Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 100

Psalm 100

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

This is the final Psalm of the collection Pss 93-100, all of which deal with the central theme of the Kingship of YHWH. Various thematic links from the Psalms of this collection converge in the brief hymn of praise that comprises Psalm 100. These links have been analyzed thoroughly by Howard in his study (pp. 105-65).

There is a simple three-part structure to Psalm 100, being composed of three tricola. The first and third tricola (vv. 1-2, 4) have a common 3-beat (3+3+3) meter, while the second (central) tricolon (v. 3) has an extended/expanded meter (4+4+3). Verse 3 may be considered as a bridge between the two praise strophes of vv. 1-2 and 4. This bridge-verse describes the reason for praising YHWH, emphasizing His relationship (as God) to His people (Israel). The praise strophes deal with two key themes found elsewhere in the collection: (1) the universality of YHWH’s Kingship, which demands that all people everywhere (indeed, even all of creation) worship Him; and (2) the (ritual) praise that is expected of His people, focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. The final couplet (v. 5) serves as a concluding doxology, both for Psalm 100 and the collection as a whole.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely, though it is impossible to be any more precise than this. Parallels (in Pss 93-100) to the Deutero-Isaian poems suggest a late pre-exilic time-frame. Both the Temple-setting and the Kingship theme are fully compatible with the Judean royal theology of the monarchic period. The Psalm itself may have been part of ritual worship in the Temple from early times, or, at least, draws upon such traditions.

Psalms 98 and 100 are the only Psalms of the collection which contain a heading, simply designating the work as musical composition (romz+m!). Psalm 100 adds the detail that it is “for confession” (hd*otl=), i.e., a confession of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Verses 1-2

“Make a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
May you serve YHWH with gladness!
Come before His face with a ringing cry!”

The Psalms of this collection (93-100) typically begin with a call to worship, often emphasizing the universality of YHWH’s Kingship. His Rule extends over all the earth, and so all peoples and nations—even all of creation itself—are to give Him praise. See, for example, this theme highlighted in the prior studies on Psalm 98 (vv. 4-6ff) and 99 (vv. 1-2). The call for “all the earth” to shout (vb u^Wr) praise to God closely resembles the call in 98:4 (see also 96:1, 11; 97:1). Within the collection, the verb uWr occurs in 95:1-2 and 98:4, 6. The noun hn`n`r= is quite rare, but the verb /n~r* is quite frequent in the Psalms (e.g., 95:1; 96:12; 98:4, 8) and the later Prophetic poetry. Both verbs uwr and /nr denote the giving of a ringing shout or cry (viz., of praise).

Verse 3

“Know that YHWH, He (is the) Mightiest!
He made us, and (it is) to Him we (belong),
(we) His people and flock of His pasture.”

The central tricolon of the Psalm gives the principal reason for praising YHWH. This is indicated in line 1: He is the Mightiest (One) [<yh!l)a$]—that is, the greatest of all gods (“mighty [one]s”, <yh!l)a$), the Sovereign over all other divine/heavenly beings. This theological declaration refers to the universal aspect of YHWH’s kingship (emphasized in vv. 1-2), alluding to the Prophetic promise that eventually all peoples will recognize and worship YHWH as their God. However, it also relates to the emphasis in the third tricolon (v. 4), focusing on the worship to be given to YHWH by Israel—He is their God (“Mighty [One]”, <yh!l)a$), and they His people.

Indeed, this covenant-emphasis, occurring so frequently in the Psalms, is specified in lines 2 and 3, using traditional language and imagery. The declaration in line 2, that YHWH “made” Israel, alludes to His role as Creator, but also to the way that he formed Israel, as a distinct nation and people, when He brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This same language occurs, notably, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6ff).

The Kethib of the Masoretic Text reads “and not [al)w+] we”, which gives a contrastive emphasis to the line: “He (it is who) made us, and not we (ourselves)”. However, the Qere indicates that, instead of the negative particle al), the text should correctly be read as ol (“to/for him”)—the preposition l= and the third person singular suffix. Along with other commentators (e.g., Howard, p. 92; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 492), I follow the Qere. For a different way of understanding the text, see Dahood II, p. 371f.

The third line builds upon the point made in the second line—namely, that Israel is YHWH’s chosen people (“[we are] His people”), i.e., “we (belong) to Him”. This is central to the covenant-bond that informs the Israelite religious-cultural identity. The pronoun Wnj=n~a& (“we”) could be treated as part of either the second or third line; we may also regard it as doing double-duty, serving as a kind of join between the two lines:

“(belong) to Him we

Wnj=n~a&

we (are) His people”

It is also possible that the pronoun occurred in both lines, as attested, apparently, by the LXX (Codex A). If the pronouns occurred in sequence, at the end of the second line and also the beginning of third, then the loss of one could easily be explained as a scribal error (haplography). Adding to the attractiveness of this hypothesis is the fact that restoring a second pronoun results in a more consistent (4-beat, 4+4+4) meter for the verse. Cf. the discussion in Howard, p. 95.

The motif of YHWH as a shepherd to Israel, with the people thus as His flock of sheep (/ax)), occurs frequently in Old Testament tradition. This includes numerous examples in the Psalms—28:9; 44:12[11], 23[22]; 68:11[10]; 74:1; 77:21[20]; 78:52, 71; 79:13; 80:2[1]; 95:7; 119:176, and the entirety of Psalm 23. This shepherd-motif connotes the care and guidance that YHWH provides for His people; indeed, both of these aspects are embedded in the the image of the tyu!rm!—literally, a place for grazing/feeding the sheep, translated typically (and here, for poetic concision) as “pasture”. The shepherd guides the flock to a place where they may graze, and guiding them to such place demonstrates the shepherd’s concern to nurture and care for his flock.

Verse 4

“Come (into) His gates with praise,
and in His enclosures with joyful song!
Give praise to Him and bless His name!”

The final tricolon, like the first (vv. 1-2, above), has a 3+3+3 meter. Both strophes express a call to praise YHWH; however, while the first strophe had a universal orientation (“all the earth”), the focus in this third strophe is on the worship given to YHWH by His people Israel. As noted above, this shift occurs in the second tricolon (lines 2&3). The call to worship here in verse 4 assumes a ritual setting in the Jerusalem Temple. Both the “gates” (ru^v^, plur.) and the “enclosures” (rx@j*, plur.), i.e., courtyards, are traditional allusions to the Temple precincts and its Jerusalem locale (Zion). This strophe may reflect an actual ritual procession when the Psalm itself would have been sung.

The regular nouns hd*oT (line 1) and hL*h!T= (line 2) have similar meaning—the former refers to a confession (vb hd*y` II), viz., of praise or thanksgiving (to God), while the latter (vb ll^h* II) indicates the giving forth of a bright and joyous song. The same verbal root (hd*y`) from line 1 also occurs in line 3. One is called on both to praise YHWH and to bless (vb Er^B*) Him—indicating two distinct, but related, aspects of worship. To bless the name of God essentially means the same as blessing Him; on the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, see the introduction to my earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. The reference here may allude to the specific tradition of YHWH’s name residing in the Jerusalem Temple; this is most prominent in the Deuteronomic writings (Deut 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23-24, et al.), as, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8, vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48)—on which, cf. my recent series of notes.

Verse 5

“For good (is) YHWH—
His loyalty to (the) distant (future),
and His firmness unto cycle and cycle!”

