“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 5:27)

John 5:27

The next “son of man” reference in the Gospel of John is at 5:27, within the lengthy Discourse of chapter 5. The Johannine Discourses of Jesus are all carefully structured and arranged. For example, the first four Discourses are arranged in two pairs. The Discourses in the first pair (3:1-21; 4:1-42) are based upon encounters between Jesus and a particular individual—Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, respectively—characters who are vividly portrayed in the narrative. The Discourses of the second pair (chaps. 5 and 6) are each rooted in a different kind of historical tradition—namely, a miracle episode, similar to those we find narrated in the Synoptic Gospels. Indeed, the miraculous feeding episode in chap. 6 (vv. 1-14f) so closely resembles the Synoptic episode(s) (Mk 6:30-44 par; 8:1-10 par), that most commentators would consider both versions to be derived from a single (common) historical tradition.

As for the miracle episode in chapter 5 (vv. 1-16), it bears a certain resemblance to Mark 3:1-6 par, with the healing framed as a Sabbath controversy episode. Actually, in the Johannine narrative, the healing (vv. 1-9) and Sabbath-controversy (vv. 10-16) portions appear to reflect separate traditions, which the Gospel writer (or the underlying Johannine Tradition) has combined into a single narrative. In this regard, we might a comparison with the healing miracle (of a paralyzed man) in Mk 2:1-12 par, in its contextual position preceding the Sabbath controversy episodes of 2:23-3:6. As it happens, in both the episodes of 2:1-12 and 23-28, the expression “the son of man” plays a prominent role (vv. 10, 28).

The Johannine combination of traditional elements—healing miracle and Sabbath controversy—provides the narrative background for the main saying of Jesus (v. 17) that initiates the Discourse proper: “My Father works (even) until now, and I (also) work.” In the sections of the Discourse that follow, Jesus expounds the meaning of this saying.

In all of the Johannine Discourses, there is a reaction to the initial saying of Jesus by his hearers, and this reaction leads to an expository response by Jesus. The hostile reaction, by at least some of the populace (“the Yehudeans”) who heard him, is presented indirectly, in summary fashion by the Gospel writer, in verse 18. The people objected both to his healing act which (in their view) violated the Sabbath law, and to his statement, by which they recognized that “he was making himself equal to God”.

Typically, the audience reactions to Jesus’ statements in the Discourses involve a misunderstanding of (the true meaning of) his words. Here, the emphasis is not so much on misunderstanding, as it is on opposition to Jesus. Given the Synoptic parallels (see above), and also the certain parallels with the healing episode in chapter 9, it would seem likely that “the Yehudeans [i.e., Jews]” of verses 10-18 should be identified with the kinds of Jewish religious authorities (‘Scribes and Pharisees’) who typically feature as Jesus’ adversaries/opponents in the Gospel Tradition (cf. 9:13-16ff).

Jesus’ exposition that follows may be divided into two main portions—vv. 19-30 and vv. 31-47. The “son of man” reference occurs toward the end of first division. The principal theme of the Discourse is two-fold: (1) Jesus’ identity as the unique Son of God the Father, and (2) the fact that, as the Son, he does the work of his Father.

Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example in his working—a principle that almost certainly reflects the practical situation of a son apprenticing in the same work/trade as his father. As Jesus states at the opening of his exposition:

“The Son is not able to do anything from himself, if not [i.e. but only] what he should see the Father doing; for the (thing)s which that (One) would do, the Son also does.” (v. 19)

The Father, like a human father instructing his son, shows the Son what to do and how to work (v. 20).

To illustrate the nature of the Father’s work, Jesus cites two examples, both of which have an eschatological orientation: (i) giving life to the dead (v. 21), and (ii) acting as Judge over humankind (v. 22). The first theme is loosely related to the healing miracle of vv. 1-16, though it would, of course, be more appropriate to the Lazarus episode of chap. 11. The ability to heal illness reflects the life-giving power of God. However, the exposition focuses specifically on giving life to the dead (i.e., resurrection), with the end-time resurrection primarily in view. This resurrection, according to traditional eschatological expectation, is connected with the end-time Judgment.

These twin themes are woven through verses 19-30, being developed in various ways, and (most importantly) given a Johannine Christological interpretation. Structurally, the exposition here is given in two parallel sections—vv. 21-24 and vv. 25-29. Three key points are made in each section:

    • The authority/ability both to give life and to judge is given by the Father to the Son (vv. 21-22f, 26-27)
    • Giving life: the one who hears the voice of the Son will receive life and be raised from the dead (v. 24a, 25ff)
    • Judging: those who hear the Son’s voice will face the Judgment (v. 24b, 28-29)

The emphasis in the second section (vv. 25-29) is on what we may call the traditional future eschatology, held by Jews and Christians in the first centuries B.C./A.D. In the first section (vv. 21-24), however, the focus is on the realized eschatology that is so distinctive of the Johannine Gospel. The two eschatological strands are joined together here by the phrase in v. 25a: “(the) hour comes, and is now (here)”.

From the standpoint of the Johannine ‘realized’ eschatology—that is, where traditional future events (i.e., resurrection, the Judgment) are realized for human beings already in the present—the eschatological events of the resurrection and the Judgment are understood in terms of trust in Jesus. This is stated quite clearly in verse 24:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, that the (one) hearing my word and trusting in the (One hav)ing sent me holds (the) life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], and does not come into judgment, but has stepped over [metabe/bhken], out of death and into life.”

The use of the perfect tense of the verb metabai/nw, in particular, makes clear that the person trusting in Jesus (as the Son sent by the Father) has already (in the present) received the resurrection-life, and has passed through the Judgment into eternal life. Much the same idea was expressed earlier in 3:16-21, and can be found at other points in the Gospel as well.

Yet this ‘realized’ eschatology does not exclude the traditional (future) understanding of the end-time resurrection and Judgment. This is clear from the second section (vv. 25-29), though some commentators would view the future eschatology in these verses as the product of a later (redacted/edited) edition of the Gospel, and not the work of the original author. As noted above, verse 25a serves to join together the two different eschatological viewpoints. More than this, there is a certain inclusio to the section which could be interpreted as presenting the theme of Jesus’ life-giving (resurrection) power according to both eschatological aspects:

    • Realized eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes and is now (here)
      when the dead
      shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
      and the (one)s hearing shall live” (v. 25)
    • Future eschatology:
      “(the) hour comes
      in which all the (one)s in the memorials [i.e. tombs]
      shall hear his voice,
      and they shall travel out…(some) unto life…and (others) unto judgment” (vv. 28-29)

In both instances, human beings hear the voice of the Son (Jesus). This “hearing” has a double meaning, but the second (deeper) meaning applies only to the ‘realized’ eschatology of the Johannine theology. For this reason, the verb a)kou/w (“hear”) is used twice in verse 25:

    • “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God”
      viz., at the resurrection, when humankind is raised from the dead
    • “and the (one)s (hav)ing heard shall live”
      viz., believers, those trusting in Jesus, shall enter into eternal life

At the same time, the entire verse echoes the realized eschatology of vv. 21-24, and anticipates the Lazarus episode, in which “the dead hearing the voice of the Son” is applied to the present, not simply to the future.

With this analysis in place, we can now turn to the “son of man” reference in verse 27. It is important, first, to examine the reference within the unit of vv. 26-27. As noted above, in this unit, we find the theme of the Father giving to the Son the authority/ability both to give life (to the dead) and to judge. In the first section, this theme was expressed in vv. 21-22:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father raises the dead and makes (them) live, so also the Son makes live th(ose) whom he wishes.
For the Father judges no one, but has given all (power of) judgment to the Son”

It is similarly expressed, though with quite different wording/phrasing, in vv. 26-27:

“For, just as [w(sper] the Father holds life in Himself, so also He (has) given to the Son life to hold in himself.
And He (has) given (the) authority [e)cousi/a] to him to make judgment, (in) that he is (the) Son of man.”

The point is thus made doubly: the Father has given life-giving power to the Son; He has also given the Son the power/authority to act as judge over humankind. With regard to the use of the expression “(the) son of man” here, there are three interpretive issues that need to be addressed:

    1. The relation between the (parallel) terminology “the Son” (v. 22) and “(the) son of man” (v. 27)
    2. In what ways (if any) does the power to give life and to judge differ, particularly as expressed in vv. 26-27, and (how) does this effect the use of the expression “son of man”?
    3. How is the judgment to be understood, comparing the matter in light of both sections (vv. 21-24, 25-29), and in the broader context of the Johannine theology? And how does the expression “(the) son of man” relate to this understanding of the judgment?

In addition, some consideration must be given to the distinctive anarthrous form of the expression (i.e., without the definite article[s]) here in verse 27.

These points will be discussed in the continuation of this study.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 99

Psalm 99

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsk (vv. 1-2, 5); 4QPsv (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 5-6)

Like other Psalms in the collection Pss 93-100, Psalm 99 praises YHWH as King. The universality of His Kingship is likewise emphasized. Other thematic links and common vocabulary are shared by these Psalms; in the case of Psalm 99, one may note, in particular, the connections with Psalms 97 (see the earlier study) and 98 (previous study). For a relatively detailed examination of these links, see the analysis by Howard, pp. 157-9, 161-2, 164-5.

This Psalm has a strophic structure, comprised of three strophes, each of which concludes with a declaration of YHWH’s holiness (“Holy [is] He!” in strophes 1 and 2). The strophes are similar in form, but are far from consistent in rhythm. Verses 6-7 represent an interlude, drawing upon Israelite history, and establish the thematic transition to the final strophe. The meter is irregular throughout, and it is impossible to say whether the Psalm, in an earlier form, had more consistent rhythm in its strophes.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely. As Howard notes (p. 192), the use of zu) as a substantive (Divine) title (“Strong/Mighty [One]”, v. 4) occurs in early poetry (Exod 15:2; cf. Psalm 29:1), which suggests the possibility that Psalm 99 was composed at a relatively earlier point (in the monarchic period) than others in the collection.

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsk includes a heading, which designates the Psalm as a “musical composition” (romz+m!), as in Psalm 98 MT; it also (probably) included the attribution dw]d*l= (“belonging to David”), as the the letter d can be read prior to romzm.

First Strophe: verses 1-3

Verse 1

“YHWH is king—let (the) peoples tremble!
Seated (upon the) kerû»s—let the earth stagger!”

The theme of YHWH’s kingship is established in this initial (4-beat, 4+4) couplet. Again, as in other Psalms of this collection (see above), YHWH is presented as King over all creation—all of the earth and its inhabitants. We find often, as here, a call for the nations to worship YHWH, acknowledging Him as King. There is a clear parallelism between each half-line:

    • “YHWH reigns as King [vb El^m*]”
    • “being seated (on the) kerubs”

The “kerubs” (plur. <yb!WrK=) refer to the winged creatures on the golden chest (ark) of the covenant, which was situated in the Temple sanctuary, functioning as the symbolic/ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH. Thus, even though He is King over the entire universe (ruling from heaven), he is also ‘enthroned’ on earth in the Temple sanctuary.

The response of humankind to YHWH’s Kingship is indicated in the second half-line:

    • “let (the) peoples quake/tremble [vb zg~r*]”
    • “let the earth wobble/stagger [vb fWn]”

All peoples everywhere—and even all of creation itself—should shake and tremble before YHWH as King. There may be an allusion here to the eschatological notion that the nations will come to Jerusalem (and the Temple) to pay homage to YHWH (cf. Micah 4:1-3 [par Isa 2:2-4], etc).

The verb fWn occurs only here in the Old Testament. It is doubtless similar in meaning to Ugaritic n‰‰ (ffn), “wobble, totter”; as Dahood (II, p. 368) notes, weak verbs that share the same two base consonants (in this case, fn) typically have a common/similar meaning.

Verse 2

“(Indeed,) YHWH in ‚iyyôn is great—
raised high (is) He over all (the) peoples!”

This second couplet (3-beat, 3+3) emphasizes the greatness and majesty of YHWH, as he reigns (as King) from His throne in Jerusalem (Zion). The verbs ld^G` (“be great”) and <Wr (“be high”) are used. The implicit idea in verse 1, of YHWH’s reign extending over all the nations (and peoples) of earth, is expressed more clearly here. I treat the initial w-conjunction in the second line as emphatic, and, for poetic concision, I have essentially transferred it to the start of the first line in my translation (above).

Verse 3

“Let them praise your name,
O Great and Fearsome (One)!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

Rhythmically, the initial couplet (v. 1) has four beats, the second (v. 2) three beats, and the third (v. 3) here 2 beats (2+2). The couplets thus increasingly narrow their focus, becoming terser and more direct. Here, the call (for all people) to praise YHWH is essentially repeated from v. 1. Praising the name of YHWH means praising YHWH Himself. However, there may be a specific allusion to the idea that YHWH is present in the Temple sanctuary particularly through His name. This is a key Deuteronomic theme (Deut 12:5ff; 26:2, etc), found extensively, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer (at the Temple dedication) in 1 Kings 8 (vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48), a passage which I have discussed in a recent series of notes.

The adjectives lodG` (“great”) and ar*on (“fearsome”, or “(to) be feared”) are best understood here as descriptive epithets of YHWH, though they could just as well be applied to His name (cf. Deut 28:58).

The strophe ends with the two-beat refrain, “Holy (is) He!” (aWh vodq*). In context, this declaration could also apply to YHWH’s name (i.e., “Holy it [is]!”).

