Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 80 (Part 2)

Psalm 80, continued

Stanza 2: Verses 8-14 [7-13]

Verse 8 [7]

“O Mighty (One) of (the) armies, return (to) us!
Let your face shine that we might be saved!”

Each of the stanzas of Psalm 80 begin with a similar refrain; here in verse 8 we have a slight expansion of the refrain in verse 4 (cf. the previous study). Some commentators would emend v. 4 to read “Mighty [One] of the armies”, as here in v. 8. For the expression “YHWH of the armies”(toab*x= hwhy), see the note on v. 5 in the previous study. As Creator, YHWH has command of the armies of heaven—the divine beings and the heavenly/celestial phenomena they inhabit/control; these armies fight on behalf of His people Israel, when God so wills it.

Verse 9 [8]

“A vine you did pull out from Egypt;
you drove out (the) nations and planted her.”

This second stanza summarizes the chief event(s) of the formative Israelite history—the Exodus and the conquest/settlement of the Promised Land of Canaan. This is done via the illustration of a vine to represent the nation of Israela proverbial motif that came to be well-established in Israelite and Old Testament tradition (cf. Gen 49:22; Judg 9:12-13; Isa 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Hos 10:1; Joel 1:7; Jer 2:21; 12:10; Ezek 15:1ff; 17; 19:10-14). The Exodus is clearly referenced here within the illustration: YHWH pulls the vine out (vb us^n`) of the ground in Egypt, uprooting it, and planting it in a new land. In order to plant the vine in this land (of Canaan), the peoples (nations) living there were driven out (vb uf^n`). There is both conceptual and alliterative (assonance) wordplay between the verbs us^n` (n¹sa±, “pull out”) and uf^n` (n¹‰a±, “plant [in]”). The idiom of YHWH planting Israel in the land of Promise can be found already in the Song of Sea (Exod 15:17).

I translate literally the feminine morphology and suffixes connected with the vine (/p#G#), treated in the Psalm as a grammatically feminine noun.

Verse 10 [9]

“You (work)ed (its) face before her face,
and made her roots take (deep) root,
and she filled (the entire) land.”

This verse breaks from the general 3+3 metrical pattern, reading as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. The settlement of Israel in the Promised Land is described here in terms of the vine-motif. The ground is turned (vb hn`P*), i.e., tilled, prepared for the planting. I have translated this as working the “face” of the land (i.e. the ground, soil), so as to preserve the etymological wordplay between the verb hn`P* (“turn, face”) and the prepositional expression h*yn#p*l= (“before her face”). There is comparable wordplay in the second line, between the verb vr^v* (“[take] root”) and the suffixed noun h*yv#r*v* (“her roots”). Once the vine took root, it began to grow abundantly (as grape-vines tend to do), spreading out and filling the land. This refers to the continual conquest and settlement of the land by the Israelite people, and to their flourishing there. Eventually, of course the confederate nation would grow into a great kingdom (and regional empire), reaching its peak during the reign of Solomon.

Verse 11 [10]

“(The) hills were covered by her shade,
and (by) her branches (the) mighty cedars.”

This verse (returning to a 3+3 meter), expounds the final line of v. 10, and the idea that the vine spread out to fill the land. The vine grew so tall and great that its “branches” (tendrils) covered and cast shade over even the cedar trees on the hills. The construct expression “cedars of might” (la@ yz@r=a^) simply means “mighty cedars”. Conceivably, the reference to the “hills” here may allude to Israelite settlement of the hill-country.

Verse 12 [11]

“She sent forth her tendrils unto (the) Sea,
and to (the) River her (many) young shoots.”

The extent of the vine is here described a different way, clearly alluding to the boundaries of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent (under Solomon), reaching from the (Mediterranean) Sea in the west to the (Euphrates) River in the east. Like [n`u* in verse 11, the noun ryx!q* means “branch”; however, the extent of the vine’s spread should probably be understood in terms of the fresh grape-bearing tendrils at the end of the branches, parallel with tq#n#oy (“suckling”, i.e., [young] shoot) in the second line. The vine’s growth is so prodigious that there is an abundance of fresh tendrils spreading out in every direction.

Verse 13 [12]

“For what (reason then) did you burst her hedges,
(so) that all (those) passing by (the) way may pluck her?”

The motif of the vine’s great size and growth has here shifted to the idea of it being protected behind “hedges” (<yr!d@G+). It is not clear whether this refers to the Divine protection provided by YHWH, or to the nation’s own kingdom structures and defenses. In either case, YHWH has allowed the hedges to be “burst/broken through” (vb Jr^P*); the specific action-reference may be to YHWH breaking down the protective hedges. The destruction of the hedges allows anyone passing by to “pluck” the fruit from the vine. This use of the verb hr*a*, along with the feminine aspect of the vine-language (i.e., “pluck her [fruit]”), is suggestive of aggressive/violent sexual activity. Indeed, the implication is that the passers-by are acting with hostility and violence toward the vine (Israel). The conquests (by the Assyrians, etc) are being foreshadowed through this language.

Verse 14 [13]

“(The) boar from (the) forest cuts her to pieces,
and (the) moving (things) of (the) field feed on her!”

The idea of military conquest is more clearly alluded to in this climactic couplet. The “wild boar” from the “forest” could refer to any foreign invader; but probably the Assyrian conquests (of the northern territories) in the second half of the 8th century are specifically in view (cf. the discussion on the historical setting of the Psalm, in the previous study). The odd verb form hN`m*s=r=k^y+ probably should be related to the root <sk (“cut/tear off, shear”, cp. Akkadian kas¹mu, “cut to pieces”), as suggested by Dahood (II, p. 259). Once the vine has been torn down and cut apart, everything that moves (zyz]), i.e., every living creature, in the field can come and feed on it.

The Masoretes drew special attention to the word ru^Y`m! (“from [the] forest”) by writing the letters ru above the line (the so-called littera suspensa). The precise significance of this is not certain; several possibilities are mentioned in the note by Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 309.

Stanza 3: Verses 15-19 [14-18]

Verse 15a [14a]

“O Mighty (One) of (the) armies, please return!”

A shortened version of the refrain begins the third stanza (cf. the note on v. 8 above). Instead of the request “return to us”, the terser “please return”, with the particle of entreaty (an`), is used.

Verse 15b-16 [14b-15]

“Look down from (the) heavens and see—
and may you attend to this (your) vine,
and (so) secure what your right hand planted,
and (watch) over (the) son you yourself made strong.”

The call is for YHWH to pay attention to the condition of His ravaged vine—the nation/kingdom of Israel (esp. the northern territories, v. 2)—and so to respond with help and protection in its time of need. The wide-ranging verb dq^P* probably should be understood here in the basic sense of “attending to” something, exercising oversight, etc.

The couplet in verse 16 expounds what YHWH’s care for His vine entails. The initial word should be understood as a form of the verb /n~K* I, related to /WK, meaning “be firm”, parsed as an imperative with a paragogic (energic) h– suffix. The wish is that YHWH would keep His vine secure, preserving it, in the midst of further (and continuing) threats. The reference to a “son” in the second line seems a bit odd, the Psalmist appearing to mix his metaphors. The reference could be to the people of Israel (collectively) as YHWH’s “son”, or to the king as their representative; cf. on verse 18 below.

Verse 17 [16]

“They (who) have burnt her with such a scouring fire,
from (the) rebuke of your face may they perish!”

The Psalmist’s prayer in this verse takes the form of an imprecation against the hostile enemies of Israel, those who threaten to continue ravaging her. As noted above, it is presumably the Assyrian threat against the northern kingdom that is in view. The first stanza made clear that Israel had experienced great suffering and hardship, with military conquest being alluded to here in vv. 13-14 (cf. above). Such action is now made explicit, with mention of the enemy having burnt the vine (i.e. Israel) with fire.

The first word in the MT needs to be repointed as a plural form with an accusative h– feminine suffix (h*p%r*c=, “they have burnt her”, cf. Hossfeld Zenger, p. 310); Dahood (II, p. 260) suggests a plural participle, h*p#r=s). The final word of the first line, in the MT, hj*WsK= is also problematic. It is perhaps best explained as an emphatic –k preformative (= yK!) attached to a verbal noun from the root hj*s* (cp. jWs), meaning “scouring”; here it would refer to a fiery blaze that sweeps things away.

This fire of judgment is expressed in the second line in terms of the burning anger that comes from YHWH’s face. It is a “rebuke” that will destroy the enemies of Israel.

Verse 18 [17]

“May your hand be over (the) man of your right (hand),
over (the) son of (the) man you yourself made strong.”

This verse expounds upon the statement in the second line of verse 16 (cf. above). The Israelite king may well be in view, as suggested by Dahood (II, p. 260). YHWH’s “hand” refers to the protection He provides, as part of His covenant obligation.

Verse 19 [18]

“For (see,) we shall not (ever) turn back from you:
(so) restore us to life, that we may call on your name!”

