shall not fall nor be hurled down”. This rendering seem to fit best the overall sense of vv. 23-24, with the emphasis on the complete support provided by YHWH. The support is described through the anthropomorphic image of “His hand” —i.e., God’s hand that is upon the righteous, preserving and protecting them.

Verses 25-26

n “Young [ru^n~] have I been and am (now) also old,
and (yet) I have not seen the just (person) left (wanting),
and his seed searching (for) bread (to eat)—
(no,) all the day (long) he is showing favor and giving,
and his seed (is destined) for blessing.”

The help and support provided by YHWH is defined here in terms of physical and material need. This plays upon the characterization of the righteous as poor (/oyb=a#, v. 14), seemingly incongruous with the idea of blessing that is being emphasized in these lines. The point is that, though the righteous may be poor, in the sense that they do not possess the wealth of wicked (cf. the prior study on vv. 1-11), God will always supply their needs. The Psalmist regards this as a promise well established and documented through observation, during his own long life experience (“I have been young and now am old…”).

Not only are the basic needs met—i.e., food (“bread”) for himself and his children (“his seed”)—but there is enough so that the righteous (qyd!x^, the “just” person) is able to give help to others in turn. “All the day (long)” he is “showing favor” and joining (vb hw`l*) his material possessions to those of others. The latter verb is often used in the technical sense of lending and borrowing; in v. 21 it referred to the wicked borrowing (but not paying back), while here it is used in the Hiphil causative stem, in the sense of “cause to borrow”, i.e., make it possible for someone to borrow. The tendency to give of one’s resources in this way is characteristic of the righteous, even as it is typical of the wicked to borrow without paying back.

Verses 27-28a

s “Turn aside [rWs] from evil and do (what is) good,
and dwell (secure) into the distant (future);
for YHWH is (One) loving [i.e. who loves] justice,
and He does not leave His loyal (one)s (in need).”

The imperative in the first line is exhortational, urging God’s people to live in an upright manner; though not specified, this entails faithful observance of the Torah regulations, which serve as the terms of the covenant between YHWH and His people. Again, the idea of walking on the path set out by YHWH (cf. on vv. 23-24 above) is in view. In the second line, the imperative follows upon the very behavior that is urged the first line. Translating into English syntax, we might render this as “you must turn aside…and (so) you shall dwell…”. The imperatival sense could also be captured colloquially as “go ahead and dwell secure (since surely that is what you want), by turning aside from evil…”.

This choice between evil and good, characterizing the dualistic Wisdom-contrast between the wicked and the righteous, is encapsulated here by the term “justice” (fP*v=m!). It also refers to the establishment of justice, which takes place through the exercise of right “judgment”. YHWH is said to be one who loves justice—with the participle bh@a) (“loving”) effectively treated as a Divine attribute and characteristic. The righteous share this love for justice, and reflect the character of YHWH by always choosing that which is good.

This upright way of life and devotion to the covenant of YHWH (through observance of the Torah) is the basis for the support and protection that God provides. Only those who are loyal to the terms of the binding agreement (covenant) will receive this support. As I have noted on a number of occasions, the adjective dys!j*, though fundamentally denoting goodness or kindness, is often used in the context of loyalty and devotion (to the covenant).

Verses 28b-29

[u] “<(The) perverse (one)s [<yl!W`u^] will be destroyed> into the distant (future),
and (the) seed of (the) wicked will be cut off;
(while the) just (one)s will possess the earth,
and will dwell (secure) upon it until (the end).”

There is some indication of textual corruption here in the first couplet (v. 28b). To begin with, an acrostic entry for the letter u is missing from the Psalm, suggesting that a word may have dropped out. Such an omission would seem to be confirmed by the irregular rhythm of the text as we have it (2+3 meter in v. 28b). Further, it seems probable that the LXX (aA) preserves such a missing word through the presence of the plural substantive a&nomoi (“lawless [one]s”).

Kraus (p. 403) suggests restoring the corresponding plural <yl!W`u^ (“perverse [one]s”) to the text at this point, and there is much to recommend his proposal. It would restore the acrostic pattern (providing an u-section), and would also fit the LXX translation quite well. Moreover, it is easy to see how this word might have dropped out, by haplography, occurring as it does before the similar <l*oul=. An added advantage for the proposed restoration is that it introduces a fine bit of wordplay to the couplet (between <yl!W`u^ and <l*ou), of a sort that our poet could well have employed.

Restoring <yl!W`u^ would seem to require that the subsequent verb also be emended, slightly, from Wrm*v=n] (“they are guarded”) to Wdm*v=n] (“they are destroyed”)—an emendation that is reasonably plausible, since it involves the alteration of a single (similarly shaped) letter.

If one were to retain the Masoretic text as it stands (with no emendation), the couplet would read as follows:

“they [i.e. the righteous] are guarded into the distant (future),
but (the) seed of (the) wicked (one)s will be cut off”

Clearly, in this instance, v. 28b would have to be included together with the two couplets of vv. 27-28a (cf. above), and vv. 27-28 treated as a three-couplet (six line) unit. Verse 29 then would stand as a single concluding bicolon.

However, I believe a stronger argument is to be made for the division I have followed, requiring as it does the proposed emendation of the text. Thematically, the orientation of the two couplets in vv. 28b-29 as presented above is clear and consistent: the fate of the wicked (28b) contrasted with the fate of the righteous (29). There is an interlocking parallelism, whereby the “perverse ones” are destroyed “into the distant (future)” [line 1] while the righteous are preserved, dwelling secure “until (the end of the Age)” [line 4]. The contrastive parallel of the inner lines (2 & 3) mirrors the closing couplet of the previous section (v. 22): the righteous come to “possess the earth” while the wicked are “cut off” (same verb, tr^K*). Each of the three sections we have examined concludes with a similar promise, to the effect  that the righteous will inherit the earth (cp. Matt 5:5).

