Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 2)

Psalm 103, continued

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

The Hymn: Verses 6-18 (cont.)

Third Stanza: Vv. 12-14
Verse 12

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

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

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

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

Verse 13

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

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

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

Verse 14

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

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

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

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

Fourth Stanza: Vv. 15-18
Verse 15

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

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

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

Verse 16

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

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

Verse 17

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

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

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

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

Verse 18

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

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

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

Conclusion: Verses 19-22

Verse 19

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

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

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

Verse 20

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

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

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

Verse 21

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

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

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

Verse 22

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 1)

Psalm 103

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsa (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 1-6, 9-14, 20-21); 2QPs (vv. 2, 4-6, 8-11)

This Psalm is a carefully structured hymn to YHWH, calling on people to praise and give thanks to God for all that he has done. The focus is both individual and corporate. This is indicated by the parallel call to bless YHWH (using the verb Er^B*) that brackets the Psalm (vv. 1-5, 20-22). The opening blessing comes from the standpoint of the ‘inward parts’ of the individual worshiper (represented by the Psalmist/protagonist). This inward focus is balanced by the cosmic orientation of the concluding blessing—as the Psalmist calls on all created beings everywhere (human and angelic) to praise YHWH.

The main hymn (vv. 6-18) emphasizes the love, compassion and forgiveness of YHWH, and is unquestionably influenced by Exodus 33-34. The division of the hymn into four stanzas (cf. Allen, p. 29f) seems to be most reasonable. The stanzas are each composed of three couplets (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14), with the fourth (concluding) stanza having an expanded form (vv. 15-18). There is a didactic aspect to the hymn, designed to instruct the Community, and to exhort them to remain faithful to the covenant. The Wisdom-elements in the final stanza are part of this emphasis.

The date of the Psalm is difficult to determine. The use of the second person feminine (yk!-) suffix has been thought to indicate Aramaic influence (cf. GKC §91e), and thus to reflect an Exilic (or post-Exilic) date. Similarly, vv. 15-16 have been considered to be dependent upon Isa 40:6-8. Such a time-frame for the Psalm is certainly possible; however, it may be that use of the yk!– suffix is primarily stylistic and poetic, intended for assonance with the imperative yk!r&B* (cf. Allen, p. 26).

Metrically, Psalm 103 consistently follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with only a few exceptions. The superscription simply attributes the Psalm to David (dw]d*l=, “[belonging] to David”).

The Psalm is relatively well-preserved in two Qumran manuscripts—4QPsb and 2QPs—with only a handful of minor variant readings.

Introduction: Vv. 1-5

Verse 1

“May you bless, O my soul, YHWH,
and all my inner parts, His holy name!”

In this opening couplet, the Psalmist calls on everything within him to bless YHWH. The verb Er^B* essentially means “greet with praise/blessing”, usually in a religious (ritual) context, implying a consecrated setting. The precise relationship between this verb and the noun Er#B# (“knee”) is still debated, as kneeling certainly would serve as a gesture (and position) for blessing and worship.

The “middle parts” (i.e., inner parts), <yb!r*q=, are parallel with vp#n#, a noun usually rendered as “soul”, but which specifically denotes the mouth/throat and what passes through it (esp. the breath). This is particularly significant for the Psalmist as a singer; it is naturally that he would begin with the mouth/throat, and his breath, the sound and vibrations which pass through to form music of praise to God. Yet, it is the inward aspect of his life-breath (“soul”) that is being emphasized. His ‘inner parts’ (“all my inner parts”) function as microcosm which will be matched by the macrocosm of all things (outwardly) in creation (vv. 20-22).

The plural form of the noun br#q# occurs only here in the Scriptures; in this context (of a person’s insides or inner-organs), the dual (<y]b^r*q=) is regularly used.

In the second line, the literal expression is “(the) name of His holiness”; for poetic concision, I have translated this conventionally as “His holy name”.

Verse 2

“May you bless, O my soul, YHWH,
and do not forget all His dealings—”

The first line of v. 1 is repeated here, and again serves to conclude the Psalm (v. 22c). By the repetition, emphasis is put on the Psalmist speaking to his soul (and inner parts), exhorting and urging himself—and, by extension, all worshipers—to honor YHWH by remembering the things He has done. The act of remembering here is framed in negative terms (viz., as not forgetting, vb jk^v*). As for what God has done, this is expressed by the noun lWmG+, from a root (lmg) with a relatively wide range of meaning. The basic verbal sense is of something being completed, often in the context of an interaction between people, and frequently emphasizing how one treats or deals with another, either in a positive (beneficial) or negative (harmful, punitive) way. Here the sense of the plural noun is “all the ways YHWH has dealt with His people”.