Second Strophe: Verses 4-5

Verse 4a

“Indeed, (the) Strong (One is) King! He loves justice!
You make (it) firm (with) straight (judgment)s.”

The first couplet of the second strophe has, apparently, an irregular 4+3 meter (cp. 4+4 in strophe 1). The thematic focus is on the judgment rendered by YHWH as King (and thus, also as Judge). By His straight (i.e., fair, even) decisions, He establishes justice throughout. Here, the noun fP*v=m! means both “judgment” and “justice”. The sudden shift from third person (line 1) to second person (line 2) address may seem a bit strange and off-putting, but it is not all that uncommon in the Psalms.

I follow Howard (p. 85f) and other commentators in reading zu) (“strength”) as a Divine title (i.e., “Strong [One]”); the sense could be adverbial, i.e., the One who rules with strength. The initial w-conjunction of the first line, opening the strophe as it does, should be taken as emphatic.

Verse 4b

“Justice and righteousness in Ya’aqob
(indeed) you make (stand)!”

Again, this (second) couplet has irregular meter (3+2, cp. 3+3 in strophe 1). It follows upon the first (v. 4a), expounding the justice which YHWH, as King, “makes firm” on earth. In particular, He establishes justice (and righteousness) in Israel (“Jacob”), among His people. This refers to the covenant-bond between YHWH and Israel, and His faithfulness and loyalty to that bond.

It is conceivable that a word has dropped out from the second line of v. 4b, as the short line t*yc!u* hTa^ (“you do/make”) reads somewhat oddly. Unfortunately, the three fragmentary Qumran manuscripts which contain this Psalm do not preserve verse 4, so there is no way to confirm the MT at this point.

Verse 5

“Lift high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) stool of His feet!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

The third strophe is a 3-beat couplet (as in strophe 1), calling on people to give praise and worship to YHWH. Here, the focus is specifically on the people of Israel (cf. verse 4), who are to worship YHWH as their King and God. The motif of the “stool [<d)h&] for His feet” probably alludes to the Ark (as YHWH’s ‘throne’) located in the Temple sanctuary (see v. 1b, above). Thus, a Temple worship setting is implied, and could indicate a ritual (liturgical) setting for the Psalm.

Transitional Verses (6-7)

Verse 6a

“Moše and Aharon (were) among His priests,
and Šemû’el among (those) calling His name.”

These transitional verses refer, in a general and summary way, to Israelite religious history—in particular, to those priestly/prophetic leaders who served YHWH. Moses and Aaron (in the Exodus period) are paired with Samuel (period of the Judges).

Verse 6b

“(They were) calling to YHWH,
and He answered them.”

This short two-beat (2+2) couplet follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet of v. 6a. It summarizes the dynamic relationship between YHWH and the faithful priestly/prophetic leaders: they call to YHWH, and He answers them.

Verse 7

“In a standing (mass) of cloud He spoke to them;
they guarded His repeated (command)s,
and (the) engraved (law) He gave to them.”

This long prosaic couplet (4-beat, 4+4) I have extended in translation as three lines (4+2+2). It again summarizes the dynamic for the faithful ones of God’s people, in their covenantal relationship to YHWH. Moses and Samuel, as leaders, represent the people. Their faithfulness (and covenant loyalty) serve as the ideal pattern and example for the people to follow. YHWH gave His commands (i.e., the Torah regulations) to Moses (and thus to the people) out of the cloud. The faithful ones guarded (vb rm^v*) His commands, and took care to obey them. The noun qj) denotes something engraved or inscribed, usually in the sense of an authoritative, governing rule or statute; the term here alludes the theme of YHWH’s kingship.

I have translated the plural of hd*u@ according to its fundamental meaning of “something repeated”. YHWH’s commands are to be repeated, in terms of obedience to them (their fulfillment, etc), but also in the sense of repeating them (and their importance) for subsequent generations.

Third Strophe: Verses 8-9

Verse 8

“(Yes,) YHWH, our Mighty (One), you answered them—
a Mighty (One) lifting (guilt) you were for them,
and (as the) avenging (Most) High dealt with them.”

The historical setting established in the transitional vv. 6-7 (above) leads into the third (and final) strophe. The structure and rhythm differs from the the first two strophes, reflecting the prosaic (and didactic) tone of the transitional lines. Instead of a pair of couplets, we have here an irregular (4+3+3) tricolon. The first line picks up from verse 7.

The theme of YHWH’s Kingship has been translated into the idiom of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. In this binding agreement, YHWH is the Sovereign, and the people His servants. They are obligated to serve Him faithfully, by following the terms of the agreement (i.e., the Torah precepts and regulations, v. 7). YHWH would respond to them based on whether or not they fulfilled their covenant obligations. If they fulfilled them faithfully, then YHWH would be a merciful and forgiving Sovereign, one who “lifts” (vb ac*n`) away sin and guilt, and who “lifts” His people, carrying them with His (Divine) protection and blessing. This is expressed in line 2.

However, if they were unfaithful and refused to follow the terms of the covenant, then YHWH would become an avenging (vb <q^n`) Ruler, dealing (root llu) with His people as their disobedience deserves. This negative side is the focus of line 3. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 369), in treating lu as a Divine title (“High [One], [Most] High”); this establishes a clear parallel between the lines:

“Mighty [One] lifting…” | “High [One] avenging…”

The final word is problematic. The MT reads “their dealing”; in such a context, the noun hl*yl!a& usually has a decidedly negative connotation, i.e. “evil dealing” —that is, wicked/improper behavior and treatment of others. However, it is probably better to view the suffix here as reflecting a dative of (dis)advantage (cf. Dahood, II, p. 370), and with the noun retaining the verbal force of its root (with YHWH as the subject)—viz., “(His) dealing with them”, meaning God dealt with them harshly, as their disobedience deserved.

Verse 9

“Lift (up) high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) hill of His holiness!”
For Holy (indeed is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The final couplet corresponds with that of the earlier two strophes; it is particularly close to the second strophe (see verse 5, above). Indeed, it is almost identical, only, instead of bowing down before the “stool of His feet”, the people are directed to bow before “the hill of His holiness” (i.e., His holy hill). The Temple ‘mount’ of Zion is certainly intended in both instances, referring to the location of the Temple and its sanctuary, where YHWH is ‘enthroned’ and reigns as King.

The final refrain is given in an expanded form. Instead of “Holy (is) He!”, we have the fuller phrase “Holy (is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”. The longer phrase, with its honorific expansion, allows the Psalm to end on a dramatic, climactic note.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 98

Psalm 98

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 4-8); 4QPsb (vv. 4-5)

This Psalm, like others in the collection of Pss 93-100, is a hymn to YHWH, in which His Kingship is praised; for more on this guiding theme, see the previous studies, esp. those on Psalms 93, 95 and 96. There is a thematic and literary interrelation between the Psalms in this collection; in particular, there is a strong relationship between Pss 96 and 98 (see below). For more detail on the common vocabulary and thematic links, see the discussion by Howard, pp. 144-50, 161-4.

Psalm 96 and 98 are quite similar, in terms of their thematic structure. Each begins with the same opening line (“Sing to YHWH a new song…!”), and has a comparable two-part structure, though Ps 98 is lacking the repetitive triad that open each part in Ps 96 (see the prior study). Verses 7-9 correspond to vv. 11-13 of Psalm 96, and the final verse has similar wording in each Psalm.

The two Psalms probably are similar in date as well. It seems more likely that Ps 98 is dependent upon Ps 96, than the other way around. A late pre-exilic or exilic date for Ps 98 is probable.

The meter of the Psalm is irregular; it tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format in the second part, but a 3+2 meter dominates the first part.

Psalm 98 and 100 are the only compositions in the collection (93-100) with a heading. Here, a single word designates the Psalm as a romz+m! (“musical composition”), the common term applied throughout the Psalter. It is not clear if this term, as applied to Ps 98 and 100, is meant to distinguish these two Psalms from the rest of collection, or, if so, in precisely what way. Perhaps the use of the root rmz in Psalm 98 (see below), led to a heading with romz+m!. The LXX adds “…(belonging) to David”.

Part 1: verses 1-3

Verse 1a

“Sing (now) to YHWH a new song,
for wonders He has done!”

As noted above, this Psalm begins with the same first line as Ps 96. The second line seems to summarize the third couplet of the opening triad of Ps 96: “Recount among the nations His weight, / (and) among all the peoples His wonders!”. Here, the call is for people to praise YHWH for the wonders He has done, using the passive plural (Niphal) participle of the verb al*P* (“be marvelous, wonderful”); the participle is being used in a substantive adjectival sense—the verb characterizing the things YHWH has done (as being wonderful/marvelous). For other occurrences in the Psalms, cf. 9:2; 26:7; 40:6[5]; 70:17[16]; 72:18; 75:2[1]; 78:4, 11, 32; 86:10; 105:2, 5, etc. A reference to the historical traditions, regarding the miracles performed by YHWH on Israel’s behalf (such as the event at the Reed Sea) throughout the people’s history, is typically in mind.

The LXX has ku/rio$ in the second line, suggesting that the Hebrew text being translated may have contained the Divine name (hwhy) in both lines.

Verse 1b

“His right hand for Him worked salvation,
indeed, (the) arm of His holiness!”

The “wonders” performed by YHWH were done by His “right hand” and His strong “(right) arm”; this idiom, occurring frequently in the Old Testament, refers to the strength/power of YHWH, particularly as it is manifested on earth (within human history). The occurrences in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:6, 12) especially come to mind; of the many occurrences in the Psalms, see, e.g., 17:7; 18:36[35]; 20:7[6]; 44:4[3]; 77:11[10]ff; 78:54; 79:11; 89:11[10], 14[13]; 136:12. The root uvy denotes giving (or receiving) help and protection, sometimes in the specific sense of saving someone from danger (or keeping them safe); however, it can also refer to gaining/obtaining victory, and that is probably the connotation that is primarily in view here.

The deeds performed by YHWH in His power/strength (i.e., with His “arm”) also reflect His holiness. Dahood (II, p. 365) argues for the basic meaning of vdq here (‘set apart’), and suggests that wvdq be pointed as a Piel verb form. The wonders performed by YHWH effectively set Him apart from all other deities (and from all human beings as well). I read the initial w-conjunction of the second line as emphatic (cf. also Howard, p. 78).

The meter of this couplet is 3+2, which generally follows that of v. 1a.

Verse 2

“YHWH has made known His salvation—
before (the) eyes of the nations,
He uncovered His righteousness.”

The saving deeds and victories which YHWH has achieved (spec. for His people) were performed “before (the) eyes of the nations” —i.e., so that all people can see and know of them; on this theme, going back to the Song the Sea, cf. Exod 15:14-16. The idea that the nations will come to acknowledge and worship YHWH as God, in part, as a result of witnessing His mighty deeds, is found frequently in the Psalms (e.g., 22:28-29 [27-28]; 45:18[17]; 46:11[10]; 67:3[2]ff; 72:11, 17; 86:9). Psalm 98 shares with Ps 96 this universal aspect of YHWH’s Kingship.

This verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon, building upon the earlier 3+2 couplet(s).

Verse 3a

“He has kept in mind His loyalty <to Ya’aqob>,
and His firmness to (the) house of Yisrael.”

YHWH’s saving deeds, witnessed by the nations, reflect His loyalty and devotion (ds#j#) to Israel. He has “kept in mind” (vb rk^z`) this covenant-loyalty which He shows to His people; this entails providing protection and keeping them safe (from danger and enemies, etc). The noun hn`Wma$ literally means “firmness”, but is used often in the sense of “faithfulness, loyalty”; it occurs quite frequently in the Psalms (22 times, out of 49 OT occurrences), and is often paired (or in parallel) with ds#j#.

The MT reading of the verb rk^z` (as a perfect form) is to be preferred over Dahood’s suggestion (II, p. 365) of vocalizing it as an imperative (cf. Howard, p. 78f); this is in keeping with the tenses of vv. 1-3. Also the poetic sense (and parallelism) of the couplet is better served by following the LXX (over the MT), and including bquyl (“to Jacob”, par with “to the house of Israel” in the first line). Unfortunately, the surviving portions of the two Qumran manuscripts which preserve the Psalm do not include v. 3.

The verse, as restored, is a 3-beat (3+3) couplet. If one were to follow the MT, the verse would read as another 3+2 couplet, in keeping with the rhythm of this part of the Psalm:

“He kept in mind His loyalty and firmness
to (the) house of Yisrael.”

Verse 3b

“All (the) ends of the earth have seen
(the) salvation of our Mighty (One)!”

The idea of the nations witnessing the mighty saving deeds of YHWH (v. 2) is repeated here, in dramatic fashion, at the close of the first part. The universal aspect of this motif is further emphasized by the expression “all (the) ends of the earth”. YHWH, is, of course, the “Mightiest (One)” (<yh!l)a$), the greatest God and King, and the God (“Mighty [One]”) worshiped by Israel. This part of the Psalm foreshadows the idea that all the nations will come to worship YHWH as King.

Part 2: Verses 4-9

The second part of this Psalm is considerably longer than the first, and can be divided into two distinct sections—vv. 4-6 and 7-9.

Verse 4

“Raise a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
Sparkle, and sing out, and make music!”