Here the Psalmist identifies himself with the righteous/faithful ones of Israel—and identification which, in large part, serves as the basis of his prayer to God for help. Based on the covenant bond, YHWH is obligated to give help and protection to those who remain loyal to Him. The protagonist in the Psalms frequently makes his petition with this idea of covenant loyalty in mind. The imperfect verb form in the first line can be translated a number of ways: (1) as a past tense (“we have not turned away”), (2) as a future tense (“we will not turn away”), or (3) as an emphatic jussive (“we shall not [ever] turn away”). I have opted for the latter, with the initial –w conjunction also as an emphatic, heightening the emphasis.

The verb form of hy`j* (“live,” Piel stem) in the second line also can be understood different ways—i.e., “keep us alive”, “preserve our life”, “restore us to life”. I have chosen the last of these (cf. also Dahood, II, p. 261).

Conclusion: VERSE 20 [19]

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of (the) armies, return (to) us!
Let your face shine that we might be saved!”

The introductory refrain found in each stanza (vv. 4, 8, 15) is repeated here, in its fullest form, at the conclusion of the Psalm. It serves as a final call, and prayer to God, for salvation.

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).

August 22: Psalm 78:65-72

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. The previous note examined vv. 56-64; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:65-72

Verse 65

“Then (the) Lord awoke like (one who was) asleep,
like a mighty (warrior) shouting from (the) wine.”

This section is parallel with vv. 52-55, in the way that it describes YHWH acting on behalf of His people, utilizing the motif of a shepherd who guides/leads his flock. The initial w-conjunction here indicates a new development (i.e., “and then…”). While vv. 56-64 (like the earlier vv. 40-51) emphasized the people’s disobedience, which led to God’s judgment against them, here the focus shifts to His action on their behalf. The apparent “sleeping” of YHWH reflects His lack of support, over a period of time, as part of the judgment. Now, in his return to action for His people, He ‘awakes’ with a great shout.

Verse 66

“And He struck His adversaries (on the) behind—
disgrace into (the) distant (future) He gave to them!”

YHWH’s action on behalf of His people is described in military terms, and His role in an actual Israelite military victory may be in view. He strikes the enemies of His people, who are also His enemies, in such a way as to give them lasting disgrace (hP*r=j#). The humiliating nature of the enemies’ defeat is indicated by the use of the noun roja* (“rear, [area] behind”); probably a blow on their behind(s) is intended (cf. Dahood, II, p. 247), which certainly would entail a sense of disgrace. It may also refer more generally to a military defeat that sent the enemies going back in a rout. In any case, their defeat, thanks to YHWH’s power fighting on Israel’s behalf, is to be understood as devastating.

Verse 67

“But He (also) rejected (the) tent of Yôsep,
and (the) staff of Eprayim He did not choose.”

As in the opening couplet of v. 9, this verse refers to YHWH’s rejection of the northern tribes (and the northern Kingdom), in favor of the south (i.e., Judah). This implies that the rejection preceded the revolt of the northern tribes; however, more likely, the revolt is being anticipated here, as a literary device in the Psalm. With foreknowledge, YHWH chooses the tribe of Judah (and the city of Jerusalem) to have the leading and favored position. As mentioned in the earlier note (on v. 9), Ephraim often represents the northern tribes as a whole (being the most prominent of them); here “Joseph” is included as a parallel reference.

The rejection of the northern tribes/kingdom is connected with the defeat of the enemies of YHWH; the implication is that the northern tribes, in their faithlessness and rebellion, acted in manner similar to the surrounding nations.

Verse 68

“And (instead) He chose (the) staff of Yehûdah,
(and the) mount of ‚iyyôn which He loves.”

The implication here is that Judah was chosen primarily because of the location of the fortified hilltop site of ancient Jerusalem (i.e., ‘mount’ Zion), where the Temple would be built. At the same time, apparently, the southern tribes remained faithful in a way that the norther tribes did not, at least so as not to be disqualified as YHWH’s favored choice.

Verse 69

“And He built like (the) heights (of heaven) His holy place,
and like (the) earth which He founded for (the) distant (future).”

Like the cosmos itself, YHWH established His holy dwelling place (lit. “holy place”, vD*q=m!) to last for the ages. The upper half of the cosmos contains the heavenly “heights”, while the “earth” surface (and all that is below it) makes up the lower half. This description alludes to the cosmic dwelling of the Creator El-YHWH; in ancient Semitic tradition, this dwelling was viewed as a great mountain, reflecting the cosmological-mythic idea of the primeval universe itself as a mountain (“heaven-earth,” Sumerian an-ki). Any local geographic mountain could serve, ritually and symbolically, for the cosmic mountain of the Creator. This is certainly true of mount Sinai/Horeb for YHWH, and the same symbolic association applied to the much more modest mount of Zion. The Temple, of course, built on this ‘mountain’, is patterned conceptually after the heavenly dwelling-place of YHWH.

The second line literally reads: “and like the earth, He founded her…” (using a femine suffix); however, this makes for very awkward English, and it is customary to replace this syntax with the use of a relative pronoun (i.e., “…which He founded”).

Verse 70

“And He (also) made choice of Dawid, His servant,
and took him from (the) holding pens of (the) flock.”

The building of the Temple (v. 69) is mentioned prior to the choice of David as king, even though historically the two events occurred in reverse order. The priority of the Temple, as YHWH’s holy dwelling place, takes priority over the human kingship of Israel/Judah. The choice of David, and his origins as a sheep-herding youth, are narrated in 1 Samuel 16.

Verse 71

“From following (the) suckling (ewe)s, He brought him
to feed (as sheep) Ya’aqob, His people,
and Yisrael, His inheritance.”

David’s origins as a shepherd are played on here, drawing upon the tradition motif of the king as a shepherd over the people. This symbolism was widespread throughout the ancient Near East; on references in the Old Testament, cf. Num 27:17; 2 Sam 7:7; 1 Kings 22:17; Isa 44:28; Jer 3:15; 23:1ff; Ezek 34:2ff, etc. The specific application of this motif to David is first referenced in 2 Samuel 5:2, and, through this association, the Shepherd-motif came to take on Messianic significance (cf. Mic 5:4-5; Ezek 34:23; 37:24). Elsewhere in the Scriptures, God Himself is referred to as the Shepherd of His people (e.g., Gen 49:24; Psalm 23:1ff; 80:1; Isa 40:11). In Psalm 77:20, God’s shepherding of Israel is done through the intermediary of Moses and Aaron (as leaders); here, similarly, it is through David as Israel’s king.

The verb hu*r*, here and in v. 72, denotes the feeding of animals, often specifically in the context of herding—i.e., leading animals to pasture where they can graze.

Verse 72

“And (so) he fed them, according to (the) completeness of his heart,
and with (the) skillfulness of his hands he guided them.”

The idea of David’s heart being “complete” (<t) may contain an allusion to the original tradition in 1 Samuel (cf. 13:14; 16:7). The faithfulness and integrity of David’s heart toward YHWH (and the covenant) was traditional, being referenced repeatedly in the book of Kings (1 Ki 9:4, etc) as an example for the other rulers of Israel and Judah.

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 72 (Part 2)

Psalm 72, continued

VERSES 12-19

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

Verse 12

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

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

Verse 13

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

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

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

Verse 14

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

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

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

Verse 15

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

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

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

Verse 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 18

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

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

Verse 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 72 (Part 1)

Psalm 72

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is a prayer for YHWH’s blessing on the king. Many of the Psalms evince a royal background, but this is one of the few that is clearly focused on the Israelite/Judean king. Needless to say, in its original form it must be pre-exilic in date, having been composed during the Kingdom-period. The heading reads hm)l)v=l!, similar to the designation dw]d*l=, etc. In the Davidic references, the prefixed –l preposition presumably indicates authorship (i.e., “[belonging] to David”); however, the context here suggests that the word-phrase should be rendered “for Solomon”, or “(relating) to Solomon”. If the Psalm was composed within Solomon’s royal court, then the prayer-wish of the composition may indeed have been intended for (i.e. on behalf of) Solomon. If it was written somewhat later in the Kingdom-period, then the prosperous and relatively peaceful reign of Solomon would be serving as the ideal for future kings. The Israelite Kingdom reached its pinnacle during Solomon’s reign, and a natural prayer for every subsequent royal court would be that those glory days might return again.

The Psalm may be divided into two parts. In the first part (vv. 1-11), the Psalmist calls on YHWH (unconditionally) to establish a peaceful and prosperous reign for the king; the cosmic dimensions of this idealized vision alludes to the Israelite kingdom at its peak (under Solomon). It is natural that, with the exile and the end of the Judean kingdom, this vision would be given a Messianic and eschatological orientation.

In the second part (vv. 12-19), the prayer is framed in conditional terms. If the king rules with justice, then YHWH will give him a long and prosperous reign, establishing a royal dynasty of rulers among his descendants.

The meter of Psalm 72 is irregular, but tends to be more consistent within the smaller poetic units (cf. below)


The first part of the Psalm can be divided into three smaller units—vv. 1-4, 5-7, and 8-11.

Verse 1

“O Mightiest, give your just (ruling)s to (the) king,
and your right (decision)s to (the) son of (the) king.”