The final couplet forms a concluding doxology—both for Psalm 100, and the collection (93-100) as a whole. The 4+3 meter of this couplet is difficult to capture in translation, though it can be approximated somewhat by a more conventional rendering:

“For good (is) YHWH—His loyalty (lasts) forever,
and His firmness to generation and generation!”

The implicit theme of the second half of the Psalm (vv. 3b-4)—namely, the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—is emphasized also here in the final couplet. The terms ds#j# and hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#), paired with some frequency in the Psalms (e.g., 36:6[5]; 40:11-12[10-11]; 57:4[3], 11[10]; 69:14[13]; 85:11[10]; 86:15; 88:12[11]; 89:2-3[1-2], 15[14], 29[28], 34[33]; 92:3; 98:3, etc), are part of this covenant-context. The noun ds#j# properly means “goodness, kindness”, but, in such a context as we find here, connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. As for hn`Wma$, it means “firmness”, but often in the sense of “faithfulness”. The adjective bof (“good”) similarly here connotes “faithful, loyal”.

This loyalty of YHWH effectively lasts forever—He Himself will never violate the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. This abiding, durative aspect of YHWH’s faithfulness is expressed by two regular idioms: <l*oul= (“into [the] distant [future]”), and rd)w+ rD)-du^ (“unto cycle and cycle”). The noun <l*ou can refer to either the distant past or the distant future; here it clearly refers to the future. The expression rd)w+ rD) (lit., “circle and circle”, or “cycle and cycle”) indicates both continuity and perpetuity—that is, as each cycle (rD)) of time passes, and, with it, each circle (rD)) of people (i.e., ‘generation’) living during that period. YHWH will remain loyal, over time, to each generation of His people.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “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 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 97

Psalm 97

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 6-9)

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 seems to be a strong relationship between Psalms 97 and 99, as between Pss 96 and 98. For more detail on the common vocabulary and thematic links, see the discussion by Howard, pp. 155-61; cf. also the notice by Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 477.

Nearly all commentators recognize a clear break and structural distinction between vv. 1-9 and 10-12. Verses 1-9 contain the hymn proper, while vv. 10-12 represent an addition to the hymn, an exhortation for the righteous, influenced by Wisdom traditions. As we have seen in prior studies, the closing sections of Psalms often contain such a Wisdom-emphasis, suggesting a certain development. Earlier compositions were likely adapted in various ways for use in communal worship and for a didactic (teaching) purpose.

Doubtless verses 1-6 represent the oldest part of the composition, and may themselves comprise an early hymn to YHWH. These verses utilize the language and imagery of storm-theophany traditions, as applied to YHWH. God is seen as manifest in the storm. The mythic elements are cosmological, relating to YHWH’s role as the Creator. In particular, there are allusions to the cosmological myth of the Deity’s defeat of the primal waters; in subduing the waters, God brings about an ordered cosmos capable of sustaining life. He also exercises control over the waters, resulting in the regulation of the storms and rains which are necessary for agriculture, etc, and the functioning of human society. The archetype of God’s victory over the unruly waters is made to apply to the defeat of human enemies and adversaries as well; the storm-theophany language, as here in this Psalm, can be used to depict YHWH’s exercise of His ruling power over the nations. For more on the background of this mythic imagery, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. Psalm 29 (cf. the earlier study) is the perhaps prime biblical example of this imagery used in poetry.

The storm-theophany hymn in vv. 1-6 can be divided into two parts: two stanzas (vv. 2-3, 4-5) framed by an introductory (v. 1) and closing (v. 6) couplet. Verses 7-9 build upon the core hymn, introducing a theme that occurs through others in the collection (cf. the previous study on Ps 96)—namely, YHWH’s superiority over the other deities worshiped by the nations. This is part of a broader thematic emphasis on the universal scope of YHWH’s Kingship, which extends to all of the nations on earth. Eventually, YHWH will replace the deities they currently worship, and they all will come to recognize Him as their King and God. There is a certain rudimentary eschatological orientation to this theology, similar to, but not nearly as developed as, that of the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems (chaps. 40-66), or in the book of Zechariah, for example.

This Psalm, like others in the collection, probably was originally composed in the late pre-exilic period. This applies at least to the core hymn of vv. 1-9, while vv. 2-5 may represent older material. The Psalm, as a whole, may date to the exilic (or even post-exilic) period, as is suggested by the Wisdom-orientation in vv. 10-12.

The meter of Psalm 97 is irregular, but it tends to follow a three-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a few three-beat (3+3+3) tricola as well. Other irregular verses will be noted.

Part 1: verses 1-6

Verse 1

“YHWH is King! Let the earth twirl (in joy)!
Let (the) many coast-lands be glad!”

This 4+3 couplet begins the hymn to YHWH. The thematic emphasis on YHWH’s Kingship is stated explicitly in the initial half-line (cp. the first two words of 93:1). The verb El^m* (“be king, rule/reign [as king]”) carries a relatively wide range of nuance, depending on the context. Based on the cosmological context of the storm-theophany language in vv. 2-5 (see above), the declaration in v. 1 could allude to the establishment of YHWH’s rule over the universe (cp. Psalm 93); cf. the translation by Hossfeld-Zenger (p. 468), “YHWH has become King”.

Here the term Jr#a# (“earth, land”) refers properly to the disc/cylinder—i.e., the flat surface of the earth (the lower half of the cosmos) where human beings dwell. In particular, the extent of the dry land which forms the territory for each nation, would seem to be in view. The parallel with the “coastlands” (<yY]a!) in the second line brings out this delimiting scope.

Every territory of the inhabited earth is called upon to rejoice because YHWH rules as King. The verb lyG] (“circle [round]”) denotes a specific motion (spinning, twirling) that expresses joy and celebration. By contrast, the verb jm^c* refers to an attitude of joyfulness (“be glad/happy”).

Verse 2

“Cloud and darkness surround Him—
rightness and judgment (are)
(the) fixed place of His throne!”

The storm-theophany language/imagery is introduced here: YHWH is surrounded by the dark storm-cloud. For this use of lp#r*u&, denoting a heavy darkness in the sky/clouds, cf. Exod 20:21; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Psalm 18:10[9] [2 Sam 22:10]; it tends to be paired with /n`u* (“cloud”), as a hendiadys (i.e., dark cloud[s]).

This storm-imagery reflects YHWH’s ruling presence and power as King, as is clear from the following lines. The verse can be read as an irregular 3+4 couplet, but I prefer to parse it as a 3+2+2 tricolon. While the mighty storm-clouds—representing YHWH’s control over the waters (cf. above)—surround Him, the throne upon which He sits (i.e., beneath Him) is founded firmly upon right(eous)ness and sound/fair judgment (i.e., justice). On this motif of the firmness of YHWH’s throne, and thus also of His rule, see Ps 93:2; it is a theme that runs through Psalm 89 (vv. 3[2], 5-8[4-7], 14[13] etc).

An allusion to YHWH’s judgment of the nations is thus introduced here, by this pairing of the storm-theophany language with the idea of the justice by which YHWH rules as King. See verse 3 (below).

Verse 3

“Fire (from) before His face proceeds,
and it blazes, circling Him round about.”

The MT of the second line apparently reads: “and it burns (up) His adversaries round about”. This would be in accord with the Judgment-theme mentioned above (on v. 2). However, Dahood (II, p. 361) makes a strong case for reading wyr*x% (= wyr*Wx), as derived from the root rwx I, “surround, encircle”. He treats it as a noun meaning “back”; but it might be better to regard it as a verbal noun from rWx I. The imagery of a fire surrounding YHWH makes a suitable parallel to the dark cloud that surrounds Him (v. 2, line 1); both are components of the storm-theophany—i.e., lightning coming from the dark storm clouds. For similar parallelism of fire being present both in front and behind, cf. Joel 2:3; a closer parallel to the scene depicted here is found in Psalm 50:3.