Verse 3

“the (One) forgiving all your deviations,
the (One) healing all your sicknesses,”

A sequence of participial phrases follows in vv. 3-5, the articular verbal noun (participle) in each instance capturing a definitive attribute of YHWH, a regular action that he performs on behalf of His people, reflecting His nature and character as God, and demonstrating His devotion to the covenant-bond. The formulation is unquestionably influenced by Exodus 34:6-7ff, and expresses here much the same thought as in that famous passage. The idea of YHWH forgiving the “crookedness” (/ou*) of the people is similarly found in Exod 34:7, but using the verb ac*n` (“lift/take [away]”), rather than jl^s* (which does occur in v. 9). The noun /ou* implies a bending away from what is right, but also could be understood in terms of a crooked and twisted (i.e., perverse) character.

The healing of sickness/disease is naturally paired  with the forgiving of sin; in the ancient world, particularly, sickness and ailments of various kinds tended to be viewed as the result of sin (and Divine punishment of sin). When YHWH forgives the people’s sins, the healing of illness and disease follows.

The second person feminine suffix (yk!-, “your”) refers back to the feminine noun vp#n# (“soul”).

Verse 4

“the (One) redeeming your life from (the) Pit,
the (One) encircling you (with) devotion and love,”

The verb la^G` (“redeem”) is generally parallel with jl^s* (“pardon, forgive”) in v. 3. Human crookedness and sickness, if not forgiven and healed, naturally leads to death and destruction, which here is represented by the noun tj^v^. This noun properly refers to a hole (or pit) dug for a grave, and thus also connotes the death and decay which belongs to the grave. Like the verb tj^v*, the noun can be understood in this associated or abstract sense of “destruction, ruin”. The root lag refers to the ancient Near Eastern social context of a relative who (through payment) ‘redeems’ his kin (and/or their property) from servitude, etc; it can also encompass the idea of protecting (or rescuing) someone from danger, etc.

Redemption from the Pit (i.e., death/grave) can be understood in two different ways: (i) rescuing a person when the danger of death (and the grave) threatens, or (ii) actually bringing a dead person out of the grave. The latter instance would imply an afterlife setting (cf. Dahood, III, p. 26).

The verb rf^u* properly means “encircle, surround”, though in the Piel (and Hiphil) it tends to have the more specific (denominative) meaning “crown” (from the noun hr*f*u&). Either translation (“encircling” or “crowning”) would be valid, though I prefer the meaning “encircle” here, as it captures the important aspect of being “surrounded” by YHWH’s love and protection.

The noun ds#j#, which occurs frequently in the Psalms, has been much discussed in these studies. It has the basic meaning “goodness, kindness”, but in the context of the covenant-bond between YHWH and His people, it carries the connotation of “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. The noun <j^r^ denotes a deep love; the plural here could indicate the many acts (and/or feelings) of love/compassion by YHWH, but it could also be understood as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural, i.e. great love/compassion.

Verse 5

“the (One) filling your long (life) with good,
(so that) your youth is renewed like the eagle!”

Having brought the righteous/devoted one’s soul out of the Pit, and then surrounding (or crowning) it with love, YHWH proceeds to give to it long life—but a life that is also perpetually new and youthful, even as it lasts long into the future. This idiomatic language is best understood in an afterlife context, i.e., with God in heaven (see above), though it could conceivably apply to a blessed life on earth as well.

With other commentators (Dahood, III, p. 26; Allen, p. 26), I revocalize (and emend slightly) the MT Ey@d=u# (“your ornament[?]”) to yk!d@u), as suffixed form of the noun dou (du)), meaning “duration”, in the sense of “long life” or “(ever)lasting life”. On the eagle soaring as a motif of the renewal of life and strength (i.e., youthfulness), cf. Isa 40:31.

The Hymn: Verses 6-18

First Stanza: Vv. 6-8
Verse 6

“The (One) making right—(it is) YHWH—
and (true) judgment for (the) oppressed.”

The pattern of substantive participial phrases (vv. 3-5) continues into the hymn, where the Psalmist makes clear again that YHWH is the One doing all these things. The focus in the hymn shifts from the individual soul of the devout/righteous worshiper to the people as a whole. Indeed, the theme of individual salvation (from sin and death) gives way here to a social (corporate) sense of righteousness and justice.