In this opening couplet, the prayer is that YHWH (referred to by the <yh!l)a$ of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms) will give to the king a divinely inspired (or endowed) ability to judge, acting with justice and making decisions with sound judgment. The second person suffix (;-, “your”) on the plural nouns <yf!P*v=m! and toqd=x! shows that the Psalmist is describing Divine attributes, characteristics of YHWH Himself (as King and Judge), which would be given to the Israelite king so that he might rule in a manner that reflects God’s own justice and righteousness. The plural noun forms are a bit difficult to translate. The noun fP*v=m!, “judgment”, refers to a just decision made as part of the governmental (and/or judicial) process. The feminine noun hq*d*x=, usually translated “righteousness”, has a similar meaning; the related noun qd#x# refers to “right(eous)ness” in a more general sense. The plural, unless it is meant comprehensively, should be understood in terms of “right decisions” or “right rulings”.

The prayer extends to the king’s son—that is, to the prince and future ruler. This anticipates the conditional prayer-wish for a royal dynastic line, in the second part of the Psalm (v. 17).

Verse 2

“He shall judge your people with rightness,
and your oppressed (one)s with justice.”

Again, the roots qdx and fpv are paired in this couplet, referring to the action of the king in ruling. The prayer is that he will faithfully exercise the gift (of right/sound judgment) given to him by YHWH (v. 1). Here, the act of judging is expressed by the verb /yD! which is quite close in meaning to fp^v*. I have translated the noun qd#x# in its basic meaning as “rightness”, and fP*v=m! correspondingly as “justice”. The imperfect verb form here (and throughout the first part of the Psalm), could perhaps be translated as jussives, i.e., “may he judge…”; this certainly would reflect the precative prayer-wish tone of the Psalm.

As often in the Psalms, the righteous ones of God’s people are characterized as poor and oppressed, often using the yn]u*. However, here the emphasis is better understood as being on the aspect of social-justice—i.e., that the king would judge/rule rightly, especially (and all the more so) on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

The concision of this couplet (3+2) reflects the directness of the justice by which the king should rule, simply and fairly.

Verse 3

“May (the) mountains lift (up) wholeness to the people,
and (the) hills (rise) with rightness.”

There is a certain parallelism—formal and thematic—between verse 3 and verse 1 (cf. above). It has essentially the same irregular (4+2) meter, which could be parsed as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, except that doing so would disrupt the poetic syntax. It also expresses the idea of the Divine source of justice/right(eous)ness. The mountains/hills, in their majesty and exaltation, are traditional symbols of deity; more specifically, in the Canaanite religious/mythic tradition, shared by ancient Israel, the High Creator God (El-YHWH) dwelt upon a great cosmic mountain. This cosmic mountain could be identified, symbolically and ritually, with any number of local mountains or hills.

In order to match the imperative (“give…!”) in verse 1, I have translated the imperfect verb form here as a jussive (cf. above). The Psalmist’s prayer is that the entire land would be filled with justice and righteousness. The mountains are called upon, as servants of YHWH, to “lift up” <olv* to the people. The noun <olv* is typically translated “peace”, and that would certainly not be inappropriate here. However, the word more properly means “completion, fulfillment,” often in the basic sense of welfare or well-being. I have translated it above as “wholeness”.

Just as the mountains “lift up” peace and well-being, so also the hills ‘rise’ with righteousness (hqd*x=). Assuming that the prefixed –B= on hq*d*x= is correct, i.e., “in/with right(eous)ness,” one should perhaps understand an implicit verb in the second line; I have opted for the idea of the hills rising, which would match the concept of the mountains “lifting up”.

Verse 4

“He shall judge (for the) oppressed of (the) people,
he shall bring safety to (the) sons of (the) needy,
and shall crush (the one) pressing (them).”

Just as verse 3 is parallel to verse 1 (cf. above), so verse 4 is parallel to verse 2; and it allows us to view vv. 1-4 as a poetic unit within the first part of the Psalm. The meter is similar—a 3+2 couplet in v. 2, and a 3+3+2 tricolon in v. 4. Thematically, the verses also express comparable ideas, similar prayer-wishes by the Psalmist. The reference is to the act of judging by the king; here the verb is fp^v*, parallel to /yD! in v. 2. He will provide justice on behalf of the oppressed (adj. yn]u*, as in v. 2).

Frequently, in the Psalms, the adjective yn]u* is paired with /oyb=a# (“needy”), as it is here; cf. 9:19; 12:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:18; 70:6, etc. The righteous are typically characterized as oppressed and needy, experiencing oppression from the wicked. If the righteous are oppressed, being pressed down (yn]u*), the one doing the pressing is referred to here by the participle qv@ou (vb qv^u*). In establishing justice for the poor and oppressed, the king will “crush” (vb ak*D*) their oppressor.

Verse 5

“May he (live) <long> with (the) sun,
and by (the) turning of (the) moon,
(each) cycle, (for) cycles (to come).”

The rhythmic shift, to a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, indicates that v. 5 marks a new poetic unit in this part of the Psalm. Thematically, also there is a shift to an emphasis on the length of the king’s reign. The first word in the MT is ;War*yy], “they shall fear you” (or “may they fear you”); however, the context strongly favors the reading of the LXX (sumparamenei=, “he shall remain along with”), which would seem to require emending the Hebrew to read ;yr!a&y~w+, “and he shall make long (his days)” (i.e., live long), or perhaps, alternately, Wkyr!a&y~w+, “they [i.e. his days] shall be long”. Many commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 75; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 203) support such an emendation, and it seems to be both warranted and well-founded. The king’s long life (and reign) will follow the sun and the moon (in its turnings), for many cycles (<yr!oD)—that is, for many months and years.

Verse 6

“He shall come down as rain upon (the) cut grass,
as abundant (shower)s dropping (on the) earth.”

The nature-imagery of v. 5 continues here in v. 6. From the length of the king’s reign, the focus shifts to its prosperity. The king shall bring prosperity to the land, just like the rain coming down on the grass, and the many drops of rain falling upon the ground. The noun zG@ refers to grass that is cut, which would indicate land that has been cultivated.

The meaning of [yz]r=z~ in the second line remains rather uncertain. It is usually understood as a verbal noun from the root [rz, which occurs only here in the Old Testament. Comparison with Aramaic and Arabic suggests a meaning of “drip, drop”, and this would seem to be confirmed by the LXX (sta/zousai, “dripping”). However, it is also possible that [rz is a variant form of brz, occurring in Job 6:17, where it refers to the ground drying up in the heat. If that is the sense here, then the second line would describe an abundance of rain upon the hot/dry ground. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 181.

Verse 7

“Righteous(ness) shall sprout forth in his days,
and abundance of wholeness,
until (the) failing of (the) moon.”

The just rule of the king will cause righteousness to sprout (vb jr^P*) from the watered ground (v. 6). The adjective qyd!x* in the Psalms typically characterizes the righteous person; however, the overall context here, as well as the parallel with <olv* in the second line, suggests the more general meaning of righteousness (i.e., that which is right). As in verse 3 (cf. above), qdx is paired with the root <lv; in both instances, I translate the noun <olv* as “wholeness”, in the basic sense of welfare and well-being for the people; the typical translation is “peace,” and that idea is certainly to be included as well.

The prosperity and justice/righteousness of the king’s reign shall last as long as the moon continues to give its light, reprising the imagery from v. 5. Indeed, we should regard vv. 5-7 as a distinct poetic unit within vv. 1-11.

Verse 8

“And may he rule (powerfully) from sea unto sea,
and from the River unto (the) ends of (the) earth.”

In verses 8-11, the third poetic unit of the first part of the Psalm, the emphasis is on the extent of the king’s rule. Whether or not the Psalm refers specifically to Solomon, the geographical extent of Solomon’s reign is certainly in view. However, as would be appropriate in a royal Psalm or hymn, the king’s reign is here extolled in even grander, cosmic terms—with the expressions “from sea to sea” and “unto the ends of the earth”. The active rule of the king is expressed by the verb hd*r*, which can carry the specific idea of stepping/treading upon a territory, so as to claim dominion over it as one’s own.

Again, there is a rhythmic shift at verse 8, to the more common Psalm-format of the 3-beat (3+3) couplet.

Verse 9

“Before his face shall bow (the) desert-dwellers,
and (those) hostile to him shall lick the dust.”

All people shall pay homage to the king, bowing (vb ur^K*) before him. This includes rough foreigners from the desert regions. Beyond this, all those who would be hostile to him, enemies of the king, will be forced to abase themselves, licking the dust in acknowledgement of his rule.

Verse 10

“(The) kings of Taršîš and (the) islands
shall return gift(s to him),
(the) kings of Šeba’ and Seba’
shall bring near fine gift(s).”

After the two 3-beat couplets of vv. 8-9, verse 10 consists of a pair of (parallel) 3+2 couplets. The gifts presented to the king are tributary in nature (specialized meanings of both hj*n+m! and rK*v=a#), recognizing the sovereignty (and superior position) of the Israelite kingdom. This certainly would have been the case, in many instances, during the reign of Solomon, where surrounding territories and kingdoms would have had vassal-status in relation to Israel.