Verse 4

“His flashes light up (the whole) world—
(all) the earth sees (it) and writhes!”

As was implied above, the “fire” that surrounds YHWH, coming from the dark storm-clouds, is lightning (lit. “flashes” [of lightning]). These flashes light up the entire inhabited world (lb@T@), and cause the whole earth (and all its inhabitants) rightly to tremble (lit. “twist, writhe”) at the sight of it.

Verse 5

“(The) mountains like wax do melt away,
from before (the) face of YHWH,
before (the) face of (the) Lord of all (the) earth!”

This couplet (lines 1 + 3) has been expanded, for dramatic effect, by the inclusion of a short second line, creating a repetitive effect. Metrically, this yields a 3+2+3 tricolon. All the earth trembles with fear when YHWH manifests Himself (in the storm), as stated in v. 3 (above). Even the great mountains melt or dissolve (vb ss^m*), like mere wax, out of fear, when YHWH comes to be present on earth in this awesome way.

Verse 6

“The heavens put out front His rightness,
and all the peoples can see His weight!”

As in verse 2, at the beginning of the storm-theophany imagery, the cosmic aspect of the storm (with its awesomeness) is blended together with the idea of the justice (and right judgment) of YHWH in His rule as King. The noun qd#x#, (“right[eous]ness”), repeated from verse 2, brings out this aspect of justice. As YHWH manifests Himself in the storm, He also reveals His righteousness and justice—and the impending judgment that He brings upon the earth. This is primarily manifest in the heavens, and thus the heavens effectively “put (this) out front” (vb dg~n`) so that everyone can see and recognize it. Indeed, all the peoples on earth see the “weight” (dobK*), i.e., the awesome presence (splendor/glory), of YHWH, as He appears for Judgment.

Part 2: Verses 7-9

Verse 7

“May all serving a carved image be put to shame,
th(ose) boasting in the powerless (one)s!
(For) all (the) mighty (one)s bow down to Him!”

The storm-theophany reveals YHWH as the Creator and King of the universe. This sets Him apart from all the other divine beings (“mighty [one]s”, ‘gods’) that the peoples/nations worship. These other deities are designated as <yl!yl!a$, a term (lyl!a$) which means “weak, powerless”. And, indeed, the other divine beings are weak and powerless in comparison to YHWH; they are forced to bow down to YHWH, in submission to Him, recognizing His superiority and His Kingship. The adjective lyl!a$ can also carry the more derogatory connotation of “worthless, useless”, and so it came to be used, in this harsher sense, of the pagan gods (worshiped by the nations)—and, in particular, their images (‘idols’). The use of lyl!a$ here, as in the prior Psalm 96 (v. 5), does not yet have the full negative force that the term would carry; even so, the idea of venerating carved images of these “weak” deities is clearly disparaged and condemned.

Even though the plural noun <yh!l)a$ (as a true plural) is typically translated “gods”, its fundamental meaning, as I regularly render it, is something like “mighty (one)s”. Assuming that the Psalmist (and his/her audience) was cognizant of this basic meaning, there is presumably an ironic juxtaposition here between the terms <yl!yl!a$ and <yh!l)a$, which is enhanced by the alliterative effect. The gods thought to be “mighty ones” (°§lœhîm) are actually “weak ones” (°§lîlîm).

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+3 tricolon, much like verse 5 (see above).

Verse 8

‚iyyôn heard (of it) and was glad,
and (the) daughters of Yehudah twirled,
as a result of your judgments, YHWH.”

Assuming that verse 8 should be understood in the context of v. 7, then the imprecation, against those worshiping carved images of (other) deities, presumably anticipates YHWH’s judgment against the nations. Almost certainly, this judgment entails the submission (and/or conversion) of the nations, so that they will come to worship YHWH, as their God and King, rather than the other weak and powerless deities they previously venerated. This, indeed, would be cause for Jerusalem (Zion) and Judah to rejoice.

The same pair of verbs—jm^c* and lyG!—from verse 1 is used here. The verb forms could similarly be rendered here with precative/jussive force (i.e., “let Zion be glad…”); however, it seems that they are best treated as indicatives. It demonstrates the effect of YHWH’s judgments on the righteous ones of Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse 9

“For you, YHWH, (are the) Most High,
over all the earth, (the) Most (High),
(to be) raised high over all Mighty (one)s!”

The Psalmist, speaking with the voice of the righteous ones (see v. 8), declares what the nations, facing YHWH’s judgment, are only now coming to realize: that YHWH is the Most High, the Ruler over all the cosmos, and greatest (King) over all other divine beings. This was the point made, in a more polemical fashion, in verse 7 (see above); here it is cast in traditional religious and theological terms.

All three lines play on the idea of YHWH as the highest, utilizing, in various ways, the root hlu (“go up, ascend”). First, in line 1, there is the traditional Divine title /oylu# (“Highest [One], Most High”). The same is stated in line 2, using the preposition lu^ (“over, above”), along with the term da)m= (“much, exceedingly”), here apparently as a Divine title or epithet—i.e., “Might[iest]”, “Great [One]”, or perhaps “Most (High)”. Then, in line 3, the preposition lu^ follows a passive (Niphal) form of the verb hl*u*, as a Divine epithet (“[to be] lifted high”), indicating that YHWH is worthy of being exalted with praise and worship.

Part 3: Verses 10-12

Verse 10

“(You, the one)s loving YHWH, shall hate evil!
(He is the One) guarding (the) souls of His devoted,
(and) He snatches them from (the) hand of (the) wicked.”

There is a certain awkwardness to this tricolon, opening the final section of the Psalm, which also makes it somewhat difficult to translate. Many commentators choose to emend the first line, in different ways. However, the line, as it stands in the MT, forms a valid parallel with verse 12: the “righteous ones” (v. 12a) are those who love YHWH (“[one]s loving YHWH”) and are devoted to Him (“His devoted [one]s”). The call (imperative of an@v*) is for the righteous to hate what is evil. Given the context of vv. 7-9 (see above), the “evil” here could refer specifically to idolatry and the worship of deities other than YHWH. The adjective dys!j* (“good”) often connotes devotion and loyalty (that is, loyalty to the covenant with YHWH), and frequently so in the Psalms. Central to the covenant is the idea that the people of Israel are to recognize and worship YHWH alone as their God and King.

The flip side of the covenant bond—YHWH’s devotion to Israel—entails the principle that YHWH, as the Sovereign, is to provide protection for those who are loyal to Him. This theme of Divine protection appears frequently in the Psalms, expressed through a variety of terms, images, and motifs. It is clearly expressed here as well: YHWH will “guard” the souls (i.e., the lives) of those who are devoted to Him, and will “snatch” them out of danger when the “wicked (one)s” threaten or attack. This contrast, between the righteous and wicked, runs throughout many Psalms; it is also central to ancient Israelite Wisdom traditions.

Verse 11

“Light is sown for the righteous (one),
and gladness for (the) straight of heart.”

If protection for the righteous is part of YHWH’s covenant obligation, there is also the promise of blessing and reward. Here the Divine blessing comes in the form of “light” (line 1), as symbolic of life and salvation, truth and knowledge, but also the very presence of YHWH Himself. The latter may be foremost in mind, given the theophany context of the hymn in vv. 1-6, with its imagery of “fire” and “flashes” of lightning, etc.