Here, at the beginning of the second part, the call to sing praise to YHWH (par verse 1) is addressed to “all the earth”; this matches the reference to “all the ends of the earth” at the end of the first part (v. 3). All of the nations are urged (and expected) to worship YHWH with a joyful “shout” (vb u^Wr). The second line makes clear that this involves bright and joyful music. The chain of three verbs basically expresses a single idea in this regard: “be bright (i.e., gleam/sparkle)” [vb jx^P*] and “ring/sing out” [vb /n~r*], “making music” [vb rm^z`].

The three-beat (3+3) couplet form of this verse indicates a metrical shift in the Psalm, from the 3+2 meter (more or less) in the first part.

Verse 5

“Make music to YHWH on (the) harp,
on a harp and (with) voice of music!”

The basic idea of verse 4 is given more specific expression here in v. 5—people are to “make music” to YHWH, with the harp, and also using the harp (roNK!) to accompany singing with the voice. The roNK! is usually understood to be a lyre (small triangular-shaped harp) or zither.

Verse 6

“With the trumpets and voice of (the) horn,
shout before (the) face of the King, YHWH!”

Verse 6 obviously follows the thought of v. 5, the two verses forming an inclusio. Though obscured by my translation above, the meter of this verse (in the MT) is an irregular 3+4 couplet, suggesting the possibility that either El#M#h^ (“the King”) or the Divine name (hwhy) has been added to what was (originally) a 3+3 couplet. The two Qumran manuscripts containing this verse are fragmentary, but the spacing of the line in 4QPsm suggests that it corresponds to the text of the MT.

The Kingship of YHWH is, as we have seen, the guiding theme of the entire collection (of Pss 93-100).

Verse 7

“Let the sea thunder and (all) its fullness,
(the) land and (all those) dwelling in it!”

As noted above, verses 7-9 mark a distinct unit in the second part of the Psalm, and corresponds to vv. 11-13 in Psalm 96. In both Psalms, the call for the nations to worship YHWH is expanded to cover all of creation. This cosmic orientation is clearer in Psalm 96, which begins with a call to “heaven and earth”, but including, as here, the sea (with its thundering roar/crash). The earth is in focus here in v. 7—both the sea (<y`) and the dry land (lb@T@) where people dwell (vb bv^y`, lit. “sit”). The inhabited earth/land is called to follow the sea’s example in “thundering” (vb <u^r*) its praise to YHWH. As King over the entire universe, such praise is worthy and fitting for Him.

Verse 8

“Let (the) river-streams clap (their) palm(s),
(as) one let (the) mountains ring out (praise)!—”

Again, as in verse 7, there is a juxtaposition of the sea and dry land—here expressed by the specific localization in the “streams” and “hills/mountains”. The imagery here corresponds to that of Psalm 96:12 (cf. Isa 55:12). The entire natural world, all of creation, gives praise to YHWH.

Verse 9

“before (the) face of YHWH, for He is coming!
<For He is coming> to judge the earth!
He shall judge the land with rightness,
and the peoples by His firmness!”

As in Ps 96:11-13, the main reason for the rejoicing of creation is that YHWH is coming to the earth, to bring judgment upon it. As Sovereign (King) over the universe, YHWH also functions as supreme Judge, whose decisions are decisive and binding. There is a clear allusion here (and in Psalm 96) to the Prophetic theme of the (eschatological) judgment of the nations—an extension and development of the “day of YHWH” theme. If a late pre-exilic date for these Psalms is correct, then this would represent an early (and rudimentary) example of the universal “day of YHWH” —viz., a time when God judges all the nations together, collectively. Here, this is expressed more generally, in cosmological terms (“He is coming to judge the earth”); however, in the final two lines, a distinction is made between judging the inhabited land, and judging its inhabitants.

The wording of these lines is quite similar to that of Ps 96:13. The similarity allows one, with some measure of confidence, to restore the doubled ab* yK! (“for He is coming”). Beyond the parallel with Psalm 96, the poetic sense, syntax, and rhythm of the verse seems to require the restoration. Unfortunately, the two Qumran manuscripts do not preserve any of verse 9.

The “right(eous)ness” and “firmness” with which YHWH judges corresponds with the “loyalty” and “firmness” (same noun, hn`Wma$) He shows toward Israel (v. 3a). The terms qd#x# and hn`Wma$, in the judicial context of rendering judgment, connote the ideals of justice, fairness, and equity.

In its restored form the verse is comprised of a 3+3 couplet, followed by a shortened 3+2 couplet.

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 “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 96

Psalm 96

Dead Sea MSS: 1QPsa (vv. 1-2); 4QPsb (v. 2)

This Psalm, like the previous Ps 95 (esp. in its first half, see the prior study), is a hymn to YHWH, in which His Kingship is praised. This, indeed, is the guiding theme of the entire collection of Pss 93-100. For analysis of the similarities between Psalm 96 and the following Pss 97-100, examining common vocabulary and thematic connections, see the study by Howard, pp. 141-55. There seems to be a particularly strong relationship between Psalm 96 and 98.

Psalm 96 has a clear strophic structure, being one of the most consistently strophic of all the Psalms. There are two parallel strophes, which are quite similar (but not identical) in structure and meter. Each strophe is comprised of two sections—(1) a call to worship (vv. 1-3, 7-9), followed by (2) a verse-section describing and extolling the Kingship of YHWH (vv. 4-6, 11-13). Each call to worship begins with a parallelistic tricolon invoking praise for YHWH. The verse-sections are different in tone but similar in theme. However the second section is longer, more dramatic, and is preceded by an additional verse (v. 10) emphasizing YHWH’s Kingship over the entire cosmos.

As for the date of this Psalm, there are no definite indicators, other than the fact that it was known by the author(s) of the Chronicles, since it is quoted (in part) in 1 Chron 16:23-33. Comparison with Psalm 95, and others in the collection (93-100), suggest a pre-exilic date, though perhaps at a relatively later point in the monarchic period. Thematic comparisons have been made with the Deutero-Isaian poems, but they are, it would seem, too general to be decisive. The parallelistic tricola in vv. 1-2a and 7-8a, which remind one of 93:3-4, reflect a poetic technique and style with ancient roots in Canaanite poetry (cf. the earlier note on 93:3-4).

Interestingly, the LXX sets the Psalm in the post-exilic (Second Temple) period. Though there is no heading or superscription for Psalm 96 in the Hebrew, the LXX (Ps 95) contains a heading which reads: “When the house [i.e. the Temple] was built after the captivity. A song belonging to David”. The Davidic attribution is obviously anachronistic for the time indicated; perhaps it was meant as “a song for David”, or “…dedicated to David”.

Metrically, the Psalm is comprised almost entirely of tricola—4-beat (4+4+4), 3-beat (3+3+3), and a few with mixed/irregular meter. The meter is not entirely consistent, in spite of the strong strophic structure of the composition.

First Strophe: verses 1-6

Verses 1-3

The first section in each strophe represents a call to worship, calling on people to give praise and honor to YHWH, the King of the universe. The section is comprised of a pair of tricola.

Verse 1-2a

“Sing to YHWH a new song!
Sing to YHWH, all the earth!
Sing to YHWH, bless His name!”

Each line of this tricolon consists of four short beats. This is one of the few instances where a literal translation (in English) of a Psalm verse generally matches the rhythm of the Hebrew. Each line begins hwhyl^ Wryv!, “Sing to YHWH…!” The Psalmist calls on all people (“all the land/earth”)—and certainly all the Israelite/Judean people—to give praise to YHWH. This praise includes giving honor (and homage) to YHWH as King: “bless His name”, with the allusion to bending the knee that is implicit in the verb Er^B*.

The “new song” is probably to be understood as this Psalm itself, as Dahood notes (II, p. 357). The wording also appears in Isa 42:10, in a comparable context, emphasizing the universal reign and Sovereignty of YHWH, and calling on all people, everywhere, to worship Him. The aspect of newness may, in accordance with the theme of the Psalm as a whole, reflect the idea that YHWH is now exercising His Kingship over all the nations, and not just over His people Israel. In this regard, note the strong Judgment emphasis in the second strophe (vv. 11-13).

Verse 2b-3

“Announce from day to day His salvation,
recount among the nations His weight,
(and) among all the peoples His wonders!”

This second tricolon has 3-beat lines, though it is difficult to bring this across in English, compared with the rendering of the 4-beat lines in verse 1-2a (above). Also, it lacks the repetitive parallelism of the first tricolon; though it retains a synonymous parallelism—between lines 1 and 2, and again between lines 2 and 3. After the initial call to worship, this tricolon gives more information as to what this worship should entail. Three different things are to be extolled:

    • “His salvation” —that is, YHWH’s saving and protective acts, on behalf of His people (i.e., those who are faithful to Him)
    • “His weight [dobK*]” —i.e., His power, splendor, and glory, all that makes YHWH worthy to be praised; His actions, on behalf of His people, etc, demonstrate His “weight”.
    • “His wonders” —lit. “wondrous (deed)s”, “wonderful (thing)s”, utilizing the Niphal (passive) participle of the verb (al*P*).

These things are to be praised among all the nations and peoples (lines 2 & 3). Dahood (II, p. 357a) suggests that the Hebrew in the first line should be read as “from sea [<y`] to sea”, rather than “from day [<oy] to day”. This would, indeed, better suit the parallelism of the tricolon, since “from sea to sea” is geographically comparable to “among (all) the nations/peoples”. His explanation of how the MT reading came about, is intriguing. However, I would hesitate to adopt his proposal, particularly since the MT phrase (“from day to day”), as it stands, provides a fitting parallel to the motif of a new song, in the first line of the first tricolon.

Verses 4-6

The verse-section of the first strophe expounds the reason that YHWH is to be worshiped, beyond what was already stated in v. 2b-3 (see above). He is to be praised because He is the King of all the universe, and the greatest of all Divine beings. On this theme, cf. the previous study on Ps 95:1-7c (esp. verse 3).

Verse 4-5a

“For great (is) YHWH, and much (to) be praised;
(to) be feared (is) He, over all (the) Mighty (one)s,
for all Mighty (one)s of the peoples (are) weak!”

This first tricolon (4-beat) generally matches that of the first section (v. 1-2a, cf. above). Thematically, however, it builds upon the preceding v. 2b-3, alluding to the universal scope of YHWH’s Kingship—i.e., over all the nations and peoples on earth. In extending His Kingship over all the nations, YHWH is displacing those deities which the nations previously worshiped (as their sovereign[s]).

Continuing from v. 2b-3, YHWH’s greatness is again extolled, as making Him both worthy to be praised by all people, and to be feared by them. Passive participles (Pual and Niphal) of the verbs ll^h* (“show/give praise”) and ar*y` (“fear”) are used to reflect this characteristic of YHWH—viz., of being worthy of praise and fear. In particular, YHWH is to be feared more than all other “mighty (one)s” (gods/deities), since He is the greatest and King over them all. This point was stated most clearly in 95:3 (see the previous study).

The final line is perhaps prone to misunderstanding, and here it is best to keep to a literal rendering. The Psalmist declares that all of the deities (“Mighty [one]s”) worshiped by the nations are <yl!yl!a$. The substantive (adjectival) noun lyl!a$ basically means someone (or something) that is “weak, powerless” (cp. Akkadian ul¹lu). The term can be used in a more derogatory sense, as “useless, worthless”; and, indeed, in this way the plural <yl!yl!a$ came to designate the pagan deities as “worthless” idols. Probably the full force of this derogatory usage is not intended here by the Psalmist; rather, more likely, he is simply declaring that the other deities (of the nations) are weak and impotent in comparison with YHWH.

Verse 5b-6

“But (indeed) YHWH, He made (the) heavens;
might and splendor (are) before His face,
strength and beauty (are) in His holy place!”

The second tricolon as a shorter 3-beat meter, comparable to the second tricolon of the opening section (v. 2b-3, see above). The contrast, between YHWH and the other deities (v. 4-5a), continues here. YHWH is the Creator—He it is who made the heavens, and all of the heavenly beings as well. It is because of His role as Creator, primarily, that YHWH has Sovereign rule over all the universe.

The final two lines are parallel, and could be taken as a couplet in their own right. The noun pair “might and splendor” (alliterative rd*h*w+ doh) is parallel with “strength and beauty”, both being similar in meaning. All power and splendor belong to YHWH, in His greatness. This may allude to the fact that all other Divine/heavenly beings must come before YHWH, in homage and submission to Him. They stand before Him (as King) in His “holy place” —i.e., His heavenly throne (room) and sanctuary.

Second Strophe: Verses 7-13

Verses 7-9

The first section of the second strophe is a call to worship, matching that of the first strophe (cf. above).

Verse 7-8a

“Give to YHWH, (you) clans of the peoples,
give to YHWH (all) weight and strength,
give to YHWH (the) weight (due) His name!”

The repetitive parallelism of this 4-beat tricolon, matches that of v. 1-2a (see above). Instead of the imperative Wryv! (“sing…!”), here it is Wbh* (from the verb bh^y`, “give”), in the specific context of giving praise and honor to YHWH—a gift that is worthy of His Kingship. Again, it is all the peoples on earth who are called to worship YHWH; specifically, all the “families” (or “clans”) of the different peoples are called. Again, the noun dobK* (“weight”) is used, in the sense of the worth of YHWH—i.e., that which makes Him worthy of being praised, His strength and splendor, etc. The honor and worship that the peoples give to YHWH must be worthy of His name—that is, worthy of He Himself, who He is, as Creator and King of the universe, greatest of all Divine/heavenly beings.

Verse 8b-9

“Carry a gift and come (in)to His enclosures!
Bow to YHWH at the splendor of His holiness,
writhe from (before) His face, all the earth!”