Tarshish refers to the commercial/trading power of Phoenicia and the city-state of Tyre, with whom Israel (especially in the reign of Solomon) had strong ties. Similarly, the “islands” represents the commerce and trade that took place throughout the Mediterranean. The names Sheba’ and Saba’ refer to peoples and kingdoms to the (south)east, in Arabia.

Verse 11

“Indeed, all kings shall bow in homage to him,
(and) all nations shall give service to him!”

The grandiose vision of the Israelite king’s prestige, and the superior position of his kingdom, is expressed bluntly in this final couplet.

Again, it should be mentioned that virtually all of the imperfect verb forms in vv. 1-11 can be treated (and translated) as jussives—i.e., “may he…,” “let him…”. I have so translated the first such instance in each unit.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

March 12 (2): Psalm 68:29-32

Strophe 8: Psalm 68:29-32 [28-31]

Strophe 7 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 29 [28]

“Summon your strength!
Strengthen, O Mightiest,
that which you have done for us!”

The meter of the opening verse in this strophe, as it stands (in the MT), is a bit irregular: a 3+2+3 tricolon. One would rather expect a 2+2+3 meter, which is the general pattern of this Psalm. In the translation above, I have tentatively omitted the second word in the first line. This also resolves the problem of the second person suffix (;-) on ;yh#l)a$. The MT of the first line reads—

“Your Mighty (One) commanded your strength”

which doesn’t make much sense. Dahood (II, p. 149) solves the problem by reading the verb as an imperative, and separating the final kaph (i-) of the second word and attaching it to the beginning of the third word (-k)—;Z#u%K*, parsing the preposition K= as an emphatic (asseverative). The line would then read:

“Summon, my Mighty (One), your (very) strength”

It is an intriguing proposal, and I do agree that the verb should be vocalized as a Piel imperative: hW#x^, “command…!”, which is best rendered here as “summon…!”.

Verse 30 [29]

“Your palace (is) upon Yerushalaim,
(and) to you they make flow,
(the) kings, gifts (in homage).”

The prefixed –m on ;l#k*yh@ (“your palace”) in the MT is difficult to explain, and, if retained in place, would make translation of the line difficult. Dahood (II, p. 149) would separate it from ;l#k*yh@ and attach it to the end (<-) of the previous word (WnL*, “for us”), as an enclitic suffix. This is perhaps as good a solution as any.

The theme of the (conquered) peoples of Canaan paying tribute to YHWH was introduced in verse 19, and is repeated here, though the noun yv^ is used rather than hn`T*m; both words mean “gift,” but yv^ specifically connotes a gift brought in homage to a sovereign (cf. the two other OT occurrences, Ps 76:12; Isa 18:7, where the context is much the same as here). The verb lb^y` means “bring, carry (along),” often reflecting the imagery of flowing water; i.e., the kings make their gifts flow to YHWH in Jerusalem.

The “palace” (lk*yh@) is, of course, the Temple in Jerusalem, YHWH’s new dwelling-place among His people. The ritual scene described in the previous strophe (cf. the previous note) presumably celebrates YHWH’s entry into this new dwelling, following the victory He achieved for His people, bringing them into the Promised Land. It is possible to read the preposition lu^ in the concrete sense of “upon”, since the elevated position of Jerusalem (Zion), however modest, allows it to fulfill the role, taken over from Sinai (cf. verses 9, 18), of God’s mountain dwelling (vv. 15-17).

Verse 31 [30]

“Rebuke (the) creature of (the) reed(s),
(the one) appointed of bulls,
(among the) calves of peoples,
trampling in delight of silver,
who scatters (the) peoples,
(those who) desire an encounter.”

This verse is difficult to interpret, and the translation above can only be tentative. Metrically, in the MT as we have it, there is an initial 3-beat line, followed by a succession of five 2-beat lines. In the opening line, the Psalmist calls on YHWH to rebuke (vb ru^G`) the “living (creature) of (the) reed(s)”. It is hard to know what to make of the latter expression, though one is immediately reminded of the “beast” who comes out of the sea in the book of Revelation (13:1ff, etc), inspired by the earlier figure in the book of Daniel (7:3ff). It should probably be understood here in light of the apparent allusion to the mythic sea-creature (of the primeval waters) in v. 23 (cf. the prior note on strophe 6). The reference to “reed(s)” further suggests that this ‘creature’ is specifically associated with Egypt (cf. on v. 32 below) and the Nile; indeed, the application of the sea-monster tradition to Egypt (and the Exodus), in Isa 27:1ff and Ps 74:12-14, was previously noted.

It is probably not going too far to state that this figure represents, not just Egypt, but all the nations and their kings, embodying the most powerful (and ruthless) of them. The subsequent lines characterize him as “appointed (one) of the bulls”, suggesting a strong ruler among princes; the “bulls” themselves are further described as “(unruly) calves” (cf. Jer 31:18; 46:21), alluding to their violent and warlike tendencies. Such rulers “trample” (vb sp^r*) other peoples and “scatter” (vb rz~B*) them; they have a lustful delight (hx*r*) for silver, and desire armed encounters.

By “rebuking” them, YHWH will bring these nations (and their kings) into submission; instead of warring and conquering, they will become faithful (and peaceful) vassals of YHWH (and, thus, to the Israelite kingdom), bringing tributary gifts to Jerusalem in homage. This expectation is stated specifically in v. 32.

Verse 32 [31]

“Let (gift)s of fine cloth
come (forth) from Egypt,
let Kush run (bringing)
his hands (full) to (the) Mightiest!”

These lines confirm that the “creature of the reeds” in v. 31 (cf. above) is a reference to Egypt. From the earliest times of Israelite history, Egypt represented the pinnacle of worldly wealth and prestige. This continued to be so through much of the Kingdom-period. The kingdom of Israel, especially during the reign of Solomon, sought to cultivate commercial and diplomatic ties with Egypt; and Egyptian economic and cultural influence in Israel/Palestine was significant. Beyond this, the place of Egypt within the context of the Psalm is due to the Exodus-theme running throughout.

The gifts Egypt brings are represented, apparently, by luxury items of fine cloth—relating Hebrew /m*v=j^ (which occurs only here in the OT) to Ugaritic/Akkadian —ušm¹nu. The name “Cush” designates territories to the south and East of Egypt (Sudan, Ethiopia, Arabia, Yemen, etc), which would have been largely under Egyptian control or influence at the time. In other words, representatives from the wider Egyptian (commercial) sphere will come running/rushing to Jerusalem, with their hands full of gifts. This theme of the nations paying homage to God (and His people) in Jerusalem, coming with great gifts, would become a key component of the Israelite/Jewish eschatological worldview. It is already expressed, as such, in several of the Trito-Isaian poems (cf. 60:5-7ff; 61:6b). However, it clearly has older origins in the royal theology of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (cf. Psalm 72:8-11).

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).

March 12 (1): Psalm 68:25-28

Strophe 7: Psalm 68:25-28 [24-27]

Strophe 6 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 25 [24]

“They have seen your goings (forth), O Mightiest,
(the) goings of my Mighty (One),
my King, in the holy place.”

Metrically, this opening couplet begins with a 3-beat line, and forms a 3+2+2 tricolon, thus reversing the more typical pattern (2+2+3) of this Psalm.

The idea seems to be that, following the victorious entry of God’s people into the Promised Land, YHWH now takes up His new dwelling-place in the “holy place” on mount Zion. Having gone forth from His dwelling on mount Sinai, He now proceeds to the new sanctuary. Possibly the Psalm itself, in this final part, is meant ritually to reenact and commemorate this event. The opening verb “they have seen” implies a general audience, without any specific persons in mind.

The final prepositional expression, vd#Q)b^, is slightly ambiguous. Properly, it means “in the holy place,” i.e., God is present in His dwelling, in the sanctuary. However, the preposition B= can carry the specific meaning “into”, implying YHWH’s entry into His dwelling-place, but also (on occasion) a meaning similar to /m! (“from,” i.e., from within).

Verse 26 [25]

“(Those) singing go in front,
(and those) playing strings behind,
(and) in between (are the) maidens drumming.”

This verse gives us a clearer portrait of a ritual event, with a procession of musicians—singers, those playing stringed instruments, and young women playing tambourines/timbrels—commemorating YHWH’s entrance into His dwelling-place (the sanctuary of the Zion Temple).

Metrically, there is here a return to the more common 2+2+3 pattern of the Psalm, the inverse of the 3+2+2 tricolon of v. 25.

Verse 27 [26]

“In (their) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) water dug for Yisrael.”

The “assemblies” here refer, not just to the musicians mentioned in v. 26, but to all the people who are gathered for the ritual event. The MT vocalizes the verb as an imperative, but a Piel perfect form (Wkr=B@) seems more appropriate to the context. If an imperative is correct—i.e., calling upon the people to honor and worship YHWH—then the verb in the opening line of the strophe (War) should also be parsed as an imperative (“see, look…!”).

The identification of YHWH as the “Mighty One” (la@, here <yh!l)a$), in line 2, has greater religious and theological significance than may appear at first glance. For ancient Israelites, especially in the earlier periods, it was an important tenet of their religious identity, that their God YHWH was to be identified with the Creator God °E~l (la@). In the Patriarchal period, the latter was the principal name of God, but the former (YHWH) came into prominence with the Exodus, and Israel’s long migration from Sinai into Canaan. It was important that the Yahwist religion (worship of YHWH) be seen as a legitimate extension of the earlier °E~l-worship.