If the verb ur^z` is original, then the idea may that YHWH ‘scatters’ light to the faithful, dispersing it to them the way that a farmer scatters seed. Many commentators, following the ancient versions, emend the verb to jr^z` (“shine, rise”), making an obvious and natural fit for the subject of light. Retaining the verb ur^z`, it may be that the intended scenario is that of the righteous coming to dwell in a ‘field’ of light, like the Elysian Fields of Greek myth, or the heavenly marshlands of Egyptian myth. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 362, for a different way of reading this line, but in keeping with the idea of a heavenly ‘field’ of blessedness for the righteous.

Obviously, such Divine blessing will produce gladness (hj*m=c!) and joy for the one who receives it.

Verse 12

“Be glad, (you) righteous (one)s, in YHWH,
and give thanks, invoking His holy (name)!”

This section, and the Psalm itself, closes with this couplet calling on the righteous, both to rejoice in their bond with YHWH, and to worship Him, giving praise to Him in a manner worthy of His greatness and holiness. The prepositional expression rk#z@l= is a bit difficult to translate, in a concise and poetic way. The noun rk#z@ denotes the mention that one makes of a person or thing, but particularly, in a religious context, to the utterance (invocation) of a name. Here, it is the name of YHWH, referring to His attributes and deeds both, in a comprehensive sense. Through praise, the righteous call to mind the wonders and saving deeds performed by YHWH, as well as His own righteousness, faithfulness, holiness, power, etc, and all that makes Him worthy of our worship and honor.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “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 95

Psalm 95

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsm (vv. 3-7); 1QPsa (v. 11)

This Psalm has a clear two-part structure: (1) a hymn to YHWH extolling His Kingship (vv. 1-7c), and (2) a prophetic oracle (vv. 7d-11) exhorting the Israelite people to faithfulness. There are a number of Psalms in which YHWH is the speaker, in a certain section, implying that the Psalmist is functioning in the manner of a prophet. Note, for example, Psalm 50 and 81, which Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 459-60) compare with Ps 95. Parallels with the Deuteronomic ‘Song of Moses’ (Deut 32) have also been noted (cf. Howard, pp. 60-1); indeed, the two poems share the emphases on YHWH’s Kingship and on the need for the people to learn from the example of the earlier Wilderness-generation. The didactic and exhortational orientation of the Psalm, in light of its second part, seems clear.

A pre-exilic date for the Psalm seems likely, particularly if verses 2 and 6 allude to a ritual setting for the Psalm in connection with the Temple. The Kingship-theme would, of course, also be most suitable to the monarchic period. This Kingship-theme tends to characterize the collection of Pss 93-100 as a whole; on the thematic and vocabulary links between Psalm 95 and the following Pss 96-99, in particular, see the discussion by Howard (pp. 131-41).

Structurally, verses 6-7c belong to the hymn in the first part; however, they can also be seen as transitional to the oracle that follows. The call to worship in v. 6 is formally parallel to the opening call of v. 1, while the tricolon of v. 7a-c anticipates the theme of the Israelite people as a flock of sheep in the wilderness, who refused to be guided by YHWH (v. 10).

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a three-beat (3+3) couplet format, though there are exceptions (which are noted below).

Part 1 (Hymn): Verses 1-7c

Verse 1

“Come, let us (all) ring out (praise) to YHWH,
let us raise a shout to (the) Rock of our salvation!”

This opening couplet represents a call to worship, which could indicate a specific ritual setting. The invocation in verse 6 is parallel in form, and effectively serves to frame the hymn to YHWH (vv. 2-5). The verbs /n~r* (“ring out”) and u^Wr (“shout”) are parallel and similar in meaning; in this worship context, they refer to praising God in music, song, and/or chant. The use of the noun rWx (“rock”) as a epithet and title for YHWH is one of several points of similarity between this Psalm and the Song of Moses (Deut 32, vv. 4, 15, 18, 30-31, 37; see the discussion above), though the title also occurs with some frequency throughout the Psalms (of those most recently studied, cf. 78:35; 89:27[26]; 92:16[15]; 94:22). On the expression “the Rock of my/our salvation”, see Deut 32:15; Psalm 18:46 [2 Sam 22:47]; 89:27[26]; cf. also 62:3[2], 7-8[6-7]; Isaiah 17:10. In the use of the term “rock” (rWx) there may also be an allusion to the wilderness narratives (Exod 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13), anticipating the oracle in vv. 8-11 (cf. Howard, p. 54).

Verse 2

“Let us come before His face with a (cry of) praise,
with (joyful) music let us raise a shout to Him.”

The verb <d^q* denotes “go/come before”; here it refers to the idea of coming before the ‘face’ of YHWH, but it could also allude to a scene of musicians, etc, leading a procession of worshipers. The “face” of YHWH, implying His presence (i.e., in the Temple sanctuary), could indicate a ritual setting in association with the Temple; perhaps a festival occasion is in view.

The noun hd*oT denotes a confession, presumably based on the fundamental meaning of the root hd*y` (“cast, shoot”), i.e., words cast forth, in the (religious) context of words directed to God—in praise and thanksgiving to Him. I have translated it above as “a (cry of) praise”, maintaining the parallel with the verb u^Wr (“shout”). The noun rym!z*, denoting music-making, is in the plural, and could be rendered here as “songs”.

Verse 3

“For (the) great Mighty (One) (is) YHWH,
and (the) great King over all Mighty (one)s!”

The main reason for praising YHWH is that He is the greatest of all Divine beings, the King over all of them. The noun la@, “mighty (one)”, denotes a Divine being (i.e., “G/god”), and is the fundamental Semitic term for deity. The extended plural <yh!l)a$ (= <yl!a@), though it can be applied to YHWH as an intensive/comprehensive plural (“Mightiest [One]”), is here used as a normal plural (“mighty [one]s”, i.e., gods). Like the Song of Moses (vv. 8, 43), and other Scriptural texts (e.g., Ps 82), the Psalm seems to allow for the existence of other deities (besides YHWH), but, if so, then YHWH is the greatest and King over all of them. This qualified monotheism seems to have been typical of Israelite religion in the earlier periods. The adjective lodG` is used to twice to express this idea of greatness.

The meter of verse 3 is slightly irregular, and could be read as 3+4.

Verse 4

“In whose hand (are the) deep places of the earth—
and (also the) peaks of (the) mountains (belong) to Him.”

The first line of both verse 4 and 5 begins with a relative particle, tying each verse back to the reference to YHWH in v. 3. He is “the One who…”; English syntax requires that the combination of a relative particle, followed by a noun with a possessive suffix, be translated “whose…”. If YHWH is King over all gods, then He is also Ruler over all of creation. Indeed, YHWH as King of the universe is a common theme in the Psalms—one that will be continued and developed in the following Pss 96-99. This Kingship is based upon His identity as Creator of the universe; there may also be an allusion (in v. 3, see above) to the identification of YHWH with the Creator °E~l (la@) of Semitic and Canaanite religious tradition.

YHWH’s greatness—as Creator and King—is depicted here by the way that He is able to hold in His hand both the depths and heights of the earth; in other words, the entire cosmos is encompassed by His controlling presence. The noun rq*j=m# is rather difficult to translate, especially in this poetic context; it means “place searched out, explored place”, but here (in the plural) probably connotes something like “(un)explored depths” (i.e., the deepest recesses of the earth). It is matched in the second line by the plural topu&oT—another difficult term (cp. its usage in Num 23:22; 24:8; Job 22:25), but which clearly refers here to the ‘grand peaks’ of the mountains.