YHWH makes things right, i.e., does what is right (hq*d*x=), for His people—and especially for those who are oppressed. Acting as Judge, he renders right (and beneficial) judgments on their behalf.

Verse 7

“He made known His ways to Moshe,
and to (the) sons of Yisrael His deeds.”

This couplet summarizes what YHWH has done for His people (Israel) during their history, and especially during the formative (Mosaic) period of the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai. The making known of His ways to Moses refers primarily to the revelation (of the Torah) at Sinai, but it also alludes to the subsequent revelation to Moses (associated with the restoration/renewal of the covenant) in Exod 33-34 (see below).

Verse 8

“Loving and showing favor (is) YHWH,
long of nose and abundant in devotion.”

This verse is essentially a quotation of the Divine declaration to Moses in Exod 34:6 (see above). While it declares YHWH’s essential character, it also epitomizes His covenant relationship with His people. Four different (but related) attributes are presented here, two in each line. In the first line we have the adjectives <Wjr^ (“loving, compassionate”) and /WNj^, the latter defining YHWH as one who “grants/bestows favors”.

In the second line, the expression “long of nostrils” (or “long of nose”) is an idiom for being slow to anger, i.e., the opposite of being ‘short-tempered’ (“short of nose”); in certain respects the expression is parallel to the adjective <Wjr^ in line 1. The second expression “abundant of devotion” utilizes the familiar noun ds#j# (on which, see verse 4 above). This also is parallel with the second adjective of line 1—both terms referring principally to YHWH’s loyalty and devotion to the covenant-bond.

There is a subtle bit of alliterative wordplay, between the adjective br^ here in v. 8 and the verb byr! in v. 9.

Second Stanza: Vv. 9-11
Verse 9

“Not to the end shall He contend (with us),
and not for ever shall He keep (angry).”

This second stanza of the hymn illustrates and expounds the principle laid out in verse 8, regarding the devotion and loyalty YHWH shows to His people. When He is angry (because of the people’s lack of faithfulness) and “contends” (vb byr!) with them (i.e., punishes them), His anger does not last forever. Once discipline and punishment has been meted out, anger is replaced by mercy and compassion.

Two common temporal expressions are used, each of which conveys the sense of a duration of time lasting far into the future (i.e., everlasting). The first, jx^n#l*, means something like “to (the) utmost”, properly in the sense of “continuing in force” (or “…with [full] strength”); the simple rendering “to (the) end” is used above. The second expression, <l*oul*, occurring many times in the Psalms, means “(in)to (the) distant (future)”; for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “for ever”.

Verse 10

“Not according to our sins does he act to(ward) us,
and not according to our deviations does he deal with us.”

Though YHWH may punish sin, He does not deal with His people as their sins deserve. Even in His severe judgment against His people, His actions are tempered by mercy.

Verse 10 represents the first divergence from the regular 3-beat (3+3) meter of the Psalm; the longer lines read 4+4.

Verse 11

“But like (the) height of (the) heavens over the earth,
(so) His devotion is strong over (those) fearing Him.”

Through it all, YHWH’s loyalty and devotion (ds#j#) remains firm, strong and mighty, towering over the faithful ones (“[those] fearing Him”). There is a bit of wordplay here, between the verbal noun H^b)G+ (vb hb^G`, “be high”) and the verb rb^G` (“be strong/mighty”). An allusion to a strong tower is likely (cf. Allen, p. 26). The all-encompassing strength and height/breadth of YHWH’s devotion is like the great arching dome of the heavens over the earth. It is spread out over His people, just as the dome of the heavens spreads over the earth.

The remainder of the Psalm will be discussed next week, in Part 2.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 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 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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 92 (Part 1)

Psalm 92

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsb (vv. 4-8, 13-15 [3-7, 12-14]); 1QPsa (vv. 12-14 [11-13])

This particular Psalm has a composite character, drawing upon a number of well-established genres and traditional themes.

The central body of the Psalm (verses 5-12) consists of a hymn to YHWH, but one which incorporates two very disparate and distinct lines of tradition. These correspond, more or less, to the two parts of the hymn. The first part (vv. 5-9) is centered on the Wisdom lines in vv. 7-8, drawing upon several key themes from Wisdom literature: the foolishness of humankind, the presence (or lack) of knowledge and understanding, the brevity of human life, the vegetation/sprouting motif, and the contrast between the righteous and wicked. The second part (vv. 10-12) emphasizes the salvation provided by God, in rescuing the protagonist from his hostile (wicked) adversaries. This is a genre-theme found frequently in the Psalms, and reflects the royal background of many Psalms, whereby the protagonist is (or takes on the role of) the king, calling upon YHWH for help in overcoming his opponents and enemies. The king functions as a loyal servant to YHWH, representing the people, in a specific way, within the covenant bond (between YHWH and His people). In protecting and rescuing the king, YHWH confirms his rule over the kingdom.