The final line associates YHWH with the ‘source of water’ for Israel, presumably alluding to His providential sustenance of the people during their wanderings in the Sinai. Several key traditions deal specifically with the need for water, and God’s provision—Exod 15:20-27; 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13; 21:16-18. The noun roqm* literally means the “place dug” (i.e., for water), but can also refer specifically the water that comes forth (i.e., a “fountain”); on the religious-symbolic use of the word, cf. Psalm 36:10[9]; Isa 51:1; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 13:1.

Some commentators would emend roqm* to read instead, e.g., ar*q=m!, which has essentially the same meaning as lh@q=m^ in line 1, viz., an assembly, a group of people called to assemble, in a particular location; cf. Kraus, p. 47. Dahood (II, p. 148) interprets the line in much the same way, but without emending the MT, deriving rwqm here from a separate root rwq meaning “call”. This, admittedly, gives a sensible parallelistic reading to the verse:

“In (the) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) congregation of Israel.”

Verse 28 [27]

“(See) there (is) Binyamin,
(the) little (one), leading them,
(the) princes of Yehudah (in) their throng,
(with the) princes of Zebulûn,
(and the) princes of Naptalî.”

Similar to the procession of musicians in v. 26, here we have a procession of the leaders of the various tribes. Specifically, the northern territories of Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned together with Benjamin and Judah. The meaning of the word <t*m*g+r! in line 3 is quite uncertain; the noun (presumably, hm*g+r!) occurs only here in the Old Testament. It has been related to late Hebrew <g~r* (“to stone”), and cognate roots in Aramaic and Arabic; and cf. the noun hm*g@r=m^ in Prov 26:8. Others would cite Akkadian rag¹mu, “cry out”, and Ugaritic rgm, “say, speak”. The context suggests a noisy throng, uttering words of praise to YHWH.

If this strophe is meant to record an actual ritual event, it must have been a grand affair, including chief men (rulers/princes, <yr!c*) from at least three other tribes, joining with the crowd of Judeans. To avoid cluttering the poetry, I have left all four tribe-names transliterated above, rather than translating them.

The northern tribes uniting with the south, under the rule of Jerusalem, was a key theme during the Kingdom period. It took on even greater meaning after the great schism (between north and south), the ideal of reuniting the tribes lasting through the Exile, and helping to fuel Messianic expectations in the post-Exilic period.

Metrically, there are five lines to this verse, best viewed as a 2+2+3 tricolon, followed by an additional 2-beat couplet; it yields a 2+2+3+2+2 meter.

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).

January 2: Isaiah 8:23ff

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

The poem in 9:1-6 [EV 2-7] brings the section of 6:1-9:6 to a close. It functions as an appendix to the section, and, in its literary setting, offers a message of hope to the survivors and exiles of the shattered Northern Kingdom. The poem is preceded by a narrative introduction (8:23 [9:1]), which clearly sets the message of the poem in the context of the 8th century Assyrian crisis. The Assyrian conquests of 734-732 remain the primary focus throughout this section; however, as we have seen, the fall of the Northern Kingdom (722/721) and the devastating invasion of Judah (701) are also in view. The compilation of 6:1-9:6 as a whole almost certainly took place after 701.

There are certain textual questions in 8:23 which need to be addressed.

Isaiah 8:23a[Wum* can be derived from [ou (“fly, flutter”) or [ou (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix Hl* is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (Jr#a# [“land”], hk*v@j& [“darkness”], or parallel hr*x*/hq*ox [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.

Isaiah 8:23b—Does /ovar!h* (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun tu@ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with /orj&a^h* (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs llq and dbk (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

These questions are important for establishing the basic context for the poetic oracle that follows. Compare the very different renderings of two modern critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]:


…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…


There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walk in the dark Have seen a great light…

In my view, Roberts is correct in understanding a contrast between the verbs (in the Hiphil) ll^q* (“make light [of]”) and db^K* (“give weight [to]”), in the sense of “disregard” vs. “honor”, and that YHWH is the implied subject. In allowing the Assyrian conquests to take place, God was “making light of” Israel, but now He will “give weight to” (i.e., honor) her. Here is my translation of the verse:

“(It is) that (there is) no darkness (now) for (the one) whom (there had been) distress for her; as (in) the former time (when) He made light (of) the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, even (so in) the later (time) He has given weight (to the) way of the sea, (the land) across the Yarden, (and) Galîl of the nations.”

However, there is no contrast between the territories mentioned. All five designations refer equally to the Northern Kingdom, but the last three specifically refer to areas that were turned into Assyrian provinces after 732: D¥°ru (Dor, “the way of the sea”), Gal±azu (Gilead, “[the land] across the Jordan”), Magidû (Megiddo, “Galilee of the nations”); cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 247; Roberts, p. 147f. The implication is that God will restore honor to these territories, by restoring them within a united Israelite Kingdom, under the leadership of a new king in Judah/Jerusalem. This is the focus of the poem that follows.

There are fewer problems of interpretation in the poem proper, the stanzas of which can be outlined as follows:

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

With regard to this poem, critical scholars have given various dates to it, ranging from Isaiah’s own time (c. 730-700 B.C.) down to the post-exilic period. An exilic or post-exilic date would make a Messianic orientation much more plausible, but I find little evidence in these verses for such a setting. The closer one comes to Isaiah’s own time, the much less likely a future (Messianic) interpretation would be as the primary sense of the passage. This is particularly true if we take seriously the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C.

Assuming this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces (cf. above). The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]). Here God promises (expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc.) to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity.

December 23: Isaiah 7:1-9

Isaiah 7:1-8:10

The section spanning 7:1-8:10 contains a series of Isaian oracles, three of which are tied to the name of a male child—7:1-9, 10-17, and 8:1-4. In each case, the child’s name is relevant to the content of the oracle, and it may be the name was given (by the prophet) at the time of the oracle itself. The second of these oracles (7:10-17) contains the famous prophecy in 7:14 (to be discussed in the upcoming notes [for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day]), which, of course came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense and applied to the birth of Jesus.

The original historical setting of Isaiah 7:14—and, indeed, of the larger section 6:1-9:6 as a whole—is the so-called Syro-Ephraimite crisis of 735-4 B.C.:

Threatened by Assyrian advances (under Tiglath-Pileser III), Aram-Damascus (led by king Rezin) and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (“Ephraim”, led by the usurper Pekah [“son of Remalyah”]) formed an alliance (along with the city of Tyre) in hopes of repulsing Assyria, similar to the coalition which resisted Shalmaneser III at the battle of Qarqar a century earlier. It was most likely for the purpose of forcing the Southern Kingdom of Judah (led by Aµaz) into joining the alliance, that Rezin and Pekah marched and laid siege to Jerusalem. Isaiah 7:6 indicates that they planned to set up a new king, “son of Tab°al” —possibly Tab°al is to be identified with Ittoba±al of Tyre (Tubail in Tiglath-Pileser’s tribute list from 737 B.C.; cf. Roberts, p. 111). Isa 7:1 states that they were “not able to do battle against” Jerusalem, perhaps in the sense of being unable to prevail/conquer in battle (so the parallel account in 2 Kings 16:5, but 2 Chronicles 28:5ff tells rather a different story).

Isaiah 7:1-9

Isaiah 7:3-9 and 10-17ff should be understood as taking place prior to the main event summarized in verse 1. The Aram-Israel coalition was a cause of great alarm for the kingdom of Judah (both the king and his people), as the historical/narrative introduction to the oracle makes clear:

“And (the news) was brought in front before (the) house of David, saying, ‘Aram has rested upon Ephrayim.’ And (at this,) his heart shook, and the heart of his people, like (the) shaking of (the) trees of (the) forest from (the) face of (the) wind.” (v. 2)
The precise meaning of the verb form hj*n` is disputed. Some commentators would explain it as a denominative verb (Niphal stem), hj*a*, from the root ja (“[be like a] brother”). It has also been explained in relation to the Arabic naµ¹ (“wind [one’s way], walk, turn [toward]”). It is probably best to hold to the customary derivation from j^Wn (“rest”), especially in light of the wordplay in the verse involving the verb u^Wn (“shake, waver”); the meaning, apparently, is that Aram has “rested upon” Ephraim (the Israelite Northern Kingdom), relying upon them as an ally (but perhaps also with the nuance of compelling them to be so).

This provides the background for the oracle in vv. 3-9, which begins with a command by YHWH to Isaiah (v. 3), directing the prophet to meet with king Ahaz. He is to bring along his son, who has the Hebrew name bWvy`-ra*v=. The meaning of this phrase-name, “A-Remnant-will-Return,” is explained in 10:20-23, and it likely carries much the same meaning here in the passage.