This second tricolon continues the call to worship, and generally matches that of the first strope (v. 2b-3). The theme of giving honor (vb bh^y`) to YHWH, from the first tricolon, is picked up here, with the concrete image of people bearing a gift (hj*n+m!) and coming into the “enclosures” of YHWH’s palace. In verse 6, the heavenly sanctuary (“holy place”) of YHWH was referenced; here, it would seem that the earthly sanctuary (of the Jerusalem Temple) is in view. Moreover the noun hj*n+m! is frequently used in the specific cultic sense of a sacrificial offering. The imagery thus suggests that the nations are giving worship to YHWH much the same way that the people of Israel/Judah do, with sacrificial offerings presented in the Temple precincts. On the prophetic (and eschatological) theme of the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship YHWH, see my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

Like the Divine/heavenly beings who appear before YHWH in His heavenly sanctuary, the representatives of the nations pay homage to Him in His earthly temple. They bow down before him in fear and reverence, recognizing His Sovereignty. The fear is palpable, as all people on earth are called to tremble (lit. “twist, writhe”) in His presence. Most likely there is an allusion here to the theme of vv. 11-13—YHWH’s appearance upon the earth, bringing the Judgment.

Verse 10

“Say among the nations, ‘YHWH rules as King!’
Surely the world is fixed, it cannot be shaken—
He judges (the) peoples with straightness!”

I regard verse 10 as supplemental to the poetic structure of the Psalm, and as transitional between the two parts of the second strophe (cf. Howard, p. 65f). Its inclusion adds suspense and dramatic effect to the strophe, building toward the Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 11-13. Here, the Psalmist is directly addressing the Israelite people, urging them to take a part in calling on the nations to worship YHWH. They are to declare YHWH’s Kingship (“YHWH rules as King [vb El^m*]!”), and His role as Judge over all people. Just as He fixed the earth (here lb@T@ for the inhabited surface), setting it firmly in place within the cosmos (‘heaven and earth’), so He renders judgment in a firm and fair manner, lit. “with straightness”. The plural of the noun rv*ym@ (“straightness”) could mean specifically “straight [i.e. fair/just] judgments”, though it is perhaps best to read it as a comprehensive or intensive plural, i.e., “with complete fairness”. Cf. Psalm 93:1 for similar language and imagery to what we have here in v. 10.

Metrically, verse 10 is an irregular (4+4+3) tricolon.

Verses 11-13
Verses 11-12a

“Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar and (all) its fullness,
let (the) field clamor, and all that is in it!”

YHWH’s greatness over the other Divine/heavenly beings was emphasized in the first tricolon of the verse-section of the first strophe (vv. 4-5a, cf. above); here, His authority over the cosmos itself (“heaven and earth”) is in view. The call to worship YHWH (from vv. 7-9f) is extended to all of creation. Specifically, world of nature is called to rejoice, expressed by four different verbs in the three lines. In the first line, the basic verb jm^c* (“be glad/happy”) is used, along with lyG] (“spin/circle [joyously]”), which, for poetic concision, I have translated above simply as “rejoice”. The sea is then asked to “roar” (or “crash”, <u^r*) joyously, while, similarly, the “field” (i.e., dry land) to make a joyful noise (or clamor, vb zl^u*).

The meter of this tricolon is slightly irregular (4+3+4).

Verse 12b-13b

“Then shall ring out all (the) trees of (the) thicket,
before (the) face of YHWH—for He comes!
For He comes to render Judgment (on) the earth!”

In this second tricolon, the theme of the rejoicing of nature (from the first tricolon, v. 11-12a) blends into an announcement of the coming of YHWH to judge the earth. This explains, belatedly, why all of nature is asked to rejoice—it is in anticipation of the coming Judgment. The initial adverbial particle za* indicates the specific moment (“then, at that time”) when YHWH appears. This would seem to be an early example of the theme, found throughout the later (exilic and post-exilic) Prophets, in which the “day of YHWH” motif—the time when God judges (and punishes) a specific people—is expanded to cover an (eschatological) judgment of all the nations, collectively. The motif of the trees rejoicing is found elsewhere, famously, in Isaiah 55:12.

Verse 13cd

“He shall judge (the) world with righteousness,
and (the) peoples with His firmness!”

I regard this final (3+2) couplet—the only couplet which I identify as such in this Psalm—as supplemental, used to bring the strophe, and the Psalm itself, to a conclusion. It builds upon the Judgment-theme in vv. 12b-13b, emphasizing YHWH’s action in rendering Judgment (vb fp^v*) upon all the world. It is specifically the inhabited earth (lb@T@), with all its people, that is judged.

The “straightness” (i.e., fairness) of YHWH in bringing judgment (see v. 10, above) is again mentioned here—i.e., that He judges with justice and equity. This aspect of YHWH’s role as Judge is expressed with traditional religious terminology, using the pair of nouns qd#x# and hn`Wma$. The former noun means “right(eous)ness”, but sometimes with the social-legal connotation of “justice”; it can also connote the idea of faithfulness and loyalty. The latter noun (hn`Wma$) properly means “firmness”, which is a suitable parallel for the “straightness” (rv*ym@) of YHWH in rendering judgment. The noun is often used in the covenantal context of God’s faithfulness and loyalty (i.e., to the covenant bond), and frequently so 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 “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 94 (Part 2)

Psalm 94, continued

Wisdom Couplets (verses 12-15)

The four Wisdom couplets in vv. 12-15 parallel those in vv. 8-11 (discussed in Part 1). The first set of couplets addressed the wicked (who are fools), while the second addresses the righteous (i.e., the wise).

Verse 12

“(O the) happiness of (the) strong (one) when you discipline him,
O YH(WH), and from your Instruction you teach him.”

This first couplet addressing the wise/righteous takes the form of a beatitude, utilizing the plural construct yr@v=a^ (“[the] happy [thing]s of…”) as an intensive interjection: viz., “O (the) happiness of…!”. It is typically translated “blessed is…” or “blessed be…”. The beatitude formula occurs frequently in the Psalms, most notably in Psalm 1 (see the earlier study). As I discuss in a separate note, the happiness (or blessedness) indicated in the beatitude formula refers to one who obtains the blessed afterlife (with God) in heaven. While the wicked are merely left with the emptiness of their brief life on earth (v. 11), the righteous will experience a blessed life after death.

However, the blessedness begins for the righteous even in this life, as they have the good fortune of being taught by YHWH, from the Divine Instruction (hr*oT) which He has given to His people. The righteous are willing to be taught, even when it involves sometimes painful discipline (vb rs*y`) and correction. The noun rb#G# denotes a strong/mighty person, though sometimes it is used more generally, as referring to an(y) able-bodied male. It is presumably being used here in a generic sense, though one should not ignore the etymological force of rbg; the righteous are made strong, able, and skilled (like a warrior) through the discipline and and instruction provided by YHWH.

Verse 13

“(It is) to give rest for him from (the) days of evil,
while for (the) wicked is dug a (pit of) ruin!”

The Instruction from YHWH, and the blessedness it brings, results in a place quiet and rest (vb fq^v*, Hiphil) from the “days of evil”. Again the blessed afterlife is primarily in view, but the imagery can also apply to happiness and blessedness for the righteous in this life. By contrast, the wicked have only death and the grave to look forward to. The noun tj^v^ literally means “ruin, corruption”, but is often applied more concretely to a grave or “pit” in which a person goes to ruin. There is almost certainly an intentional bit of alliterative wordplay here, between the verb fq^v* (š¹qa‰) and tj^v^ (šaµa¾).

A contrast between the righteous and the wicked (and their respective fates) is found frequently in the Psalms, the theme drawing heavily in this regard upon Wisdom tradition. It is very much part of the beatitude in Psalm 1, just as it is here.

The meter of this couplet is slightly extended, 4+4. Also, I should note that it is possible (and perhaps preferable) to read verse 13 gramatically as a continuation of v. 12: “…you teach him, (in order) to give rest to him…”.

Verse 14

“For (surely) YHWH does not cast away His people,
and His inheritance does not leave behind.”

The faithfulness of YHWH, to the covenant-bond with His people, is implied here. However, in the Wisdom context of these verses, with the focus on the righteous, we should understand the reference to God’s people in this ethical-religious (rather than an ethno-religious) sense. YHWH will not abandon His people, insofar as they remain faithful to the covenant, and to His Instruction.

The initial yK! particle is emphatic. Metrically, this couplet is slightly irregular (4+3).

Verse 15

“Indeed, the ruling-seat of righteousness returns judgment,
and following after it (are) all (the) straight of heart.”

The interpretation of this closing couplet is difficult. If the word du in the first line is (as most commentators and translators take it) the preposition du^ (“until, unto”), then the line would mean something like: “indeed, unto righteousness (right) judgment returns”. That is to say, for the righteous, as a result of their righteousness, YHWH’s ruling judgment is to their benefit (and blessedness); a reference to the afterlife judgment would fit the contextual background of the beatitude-form (see above).

However, I am inclined to follow Dahood (II, p. 349, also p. 81f) in seeing du here as another (rare) example of a separate root indicating “throne, throne-room, royal pavilion” (HALOT, p. 788; cf. Ps 89:38[37] and the earlier note on this verse). The expression “throne [du] of righteousness” provides a suitable (contrastive) parallel with “throne [aS@K!] of corruption” in verse 20.

Ultimately, it is best to see this verse in parallel with the previous verse 14, referring to YHWH’s role in relation to the righteous. He takes His seat of rule as Sovereign over humankind, and renders judgment. The righteous (“[those] straight of heart”) follow His judgment, even as they have followed His instruction (see above), and it is favorable for them, leading to their blessedness.

Prayer for Deliverance (verses 16-21)

This section corresponds to the lament in vv. 3-11 (see the discussion of these verse, and the chiastic outline for the Psalm, in the previous study [Part 1]). This pairing of lament + prayer for deliverance is typical of many Psalms. Here, it also continues the theme of contrast between the righteous and wicked. The protagonist prays specifically for YHWH to rescue him (i.e., the righteous) from the wicked.

Verse 16

“Who will stand up for me against (those) doing evil?
Who takes his stand for me against (those) making trouble?”

The motif of standing up (vb <Wq) and taking one’s stand (vb bx^y`, Hitpael) here has a dual-meaning. On the one hand, the theme of YHWH as Judge continues from verse 15—i.e., YHWH stands in judgment, on behalf of the righteous, and against the wicked. At the same time, standing against (prep. <u!) an opponent can imply a military action, and such imagery is frequently used in Psalms, in the context of the protagonist’s prayer for deliverance. The Psalmist presents the matter here as a rhetorical question: “who will stand up…?” The implication is that he has no one to stand up for him against the wicked, apart from YHWH.

The wicked are referred to by a pair of common substantive participles (the latter being a participial expression), indicating their characteristic behavior: <yu!r@m= (“[one]s doing evil”) and /w#a* yl@u&P) (“doers/makers of trouble,” “[one]s making trouble”, i.e. trouble-makers).

Verse 17

“If it were not (that) YHWH (was the) help for me,
in a little (while) would dwell my soul in silence.”

Only YHWH can provide help (hr*z+u#) for the Psalmist. If YHWH were not there to help (a condition indicated by the negative particle al@Wl), then it would not be long (fu^m=K!, “in a little [while]”) before the wicked would destroy him, sending his soul to “(the place of) silence” (hm*WD). On this expression as an idiom for death and the grave, cf. Psalm 115:17. Dahood (II, p. 347f) suggests that hm*WD here is better explained in relation to the Akkadian dimtu and Ugartic dmt, “fortress, tower”, which would mean that a different image is being employed—viz., the realm of death as a fortress in which one is imprisoned.
Some commentators explain hmd (hmdk) in Ezek 27:32 as having a similar meaning, i.e., Tyre as a mighty fortress/tower in the midst of the sea; cf. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 22A (1997), p. 562f.

Verse 18

“If I were to say, ‘My foot is slipping!’
your loyal devotion, YHWH, supports me.”

The Psalmist here expresses his confidence in the help that YHWH provides, that it will come in time, and as needed. The moment he realizes that his foot is slipping (vb fom), YHWH is right there to support him (vb du^s*). This support is an expression of God’s ds#j#—a regular term meaning “goodness, kindness”, which (as I have frequently noted), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness, loyalty, and devotion. It indeed carries this meaning (i.e., covenant loyalty) in most of the Psalms. Another regular theme in the Psalms is of the protection which the faithful/righteous ones can expect from YHWH, as part of His obligation to the covenant bond.

Verse 19

“Among (the) multitude of impassioned (thought)s in my heart,
your comforting (word)s give delight to my soul.”

A different sort of help given by YHWH is expressed here, in this rather more prosaic couplet. The plural noun <yP!u^r=c^ is usually explained as a byform of <yP!u!c= with an inserted (epenthetic?) letter r (cf. also Psalm 139:23). The root [uc denotes the presence of passionate thoughts/feelings (cf. Job 4:13; 20:2). In the first line, the Psalmist describes a situation where there are a multitude of passionate thoughts within him. The noun br#q# denotes something close/near; in such an anthropological context, it refers to the nearest/inmost part of a person, which here, for poetic concision, I have translated as “heart” (“in my heart”).