The hymn is preceded by an introductory section (vv. 2-4) which establishes a worship setting, possibly indicating something of the liturgical setting in which the Psalm itself was performed. These verses form a distinct unit, as is clear from the fact that, syntactically, they comprise a single sentence. Following the hymn, there is also a closing section (vv. 13-16), which again draws heavily upon Wisdom-tradition, developing several themes and motifs from vv. 7-8ff.

The hymn unquestionably contains the oldest layers of the Psalm, and probably, in some form, represented the core composition, to which the opening and closing sections were added. The age of the Psalm, and even of the central hymn, is difficult to determine; however, verses 10-12, with its royal background clearly preserved, may well date from the kingdom period

The heading of the Psalm, in addition to designating it as both a musical composition (romz+m!) and a “song” (ryv!), mentions that it is “for the day of resting [tB*v^, i.e. Sabbath]”. This is the only Psalm with such a designation; indeed, this is the only occurrence of the word tB*v^ in the Psalter. It presumably means that the Psalm was to be performed, or had come to be performed, during the Sabbath service, as part of the liturgy. How ancient this association was is impossible to say. For more on this subject, cf. the article by Nahum M. Sarna, “The Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92),” Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 81 (1962), pp. 155-68.

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, though there are numerous departures from this meter.

Introduction: Verses 2-4

Verse 2 [1]

“(It is) good to cast (praise) to (you, O) YHWH,
and to make music to your name, Most High—”

As noted above, the opening couplets of the Psalm emphasize the worship of YHWH, and may allude to a liturgical setting for this composition. In this regard, verses 2-4 may have been composed or added later than the main body of the Psalm (vv. 5-12). The pairing of the verbs hd*y` (“throw, cast”, i.e., ‘throw’ someone praise) and rm^z` (“make music”) is natural, and occurs in a number of Psalms (e.g., 33:2). The prefixed –l in the first line can be read as a vocative (“O YHWH…”), or, similarly, a second person address can be understood as implied (“to [you,] YHWH”).

In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person, in a quasi-magical sense. This is no less true in a religious setting, where the name of God is involved—YHWH’s name represents the nature and character (and presence) of YHWH Himself. Thus, to make music to YHWH’s name essentially means the same thing as making music to YHWH. Possibly, a specific reference to the Temple is intended, particularly if the opening lines share the same religious-theological outlook as the Deuteronomic works, where it is particularly the Jerusalem Temple which YHWH has chosen for His name to reside. Cf. the recent series of notes on 1 Kings 8.

Verse 3 [2]

“to put out front in the daybreak your devotion,
and your firmness in the night (watch)es—”

This second couplet builds upon the idea expressed in the first, elaborating the praise (in music) that the Psalmist would give to YHWH. He would “put in front” (vb dg~n`) of everyone (that is, express publicly) the loyalty of YHWH. The familiar pairing of nouns—ds#j# and hn`Wma$—is used to express this idea of YHWH’s covenant loyalty; cf. the frequent use of them in Psalm 89. The noun ds#j# means “goodness, kindness”, but often (and nearly always in the Psalms), it connotes loyalty and faithfulness (i.e., to the covenant); here it is rendered as “devotion”. The parallel noun hn`Wma$ (like the related tm#a#) literally means “firmness,” in the sense of faithfulness, trustworthiness, etc.

YHWH’s goodness and faithfulness is such that He is worthy of being praised all day long—from the first “break (of day)” (rq#B)) in the morning, and then all through the night. The plural tolyl@ (lit. “nights”) is used, and probably refers to the ‘watches’ of the night (Ps 134:1, cf. Dahood, II, p. 336; I, p. 90).

The meter of this couplet is 3+2. Syntactically, vv. 3-4 represent the continuation of sentence beginning in v. 2. I read verse 3 as parenthetical, between vv. 2 and 4.

Verse 4 [3]

“on (the) ten-strings, even on (the) harp,
on (our) murmuring with (the) lyre!”

As mentioned above, verse 3, despite the centrality of its position, is parenthetical within the opening. Verse 4 properly continues the immediate thought of v. 2, elaborating the music-making that the Psalmist intends. Three different terms for a harp/lyre are used: rocu* (denoting an instrument with ten strings), lb#n`, and roNK!; we should not infer from this poetic variation that three different instruments are specifically meant. The music-making is done with the strings of a harp.