However, it is important to keep in mind the dual-significance of the name, in relation to the oracles of chapters 7-8, as those oracles convey both a message of judgment for the Northern Kingdom, and, at the same time, of deliverance for the Kingdom of Judah (esp. the city of Jerusalem). The latter aspect has the future invasion of Judah (by Sennacherib) in mind, in which a portion of the Judean Kingdom (including Jerusalem) will be spared. It also relates, more immediately, to the fate of the Northern Kingdom; after its conquest, and the exile of its people, the message “a remnant will return” offers the hope that at least some of the exiled population will eventually return, to be united with the Southern Kingdom.

Isaiah’s message to Ahaz is primarily an exhortation to trust in God:

“Guard yourself and be quiet! Do not fear, (and) do not let your heart grow soft (with fear) from (the) two tail-ends of these smoking firebrands (lit) by (the) burning anger of Rezin and Aram and (the) son of Remalyahu!” (v. 4)

Their plan to attack Jerusalem (vv. 5-6) will fail (v. 7), stated most bluntly: “It shall not stand, and it shall not be”. Then the oracle closes (vv. 8-9) with an announcement of judgment to come upon Aram-Damascus and the kingdom of Israel. As in the following oracles (vv. 10-17 and 8:1-4), here a time-indicator is given as to when this judgment (conquest by Assyria) will occur. At this point, however, the text is problematic. In the Masoretic Text (but confirmed by the Dead Sea MSS and the Versions), the declaration of judgment (v. 8b) interrupts the parallelism of the lines in vv. 8a, 9a:

8aFor (the) head of Aram (is) Damascus,
and (the) head of Damascus (is) Rezin;
8b[and in about sixty and five years Ephrayim shall be broken from (being) a people]
9aand (the) head of Ephrayim (is) Šomrôn {Samaria},
and (the) head of Šomrôn (is the) son of Remalyahu.

Many commentators would explain v. 8b as a later insertion; however, this is not entirely convincing, as the position of the ‘insertion’ is extremely awkward, and the time-frame of 65 years makes little sense. We would expect an announcement that the judgment would occur in the very near future of Ahaz (cp. the time-markers in 7:16 and 8:4). Roberts (pp. 111-4) offers the intriguing proposal that the current text is the result of an ancient scribal error, by which part of a line was omitted (haplography) when a scribe accidentally skipped over a line in the text because the line following began with the same words or characters (parablepsis). The LXX, for example, shows signs of such textual corruption in verse 5, and also here in v. 8a (Roberts, p. 112).

Roberts would reconstruct vv. 8-9 as follows:

“For (the) head of Aram (is) Damascus,
and (the) head of Damascus (is) Rezin;
and (the) head of Ephrayim (is) Šomrôn {Samaria},
and (the) head of Šomrôn (is the) son of Remalyahu.
In about five years Ephrayim shall be broken from (being) a people,
and in about six years Damascus shall be removed from (being) a city.”

According to this theory, the portion in italics was lost and the numbers five (vm@j*) and six (vv@) were conflated (into six[ty]-five). This all seems quite plausible, though the reconstruction remains entirely hypothetical, with no manuscript or versional support for it. It does, however, fit the framework of the oracles—both in terms of the Damascus-Ephraim parallelism, and a time-frame for the judgment within a few years. Damascus fell in 732 B.C., and the Northern Kingdom was also “broken” (though not completely) but the Assyrian campaigns in 734-733.

The final words of the oracle repeat the opening exhortation for Ahaz to trust in YHWH, but tinged with a sense of warning:

“If you do not remain firm [Wnym!a&t^],
then you will not be made firm [Wnm@a*t@].” (v. 9b)

The wordplay (which I have tried to preserve here) involves the verb /m^a* (“be firm”), which has a relatively wide semantic range. In the first line, the Hiphil (causative) form refers to Ahaz making (himself) firm—that is, firm in his faith/trust in YHWH; in the second line, the Niphal (passive) form refers to Ahaz (and his kingdom) being made firm (strong/established) by YHWH. The overriding message is that God will protect and  save those who remain faithful to Him.

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2015).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 60

Psalm 60

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is yet another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics. The characteristic shift, from a plea for deliverance to an expectation that YHWH will answer the Psalmist’s prayer, has occurred in a number of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms we have recently studied. The structure of the composition, in this instance, is peculiar, due primarily to the divine oracle present in vv. 8-10 [6-8]. Within both Judaism and early Christianity, the Psalms came to be regarded as prophetic (to be counted among the Prophets); however, this is one of the few Psalms which actually contains a prophetic oracle.

The meter follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a notable shift to a 3-beat tricolon (3+3+3) format in vv. 8-10. This shift marks off the divine speech of vv. 8-10 in poetic terms.

For the structure of the Psalm, I feel it is best to divide it into parallel sections, separated by the oracle in vv. 8-10:

    • Part 1: Lament over the suffering experienced as a result of YHWH’s anger (vv. 3-5 [1-3])
    • [Oracle regarding the Kingdom] (vv. 8-11 [6-9])
    • Part 2: A second lament (v. 12 [10]) and prayer for deliverance (vv. 13-14 [11-12])

The heading designates this Psalm as another  <T*k=m! (miktam, on this term, cf. the study on Psalm 16). The previous miktams were apparently poems without music, to be sung to an existing melody. This also seems to be the case here, with the melody being /v*Wv (“lily,” or possibly “lotus”), resembling the name in Pss 45 and 69 (pl. <yN]v^ov, “lilies”). The poem is also designated as an tWdu@, usually translated “testimony,” but properly referring to words that are to be repeated. There is thus a didactic purpose to the poem, which is “to be taught” (dM@l^l=), much like the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.

The superscription marks the poem as yet another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), attributing it (in verse 2) in relation to the historical David-tradition recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-14 (par 1 Chron 18:1-13). This tradition relates to the nations mentioned in vv. 8-11, in the context of the establishment of the kingdom of David and Solomon—which represented the territory of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent.

In this regard, there have been a good many theories regarding the specific dating of the poem, along with the critical question of how the oracle in vv. 8-10 fits within the overall composition. It is generally thought that the oracle represents a significantly older piece of traditional material, around which the remainder of the Psalm was composed. A common view is that the Psalm proper dates from the late kingdom-period, around the time of the Babylonian conquest, thus creating a stark juxtaposition with the territorial promises in the oracle. For a good survey of the question of dating, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 95-8.

PART 1: VERSES 3-7 [1-5]

Verse 3 [1]

“O Mightiest, you rejected us, you scattered us;
you were angry—(but) may you turn back to us!”

Two points of interpretation are important for determining the thrust of this opening couplet. First, does the verb jn~z` mean “reject,” or “be angry” (corr. to Akkadian zenû, cf. Dahood, II, p. 77). Second, does the imperfect verb form bb@ovT= reflect an indicative or jussive? If a jussive (with imperatival force) is intended, the the verb bWv here would have the positive meaning “turn back, return”; but, if it is a past tense indicative, then it has a negative sense of “turn away, withdraw”. Dahood opts for the latter, along with reading jnz in the sense of “be angry”; this creates a parallel couplet of pure lament:

“O Mightiest, you were angry with us, you scattered us;
you snorted with anger, (and) you turned away from us!”

The force of the couplet might even be clearer if jnz has the typical meaning “reject”, creating a chiasm:

    • “you rejected us”
      • “you scattered us”
      • “you were angry” (i.e. snorting like an enraged bull)
    • “you turned away from us”

My translation above reads bb@ovT= as a jussive, adding a hopeful prayer-note to the lament.

Verse 4 [2]

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open);
may you heal its broken (piece)s, for it is slipping!”

The force of this couplet also hinges on a point of interpretation—regarding the word hpr. The MT vocalizes it hp*r=, usually understood as an alternate spelling of the imperative ap*r= (“heal!”). But the actual verb hp^r* means “(let) sink, drop,” which would fit the image here of a handful of broken pieces, potentially giving to the couplet a sense of unmitigated disaster, i.e., “(you) let drop its broken pieces”. Dahood (II, p. 78) would vocalize as the adjective hp*r* (“slack, drooping,” i.e. “weak”), which leads to a quite vivid couplet, that I would translate as:

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open),
(and) weak (from) its broken (part)s, how it is slipping!”

Verse 5 [3]

“You made your people see hardship,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling.”

Instead of the rather bland Hiphil “you made see” (vb ha*r*), Dahood (II, p. 78) vocalizes htyarh as ht*ar@h), deriving it from the root ary II (“pour”), and also understands hv*q* in connection with the Ugaritic noun q¹š (“cup,” cp. Heb. hw`c=q^, “jug, jar”). This line of interpretation admittedly keeps the imagery more consistent, and also gives to the couplet a striking synthetic parallelism:

“You poured out (for) your people a cup,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling!”

Verse 6-7 [4-5]

“(May) you give to (those) fearing you a (flag) to raise,
to be raised from (before the) face of the bow(men)!
To (the end) that your beloved should be pulled out,
keep (us) safe (with) your right hand, and answer us!”

The imperatives in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), if correct, would seem to require that the perfect form hT*t^n` (lit. “you gave”) be understood as a precative perfect—i.e., a wish (for the future) expressed in terms of something that has already happened. In English, this is almost impossible to translate in a way that works in poetry; we might say “(that) you (would have) given,” but it it is easier simply to render it like an imperative or jussive (“may you give…!”). The prayer thus takes the form of a clear petition, a plea to God for deliverance.