In the midst of such turbulent passions—thoughts and feelings—YHWH gives comfort to the Psalmist. The plural of the noun <Wmjn+T^ (from the root <jn) is used to express this. The plural form (“comforts”) could indicate comforting words, or actions; I have opted for the former, as a counterbalance to the impassioned thoughts/feelings within the Psalmist. The idea of YHWH speaking also continues the theme of instruction from vv. 12-15 (see above).

Verse 20

“Can a throne of corruption be allied with you,
(or one) fashioning trouble upon an inscribed (decree)?”

The language and imagery of this couplet is rather difficult to decipher. What seems clear is that it continues the contrast of the righteous and wicked. The righteous are aligned with the throne of YHWH (a “royal-seat of righteousness”), being obedient to His instruction and sovereign judgments (see verse 15, above). The wicked, by contrast, are aligned with a separate “throne of corruption”, which cannot be joined or allied with the throne of YHWH’s righteousness. The noun hW`h^ could be read as two different nouns: (I) connoting evil desire, or (II) meaning “destruction, disaster”. The latter is related to cognate words in Syriac and Arabic referring to the “pit” or “abyss” (of death and the nether-realm, etc); this is fitting in light of the wording used in verse 13 (see above). In keeping with this parallel with tj^v^ (in v. 13), I have translated hW`h^ here as “corruption”.

The second line is more difficult to explain. I have retained the MT without emendation or re-vocalizing (cp. Dahood, II, p. 350). Parallelism with the first line suggests the figure of a ruler (on the “throne of corruption”) who inscribes wicked decrees (“upon an inscribed [decree]”). By these evil decrees, the wicked human leaders of this world are fashioning (vb rx^y`) trouble (lm*u*); compare the wording in verse 16 (see above).

Verse 21

“They band together against (the) soul of (the) righteous,
and (the) blood of (one) clear (of guilt) they treat wickedly.”

Though these wicked leaders cannot be aligned with YHWH and His righteousness, there are able to join together, with each other; and, in their wickedness, they end up attacking the righteous. The verb dd^G` II seems to have, as its basic meaning, the idea of people moving together (the cognate Arabic jannada means “mobilize”, cf. HALOT, p. 177). The sense is of people banding together for a hostile purpose (cf. Psalm 56:7[6]; cp. 59:4[3]). The description of evil world-leaders (v. 20) gathering together against the righteous reminds one of the opening lines of Psalm 2.

The righteous person is “clear” (yq!n`) of guilt; that is, he/she has done nothing worthy of being condemned and attacked. The righteous are innocent in this regard, and their “blood” (i.e., their lives) are sacrosanct, and should be protected. The wicked, however, treat the innocent blood of the righteous in a wicked fashion, implying violent action. It is this hostile intent which prompts the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH, asking for His protection and deliverance.

Conclusion (verses 22-23)

Verse 22

“And (so) may YHWH be for me as my place up high,
even my Mighty (One) as (the) Rock of my refuge!”

The conclusion of the Psalm corresponds with the invocation (in vv. 1-2), where the Psalmist calls on YHWH to stand and render judgment, punishing the the wicked for their evil deeds. The same basic idea prevails here in the concluding lines, but adapted to reflect the themes of the previous sections—most notably the language and imagery in vv. 16-21. The Psalmist expects an answer to his prayer for deliverance, that he will be protected and rescued (by YHWH) from the wicked adversaries who threaten him.

The initial w-consecutive verb form could be rendered as past tense, suggesting that YHWH has already acted on the Psalmist’s behalf. This is a valid way of reading the text; however, I believe it is better to treat this verb as a precative (comparable to a precative perfect form), expressing the Psalmist’s wish (and expectation) in terms of something that has already happened.

The locative nouns bG`c=m! and hs#j&m^ both allude to the protection that YHWH provides for the righteous. The first term denotes a “place set up high”, protected and difficult to access; the second means “protected place” or “place of refuge”. Both terms occur with some frequency in the Psalms, part of the broader theme of Divine protection as a reflection of YHWH’s loyalty to the covenant. This protected place “up high” fits nicely with the motif of YHWH as a “Rock” (rWx); the same image also serves to represent the faithfulness of God.

Verse 23

“And may He return upon them their trouble,
and in their evil may He destroy them,
may He destroy them, YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The Psalm ends with an imprecation, calling upon YHWH to bring judgment upon the wicked, just as the Psalmist does in the opening invocation (v. 2). This judgment reflects true justice, according to the principle of lex talionis. The Psalmist asks YHWH to “return” upon the wicked the trouble that they have caused (“their trouble”, cf. verses 16 and 20). The idea is that their own actions will come back upon them, being punished for their evil deeds in like measure, and in like manner.

Beyond this, the Psalmist calls on God to “destroy” (vb tm^x*) the wicked, even as they are engaged in their evil conduct (“in their evil”). This double-call for YHWH to destroy the wicked may seem quite harsh and disconcerting to modern readers (esp. Christian readers), but it is altogether typical of ancient imprecatory language and conventions, of which there are many examples in the Psalms (and throughout the Old Testament). The Psalmist expects, and hopes, that judgment will finally come for the wicked. Though they may have prospered during this life (vv. 3-7), God’s justice and judgment ultimately cannot be flaunted or escaped; the wicked will pay the price for their evil conduct, especially for the oppression and violence inflicted upon the righteous—including all manner of injustice against the innocent, poor, and vulnerable members of society.

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 “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 94 (Part 1)

Psalm 94

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsb (vv. 1-4, 8-14, 17-18, 21-22); 1QPsa (v. 16)

This Psalm, typical of many in the Psalter, consists of a lament by the protagonist, along with a prayer to YHWH for deliverance. The Wisdom elements, integrated and situated prominently at the heart of the composition (vv. 8-15), are also typical of the influence of Wisdom tradition on many Psalms. In addition, the Psalmist anticipates that YHWH will answer his prayer, and will act on his behalf; the prayer thus also serves as an expression of trust in God. The protagonist in the Psalms is regularly presented as one of the righteous, and, as a faithful/loyal servant of YHWH, he can expect God to fulfill His side of the covenant bond and provide protection in the time of need.

There are no definite indications of a date for the composition of the Psalm (at any stage), though the extensive inclusion of Wisdom elements suggests perhaps an exilic (or post-exilic) date, at least for the final work as it has come down to us. Without the inner wisdom-sections (vv. 8-15), considered (perhaps) as a subsequent addition, it would be easier to view Psalm 94 as a pre-exilic composition. There is no attribution of authorship in the MT (or the Qumran manuscripts), but the LXX has a superscription attributing it to David and also indicating that it is to be performed on the “fourth day” of the week (cp. the heading of Ps 92).

On the relation of Psalm 94 within the collection of eight (93-100), grouped according to the theme of YHWH’s kingship, see the brief discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 453, 455-6) and the study by David M. Howard, The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

There is a well-developed, sectional structure to this Psalm, which also is chiastic in nature:

    • Invocation—the protagonist calls on YHWH to render judgment (vv. 1-2)
      • Lament with a Wisdom emphasis: ‘Why are the wicked allowed to go unpunished?’ (vv. 3-7)
        • Wisdom couplets—addressed to the foolish/wicked (vv. 8-11)
        • Wisdom couplets—addressed to the wise/righteous (vv. 12-15)
      • Prayer for deliverance—to rescue the righteous from the wicked (vv. 16-21)
    • Declaration of YHWH’s judgment, vindicating the righteous and punishing the wicked (vv. 22-23)

The meter of this Psalm is somewhat irregular, but a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format tends to dominate.

For its relative length, the Psalm is extensively preserved in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsb. In this regard, it is worth noting that, in the portions which survive (without requiring reconstruction), there are ostensibly no textual variants; the text is essentially identical with that of the MT.

Invocation (vv. 1-2)

Verse 1

“O Mighty (One) of vengeance, YHWH,
Mighty (One) of vengeance, shine forth!”

In this opening couplet, the Psalmist calls on YHWH to appear, in his role as Judge, and render judgment. The nature of this judgment is indicated by the repeated attribute of hm*q*n] (“vengeance, revenge”), which can be rendered in the judicial sense of “retribution”. As Dahood mentions (II, p. 346), the root <qn connotes the idea of vindication (for the righteous) as well as punishment (for the wicked)—both aspects are unquestionably in view.

The repetitive parallelism of the couplet, with an a+b+c / a+b+d format, is characteristic of Canaanite poetry (cf. the tricola in Ps 93:3-4, discussed in the previous study):

    • Mighty (One) of | vengeance | YHWH
    • Mighty (One) of | vengeance | shine forth

The verb form, as vocalized by the MT, uy~p!oh, is most naturally read as a (Hiphil) Perfect, even though an imperative seems to be called for; an imperative, attested by some Versions, would be clarified by the form (with paragogic h-), hu*yp!oh (see Ps 80:2[1]). The MT could, however, be read as a precative perfect, which carries much the same force as an imperative. The verb up^y` means “shine”, often in the basic sense of “be visible, appear”; in the Hiphil causative stem, this becomes “make shine”, “cause to shine (forth)”, here understood reflexively of YHWH (“make [yourself] shine forth”).

Verse 2

“Lift yourself, (you the One) judging the earth,
turn (their) dealing (back) on (the) high (one)s!”

YHWH’s role as Judge is specified here in the second couplet, utilizing the verbal noun (participle) fp@v), “judging”, i.e., the one who judges, who renders a (legal) decision. YHWH is the Judge of the entire earth, a theme found frequently in the Psalms, and corollary to His identity as King (Sovereign) over the universe (cf. the previous Psalm 93).

The Psalmist specifically asks that God “turn back” onto the “high (one)s” (<ya!G@)—in English idiom, we might say the “high and mighty” —their lWmG+, referring to how one deals with other people, for good or evil (in this case, evil). In such a judicial context, it term implies a kind of recompense, in a decidedly negative sense—i.e., a punitive penalty that corresponds to one’s (wicked) behavior.

Indeed, the adjective ha#G@ (“high”) typically connotes a negative sort of “high-mindedness” —prideful arrogance, boasting, and the like—which is very much characteristic of the wicked. In other words, the Psalmist is asking YHWH to bring punishment upon the wicked, paying them back for their own wickedness. Their “highness” indicates, not only arrogance, but also a genuinely high (i.e., powerful) status in society, obtained, in large part, as a result of their wicked conduct (as the lament in vv. 3-7 makes clear).

Lament (verses 3-7)

Verse 3

“Until when (shall the) wicked, O YHWH,
until when shall (the) wicked shout (for joy)?”

The theme introduced in v. 2, regarding the “highness” of the wicked, is developed here in the lament. It deals with a subject familiar from Wisdom literature: why are the wicked allowed (by God) to prosper in this life? Here, this is posed as a comparable question: “Until when will the wicked clamor (triumphantly)?” The verb is zl^u*, which basically indicates a loud noise (like a shout, etc), made joyfully, sometimes specifically connoting the idea of triumph. The wicked shout joyfully and clamor about because they seem to triumph in this earthly life. The verb could also be rendered “exult”, which would provide continuity with the motif of being “high, lofty”. The imperfect verb form, as with the imperfects in vv. 4-7 (see below), is probably meant to express regular (and recurring) behavior.

Again, the same repetitive parallelism (a+b+c / a+b+d) from verse 1 (see above) is used here:

    • Until when | (the) wicked | O YHWH
    • until when | (the) wicked | shall clamor
Verse 4

“They gush (and) speak (many) a far-ranging (boast)—
they speak of themselves, all (these) makers of trouble!”

It is specifically the speech of the wicked that is in focus here—i.e., the high and mighty things they say, all their (boastful) shouting and clamoring. This evil speech gushes forth (vb ub^n`, Hiphil); in English idiom we might say that they “spout off”. The arrogance and insolence of their speech is indicated by the noun qt*u*, a word that is difficult to translate but which generally refers to something that “goes past” what is right and proper, etc—a sense of surpassing distance, in the arrogance of the wicked, that is comparable to their “highness” (v. 2).

Indeed, this is selfish, boastful talk, as the wicked “say (things) about themselves”, an emphasis indicated by the use the reflexive (Hitpael) of the verb rm^a*. Such people are literally “makers of trouble” (vb lu^P* + noun /w#a*), an idiom, as a characteristic of the wicked, which occurs with some frequency in the Psalms—5:6[5]; 6:9[8]; 14:4; 28:3; 36:13[12]; 53:5[4]; 59:3[2]; 64:3[2], etc.

Verse 5

“Your people, O YHWH, they do crush,
and your inheritance they oppress;”

Verses 1-4 were all 3-beat (3+3) couplets; now, in vv. 5-6, the rhythm suddenly shifts to shortened 3+2 couplets. This is perhaps intended as a poetic accompaniment to the dramatic description of the “trouble” (/w#a*, v. 4) caused by the wicked. In particular, they cause trouble for God’s people—meaning, ostensibly, the righteous ones of Israel. Thus, the familiar contrast between the righteous and the wicked—and of the suffering of the righteous at the hands of the wicked—is here established. This is a basic Old Testament theme, particularly prominent in Wisdom tradition, and found frequently throughout many Psalms.

The wicked “crush” (vb ak^D*) and “press down” (vb hn`u*), i.e., oppress, the righteous. Again, this is traditional terminology, the latter verb alluding to the common designation of the righteous as “pressed down, oppressed, lowly” (yn]u*, wn`u*).

Verse 6

“(the) widow and stranger they do kill,
and (the) orphans they smash—”

The description of the cruel and oppressive behavior of the wicked continues from verse 5, with the same 3+2 meter. In the Psalms, the righteous tend to be identified with the poor and lowly—in contrast with the “high” position of the wicked. Here, however, the Psalmist has in view also the practical matter of what we would call social justice—protection (and justice) for the weak and vulnerable members of society.