Similarly, the preposition lu^ (in the form yl@u&) occurs three times; it can be rendered “(up)on” —that is, the praise is sung to music played on the harp. The noun /oyG`h! denotes a low sound, such as the growl of an animal, or the “murmuring” of a person talking low/quietly; here it refers to music that is played—a ‘murmuring’ on the strings.

Metrically, verse 4 is best parsed as an extended 4+3 couplet; it could also be divided as an irregular 2+2+3 tricolon, each line consisting of a prepositional phrase (beginning with yl@u&).

The Hymn: Verses 5-12

Verse 5 [4]

“For you have made me glad, YHWH, by your deed,
and by (the) works of your hands I sing out.”

This couplet begins the main body of the Psalm, a hymn of praise to YHWH for the faithfulness which He has shown (v. 3) to His loyal servant. This faithfulness is demonstrated by specific actions. The noun lu*P* in the first line denotes something which YHWH has done, the singular probably intended in a comprehensive sense. The plural of hc#u&m^ (with basically the same meaning as lu*P*) is used in the second line. What YHWH has done on behalf of the protagonist has made him glad (vb jm^c*, Piel), and spurs him to “ring out” (vb /n~r*) praise in music and song.

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsb apparently has a third person (passive) form of the verb /nr (/nry), “it rings out”, rather than “I ring out” (MT /N@r^a&). The same manuscript also reads a singular, rather than plural, form of the noun hc#u&m^.

Verse 6 [5]

“How great are your works, O YHWH,
(how) very deep are your thoughts!”

The things done by YHWH correspond to his purposes. There is a formal parallel here between the nouns hc*u&m^ (“work, deed, act”) and hb*v*j&m^ (“thought, purpose, plan”). The things which YHWH plans, and carries out,  are both “great” (ldg, implying height) and “deep” (qmu); the greatness is dynamic, expressed through action—the verbs ld^G` and qm^u* are used.

For a different way of understanding da)m= (“much, very”), at the beginning of the second line, cf. Dahood (II, p. 335), who treats it as a Divine title or epithet.

Verse 7 [6]

“A man (who is) brutish does not know,
and a stupid (person) does not discern this.”

The deep thoughts of God are contrasted with the brutish stupidity of human beings. The Psalmist almost certainly is not referring here only to particularly brute-like (ru^B^) or stupid (lsk) people; rather, this extreme language is used to characterize humankind generally, in comparison with God. Only those faithful ones, who are willing to devote themselves to the Wisdom of God, can truly understand or have any real knowledge. The influence of Wisdom-tradition on vv. 7-8 is clear, as also on the closing verses of the Psalm (13-16).

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsb in the first line has a w-conjunction before the negative particle (alw), thus giving a slightly different reading: “the man (who is) brutish and does not know”.

Verses 8 [7]

“With (the) sprouting of (the) wicked like grass,
even (though) all (those) making trouble blossom,
(it is) for them to be destroyed forever!”

The relevance of this Wisdom-verse, within the context of the hymn, is not immediately apparent. It clearly builds upon the thought of v. 7 (cf. above), alluding to the brutishness and lack of knowledge among (most) human beings. Here, the focus shifts to the wicked, a popular emphasis in the Psalms (as in Wisdom literature), whereby the wicked are typically contrasted with the righteous. The apparent success and prosperity of the wicked, undeserved as it may be, is also a common theme in Wisdom literature, and can be found in a number of Psalms. This particular vegetation/sprouting imagery was used, in a similar context, in Psalm 90 (vv. 5-6ff); cf. the earlier study.

The wicked are characterized as people who make trouble and do evil/unjust things, combining the verb lu^P* with the noun /w#a*, a traditional idiom (cf. Psalm 5:6[5]; 14:4; 28:3, etc). Their actions are altogether opposite (and opposed) to what YHWH does (cf. the same root lup used in v. 5); the righteous, who follow God’s example, have their actions similarly contrasted with those of the wicked.

The idea of the destruction of the wicked anticipates the theme in vv. 10-12, while the sprouting/flowering motif is picked up again in vv. 13-16.

Verse 9 [8]

“But you (are the One) on High,
into the distant (future), YHWH!”