Like verse 3, the meter of v. 4 is irregular (4+3).

Verse 5

“To Him (belongs) the sea—indeed, He made it,
and (also the) dry land His hands formed.”

If YHWH is King over the heights and depths of the earth, He is also Sovereign over the sea and dry land alike. This can refer to the earth proper—i.e., the flat cylinder/disc—or to the cosmos as a whole. In the former case, the “sea” refers to the waters on the surface of the earth (and below it); however, “sea” can also allude to the waters surrounding the cosmos (heaven & earth). In either case, YHWH is the Ruler over it all. He created and fashioned both the sea(s) and the dry land.
The Qumran manuscript 4QPsm reads the more common hv*B*y~, instead of MT tv#B#y~, for “dry land”; it is a very minor difference.

The meter of this verse (4+3) matches or approximates that of v. 4.

Verse 6

“Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
let us kneel before (the) face of YHWH our Maker!”

As noted above, this call to worship, which closes the hymn, matches the initial call in verse 1. The opening imperative of each verse has been translated “Come…!”, yet different verbs are employed: in verse 1, it is El^h* (“go, walk”), while here in v. 6 it is aoB (“come”). The focus in verse 1 was on giving praise to YHWH (in music/song), while here it is the act of “prostrating” oneself, bowing down before YHWH in homage (to His Kingship). The verbs ur^K* and Er^B* each mean “kneel (down)”, being derived from different terms referring to a person’s knee (or leg).

YHWH is acknowledged again as Creator, but here specifically as Creator of human beings (“our Maker”); the phrase may also refer to YHWH being the One who made Israel as His people, bringing them out of Egypt and forming a covenant with them. This certainly would fit the context of the oracle that follows in vv. 7d-11. Note the similar language in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6). Cf. also Psalm 100:3, and the theme as expressed in Isa 29:23; 60:21; 64:6 (Howard, p. 56).

Verse 7abc

“For He (is) our Mighty (One),
and we (the) people of His pasture,
and (the) flock of His hand.”

YHWH is the God—the only God—for Israel. Here the plural <yh!l)a$ is used, rather than the singular la@ (v. 3). He is the “Mightiest (One)”, and the only “Mighty (One)” for Israel. This refers to the covenant bond between YHWH and Israel—He is their God, and they are His people.

The idea of YHWH as a Shepherd, with the corresponding image of Israel as His flock, is widespread throughout the Scriptures. Noteworthy examples elsewhere in the Psalms are: 28:9; 74:1; 78:52, 71-72; 79:13; 80:1; 100:3, and, of course, the entirety of the famous Psalm 23. The wording here is particularly close to 79:13 and 100:3.

Dahood (II, p. 354) argues that the noun dy` (“hand”) here properly means “portion (of land)”, noting the use of Ugaritic yd in such a context (in the Kirta epic, Tablet I, column V, line 35). He identifies other Scriptural instances where a portion of pasture-land is indicated (Job 1:14; Jer 6:3; 23:1), this being a more specific application of dy` in the sense of “part, portion” (e.g., 2 Sam 19:44; 2 Kings 11:7).

Metrically, verse 7abc is an irregular (3+3+2) tricolon. It holds a transitional position in the Psalm, closing the hymn of the first part and leading into the prophetic oracle of the second.

Part 2 (Oracle): verses 7d-11

Verse 7d

“Th(is) day, if (only) you would hear His voice!”

The oracle is introduced by this single line, indicating the exhortational character of the poem that follows. There is is a strong revelatory aspect to the idiom of “hearing the voice” of YHWH (Deut 4:36, etc). To “hear” (vb um^v*) in such a context entails both listening and responding with obedience. As in the Song of Moses (Deut 32, see above), the poem, with its warning not to follow the example the disobedient Israelites of the Wilderness-generation, is meant to instruction the current people toward obedience.

Verses 8-9

“Do not harden your heart, as (at) Strife-place,
as on (the) day of Testing in the outback,
when your fathers (dared) put me to the test,
tested me, even (though) they had seen my act.”

The locative (verbal) nouns hb*yr!m= (“place of strife”) and hS*m^ (“place of testing”) refer to a famous episode (or episodes), from the Exodus narratives, which took place during the journey through the Wilderness (rB*d=m!, “place out back”)—Exodus 17:1-7; Num 20:1-13 (cf. Deut 6:16; 9:22; 32:51)—where the people were disobedient and put God to the test.

In the second line of verse 9, the verb /j^B* has a similar meaning to hs*n` (“test”), but with the specific emphasis on examining something (or someone) to see (i.e. test, prove) whether it is valid. Such testing demonstrated the faithlessness of the people; since they had already seen the great deeds (lu*P*, sing.) performed by YHWH (at the Reed Sea, etc), they should not have needed proof that He would be able to act to deliver them again.

Verse 10

“Forty years I was disgusted with (that) circle,
and I said: ‘A people straying of heart (are) they!
Indeed, they have not known my ways!'”

YHWH declared, regarding that circle (roD) of people (i.e., the Wilderness generation) that they were “straying” (vb hu*T*) in their heart. This alludes back to verse 7, and the idea of Israel as a flock of sheep; having rejected the guiding hand of their Shepherd, they went astray (in their hearts). They did not follow in the paths (“my ways”) by which YHWH led them.

Metrically, this verse is a prosaic, irregular tricolon (4+4+3). I read the w-conjunction of the third line as emphatic.

Verse 11

“(So) then I swore an oath in my anger:
‘(See) if they will come to my place of rest!'”

For the reference to such an oath by YHWH, in the context of the Meribah/Massah episode(s), cf. Num 14:23, 28, 30; Deut 1:35. The etymology of the verb ub^v*, though disputed, would seem to be connected with the number seven (ub^v#), perhaps in the sense of binding oneself by seven (or sevenfold) through the oath. To avoid cluttering the line here, I have omitted reference to this aspect of meaning, rendering the verb in the conventional sense of “swear (an oath)”. The use of the particle <a! (“if”) in such a truncated oath formula, takes on a negative emphasis, which I render above as “(see) if {it will be so}…!” —i.e., “surely it will not be so!”. The paragogic /– suffix on the verb Wab)y+ (“they will come”) only enhances this emphatic aspect of the clause (cf. GKC §47m; Howard, p. 57).

The Promised Land is here referred to as “my place of rest”; for this usage elsewhere, see Deut 12:9. It implies resting from the long forty years of journeying, but also alludes to the Land, given by YHWH, as a hereditary possession for the people—a place where they can establish a permanent home for generations to come. The Wilderness-generation missed out on this opportunity, and their example serves as a warning to the current generation: do not act in disobedience to YHWH’s instruction, as that earlier generation did.

Hebrews 3:11-4:13 famously cites vv. 7d-11, applying the Psalmist’s prophetic exhortation to the situation of believers in Christ. The Sabbath rest that yet remains for the people of God (i.e., believers) is the heavenly blessedness which we will inherit if we remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).
Those marked “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 93

Psalm 93

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (vv. 1-3); 4QPsm (vv. 3-5); 4QPsb (v. 5)

This short Psalm is a hymn to YHWH, reflecting the Israelite/Judean royal theology—with an emphasis on the reign (and throne) of God. As YHWH is king in the heavens, so the human king, as His faithful servant, rules here on earth. Indeed, YHWH is king over all of creation, while the Israelite/Judean king functions as YHWH’s representative among His people on earth.