This includes, naturally and traditionally, widows and orphans, but also the rG@, referring to a person who leaves his home(land) to reside in another place. Such resident “strangers”, who are often displaced, seeking shelter from famine, disease, war, etc, are to be shown special care and treated as protected citizens. The Prophetic writings are particularly harsh in their condemnation of the oppression that exists in society, resulting in suffering for the weak and vulnerable; the Psalms frequently evince this social justice emphasis as well.

Verse 7

“and (yet) they say, ‘YH(WH) does not see (this),
nor does He discern (it), (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob!'”

This mode of overconfident (and boastful) thinking is traditionally attributed to the wicked. Particularly egregious (and foolish, see below) is the idea that YHWH does not see what such people are doing. This kind of characteristic declaration has a two-fold purpose here: (i) it expresses the arrogant ‘high-mindedness’ of the wicked; but (ii) it also attests to the troubling incongruity that is at the heart of the particular wisdom tradition—viz., why are the wicked left unpunished and allowed to prosper in this life? Does God not see what wicked things they do?

Wisdom Couplets (verses 8-11)

Verse 8

“Discern (this), (you) brutish (one)s among the people!
and (you) fools—when will you show understanding?”

Verse 8 picks up on the use of the verb /yB! (“understand, discern”) in v. 7 to introduce this set of four Wisdom-couplets, addressed to the wicked—who are also fools. Indeed, they show themselves foolish by the way they act and speak, thinking that YHWH does not see what they do, and will not judge them for it. The verb lk^c* I, “be wise, understanding, skillful”, overlaps in meaning with /yB!, both verbs being very much part of the Wisdom-vocabulary.

Verse 9

“The (One) planting (the) ear, does He not hear?
or (the One) forming (the) eye, does He not observe?”

This extended 4-beat (4+4) couplet addresses the foolish thinking (and speaking) expressed in v. 7 (see above). Of course YHWH hears and sees everything the wicked says and does, since He is the One who made the ears and eyes of created beings in the first place. If He can give people the ability to see, then surely He Himself is able to see what the wicked are doing!

Verse 10

“The (One) disciplining nations, can He not bring rebuke?
the (One) teaching mankind, is He lacking knowledge?”

This couplet follows the pattern of verse 9, only with an irregular 4+3 meter, suggesting the possibility that a word has dropped out. The ability of YHWH to hear/see (the things people say/do) was emphasized in v. 9, now it is His ability to render proper judgment on their words and conduct. The universal scope of this ability is expressed, reflecting YHWH’s position as Judge of the entire world (see v. 2, above). The term “nations” (<y]oG) has a comprehensive and general meaning here, referring to all (hu)mankind (<d*a*). YHWH is certainly able to correct and rebuke human beings, giving discipline and punishment as needed, teaching all people the truth about what is right.

As mentioned above, the 4+3 meter of the second line allows for the possibility that a word has dropped out; the Qumran manuscript 4QPsb is unfortunately fragmentary at this point, so a determination cannot be made on this textual point. Regardless, the parallelism of the couplet requires that the implied phrase be “lacking in knowledge [tu^D*]”. Dahood (II, p. 348) offers the clever suggestion that the final <– on <d*a* does double-duty, and that we should essentially read, for the final two words, tu^D*m! <d*a*. The prefixed /m! preposition (“from”), taken in a privative sense, would carry the meaning “lacking of”, “without”.

Verse 11

“YHWH (is the One) knowing (the) thoughts of man,
how they (are all but) an (empty) breath!”

The irregular 4+3 meter of this final couplet adds support for the idea that the same meter in v. 10 (MT) is correct, and that the verse has come down to us intact. Not only does YHWH hear/see what all human beings say/do, but He even knows all the thoughts which a person thinks. This includes, most importantly, the person’s intention. The thoughts of human beings, in general, are empty and vain—how much more so the thoughts of the wicked! The noun lb#h#, denoting a breath, or vapor, often is used in a derogatory sense—i.e., a mere breath, a puff (of air), etc—and is a keyword in the vocabulary of Wisdom literature. It occurs most frequently in the book of Qohelet/Ecclesiastes (beginning in 1:2, 5 times), but also appears a number of times in the Psalms, as evidence for the influence of Wisdom-tradition on the Psalter.

The second half of Psalm 94 will be examined in the next study.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 82

Psalm 82

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-8)

This relatively short Psalm is among the most intriguing and provocative in the entire collection. The main source of intrigue is the setting established in verse 1, where YHWH is standing as Ruler (and Judge) “in the midst of” the gathering of the gods. This juxtaposition between YHWH and the gods (of the nations) is striking, particularly with the double-use of the plural <yh!l)a$, but it can be problematic for Jews and Christians who are accustomed to reading the Old Testament Scriptures from the standpoint of an absolute monotheism. But such a monotheism is the end-product of a long process of religious and theological development—a process of which this Psalm is very much a part. In actuality, the relationship between the YHWH and the deities worshiped by the other nations, as expressed in ancient Israelite thought and writing, was quite complex.

Opinions of commentators regarding the date of this Psalm vary widely. It may be necessary to distinguish between the poem in its original form and its inclusion (with redaction) as part of the Elohistic Psalter (and Asaph-collection, Pss 73-83). As far as the content and thought-world of the original composition, there are certain similarities with the Song of Moses (Deut 32), which might suggest a very old (and perhaps even pre-monarchic) date (cf. Dahood, II, p. 269).

The brevity of this Psalm allows us to treat it essentially as a singular unit. However, it can also be rather neatly divided into two parts, vv. 1-4 and 5-8, which I would outline in a loose chiastic form, framed by the opening and closing verses:

    • YHWH’s position as Ruler and Judge in the heavenly council (v. 1)
      • YHWH’s pronouncement of Judgment (vv. 2-4)
      • A prophetic announcement of Judgment (vv. 5-7)
    • Call for YHWH to act as Ruler and Judge over the nations on earth (v. 8)

There is a certain prophetic quality to this Psalm, which it has in common with others in the Asaph-collection; on the tradition of Asaph and his descendants as prophets, cf. the earlier study on Ps 50. The Psalmist functions as a prophet, effectively seeing a vision of YHWH in the heavenly council, rather like the vision by Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 (cf. vv. 19ff). The vision is narrated in the first part (vv. 1-4); then, in the second part (vv. 5-8), the Psalmist responds to the vision, essentially delivering a short prophetic message based upon it.

The occurrence of a Selah (hl*s#) pause marker following verse 2 is curious. In this case, it does not seem to be any kind of structural indicator; a pause may simply be intended to make a clear distinction between the rhetorical question in verse 2 and the declaration that follows.

Metrically, the Psalm generally follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format—strictly so in the first part, and more loosely in the second.

Psalm 82 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 more or less identical with the Masoretic Text.

Verse 1

“(The) Mightiest is standing in the appointed (place) for (the) Mighty,
in (the) midst of (the) Mighty (one)s he holds judgment.”

On the one hand, this opening couplet is quite straightforward; but, on the other hand, it is rather tricky to translate. This is, in part, because of the repeated use of the terms la@ / <yh!l)a$, with different nuances of meaning. The noun la@ (°¢l) represents the common (and ancient) Semitic term for deity. I take its fundamental meaning to be something like “mighty (one)”. The plural of la@ is <yl!a@ (°¢lîm, “mighty [one]s”), but this form is quite rare in the Old Testament; far more common is the expanded plural <yh!l)a$ (°§lœhîm), which, in a monotheistic Israelite context, typically refers to the one deity, the Creator El-YHWH. I understand the plural form, in this context, to represent an intensive (or comprehensive) plural—i.e., “(the) Mightiest (One)”. For more on this, cf. my earlier articles on the titles El and Elohim.

The interplay in verse 1, utilizing these terms, is striking. The first plural <yh!l)a$ (in line 1) clearly refers to YHWH (“Mightiest [One]”), while the second (in line 2) just as clearly refers to other divine beings, and thus is a regular (numeric) plural, i.e., “Mighty (one)s”. Meanwhile, the singular la@, in between, appears to refer to (all) the gods, in a collective (or general) sense “(the) Mighty (ones)”.

The noun hd*u@ denotes an appointed time/place; here it indicates the appointed place where the deities gather, and where YHWH serves as Ruler/Judge, holding judgment. The noun br#q# suggests spatially that YHWH is standing in the midst/middle of the gathering of gods.

The implication is that these “mighty (one)s” (gods) are the deities recognized and worshiped by the other nations. One could describe them more loosely as divine/heavenly beings, without considering them to be “gods” per se; this would certainly be more in keeping with the absolute monotheism of later Israelites, Jews and Christians, but it would also gravely distort the theological and polemic message of the Psalm. All throughout the ancient Near East, there are variations of the heavenly/Divine council motif, where the supreme Creator/Ruler presides over the assembly of the gods; for the application of this motif in ancient Israel, and various ancient/poetic allusions to it, see, e.g., Psalm 29:1-2, 9-10; 89:6-7; Job 1-2; 1 Kings 22:19.

Verse 2

“Until when will you judge with corruption,
and (the) faces of (the) wicked lift up?”
Selah

In vv. 2-4, YHWH pronounces the judgment (in His role as Judge). He is, it would seem, addressing the other gods (“mighty [one]s”) in the assembly. The judgment begins with an accusing question, in the prophetic style. YHWH asks the gods how long (“until when…?”) they will continue to judge with “corruption”. The basic meaning of the noun lw#u* in context is perversion (of justice), i.e., injustice. The perversion of justice is glossed with the specific idiom of “lifting the face” of a person, which, in a judicial setting, refers to inappropriately showing partiality to someone, rather than based on the application of equitable and fair justice.

The underlying theological worldview here is probably reflected in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (on which, cf. my earlier study). The other deities were assigned (by El-YHWH) to have rule and authority over the various nations. According to the poetic narrative of the Psalms, the gods have abused this authority, by ruling/judging in a corrupt and unjust manner. The same essential charge can be leveled against the human rulers/leaders of the nations; for more on this, cf. below.

Verse 3

“Judge (rightly) for (the) weak and (the) orphan,
make (things) right for (the) afflicted and destitute!”

The imperatives in this next couplet reflect how the “mighty (one)s” (gods) of the nations should have ruled, with justice and right judgment. In particular, the rule of the nations should have protected those in society who are most vulnerable and in need. The pairing of the “afflicted” (yn]u*) and “needy” (/oyb=a#) is frequent in the Psalms; here the verbal noun vWr, denoting the condition of “being poor/destitute” is used in place of the latter (cf. v. 4 below). The vulnerability of orphaned children, and the like, is expressed by the adjective lD^ (“weak”). A failure to treat justly/rightly the poor and needy, and to protect them, is particularly emphasized in Prophetic judgments against the nations (and their leaders). As noted above, this Psalm (like many of the Asaph-Psalms) has definite prophetic characteristics.

Verse 4

“Give escape for (the) weak and needy,
snatch (them) from (the) hand of (the) wicked!”

Here the theme of protecting the weak and needy is given more forceful emphasis, extending the concept to include the idea of rescuing them from the oppressive power of wicked persons. The rule of law and justice in a nation should oppose wickedness, protecting people from those who are wicked; instead, as indicated in verse 2 (cf. above), the “mighty (one)s” have shown favor and partiality to the wicked. The implication is that this favor has helped the wicked to achieve the kind of power in society that enables them to oppress the poor.

This couplet concludes the heavenly judgment scene of the first part, and, in particular, the pronouncement of judgment by YHWH in vv. 2-4. It must be pointed out again that, within this scenario, YHWH is addressing the other gods (“mighty [one]s”) in the assembly—that is, we may assume, the deities who (according to earlier lines of tradition) were given authority over the nations (cf. on Deut 32:8-9, above).

Verse 5

“They do not know and do not understand;
in the darkness they walk about,
and (the) foundations of (the) earth are shaken.”

Following the prophetic vision of the first part, with YHWH as the speaker (vv. 2-4), here the Psalmist speaks in the second part, delivering a prophetic message that builds upon the earlier vision. The subject “they” must still refer to the gods (of the nations) from the first part (cf. above); however, as becomes increasingly clear, these “mighty (one)s” also, in their own way, stand for the human rulers and leaders of the nations. Thus, while on the literary/poetic level, the Psalmist is addressing the nations’ gods, he is also effectively addressing the nations themselves.

The meter of this verse differs markedly from the regular 3-beat (3+3) couplets of the first part; it is an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon, the unevenness of which may be meant as a rhythmic-poetic expression of the content—especially the idea in the central line, viz., of the “mighty (one)s” wandering about in the darkness. The ignorance/blindness of the gods brings chaos and disorder to the nations, causing the “foundations of the earth” to be shaken (vb fom). This may also allude to the judgment that has come (or is coming) upon them. In Psalm 75:3-4 [2-3], there is a comparable reference to the earth’s foundations (pillars) shaking (note the similar judgment context); it is only through the right and equitable rule of YHWH that things are kept firm and steady.

Verses 6-7

“And I say: ‘Mighty (one)s you (are),
and sons of (the) Highest, all of you,
but (yet just) like men you shall die,
and like one of the(ir) rulers shall fall!'”