This verse, which serves as the climax to the first half of the hymn, is difficult, both in terms of its rhythm and syntax. Returning to the praise expressed in v. 6 (cf. above), it also clearly is meant to contrast with fate of the wicked (emphasized by the Wisdom verses 7-8). While the wicked ‘sprout’ up and flower for a brief time, only to be destroyed “forever”, YHWH remains exalted forever. Two different ways of expressing this idea, of a period of time lasting (indefinitely) into the future, are used in vv. 8 and 9.

First, there is the expression du^-yd@u&, an alliterative doubling of related words from the root hd*u* (“go on, pass [by]”): (1) the preposition du^ (in the form yd@u&), “until, as far as,” etc, and (2) the noun du^, meaning something like “perpetuity” (i.e., continual, lasting time). The doubling can imply a certain circuity, possibly alluding to the sense of futility that attends the brief flourishing of the wicked. Second, in v. 9, is the more common <l*oul=, which literally means “(in)to the distant (future)”, but often in the generalized or abstract sense of “forever”.

The locative noun <orm* (“high place”), probably refers to YHWH’s eternal dwelling in Heaven; however, it could also be viewed as a Divine title, something like “(the One) on High”.

Metrically, the verse can be viewed as a single 4-beat line, or as a terse 2-beat (2+2) couplet; I have opted for the latter division.

The remainder of the Psalm, consisting of the second half of the core hymn (vv. 10-12) and the closing section (vv. 13-16), will be discussed in next week’s study.

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


Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 76

Psalm 76

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

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

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

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

OPEnING: Verses 2-4 [1-3]

Verse 2

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

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

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

Verse 3 [2]

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

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

The meter of this verse is 3+2.

Verse 4 [3]

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 5 [4]

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

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

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

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

Verse 6 [5]

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

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

Verse 7 [6]

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

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

Verse 8 [7]

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

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

Verse 9 [8]

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

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

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

Verse 10 [9]

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

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

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

Closing: Verses 11-13 [10-12]

Verse 11 [10]

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

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

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

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

Verse 12 [11]

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

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

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

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

Verse 13 [12]

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 66 (Part 1)

Psalm 66

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 16, 18-20)

This Psalm has certain features in common with the prior Psalm 65 (cf. the previous study), including its designation (in the heading) as a “song” (ryv!). Since virtually every Psalm could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear if there is anything distinctive in the use of the term ryv!. It has been suggested that it refers to a Psalm that was specifically sung in a ritual worship setting (in the Temple); if so, then the characterization of Psalm 66, e.g., as a religious hymn would be appropriate.

The first part of the Psalm (vv. 1-12) does, indeed, represent a hymn to YHWH, divided into three stanzas. Here the occurrence of the Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker can be used as an indicator of the poetic structure. At the beginning of each section (vv. 1, 5, 8), people all throughout the earth are called upon to give praise to YHWH. It is for the greatness of His deeds that God is to be praised (v. 3), as manifest principally through the historical tradition of the event at the Reed Sea during the Exodus (alluded to in stanzas 2 and 3).

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 13-20) is quite different, to the point that some commentators view Psalm 66 as comprised of two originally separate compositions. It is essentially a poetic description of a ritual scene, in which a devout worshiper presents a sacrificial offering (in the Temple) in order to fulfill a vow made to YHWH. The association between praise and fulfilling a vow is found with some frequency in the Psalms, and the ritual fulfillment can be expressed through the very sort of praise which the Psalmist has composed. This featured prominently at the beginning of Psalm 65 (cf. the previous study).

There is considerable metrical variety in this Psalm, though, as often as not, a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format is utilized.

Part 1: VERSES 1-12

As noted above, Part 1 comprises the hymn proper, in three stanzas.

Stanza 1: Verses 1-4
Verse 1

“Raise a shout to (the) Mightiest, all the earth!”

Verse 1 functions as the introduction to the hymn, a single 3-beat line, in which the Psalmist literally calls on all creation (“all the earth”) to give praise (vb u^Wr, give a shout/cry) to YHWH.

It may be worth mentioning again how, throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms (as here), the divine title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest”, i.e., ‘God’) is used as a substitution for the name hwhy (YHWH).

Verse 2

“Make music (to the) weight of His name,
put (to song the) weight of His praise!”

This simple 3-beat couplet makes clear that the “shout” of praise in v. 1 is to be realized through worship in music. It is from the verb rm^z` (“make/play music”) that the noun romz+m!, used throughout in the Psalm headings, is derived, designating a musical composition. The verb <yc! in the second line, with the general meaning “set, put,” here probably also connotes a composition—with a musical (and poetic) order, structure, and (written) form. For a more nuanced explanation of the use of <yc! here, cf. Dahood, II, p. 119.