Many commentators have naturally seen Psalm 93 as related to a cultic/ritual setting, in which the enthronement of YHWH (in the Jerusalem Temple) was celebrated. For a summary of this line of interpretation, cf. Kraus, pp. 232-3. While such a ritual ceremony may, indeed, provide the historical setting for this Psalm, the hypothesis remains highly speculative. There is, in fact, precious little in the Psalm itself to support the idea.

Recent criticism has tended to focus instead on the place of Psalm 93 within the Psalter collection, looking at the composition from a literary and canonical standpoint. It has been seen as the first Psalm in a collection of eight (93-100), grouped according to the theme of YHWH’s kingship. Cf. the study by David M. Howard, The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

The simplicity and brevity of this Psalm, with very little indication of development or adaptation of the royal emphasis, suggests a date for the Psalm in the kingdom period—and perhaps relatively early within this period. A 10th century date has been suggested by James D. Shenkel (“An Interpretation of Ps 93, 5”, Biblica 46 [1965], pp. 401-16; cf. Dahood, II, p. 339), and certain features within the Psalm make this a legitimate possibility. The repetitive tricola in vv. 3-4, for example, are reminiscent of late Bronze Age Canaanite (Ugaritic) poetry (cf. the discussion below).

The meter is irregular, but may be used to outline the poetic structure of the Psalm:

    • An initial declaration of YHWH’s kingship (v. 1a)
    • A tricolon (2+2+2) describing YHWH’s royal garb (v. 1bcd)
    • A pair of couplets (3+2) emphasizing the firmness of YHWH’s rule over creation (v. 1ef, 2)
    • A pair of tricola (3+3+3) extolling YHWH’s control over the waters (vv. 3-4)
    • A tricolon (3+3+3) reprising the theme of the firmness of YHWH’s rule (v. 5)

It is a bit unusual that such a short Psalm would be preserved in three different Qumran manuscripts; these few verses could just as easily have been completely lost. The variant readings are quite minor. Of more interest is the fact that 11QPsa contains a very different ordering (and collection) of the Psalms. For example, the surviving portion of Psalm 93 comes after the immediate sequence of: Pss 137 and 138, part of Sirach 51, and a non-canonical poem referred to as “Apostrophe to Zion”; then, after Ps 93, appear Pss 141, 133, and 144.

Verse 1a

“YHWH reigns as King!”
El^m* hwhy

The opening 2-beat line declares the theme of the Psalm, as well as representing the central declaration of praise for the hymn. The Qumran manuscript 11QPsa adds an initial “Praise YH(WH)!” (hywllh)

Verse 1bcd

“(With) majesty He clothes (Himself),
(does) YHWH clothe (Himself),
(with) strength He girds Himself!”

YHWH’s royal garb is praised in this initial unit (a 2=beat tricolon), as He clothes Himself (vb vb^l*) in majesty and power. The first and third lines are in parallel:

    • (with) majesty | He clothes Himself
    • (with) strength | He girds Himself

The noun tWaG@ is an abstract conceptualization of the primary meaning of the root hag (“rise [high]”); the basic meaning would be something like “loftiness”, but in this royal context “exaltation” or “majesty” is more appropriate. Similarly, for the noun zu) (“strength, power, might”) the aspect of royal power is being emphasized.

Verses 1ef & 2

“Truly, is set firm (in place the) earth,
not (at all) can it be shaken;
(also) was set firm your throne from then—
from (the) distant (past) you (are)!”

These lines (a pair of 3+2 couplets) are a bit difficult to translate literally, but the basic idea is clear enough: the establishment of YHWH’s throne corresponds to the establishment of the creation. In each instance the verb /WK is used, denoting “set firm, fix (in place)”. Implicit is the identification of YHWH as the Creator of the universe. The noun lb@T@, though somewhat tricky to translate, refers to the part of the world that is habitable and can sustain (human) life, alluding to the cultivation of the land, etc. In many respects, it is generally comparable to the more common Jr#a# (“earth, land”), and so I render it here. However, the couplet unquestionably uses lb@T@ as a shorthand reference to the entire cosmos, even if the flat surface of the earth itself is primarily in view.

The establishment of YHWH’s throne was “from then” (i.e., from that point). Simply, YHWH can only function as King over the universe when there is a universe to rule over; once it has been created, then He can set up His throne over it. YHWH, however, is Himself more ancient than the creation, as the final line indicates; He exists from the “(most) distant (time past)”, i.e., prior to the creation.

Verse 3

“Have lifted up (the) streams, O YHWH,
have lifted up (the) streams their voice,
have lifted up (the) streams their crash!”

As scholars have noted since at least the time of Albright, this sort of repetitive, asymmetric tricolon has Canaanite origins, with numerous examples found in 14th-13th century Ugaritic poetry (cf. the summary notes by Dahood, II, p. 341 and Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 449). Particularly, notable are instances from the Baal Epic, since the basic thematic context of the Epic is similar to that of Psalm 93. There are, indeed, present the two related themes of: (1) defeat of the primal waters (Sea/River[s]), and (2) establishment of kingship over the universe. In this mythic, cosmological setting, the primeval waters need to be subdued before the ordered cosmos (capable of supporting life) can come into existence. These waters were present at the very beginning (cf. Gen 1:2), but in a dark and chaotic form; light and order were introduced with the ‘defeat’ of the waters by the Creator.

Here, the primal “flood-streams” (torh*n+, “streams, rivers”) are depicted as rebellious entities who must be subdued. Three times it is stated that these waters “lift up” (vb ac*n`), implying an act of rebellion. This rebellion is indicated according to three aspects:

    • It is against YHWH, or is something which YHWH, as King, must attend to [line 1]
    • It involves the raising of a collective “voice” (loq), effectively speaking out against YHWH’s rule [line 2]
    • It involves raising a “crash” (yk!D(), i.e., the crashing of waves, implying violent action [line 3]

This cosmological myth can be applied to the rule on earth of the human king, functioning as YHWH’s representative (and servant)—the rebellious waters symbolizing human enemies, opponents, rebellious vassals, etc. For more on this mythic theme, and its background and use in Old Testament poetry, cf. my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

Verse 4

“Greater than (the) voices of (the) waters,
mightier than (the) breakers of (the) sea—
mighty in the high places (is) YHWH!”

If the rebellion of the waters is described in verse 3 (cf. above), their defeat is indicated here in v. 4. YHWH’s power and majesty (v. 1bcd, cf. above) is greater than than of the waters. This is indicated by the adjectives br^ (“much, many”) and ryd!a* (“mighty, magnificent”). The two aspects of the waters, emphasized in final two lines of v. 3 (bc), are repeated here in the first two lines of v. 4 (ab):

    • the voice(s) (loq) of the waters (i.e., rebellion in speech)
    • the crashing of its waves (i.e., violent action); the verbal noun rB*v=m! (“breaking, breaker”) corresponds with yk!D( (“crash[ing]”) in v. 3.

Also parallel are the references to YHWH in the first line of v. 3 (a) and the final line of v. 4 (c). The rebellion is effectively directed against YHWH (the King), and is something which YHWH (as King) must address. Reigning as He does in the “high places”, YHWH has the power and might to subdue the waters; indeed, God’s throne is established upon/above the waters (cf. Psalm 29:10). This, again, is an allusion to the cosmological conflict-myth, applied to YHWH in His role as Creator and King over the universe.