The precise thrust of these two couplets is not entirely clear. As I interpret it, the Psalmist is delivering a prophetic oracle that corresponds to the earlier pronouncement of judgment by YHWH (in vv. 2-4). The actual sentence of judgment is delivered here: which is, that the “mighty (one)s” (i.e., the gods of the nations) shall fall and die like any ordinary human ruler (rc*).

In the mythic-poetic context of the Psalm, this is a sentence of the death for the gods. From a rhetorical-polemical standpoint, it functions in several different ways. First, it can be interpreted as a dramatic description of the gods’ fall from power, so that they no longer hold the position (of rule over the nations) indicated in the older lines of tradition (as in Deut 32:8-9, cf. above). Their corrupt rule has led to their being removed from divine status, thus paving the way (conceptually) for the absolute monotheism of later times—where YHWH is the only existing Deity, with direct control over all the nations (cf. on verse 8 below).

Secondly, the judgment of the nations’ gods parallels (and foreshadows) their own judgment. This is all the more pertinent since the same charges of injustice and corrupt rule could just as well be leveled by YHWH against the human rulers of the nations. And, if a sentence of death could be delivered against their gods, how much more could such a punishment come to them!

Finally, along the same lines, this dramatic presentation of Divine judgment against the nations (and their gods) has an exhortational purpose, just as with many of the nation-oracles in the Prophetic writings. The people (of Israel) must learn from this example. Instead of being like the nations, who, following the pattern of their corrupt deities, rule in an wicked and unjust manner, the Israelites (and their leaders) need to follow in the way of YHWH. His manner of judgment is totally unlike that of the nations’ gods; He rules and judges with righteousness and equity, protecting the poor and needy, and opposing the wicked. Israelite society should be conformed to this Divine pattern—according to the rule of YHWH, the one true and holy God.

There is no verb in the declaration of the first line, and would have to be supplied in translation. It could be rendered in the present tense (“You are Mighty [one]s”) or the past tense (“You were Mighty [one]s”); the latter would convey more clearly the idea of a loss of divine status—i.e., that they are no longer gods, but will die like ordinary men. In either case, there is a strong contrast intended by the adversative particle (/k@a*) at the beginning of verse 7.

Verse 8

“Stand (up), Mightiest, (and) judge the earth;
take possession (yourself) over all the nations!”

This closing couplet, in a longer (4+4) meter, functions on two different levels. First, the call (by the Psalmist) is for YHWH to take over from the deposed gods all of the authority that had been given to them. No longer will they exercise rule over the nations that had been allotted to them (cf. again on Deut 32:8-9 above); instead, YHWH (as the one true God) will act as the sole Ruler over all the nations. Previously, it is was only Israel that YHWH held as His possession, having chosen them (for His own) from all the other nations; now the call is for YHWH to take possession (vb lj^n`) over all the nations of the earth. As noted above, this represents a strong step, theologically, in the direction of an absolute monotheism, depicted in dramatic-mythic terms as a fall (and deposition) of the (other) gods from power.

On a second level, this closing couplet clearly parallels the opening couplet of verse 1 (cf. above). There YHWH was standing (lit. taking [His] stand, vb bx~n`) in heaven, as Ruler and Judge over the gods of the nations; now He is called on to stand up (vb <Wq) and assume the same position of rule on earth over the nations themselves. I indicated this parallelism in the outline of Psalm above, where the two prophetic pronouncements of judgment (vv. 2-4, 5-7) are framed by these references to YHWH’s position as Ruler and Judge over the universe.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 76

Psalm 76

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPse (vv. 10-12 [9-11])

The central portion of this Psalm (vv. 5-10) is a hymn to YHWH. It is framed by a theological opening (vv. 2-4) and religious-ethical closing (vv. 11-13). In this instance, the Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker (following verses 4 and 10) is a structural indicator for the Psalm.

As with all of Pss 7383, this composition is attributed to (and/or associated with) Asaph (cf. the earlier study on Ps 50). Like Ps 75 (cf. the previous study), this Psalm is also designated a “song” (ryv!). The precise significance of this term in the Psalm headings is not entirely clear. In some instances, it may indicate a poem that is sung to an existing melody, rather than being an original musical composition (romz+m!); but that would not seem to be the case here. For Ps 76 (and particularly, the central portion), ryv! may relate to it as a hymn—to be sung by people in the Temple precincts, or in a comparable worship setting. According to the heading, it is to be performed on stringed instruments (tonyg]n+).

The meter of the Psalm is slightly irregular, but a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format dominates.

OPEnING: Verses 2-4 [1-3]

Verse 2

“(The) Mightiest is known in Yehudah,
(and) in Yisrael His name (is) great.”

The Niphal form of the verb ud^y` in the first line should perhaps be understood in a reflexive (“makes Himself known”) rather than a passive (“is known”) sense. As I have discussed frequently, in ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person. This is very much true in a religious context, in reference to a deity’s name. Cf. the introduction to the series “And you shall call His Name…”.

Presumably, the Psalmist has in mind the great deeds performed by YHWH, throughout the history of Israel/Judah (during the Exodus, et al), as preserved in tradition. The people are reminded of what God has done in the past, raising the possibility that He may once again act on behalf of His people.

Verse 3 [2]

“And there came to be in Šalem His lair,
and His place of cover in ‚iyyôn.”

The historical traditions (of the Exodus and Conquest, etc) are related to the establishment of YHWH’s dwelling place in Jerusalem (here, Salem)—especially the ancient fortified hilltop location (i.e., mount Zion) which served as the site of the Temple. The noun hn`oum= in the second line has the general meaning of “dwelling place”, but often in the specific sense of the covered/concealed dwelling of animals (i.e., den, lair, etc). The parallel noun Es)/hK*s% has the same meaning—viz., that of a concealed dwelling-place (lair) in the wild, best envisioned as a thicket of branches, etc. The imagery suggests the motif of YHWH as a powerful animal (one that hunts prey, cf. below); the ruling figure of a lion is most fitting (as a royal symbol, cf. Gen 49:9; 1 Kings 10:19-20; Mic 5:8; Ezek 19:2ff; Rev 5:5-6). On the image of the lion laying in wait (in its lair/thicket) to pounce on its prey, cf. Job 38:40; elsewhere in the Psalms, this motif is applied to the predatory behavior of the wicked (7:2; 10:9; 17:12; 57:4, etc).

The meter of this verse is 3+2.

Verse 4 [3]

“There He broke (with) His bolts (the) bow,
shield and sword, and (all weapons of) war.”
Selah

The idea in this verse is clear: from His dwelling in Jerusalem, YHWH waged war on behalf of His people, subduing their enemies. Of possible historical incidents that could be referenced, one thinks of the dramatic defeat of the Assyrian army, in their attempted siege of Jerusalem, in 701 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 18:13-19:37). The motif of YHWH as a warrior is relatively frequent in the Psalms.

The noun [v#r# appears to be an archaic term in Hebrew, occurring only in poetry. The fundamental meaning is of a fiery shaft or dart (Job 5:7; Song 8:6), typically used as a weapon. Probably a lightning-bolt is meant here (cf. Ps 78:48), though in Deut 32:24 and Hab 3:5 it alludes to the ‘burning’ that comes from pestilent disease or plague. In any case, here the “fiery darts” are is best seen as a weapon wielded by YHWH, not his human enemies; cf. the explanation by Dahood (II, p. 218).

The noun hm*j*l=m! (“war, battle”) in the second line is comprehensive, and a poetic shorthand for “weapons of war”. YHWH, wielding his fiery bolts from Mount Zion, shatters all the weapons of His people’s enemies. It is this Divine power, that is able to save and deliver Israel/Judah, which the Psalmist calls on in the hymn that follows.

The Hymn: Verses 5-11 [4-10]

Verse 5 [4]

“Shining (bright) you (are), (and) majestic—
from (the) mountains of tearing, they have become prey!”

Apparently the LXX translates ar*on (“being feared”, i.e. to be feared, fearful; cf. in v. 8), rather than MT roan` (“being light, luminous”), and some commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 108) readily follow the LXX. The participle ar*on certainly would fit the imagery of the couplet, alluding (as in v. 3 [2], cf. above) to YHWH as a fierce and regal lion. It may be, however, that the Psalmist is here combining the two motifs from vv. 3-4—YHWH as a ferocious lion, and as a heavenly warrior wielding the lightning-bolt. The shining, luminous grandeur of YHWH, in line 1 of the MT for v. 5, follows nicely on the motif of His fiery bolts in v. 4.

The second line (in the MT) has the expression “from (the) mountains of tearing (prey)”. If correct (cp. the LXX, “from [the] eternal mountains”), the expression is presumably a poetic shorthand, meaning something like, “from the mountains where you tear your prey”. For a different way of reading the line, cf. Dahood, II, p. 219.

In my view, the first word of v. 6 is better taken with the second line of v. 5 here. The verb ll^v* II (“[take] plunder”) here properly referred to a predatory animal (i.e., lion) taking its prey. The enemies of Israel/Judah become the lion’s prey.

Verse 6 [5]

“(The one)s mighty of heart have slumbered (in) their sleep;
(of) all (the) men of strength, no(ne) can find their hands.”

The defeat of the human enemies of YHWH is described in terms of weakness and feebleness. The mighty and brave ones have dozed off, falling asleep, and the strong ones are no longer able to function effectively with their hands (to wield weapons, etc). If the noun [v#r# in v. 4 refers to pestilence and disease (cf. above), then the imagery here in v. 6 could be meant to depict soldiers succumbing to illness. Sending disease is one of the deadliest and most effective ‘weapons’ God can use.

Verse 7 [6]

“From your rebuke, O Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob,
both rider and horse are lain fast asleep!”

Whether struck by YHWH’s lightning-bolts, or by the fiery darts of disease, it is by His command, rebuking (rug) the enemy, that they fall. Even the powerful cavalry (and chariot) units of the armies are waylaid by God and “put to sleep” (vb <d^r*), i.e., they are left unconscious and/or lifeless. Cf. the famous tradition of Pharaoh’s chariots perishing in the event at the Reed Sea (Exod 14:17-18, 23ff, 28; 15:1, 4).

Verse 8 [7]

“You (are the one) to be feared—you!
Indeed, who can stand before your face,
from the moment your anger (comes)?”

The participle ar*on (Niphal of ar^y`, “be afraid, fear”), “being feared” (i.e., to be feared, fearful [one]), also seems to have been read by the LXX in v. 5 (cf. above). The reason YHWH is to be feared is that no human being is able to stand before His face when He is angry. The noun [a^ can be understood, fundamentally, in the concrete anthropomorphic (or zoomorphic) sense of burning/flaring nostrils—i.e., as a sign of anger. Searing steam, smoke, or fire coming from the ‘nostrils’ is the terrifying evidence of the anger emanating from God’s ‘face’, which is able to destroy and obliterate the wicked.

Verse 9 [8]

“From (the) heavens you made (the) decision to be heard—
(the) earth was afraid and became still,”

Here the imagery shifts to the more conventional religious motif of God as Judge, delivering the judgment (on humankind) from heaven. The noun /yD! properly refers to the decision rendered by the judge. The entire earth—i.e., all humankind—stands silent, in fear, as YHWH delivers His verdict. The verb um^v* (“hear”) in the Hiphil literally means “make [one] hear, cause to be heard”.

Even though YHWH may have His ‘dwelling-place’ on earth, with His people, on Mt Zion, His true dwelling is in the heavens.

Verse 10 [9]

“in (your) standing up for the judgment, O Mightiest,
to save all (the) lowly (one)s of (the) earth.”
Selah

Syntactically, verse 10 continues the thought of v. 9. YHWH, the Judge, stands up to deliver the verdict, the sentence of judgment against humankind. This judgment means salvation (vb uv^y`, Hiphil) for the <yw]n+u^. The adjective wn`u*, along with the related (and more common) yn]u*, refers to a condition of low(li)ness. This condition can be the result (negatively) of oppression/affliction (i.e., being pressed down), or (positively) from a meek and humble mindset. Both aspects of meaning are characteristic of the righteous, and equally inform the usage of yn]u* (29 times) and wn`u* (12 times) in the Psalms.

God’s Judgment brings salvation for the righteous ones among His people—and, it would seem, from among the other nations as well.

Closing: Verses 11-13 [10-12]

Verse 11 [10]

“Indeed, (the) burning of man shall throw you (praise);
and (the) remainder of (the) burning, you shall put around you!”

This couplet has proven difficult for commentators to interpret. The chief cause of the difficulty, it seems, lies with the construct expression “(the) burning (anger) of man” (<d*a* tm^j&). The question is whether this is a subjective (i.e., human anger) or objective (anger against humans) genitive. The context of the Judgment, at the end of the hymn (vv. 9-10, cf. above), strongly suggests the latter. On the other hand, the theme of the hostility of human beings toward God is also present in the hymn. The idea may be that, even those people who were burning with rage against YHWH will be forced to submit and give praise/homage to Him.

I tend to think that the principal thought, expressed somewhat awkwardly by the Psalmist, is that, in judging humankind, directing His burning anger against them (see esp. verse 8, above), His action is praiseworthy (and the righteous who see it will praise Him).

What remains after the exercise of His burning anger, YHWH will put around Himself (vb rg~j*). This could refer to what is left of the wicked (and their lives) after they are consumed, or to the righteous as the remnant of humankind; the latter seems much more fitting to the context of the Psalm here. The circle of the righteous, in the blessed afterlife, dwelling with God, is probably in view. In the communal worship setting (cf. verses 12-13), the circle of the devout/faithful ones anticipates this eschatological scene.