The noun sn@ in the first line is related to the verb ss^n` (II) in the second. Both are difficult to translate; the fundamental denotation seems to refer to something raised up high so that everyone can see it—e.g., in a military-political context, a flag or banner, around which people can rally. The reference to archers/bowmen (sing. “bow”, tv#q# in place of MT fv#q) [so most commentators]) certainly indicates a military context, with God’s deliverance (from enemies) in terms of a military victory.

Indeed, a military rescue is described in verse 7, using the verb Jl^j* (I), “pull out, withdraw”, in the sense of YHWH pulling His people (and their king) out of danger. The noun dyd!y`, related to dod (in the Song of Songs, etc), means “(my) love, loved one, beloved”; it could be used here of the people Israel (collectively), or of the king as their leader and representative. The Hiphil imperative of the verb uv^y` in the second line literally means “save (us)…!,” but here it is better understood in the sense of the protection YHWH provides (i.e., “keep [us] safe!”). Following the rescue in line 1, God’s protection (in a military sense) will ultimately lead to victory for His people, a victory which is the answer (vb hn`u*) to the Psalmist’s prayer.

The placement of a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker between verses 6 and 7 is curious. It does not seem to relate to the structure of the Psalm, but may simply be used to alleviate the syntactical transition between the two verses.

Oracle:  Verses 8-11 [6-9]

There is a sudden shift in verse 8, both structurally and rhythmically. Verses 8-10 [6-8] constitute a prophetic oracle in which YHWH Himself speaks. In place of the 3-beat bicolon (couplet) format in vv. 3-7 (cf. above), there is a tricolon (triplet) format in vv. 8-10.

Verse 8 [6]

“(The) Mightiest has spoken in His Holy (Place):
‘I will exult (and) will make Šekem (my) portion,
and the valley of Sukkot I will measure out.'”

The 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon format of the oracle is established here. As in verse 3 [1], the title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’) is used, presumably in place of, originally, the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH)—a substitution that occurs consistently throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms. YHWH speaks in His “Holy (Place),” —that is, the sanctuary of His Dwelling (Temple)—though the noun vd#q) could also mean “holiness” (i.e., “in His holiness”).

The geographical association between the city of Shechem and the “valley of Sukkot” here probably alludes to the tradition in Genesis 33:17-18. It may refer generally to the northern territory (and kingdom) of Israel; the northern extent of the kingdom is referenced by David’s conquests over Syria (Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus) in 2 Sam 8:3-8. The verb dd^m* means “stretch a line,” i.e., to measure something, and thus refers to measuring the extent of territory belonging to the king/kingdom. Here, the territory belongs specifically to YHWH Himself, as King, but by extension it also belongs to the kingdom of His people (Israel/Judah).

Verse 9 [7]

“To me (belongs) Gil’ad, and to me Menaššeh,
and Ephrayim (is) a protected place (for) my head,
(while) Yehudah (is) my engraved (staff).”

In this verse, the Davidic kingdom of Israel—the united kingdom—is summarized. As noted in the introduction above, if the Psalm proper is dated near the time of the Babylonian exile, then the lamentable situation of the kingdom at that time would be set in stark contrast to the original divine promises regarding the extent of territory (realized, albeit briefly, in the reigns of David and Solomon). The northern territories are represented by the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (along with the region of the Gilead), depicted in terms of the king’s head—that is, a helmet (lit. “place of protection,” or “protected place,” zoum*). Judah represents the southern territory, and, with its capital of Jerusalem, is the locus of the ruling power and authority of the king (his engraved [vb qq^j*] staff). Again, YHWH is the ultimate King, with the king of Israel/Judah ruling over the people as His representative or vassal.

Verse 10 [8]

“Mo’ab (is the) pot for my washing;
upon Edom I will throw down my sandal;
over Pelešet I will cry out (in triumph).”

Here the territories of Moab, Edom and the coastal cities of the Philistines are included as Israelite territory (belonging ultimately, of course, to YHWH as King). Moab and Edom, in particular, are belittled, described as a mere washpot for the king, or as a place to thrown down (or set down) his sandals. David’s victories over Moab and Edom are referenced in 2 Sam 8:2, 12-14, while his victories over the Philistines headline that passage (v. 1). Here YHWH simply declares that He will “cry out” (vb u^Wr) over Philistia—that is, a cry/shout of triumph over them. The text of the third line should be read in light of the doublet in Ps 108:10 [9].

Verse 11 [9]

“Who will carry me (to the) city (with) strong walls?
Who will guide me (to come) unto Edom?”

The meter now shifts back to the 3-beat couplet (bicolon) format of the Psalm; and, indeed, verse 11 is not part of the oracle, and it is no longer YHWH who is speaking. The verse is transitional, leading the way from the oracle into the concluding verses (a second lament-prayer).

The first line could be understood either as coming to the walled city for protection, or for conquest. In the context of the oracle, the latter seems more likely. The Psalmist envisions a situation when Israel will once again realize the promises of YHWH regarding the kingdom and its territory, and where the conquests by David may, in some sense, be repeated. The specific mention of Edom in the second line may reflect the heightened tensions (and hostility) between Judah and Edom in the late kingdom period (early-6th century, and thereafter). The envisioned conquests will begin with the near adversary Edom (along with Moab, we may assume, to follow).

Part 2: Verses 12-14 [10-12]

Verse 12 [10]

“Is it not you, (O) Mightiest, you (who) rejected us,
and did not go out, Mightiest, with our armies?”

This couplet answers the question (“Who…?”) in v. 11. Even though YHWH had rejected His people (for the verb jn~z`, cf. on v. 3 above), and, for a time, allowed Israel to be defeated and conquered, the hope (and prayer) is that now God will once again return to fight on His people’s behalf. The couplet here thus blends together lament with a hope (prayer) for deliverance, echoing the themes of the longer Part 1. For a different way of reading these lines, cf. Dahood (II, pp. 76, 82).

Verse 13 [11]

“Give to us help from [i.e. against] (our) adversary,
(for) indeed empty is (the) saving (help) of man!”

Only the power and strength of YHWH will allow His people to prevail against their enemies. The noun rx^ can be derived from three different roots, meaning (respectively): (1) “narrowness” (i.e., a “tight spot”), (2) “distress, oppression”, or (3) “adversary, enemy”. All three would be applicable, but the military context here suggests the third meaning is most likely in view. The very acknowledgement of YHWH’s saving power, contrasted with the “emptiness” (aw+v*) of human strength, can be taken as an implicit indication of the people’s current faithfulness (as represented by the Psalmist), and give them reason to believe that YHWH will, indeed, hear and answer their prayer.

Verse 14 [12]

“With the Mightiest, we shall act with strength,
and He (indeed) shall trample down our adversaries!”

The people will act together with (-B=) YHWH to defeat their enemies, just as Israel did (under David’s leadership) in times of old. They will act with strength (ly]j*), since the power of God Himself will be on their side. Indeed, it is YHWH who does the real fighting, trampling down the enemies of Israel (note the emphatic position of the pronoun aWh [“He”]).

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 2

Psalm 2

The second Psalm is, in many respects the first Psalm proper of the collection, with Psalm 1 (discussed previously) being better viewed as a prologue or introduction to the Psalter. This is likely reflected in the variant reading of Acts 13:33; at the very least, there is some confusion in the manuscript tradition regarding how the Psalms were numbered. Psalm 1 is a piece of Wisdom literature, as the analysis given last week demonstrates, and likely dates from a later period, after most (if not all) of the Psalms had already been composed. Psalm 2, on the other hand, clearly stems from the kingdom period and, in both substance and language, may date back very nearly to the time of Solomon (10th century B.C.). It is thus fitting as the first Psalm of the collection; moreover, the royal theology reflected in it can be found in many of the Psalms, and is a central component of the Psalter (and to our understanding of it). This aspect was preserved in subsequent Israelite and Jewish tradition and informed Messianic beliefs regarding a future/end-time Davidic Ruler (on this, cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Psalm 2, given a Messianic interpretation, was applied to Jesus already in the very earliest stages of Christian tradition; its widespread application is seen at numerous points in the New Testament (Mark 1:11 par [Lk 3:22 v.l.]; 9:7 par; Acts 4:25-26ff; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5).

In many ways, Psalm 2 is the royal Psalm par excellence—certainly, nowhere else is the Israelite/Judean royal theology presented so concisely and forcefully. It is generally recognized by most scholars that the setting of the Psalm is the accession (coronation/enthronement) of the new king; however, there are few clear signs of a specific ritual use of the Psalm. Thematically, Psalm 2 has a basic three-part structure, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Depiction of the surrounding nations and their rulers (at the time of the king’s coronation)—vv. 1-3
    • The Enthronement: YHWH and the King—vv. 4-9
    • Warning to the nations and their rulers (with the new king now enthroned)—vv. 10-12

The Psalm more or less follows the typical 3 + 3 bicola meter—i.e. three stressed syllables for each half line (colon).