Verse 5

“(The place)s of your throne are set most firm,
(and) to your house holiness does bring glory,
O YHWH, for (the) length of (all) days!”

The Psalm concludes with a tricolon (3+3+3) in praise of YHWH’s throne, generally matching that of vv. 1ef-2 (cf. above). The context suggests that the first word of line 1, MT ;yt#d)u@, be derived from the rare du meaning “throne (room)”, rather than from the root dWu (“repeat,” in the sense of giving witness, testifying, noun hdu@). This particular noun du (prob. vocalized du^) is known from the Ugaritic texts, and Dahood (II, p. 81f; cf. also pp. 317-8) cites several other instances (in the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture) where it may be attested; cf. HALOT, p. 788. Its use was discussed in the earlier note on Psalm 89:38[37]. If the form here is to be read (with MT) as a suffixed plural, then it may refer to the royal rooms, in YHWH’s house, which contain a throne-seat. More generally, the idea of “places” where His throne rests could correspond with the “high places” where He resides (v. 4c).

As in v. 1e-2, the emphasis is on YHWH’s throne (and thus His rule) being “set firm”. Here the verb /m^a*, rather than /WK, is used to express this idea. The derived noun hn`Wma$ (“firmness”) is frequently applied to YHWH, connoting His faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty (to the covenant). Along with the faithfulness of YHWH, the attribute of holiness (vd#q)) is emphasized. In connection with the “house” of YHWH, it is natural to understand vd#q) in the sense of a holy place, or sanctuary. It is holy because of God’s presence there, and we are to treat His dwelling (or “house”) with the holiness that it deserves (through worship, etc). The verb ha*n` denotes the beauty and splendor which something possesses (or is given); here the royal splendor of YHWH’s palace is indicated.

The context of the Psalm clearly understands YHWH’s palace (“house”, ty]B^) as being on high, in the heavens. However, any Israelite or Jewish worshiper, singing this Psalm, would naturally associate the terminology also with the Jerusalem Temple (and its sanctuary). Possibly verse 5 here may allude to a worship setting (in the Temple precincts) where the Psalm was performed, or to a ritual ceremony celebrating YHWH’s enthronement in the Temple (cf. the introduction above).

The “length of days” of YHWH’s rule emphasizes its duration into the future, corresponding with His reign stemming from the distant past (even prior to the creation); on this, cf. the note on verse 2 (above). The length of time of YHWH’s rule—both past and future—alludes to His eternal existence and everlasting reign.

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).

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

December 26: Psalm 89:25-26

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:20-26, continued

(For verses 22-24, see the previous note)

Verse 25 [24]

“My firmness and my devotion (are) with him,
and in my name his horn shall (be) lifted high.”

The keyword of this Psalm is hn`Wna$, emphasizing the firmness of YHWH. That term combines both the idea of God’s strength and His faithfulness. The former has been the focus in verses 18-24, as also in the prior vv. 10-14; however, it is the latter that is emphasized by the pairing of hn`Wma$ and ds#j#. These same two nouns were paired at the opening of the Psalm, in vv. 2-3, and also in v. 15 (with the related tm#a# in place of hn`Wma$). Though hn`Wma$ has the basic meaning “firmness”, it frequently carries a meaning of “faithfulness, trustworthiness”; similarly, ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) often has the meaning “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. These are fundamental attributes of YHWH, relating particularly to the covenant loyalty that he shows to His people.

Here, in line 1, it is declared (and promised) that these attributes are with (<u!) the king—that is, the Davidic ruler, chosen by God, and expected to be a loyal servant to Him. The same preposition was used in v. 22 (cf. the previous note), where it was stated that YHWH’s strong and supporting hand/arm is “with him” (oMu!). This may allude to the statements regarding David in 1 Sam 18:12, 14; 2 Sam 5:10:

    • “And Ša’ûl was afraid from before (the) face of David, because YHWH was with him [oMu!]” (v. 12)
    • “And in all his ways David was having success, for YHWH (was) with him [oMu!]” (v. 14)
    • “And David kept on, going on and becoming great, for YHWH (the) Mighty (One) of (the) armies (was) with him [oMu!]” (2 Sam 5:10)

Much the same was said of the Judean king Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:7:

“For he clung on(to) YHWH; (and) he did not turn aside from following Him, but guarded His commands, (those) which YHWH had commanded Moshe. And YHWH was with him [oMu!], so (that), in whichever (way) he went forth, he had success…” (vv. 6-7)

The thought expressed in v. 7a, regarding Hezekiah, may well relate to the name la@ WnM*u! in Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10 (cf. below).

The wording of the second line is similar to that in vv. 17-18, both with the idea of being/acting “in the name” of God, along with the specific idiom of one’s “horn” (/r#q#) being “raised/lifted high” (vb <Wr in the Hiphil stem). The horn-motif applies particularly to a ruler or king, and was applied specifically to the Davidic ruler in Ps 132:17; cf. also 148:14; a Messianic interpretation of the idiom is suggested by Ezek 29:21, and certainly in Luke 1:69 (cf. below). Being “in the name” of YHWH implies that the king is faithful and loyal to God, able to participate in the Divine blessing and protection that He provides.

Verse 26 [25]

“And I will set his hand on the sea,
and his right (hand) on the rivers.”

This couplet alludes to the imagery from vv. 10-11 (cf. the discussion in the earlier note), describing YHWH’s sovereignty over the universe in the terminology of cosmological myth—viz., His subduing of the primeval waters at the time of Creation. The Davidic king, drawing upon the strength of YHWH Himself, similarly has authority over the waters—described by the pair of terms <y` (“sea”) and torh*n+ (“streams, rivers”). An allusion to the cosmological myth of the Creator’s victory over the primeval waters seems all the more likely, given how, in the Canaanite Baal Epic, the foe defeated by Baal-Haddu is both called Sea (ym = <y) and River (nhr = rhn, “judge River”, ¾p‰ nhr); cf. Dahood, II, p. 317. For more on this subject, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In verse 11, the dark and unruly waters (a) are compared with hostile human adversaries (b), and the “waters” here in v. 26 almost certainly have the same significance. Through God’s strength, the king has protection from all enemies, and is able to achieve victory over them; thus his rule is allowed to extend over the surrounding nations. Historically, this may allude to the Israelite conquests under David, which allowed the kingdom to reach its zenith during the reign of Solomon.

Metrically, verse 25 follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet format that dominates this division of the Psalm; however, verse 26 has a shorted 3+2 meter.

Textually, it is interesting to note that, in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsx, verse 26 appears between vv. 22 and 23, and that vv. 24-25 appear to be missing.

Comments for Christmas

Verse 25b, repeating as it does the horn-motif from v. 18, can be understood in a Messianic sense. This motif was applied to Jesus in Luke 1:69, as mentioned in the prior note. The added promise in v. 25a, that YHWH’s strength and devotion will be with the Davidic king (“with him,” oMu!), naturally reminds one of the name la@ WnM*u! (±Imm¹nû °E~l) in Isa 7:14; 8:8 (cf. also 8:10), and the identification of Jesus with the promised child of 7:14 (on which, cf. my earlier study and notes). This identification features prominently in the Matthean Infancy narrative (1:22-23), with Isa 7:14 representing the first of the Gospel’s Scripture citations. There is likely a similar use of the “God-with-us” motif in Luke 1:28, which clearly occurs in a Messianic context, identifying Jesus with the promised Davidic Messiah (vv. 27, 32f).