Verse 12 [11]

“Make your vows, and complete (them), to YHWH your Mighty (One);
let all (those) around Him bring along gift(s) to the fearsome (One)!”

The second line of v. 12 draws upon the earlier Judgment scene in vv. 9-10 (and continuing in v. 11), suggesting the image of submissive vassals paying homage to YHWH (as King). The rare noun yv^, of uncertain derivation, occurs only here and in Ps 68:30; Isa 18:7; the context indicates that yv^ is a collective term, referring to gifts brought in homage to a ruler.

However, as I commented above (on v. 11), the scene here has shifted—from the wicked who face God’s Judgment, to the righteous who will remain after the Judgment. The image of vassals bringing gifts to the King refers to the righteous, who give the praise and worship that is due to God. This is done, for example, by faithfully completing (vb <l^v*) what one has vowed to do for God. The verb rd^n` hardly occurs in the Psalms, but the idea of a devout person fulfilling a vow (rd#n#) to YHWH is found prominently in a number of Psalms, usually at the conclusion, but occasionally at the beginning (cf. 22:26 [25]; 50:14; 56:13 [12]; 61:6 [5], 9 [8]; 65:2 [1]; 66:13; 116:14, 18). The vow traditionally involves a sacrificial offering; however, in the context of the Psalms, not surprisingly, this is sometimes understood specifically in terms of an offering of praise and music to God.

This couplet is irregular, with an elongated 4-beat (4+4) meter.

Verse 13 [12]

“He takes away (the) spirit of (the one)s in front—
fearsome He is to (the) kings of (the) earth!”

The high-spirit of “the ones in front” (<yd!yg]n+), i.e., leaders and other prominent people in the world, is contrasted with the “lowly ones” (as a characteristic of the righteous) who are saved by YHWH’s judgment (v. 10, cf. above). As for the powerful and influential people (by human standards), if they are not destroyed by God’s judgment, then they are diminished in spirit. The precise meaning of the verb rx^B* is difficult to determine; if there is not more than one rxb root, then it has an extremely wide semantic range. Probably the primary meaning here is “take away, reduce”, which would be confirmed by the LXX translation with the verb a)faire/w.

The concluding declaration reaffirms the theme of YHWH’s fearsomeness—i.e., that He is to be feared, using the same Niphal participle (ar*on) as in v. 8 (and also v. 5, according to the LXX).

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 75

Psalm 75

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This relatively short Psalm is difficult to classify, as most commentators admit. It probably has most in common with the poetry of certain prophetic oracles. The overriding theme of YHWH’s Judgment on the earth—specifically upon the wicked of the nations—shows obvious thematic and stylistic similarities with the judgment-oracles in the Prophets. In this regard, it is worth noting again the tradition that associates Asaph (and his sons) with prophetic inspiration (1 Chron 25:1-2; 2 Chron 20:14ff; 29:30). A similar prophetic tone and style can be seen in other Asaph-Psalms (e.g., 50, 81, 82).

This the third in a sequence of 11 Psalms (7383) attributed to Asaph; on whom, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 50.

There are several dozen Psalms that are also referred to as a “song” (ryv!). As any musical composition (romz+m!) with words could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear why only certain Psalms have this designation. In this instance, it may denote a poem that is set to an existing melody, rather than being an original musical composition, in spite of the fact that the term romz+m! is also used (cp. the heading of Ps 46). Here, the melody is that of tj@v=T^-la^ (“Do not destroy”, or “May you not destroy”), apparently the name of a well-known lament. The miktams Pss 57-59 are sung to the same melody; cf. the study on Ps 57.

The meter of Psalm 75 is irregular, but tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format. The poetic and thematic structure of the composition will be discussed in the notes below.

Verse 2 [1]

“We cast (praise) to you, O Mightiest;
we cast (praise), <calling on> your name,
recounting your wonderful (deed)s!”

A three-beat couplet is followed by an additional 2-beat line, added for dramatic effect, producing a tricolon. The first-person plural verb indicates a communal worship setting, such as that in which the Psalm might be performed.

As Kraus (p. 103) and other commentators have noted, the LXX reads kai\ e)pikaleso/meqa to\ o&noma/ sou (“and we call upon your name”) in the second line, suggesting that the underlying Hebrew was imvb arq rather than MT imv bwrq. In which case, arq should perhaps be read as an infinitive (ar*q=). I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 210) in reading wrps as an infinitive in the third line; if his suggestion, that the W– postformative element represents an archaic ending for the infinitive, is correct, then perhaps the infinitive in the second line originally had a similar form (warq), which could have been reduced to wrq. If that were so, then the MT would not need to be emended at all, only redivided: imvb wrq.

On the idea of declaring the “wonderful deeds” of YHWH, see Ps 9:2[1]; 26:7; 73:28; cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 253.

Verses 3 [2]

“When I take (the) appointed place,
I will judge (with all) straightness.”

In verses 3-4, it is apparently YHWH who is speaking, meaning that the verses represent a Divine oracle and mark the prophetic character of the Psalm (on which, cf. above). As is fitting for a judgment-oracle, YHWH announces His intention to take His place as Judge. The noun du@om means “appointed place” —here, the place appointed for the Judgment. Probably a great level place is envisioned, where the assembled people will stand before Him. This levelness corresponds with the “straightness” (rv*ym@) with which God Himself judges—i.e., fairly, with justice and equity. The plural form <yr!v*ym@ should probably be understood as an intensive/emphatic or comprehensive plural  (with “all straightness,” i.e.,  total justice and fairness).

Verse 4 [3]

“(The) earth trembles and (those) sitting on her,
(while) I measure (out) her standing (post)s.”
Selah

YHWH is still the speaker in v. 4, continuing to announce the coming Judgment. The earth and its inhabitants are made to tremble (vb gWm Niphal), as God “measures” the columns/pillars (lit. “standing [post]s”). There is a dual meaning to the imagery in the second line. On the one hand, YHWH measures the pillars of the earth, alluding to His power and activity as Creator; at the same time, He is now busy preparing the place for His coming activity as Judge, where He will “measure out” the judgment for the earth (and its people). There is some syntactical wordplay that is almost impossible to translate fully in English; note the parallelism of the suffixed participles in each line:

    • h*yb#v=y) “(those) sitting (on) her”, i.e., those dwelling on her, the earth’s inhabitants
    • h*yd#Wmu^ “(those) standing (on) her,” i.e., her standing pillars/columns

The precise meaning of the verb gWm is not entirely certain. The Arabic root m¹³a (“surge, shake, totter”) is probably related, suggesting that the basic meaning is something like “shake, tremble”.

The Selah (hl*s#) pause marker at the end of v. 4 probably serves to demarcate the shift in speaker—from YHWH to the Psalmist. Since the first line of v. 5 begins (“I say/said…”), the pause helps the listener to realize that a different “I” is now speaking.

Verse 5 [4]

“I say to the (one)s boasting: ‘Do not boast!’
and to the wicked: ‘Do not lift high (your) horn!'”

The Psalmist, filling the role of prophet, gives a warning to the boastful (vb ll^h* II) and wicked people on earth. For poetic concision, I have translated the imperfect (jussive) verb forms as imperatives.

Verse 6 [5]

“Do not lift up your horn to the place on high,
(nor) speak against (the) ancient Rock!”

In my opinion, there is some clever wordplay in this couplet that resists simple translation. To begin with, in the first line, which otherwise repeats v. 5b, the word <orM*h^ (lit. “the place on high”) connotes “the One dwelling on high”. This results in a double meaning: (a) lifting up one’s “horn” to the place up high (i.e. where YHWH dwells); and (b) lifting it up against YHWH Himself, as an arrogant challenge to His sole authority over the nations.

In the third line, the adjective qt*u* has the basic meaning “old, ancient”, but can also be used in combination with the verb rb^D* (“speak”) as an idiom indicating bold and arrogant speech, characteristic of the wicked (cf. for example, 1 Sam 2:3; Psalm 31:19[18]; 94:4). The preceding word in the MT is raW`x^b= (“with [the] neck”), but the LXX has “against God”, which suggests that the Hebrew is rWxb= (“against [the] Rock”), with rWx (“rock”) as the familiar Divine title. Whether the MT or LXX more properly reflects the original, it seems likely that the Psalmist is intentionally giving a double meaning to the line:

    • “do not speak with a stiff neck”
      (i.e. arrogantly) /
      “do not speak against the ancient Rock [i.e. against YHWH]”
Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“Indeed, not from (the) going forth and darkening (of the sun),
nor from (the) out back (to the) mountains,
(is there any) but (the) Mightiest judging,
the (One) who brings low,
and the (One) who lifts high.”

Verse 7 of the MT, as it stands, is obscure. Dahood (II, p. 212f) would vocalize al as al@, rather than MT al) (negative particle), reading it as a verbal adjective or noun (participle) of the root yal meaning “prevail”. It thus designates YHWH as the “one prevailing”. This is an intriguing suggestion, but with relatively little evidence to support it.

It seems better to take vv. 7-8 together, as comprising a single syntactical statement. The basic message is that there is no one in the entire world besides YHWH who is capable of serving as Judge. The first line of v. 7 establishes the full scope of the earth from east to west—lit. from the “going forth” of the sun to its sinking (“darkening”). The second line does the same, moving from the “place out back” (outback, i.e., ‘wilderness, desert’) to the “mountains” (<yr!h*). The word <yr!h* could be taken as a verbal noun (Hiphil infinitive) of the root <Wr (“be high”), parallel with the imperfect form <yr!y` at the end of v. 8. In my view, this not correct, though the Psalmist likely is utilizing some wordplay again here, playing on the two possible meanings of <yr!h* (“mountains” / “lifting high”).

As the Sovereign Judge of all Creation, YHWH is the one who “brings low” (vb lp^v* Hiphil) and “lifts high” (vb <Wr Hiphil); thus, no human being should dare to lift one’s self up high (vv. 5-6, cf. above), acting in the place of God.

Verse 9 [8]

“For (there is) a cup in (the) hand of YHWH,
and wine foaming, full of mixed (spices),
and He pours out from this—
how He shall squeeze out its dregs!—
(and) all (the) wicked of (the) earth shall drink.”

This verse is rather complex in its structure: a three beat tricolon (lines 1-2, 5) is expanded into a quintet, with the addition of a pair of 2-beat lines (3-4) that builds suspense and heightens the dramatic effect. The Psalmist, functioning as a prophet delivering a judgment-oracle against the nations (i.e., the wicked), indicates that the great Judgment is about to take place. The cup of judgment is in God’s hand, and he is about to pour it out, upon the earth.

This image of judgment as a cup of wine that is poured out can be found in the Prophets (Isa 51:17ff; Jer 25:17ff; 51:7ff; Ezek 23:31-33; Hab 2:16; Zech 12:2, etc). It was adapted most vividly in the book of Revelation (14:10; 16:19; cf. 17:4; 18:6). The association between red wine and blood is obvious, and serves as a natural image for destructive/violent judgment (e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Rev 14:15-20).

Verse 10 [9]

“But I—I will put forth (praise) to (the) Eternal (One),
I will make music to (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob.”

The Psalmist’s declaration of his intent to give praise to YHWH matches the opening announcement in v. 2 (cf. above). I follow Dahood (II, p. 215f) in reading <l*ou here as a Divine title. Properly, the noun refers to either the distant past or the distant future, often connoting the sense of “etern(al)ity” when applied to God. The expression <l*oul= certainly could be taken here to mean “(in)to the distant (future)” (i.e., forever), as it often does in the Old Testament. However, the parallel with the expression “the Mighty One of Jacob” in line 2 strongly suggests that we are dealing with another Divine title here.

The verb dg~n` (in the Hiphil) literally means “put in front (of someone)” (in this case, in front of God); for poetic concision, I have translated the verb here as “put forth”.

Verse 11 [10]

“Indeed, all (the) horns of (the) wicked I will cut down,
but (the) horns of (the) righteous (one) shall be lifted high!”

The Psalm ends with another Divine oracle, announcing the coming Judgment. It thus functions in tandem with the oracle in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), framing the judgment-oracle of the Psalm as a whole. The contrasting fates of the wicked and righteous are clearly described, using the same motif of the animal’s horn (/r#q#), along with contrastive idiom of bringing low / lifting high, found throughout the Psalm. On the horn of the bull or wild ox as a symbol of honor and strength (especially for a king or human leader), cf. Ps 18:3[2] [par 1 Sam 22:3]; 89:18[17], 25[24]; 92:11[10]; 132:17; 148:14; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21; Dan 7:8ff; 8:5ff; Lk 1:69.

The parallelism of “horns of the wicked” vs. “horns of the righteous” is precise, but the syntax differs slightly:

    • “two horns [i.e. horn-pair, dual] of the wicked [plural]”
    • “horns [plural] of the righteous [singular]”

The judgment comes on the wicked collectively, as a group; they each have a pair of horns (like the bull/ox). By contrast, the blessing/exaltation of the righteous comes to each one individually, with the implication that a great single horn will be raised up for each, resulting a multitude of horns (indicating honor) for the righteous as a whole. On the other hand, it may be that the plural tonr=q^ is meant as a comprehensive or intensive plural, alluding to the greatness of the honor (“horn”) for each righteous person.

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).

 

March 7: Psalm 68:5-7

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

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

Verse 5 [4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 6 [5]

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

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

Verse 7 [6]

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

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

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

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

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

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).