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol 16 (1965).
References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).


February 18: Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

Revelation 22:7b, 14-15

This is the third component within the parallel sections of vv. 6-17. Following the exalted Jesus’ announcement of his imminent return (vv. 7a, 12-13, cf. the previous note), there is a beatitude, or “macarism”, marked by the opening adjective maka/rio$ (makários, “happy”). The background of the beatitude-form is essentially eschatological, as I discuss in an earlier article (part of a series on the Beatitudes of Jesus). Here, of course, at the end of the book of Revelation, it is unquestionably so, referring to the blessed happiness that awaits for believers who remain faithful through the end-time period of distress. Ultimately, the source of this blessedness is the eternal life that the true believer is to experience, dwelling with God and Christ in the heavenly “Jerusalem” of the New Age (21:1-22:5).

The beatitude in verse 7b is brief and concise:

“Happy [maka/rio$] (is) the (one) keeping watch [thrw=n] (over) the accounts [i.e. words] of the foretelling [i.e. prophecy] of this scroll.”

As in vv. 6, 10, the reference is literary, i.e. to the book (bibli/on, “paper-roll, scroll”) of Revelation as a whole—all of the visions and messages contained in it. The beatitude thus relates to how people respond to the book (when they hear it read aloud, etc), and treat its contents. The verb thre/w means to “keep watch” over something; it is often used in an eschatological sense in the New Testament, as part of ethical instruction and the exhortation to remain faithful as the end comes nearer (cf. earlier in 2:26; 3:3, 8, 10). This reproduces the beatitude in the opening of the book (1:3), where this aspect of imminence is clearly stated (“…for the moment [is] near.”).

The beatitude in verse 14 is more extensive:

“Happy (are) the (one)s washing their robes, (so) that their e)cousi/a will be upon the tree of life, and (that) they should enter into the gate-ways of the city.”

Here “keeping watch over” the prophecy is parallel with the expression “washing their robes” (plu/nonte$ ta\$ sto/la$ au)tw=n); however, in many (later) manuscripts, and some versions, the reading is instead the similar sounding poiou=nte$ ta\$ e)ntola/$ au)tou= (i.e., “doing His commands”, cp. 12:17; 14:12). The idiom of washing one’s robe (stolh/, a long ceremonial garment) was used earlier in 7:14, specifically in the context of believers who have remained faithful during the end-time period of distress (“…coming out of the great distress [qli/yi$]”). The implication of the parallelism, between verses 7b and 14, is that the true believer will accept the prophecies in the book, and will guard them with care. The verb thre/w is combined with the motif of keeping one’s garments clean in the beatitude of 16:15.

The idea of “washing” (vb plu/nw) alludes to the flowing (i.e. living, eternal) waters of the great river (of life) in the “new Jerusalem” (22:1), indicating a reward that corresponds to the believer’s actions. Here the same Paradise-setting is indicated by the motif of the “tree of life” (22:2, also 2:7); cf. the earlier note on 22:1-3a.

English translations tend to obscure the actual wording of the Greek in v. 14, as the subject of the second verb is not the believers themselves, but their e)cousi/a. The noun e)cousi/a is notoriously difficult to render accurately (and consistently) in English. Literally, it indicates something that comes out of a person’s own being, i.e. something he/she is able to do; however, it can specifically connote an ability that is given to the person from a superior, in which case, we might understand it in terms of permission. The word “authority” is perhaps the best option for capturing this semantic range in English. Here, the context is the ancient tradition of humankind being barred from access to the “tree of life”; in the New Age, for believers, this ‘curse’ is removed (v. 3), and we have the ability to come into the Garden of God and eat from the fruit of this tree. This access is part of the wider image of entering into the heavenly “city”, through the gate-ways that always stand open (21:25).

For the blessings described in v. 14, there is a corresponding curse in verse 15, defined in terms of being left outside (e&cw) the city (cp. Matt 8:12; 25:11-12, 30, etc):

Outside (are) the ‘dogs’ and the drug-handlers and the prostitute-(seek)ers and the murderers and the image-servers—indeed, every (one) being fond of, and doing, (what is) false.”

This more or less reproduces the vice-list of 21:8 (cf. also 9:20-21; 21:27), with the addition of the deprecatory label ku/ne$ (“dogs, hounds”); as a traditional term of opprobrium, it suggests both that a person is unclean and is deserving of contempt. On the idea of dogs (the actual animals) being excluded from the holy city, cf. the Qumran text 4Q394 fr. 8 iv. 8-9 (Koester, p. 843). The four terms, taken together, serve as a summary of human wickedness, traditionally associated (in Judaism and early Christianity) with the pagan culture of the “nations”:

    • fa/rmakoi (drug-handlers, drug-users)—a label for any kind of magical practice, perhaps best understood here, more generally and figuratively, for evil and mind-altering deception.
    • po/rnoi (those engaged in, or seeking, prostitution)—a traditional catch-term for any kind of immorality, sexual or otherwise.
    • fonei=$ (murderers, killers)—generally covering any kind of violent and lawless action.
    • ei)dwlola/trai (lit., ones serving images)—representing, not merely the idolatrous aspects of pagan religion, but false religion of any kind, and even, we may say, of pagan culture as a whole (i.e. the surrounding Greco-Roman world).

These are all summarized under the aspect of people “being fond of” (filw=n), as well as actually “doing” (poiw=n), what is false (yeu=do$).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png