As for the extent of the Davidic ruler’s kingdom, and of his reign over the nations (symbolized by the waters), this is indicated in Luke 1:33. The worldwide scope of the Messiah’s rule, which the Lukan author compares (implicitly) with that of Augustus (and the Roman Empire), is established in 2:1ff, 10ff, and then is further interpreted in 2:30-32 as a foreshadowing of the early Christian mission. For more on the parallels between Jesus and Augustus, in the context of 2:1ff, 10ff, cf. my earlier note on the subject.

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).

December 23: Psalm 89:16-19

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:16-19 [15-18]
Verse 16 [15]

“(O, the) happiness of the people knowing (that) shout,
YHWH! in (the) light of your face they shall walk.”

In this last of the three strophes that comprise the praise-hymn of vv. 6-19, the focus shifts from the heavens (vv. 6-9) and the earth (vv. 10-13) to the realm of human beings—and, especially, to God’s people Israel. In the first strophe, the heavenly beings give praise to YHWH, while, in the second strophe, the mighty entities of the earth (seas and mountains) acknowledge and praise His sovereign power. These themes are essentially summarized and reiterated in vv. 14-15 (cf. the previous note), which depict YHWH seated on his throne, exercising power (as King) over the universe.

Now, here in v. 16, we see that it is “the people” (<u*h*) who give praise to YHWH. The beatitude formulation of this couplet (“[O, the] happiness of…!”) suggests that not all human beings are giving praise to God, but only a certain portion. The blessing attached to the beatitude (line 2) applies to those “knowing [i.e. who know] (the) shout”. This expression (hu*Wrt= yu@d=oy) requires some comment. The noun hu*Wrt= denotes a “shout”, sometimes in the general sense of a loud, clamorous noise. It can be applied both in military (Josh 6:5; Jer 4:19; Amos 2:2) and festal (Lev 25:9) settings. Here, it doubtless refers to the shout (and joyful noise) of praise to YHWH, giving Him acclaim; the usage in the Psalms suggests a festal context, perhaps even a ritual setting involving worship in the Temple (27:6; 47:6[5]f; also 33:3; 150:5). The one who “knows” (vb ud^y`) this shout is the person who is faithful and devoted to YHWH, who understands both how and why He is to be praised, and is able/willing to do so.

On the beatitude formula yr@v=a^, see the note on Psalm 1:1 in the earlier study; cf. also the discussion in my series on the Beatitudes of Jesus. The formula occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (32:1-2; 34:9[8]; 40:5[4]; 41:2[1], etc); it is applied specifically to the nation/people of Israel in 33:12; 144:15.

The blessing entails “walking” in the light (roa) of YHWH’s face—that is, in His presence. This likely refers to the blessed afterlife that awaits the righteous, being thus allowed to dwell with God in heaven. A heavenly setting would seem to be confirmed by the context of vv. 6-9, as well as the immediately prior vv. 14-15.

Verse 17 [16]

“In your name, they spin all the day (long),
and in your righteousness they rise!”

Those faithful/devoted to YHWH give to Him continual praise—to be understood as an attitude of the heart as much as any physical action. This 3+2 couplet contains a parallelism in the 2 beats (with a third beat [“all the day”] in line 1):

    • “in your name | they spin”
    • “in your righteousness | they rise”

The faithful ones “spin (with joy)” (vb lyG]) in God’s name. In ancient Near Eastern thought, the name of a person represented and embodied the essence of the person. In the Old Testament, particularly within the Deuteronomic tradition, YHWH was understood as being present among His people, on a symbolic and ritual level, through His name. Cf. my recent discussion on this idea in the notes on 1 Kings 8 (in the Monday Notes on Prayer feature). Here, too, an association with the Temple (and its sanctuary) may be implied.

Through this connection with YHWH, the faithful ones participate in His character and attributes. The characteristic of “right(ness), righteousness” (hq*d*x=) is one of the four Divine attributes mentioned in v. 15 (cf. the previous note), using the related noun (qd#x#). This experience of the Divine attributes inspires the faithful to exult and “become high” (vb <Wr), i.e., rise, elevate.

Verse 18 [17]

“Indeed, you (are the) splendor of their strength,
and in your delight our horn is raised high!”

Here the point indicated above is made clear—viz., the name of God essentially refers to God Himself. The explicit pronoun hT*a* (“you”) is emphatic, occurring in the final position of the line; it could be translated “you (yourself)”. The “rising” of the faithful (in v. 17b) implies the experience of gaining/receiving strength, something that is specified here in v. 18a. The faithful ones gain (and possess) strength (zu)) in YHWH, and it is His very glory/splendor (expressed here by the noun hr*a*p=T!, denoting “beauty”) which fuels, and is the source of, this strength.

In the second line, the strength of His faithful ones is expressed by the familiar motif of a horn (/r#q#), such as of a bull, wild ox, or ram—the animal’s horn serving as a symbol of its strength, vigor, power, and prestige. On this motif in the Psalms, see 18:3 [2]; 75:5-6 [4-5], 11 [10]; 92:11 [10]; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; cf. also 1 Sam 2:1, 10 (cp. Lk 1:69); Ezek 29:21, etc. In mentioning the “raising high” of the horn, the same verb (<Wr) is used as in v. 17b (cf. above); the Hiphil form of the MT Ketib (<yr!T*) should be followed.

Regarding the expression “in your delight”, which parallels the prepositional expressions in v. 17, the noun /oxr* (“pleasure, delight”) here refers to the pleasure/delight which YHWH has in those who are faithful/devoted to Him. Often the noun signifies the favor shown to the person(s) in whom one is pleased; certainly, that nuance of meaning applies here as well.

It is to be noted that, while the third person plural suffix (“their strength”) is used in line 1, the first person plural (“our horn”) is used in line 2. The Psalmist thus identifies himself with the faithful ones of Israel, showing solidarity with his people and emphasizing the corporate identity of people/kingdom of Israel. The first person plural continues into verse 19.

Verse 19 [18]

“For to YHWH (belongs) our protection,
and, to (the) Holy (One) of Yisrael, our king!”

Here, in this concluding couplet, the national focus of the strophe comes firmly into focus. Though the overall emphasis is clearly on the faithful ones of God’s people, still it is God’s people, Israel, that are meant in this context. Insofar as the nation, as a whole, remains faithful and loyal to YHWH, it will receive the blessings of the covenant with Him. This blessing includes the provision of protection, especially from hostile (foreign) enemies. In this regard, the motif of strength in this strophe is now defined in terms (and imagery) of military strength.

The noun /g@m*, often translated “shield”, more properly means “place of protection” —that is, a place behind which a person is protected. This protection belongs to YHWH; He is the source and ultimate means of protection. We find this theme frequently in the Psalms, utilizing a range of verbs and terms (including /g@m*).

Also belonging to YHWH (the idiom of belonging expressed, in both lines, by a prefixed preposition –l) is the people’s king, who functions (on the human level) as the protector of the people. It is he who governs and leads, including leadership of the military in battle, etc. Yet, ultimately, it is God who is the source of strength for His people, and the basis by which they achieve protection and victory over all enemies. The human king effectively receives his power from YHWH, the supreme King and Sovereign, who exercises authority and control over the entire universe (the principal theme of strophes 1 & 2).

This reference to the king, along with the introduction of the horn-motif in v. 18 (cf. above), sets the stage for the second division of the Psalm (vv. 20-38), where YHWH’s promises to David (regarding the kingdom/kingship) are treated extensively. As will be discussed, the context of this exposition by the Psalmist relates to the early development of Messianic thought and expectation in Israel.