The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of “worth, value,” and thus in a more abstract sense as “honor”. Here it refers to God, in His manifest presence and power—that is, the reason for which people everywhere should honor Him with worship and praise. The term may also be understood as an attribute of His name, etc—that it is glorious and to be honored. As I have discussed elsewhere, in ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person, in a quasi-magical way. This is especially true when dealing with the names and titles of God; cf. in this regard my earlier discussion of the divine name YHWH.

Verse 3

“Say to (the) Mightiest:
How (you are) to be feared (by) your deeds,
in (the) abundance of your strength!
(Those) hostile to you shall submit to you.”

The meter of this verse is quite irregular as it stands: 2+2+2+3; it may be regarded (loosely) as a 2-beat quatrain. The concision of the poetry cannot be expressed in a literal glossed translation as I give above. The rhythm is better captured by a freer rendering:

“Say to the Mightiest:
How fearful your deeds,
in your abundant might—
your enemies shall submit to you.”

Also difficult to translate is the Niphal (passive) participle ar*on in the second line. Literally, it means “being feared” or “being fearful/frightening”. It is singular, and so presumably is not intended as an attribute of God’s “deeds”; rather, it should be understood as characterizing YHWH Himself as one worthy of “being feared” (i.e., to be feared). He is to be feared because of His great deeds, done in the abundance (br)) of His strength/power (zu)). Even those hostile to YHWH shall be forced to submit to Him, recognizing His power and authority. The verb vj^K* typically implies an act of deceit/deception, sometimes specifically of an enemy feigning submission or obedience. That could be the sense here; however, more likely the Psalmist is using a bit of irony, suggesting that the enemies who might otherwise pretend to submit to God will now be forced to do so in reality, bowing down to His authority.

Verse 4

“All the earth shall bow down to you
and make music to you,
make music to your name.”

Again the expression “all the earth” is used, as a comprehensive expression for all people everywhere (including those hostile to God). The act of bowing/laying down (vb hj^v*, Hishtaphel [reflexive] stem) indicates both submission and worship (cf. on v. 3 above). The idea of making music (vb rm^z`) to YHWH, and to His name, is repeated from v. 2.

Again the meter of this verse is irregular: 3+2+2.

Stanza 2: Verses 5-7

Verse 5

“Go and see (the) deeds of (the) Mightiest,
to be feared (in His) dealing over (the) sons of men.”

As in verse 1 (cf. above), people are called upon to give praise to YHWH for his wondrous deeds. Here, the call is generalized, with a pair of imperatives (“go/come!” and “see!”); witnessing God’s deeds will cause people to give praise and honor to Him. The noun lu*p=m! is essentially synonymous with hc#u&m^ in verse 3, both referring to something done or made (i.e., deed, action, work). The noun hl*yl!u& has a roughly comparable meaning, though with the specific connotation of exercising power/authority over something (or someone). I have rendered it above generally as “dealing (with)”; the accompanying preposition literally means “over”, but in English idiom we would say “with” —here, “His dealing(s) with the sons of men”, i.e., how God deals with them.

The passive (Niphal) participle ar*on (“being feared,” i.e., to be feared) is also repeated from v. 3; it is an attribute of YHWH, referring to how He is worthy of honor and praise (for his great and awesome deeds).

Metrically, this verse is a longer 4-beat (4+4) couplet.

Verse 6

“He turned (the) sea to dry (ground),
in(to) the river they crossed by foot—
come, let us rejoice in Him!”

The first two lines (of this 3-beat tricolon) clearly refer to the Exodus event at the Reed Sea, narrated in Exodus 14, celebrated in the famous ‘Song of Moses’ in Exodus 15, and referenced numerous times elsewhere in Old Testament poetry. Both terms “sea” (my`) and “river” (rh*n`) refer here to the same body of water, reflecting a traditional poetic parallelism. It is, of course, to be noted, that the Exodus event was replicated (and/or re-enacted) at the Jordan river in Joshua 3.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 121; cf. also I, pp. 81, 291), in reading <v at the beginning of the second line as an interjection (i.e., behold!, see!, come…!), cognate with šumma in Amarna Canaanite. This seems more fitting in the context of the imperfect jussive/cohortative verb form that follows, rather than the adverbial particle <v* (“there”). However, if the line here itself reflects a ritual re-enactment of the Exodus event, then it might make sense to say “there let us rejoice in Him!”

Verse 7

“Ruling in His strength (into the) distant (future),
His eyes look down (up)on the nations,
lest the rebellious (one)s rise (up) against Him!”

I understand the noun <l*ou in the first line as referring to the duration of YHWH’s rule over the universe—it lasts far into the distant (<lu) future, i.e., for ever. God rules in His strength (hr*WbG+); and here it becomes clear that the great deeds done by YHWH in Israel’s history reflect the cosmological aspect of His identity as Creator. This is a common theme in the Psalms, and was specifically emphasized in the prior Psalm 65 (vv. 6-8ff, cf. the previous study).

The all-seeing eye(s) of God are a traditional motif as well, expressing His providential governance of the world. One important aspect of this oversight is the administration of justice and maintaining the right order of things. His eye seeks to punish wrongdoing and to curb the stubborn and rebellious (rrs) tendencies in humankind.

The last lines of vv. 6 and 7, respectively, form a contrast between Israel and the nations—more specifically, between the faithful/righteous ones and those who are rebellious/hostile to God.

Stanza 3: Verses 8-12

Verse 8

“Bless, (all you) peoples, our Mighty (One),
and make heard (the) voice of His praise.”

This simple 3-beat couplet essentially reproduces the thought in the opening lines (vv. 1-2) of the first stanza (cf. above). The verbs are different—Er^B* (“bless,” or perhaps more concretely “bend the knee”) and um^v* (Hiphil, “cause to be heard”)—but the basic idea is the same: people everywhere are called on to give praise and worship to YHWH. The expression “voice of His praise” means praising God with all of one’s voice, i.e., with a loud and joyful song.

Verse 9

“The (One) setting our soul among the living,
He does not give our foot to shaking.”

This couplet is descriptive of YHWH as the God (“our Mighty [One]”) who cares for His people—that is, for the righteous and faithful ones among God’s people. He preserves the soul of the righteous, expressed here through the phrase “setting our soul among the living [one]s”, i.e., keeping our soul alive. More than this, He keeps them firm and secure in their daily life and conduct—their “foot” does not waver or slip (fwm), thanks to YHWH’s providential care.

Verse 10

“For you (have) tested us, O Mightiest—
you smelted us, as (the) smelting of silver.”

This couplet is shorter (2-beat, 2+2), its terseness reflecting the sudden shift to the idea of God’s sharp discipline of His people, testing (vb /j^B*) them, and thus purifying them. The motif of YHWH smelting/refining His people, utilizing the familiar imagery from metalworking, is relatively common in Old Testament poetry—all but 5 of the 33 occurrences of the verb [r^x* are found in the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets.

Verse 11

“You brought us in(to) the net,
you set distress (up)on our loins.”

This irregular (2+3) couplet expounds upon the idea of God disciplining His people in the previous verse. The motif of the hunter’s net covers a wide range of possible suffering and affliction which the people might endure, having been brought to it by YHWH. The second line specifically alludes to physical suffering and distress (lit. pressure, hq*u*Wm).

Verse 12

“You made pain ride against our head—
we came in(to) fire and in(to) water,
but you brought us out to fullness.”

This verse is irregular, with a short 2-beat line added to a 3-beat couplet; the final line punctuates the hymn and effectively brings it to a conclusion. I derive vwna (MT vona$) from a separate root meaning “be sick”, which I understand here in an intensive sense, i.e., referring to severe pain and suffering. YHWH has made this pain “ride” against the head of His people. In the second line, this is expressed by another allusion to the Exodus event (crossing through the Sea), but generalized in terms of having to endure suffering. The “fire” relates back to the imagery of the refining of metal in verse 10.

Even as YHWH brought His people into distress (v. 10), so He also brings them out of it again (vb ax^y` Hiphil, “bring out”). He leads them into a place of fullness and abundance. The noun hy`w`r= specifically connotes a well-watered place. While this can be understood in the general sense of the blessing God provides for His people, there is probably a specific reference here to Israel’s entering the Promised Land. If so, then the suffering described in vv. 10-12a would be alluding primarily to the years spent ‘wandering’ in the wilderness.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 65

Psalm 65

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

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

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

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

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

VERSES 2-7a [1-6a]

Verse 2-3a [1-2a]

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

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

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

Verses 3b-4 [2b-3]

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

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

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

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

Verse 5 [4]

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

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

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

Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

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

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

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

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

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

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

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

Verse 9 [8]

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

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

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

Verses 10-14 [9-13]

Verse 10abc [9abc]

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

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

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

Verses 10d-11 [9d-10]

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 12 [11]

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

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

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

Verse 13 [12]

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

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

Verse 14 [13]

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

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

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

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