Verses 1-3

The first two verses run parallel and show what the nations and their rulers are doing; in verse 3 they declare their intentions, climaxing in a sudden act of rebellion. In the ancient world, the accession of a new king (especially if he happened to be a child or young man) provided an opportunity, at this time of transition, for vassals and rulers of surrounding territories to seek to gain independence and/or power of their own. Acts of rebellion and warfare were not uncommon at such moments. This is what we see depicted in verse 1-3. At the time of accession, before the new (Israelite/Judean) king has the chance to establish/consolidate his rule, vassals and other surrounding nations are plotting to take action. Let us examine the structure of these lines, and some of the key words involved.

hM*l* (“for what”, i.e. “for what purpose, why”)—the opening word summarizes the wickedness and futility of such plans for rebellion. Despite the youth and/or inexperience of the new king, and the apparent vulnerability of the Israelite/Judean kingdom at this moment, king and kingdom have the protection of God (YHWH) himself. This is the point made in verses 4-9.

There is a chiastic parallelism to the remainder of words in verse/line 1:

    • “they throng (together)” [Wvg+r*]
      • “(the) nations” [<y]og]
      • “and (the) peoples” [<yM!u%l=W]
    • “they mutter empty (threats)” [qyr!-WGh=y#]

Moreover, the final word (qy!r, “emptiness, empty [thing]”) echoes the futility of the first (“for what, why”). The two verbs are certainly parallel, in a synonymous or synthetic manner:

    • vg~r* (r¹gaš)—this relatively rare verb, often translated “rage” here, more properly refers to a group or throng of people coming together, with a hostile intent or purpose (cf. also Psalm 55:14; 64:2).
    • hg`h* (h¹gâ)—this basic verb seems to refer to someone (or something) making a low/deep sound, as of a person moaning or an animal growling (Isa 31:4; 38:14; 59:11). It is used in the context of mourning in Isa 16:7; Jer 48:31. Figuratively, it can be used of words or thoughts coming from the heart, often in a negative or hostile sense (Prov 24:2; Isa 8:19; 59:3, 13; Lam 3:62), but also for the thoughts/words of the righteous and devout (Ps 1:2; 19:15; 35:28; 63:7; Prov 15:28, etc). Typically it is understood here in terms of negative/hostile thoughts (i.e. plans for rebellion, etc); however, Dahood (p. 7) cites the cognate usage in the Canaanite Kirta text (lines 90-91) where the root seems to be used in the sense of counting/numbering military troops. This meaning would fit the context of the Psalm as well.

The two nouns are also parallel and complementary, forming a hendiadys: “nations” (<y]og) and “peoples” (<yM!u%)—i.e. all of the surrounding people who are (and have been) under the influence and authority of the Israelite/Judean king, including individuals, socio-political and ethnic groups, vassal states, and separate kingdoms. This comprehensive depiction sets the stage for the warning—to any and all who might seek to rebel at the time of the new king’s coronation—at the end of the Psalm (vv. 10-12). In verse 2, the rulers of these nations/peoples are in view, following a similar poetic parallelism as in verse 1; note the sequence of words:

    • “they set/place themselves” (Wbx=y~t=)
      • “(the) kings of (the) earth” (Jr#a#-yk@l=m^)
      • “and (the) honored (one)s” (<yn]z+orw+)
    • “they are set/established” (Wds=on)

These parallel and partially synonymous verbs need to be considered:

The verb /z~r* should also be noted; it is similar in meaning to db^k*, “(be) weighty, worthy, honored/honorable” (cf. Judg 5:3; Prov 8:5; 31:4; Isa 40:23; Hab 1:10. Here the participle is parallel to “kings of the earth” and refers to persons who have a commanding presence or position, i.e. ruler, prince, etc; a related noun has a similar meaning (Prov 14:28). With all this in mind, here are verses 1-2 in full translation:

“For what [i.e. why] do the nations throng together,
and for (what) do the peoples mutter empty (threats)?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the honored (one)s are set (firmly),
against YHWH and against his Anointed.”

The rebellious plans and actions are directed against the new king (“[the] anointed [one]”, j^yv!m*), but, at the same time, also against Yahweh Himself; this is to be expounded in vv. 4-9. The drama of the scene continues to build in verse 3, where the rulers speak and declare their rebellious intent:

“We shall pull off their (cord)s binding (us)
and we shall throw away their ropes from (off of) us!”

This is a typical example of synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry, in which the second line heightens and intensifies the first. The verbs qt^n` (“pull, drag, draw [away]”) and El^v* (“throw, drag [away]”), along with the nouns rs@m) (from rs^a*, i.e. something which binds) and tb)u& (“woven [strands]”, i.e. rope), create a doubling which underlines the hostile intent of the rulers, but also, in a sense, the futility of their efforts. From the standpoint of the historical setting, the pronoun suffix “their” (o[m]) could simple refer to the Israelites; however, based on the context of what preceded in verse 2, the plural certainly refers to “YHWH and his Anointed” (i.e. God and the new king, together). The rebellious hostility of the rulers is directed specifically, and ultimately, against Yahweh and the anointed King of Israel/Judah.

Verses 4-9

In these verses, the focus shifts to the coronation and enthronement of the new king, who is under the protection of YHWH. This ruler is referred to specifically as “his [i.e. Yahweh’s] Anointed”. There would have been an actual anointing ceremony involved at the accession/coronation of the king, but here we see expressed the religious and theological dimension—the king is anointed by God, and belongs under His authority and protection. The power ruling Israel/Judah ultimately belongs to God, not the king. This is the basis for the Israelite royal theology in the Psalms, which we see expounded throughout vv. 4-9. It begins in striking fashion, emphasizing not the king’s enthronement, but that of God’s own throne in Heaven:

“The (One) sitting in the heavens laughs,
My Lord [yn`d)a&] chatters at them”

Both verbs indicate mocking derision: (a) qj^c* (equivalent to qj^x*), “laugh (at)”, perhaps in the sense of “play/toy (with)”; and (b) gu^l*, apparently a kind of stuttering/stammering, done in a mocking manner. In verse 5, the mockery gives way to more direct action against the rebels; but does God act by speaking, or by driving away and scattering his enemies in a more primal and concrete sense? Based on a customary reading of the MT, verse 5 begins:

“Then he speaks to them…” (omyl@a@ rB@d^y+ za*)

where omyla is read as the preposition la + object suffix; however, Dahood reads this as the noun lya (“ram”) with defective spelling, the expression “their rams” being a reference to the valiant warriors and commanders of the rebellious rulers. At the same time, Dahood understands the verb rbd not in the ordinary sense of “open the mouth, speak, say”, but according to the Akkadian duppuru/dubburu, “pursue, drive (away)” (p. 9; citing Chicago Assyrian Dictionary [CAD] III (D), p. 188a). For other Old Testament examples, he cites Psalm 56:5; 116:10; 127:5; Jer 9:20-21; Lam 5:9. According to this reading, v. 5 would be:

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ [i.e. warriors]…”

Most notably, in support of this reading, I would point out Exodus 15:15, in the Song of the Sea; cf. also 2 Kings 24:15; Job 19:22 (Dahood, p. 9). The parallel use of the verb lh^B* (also in Ex 15:15) would seem to support this sense as well; it adds to the idea of God creating a disturbance which alarms and frightens the rebels, causing them move quickly (run away, etc). The nouns [a^ (lit. “nostril”, fig. “anger”) and /orj* (“burning”) add to the graphic depiction of the scene, often obscured in conventional English translation. Here is my rendering (using Dahood’s reconstruction of v. 5a for the moment):

“Then he drives away their ‘rams’ with his nostril(s flaring),
he frightens them (all) with his burning (anger)”

Verse 6 has proven even more problematic for commentators. As it stands, the Masoretic text reads:

“And I have placed [yT!k=s^n~] my king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of my holiness”

However, this has been frequently emended, based largely upon the reading of some Greek manuscripts, whereby it is the king speaking rather than God: “I have been placed (as) his king [Heb. oKl=m^ yT!k=S^n]?] upon ‚iyyon…”. Dahood (p. 10) repoints the MT to give a slightly different reading, along the same lines: “But I have been anointed [yT!k)s%n+] (as) his king upon ‚iyyon…”. According to this interpretation the waw (w+) at the beginning of the verse is contrastive: “Then he drives away their ‘rams’…but I have been set/anointed (as) his king…”. Following the traditional MT, the conjunction would indicate a dramatic climax to God’s action in v. 5: “Then he drives away…he frightens them…and (then says), ‘(See) I have placed my king upon ‚iyyon…”. If we keep to the understanding of the verb rbd in verse 5 as “speak”, then verse 6 represents what YHWH says to the rebels.

If it is God speaking in verse 6, then verse 7, in which the king is (again) clearly the speaker, suggests a dramatic dialogue, of sorts, within the Psalm. If the king is the speaker in verse 6, then v. 7 simply builds upon this scenario:

“But I have been placed (as) his king upon ‚iyyon,
upon (the) mountain of his holiness,
(and) I will recount the inscribed (decree) of YHWH
(in which) he said to me
‘You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!

Whichever is the precise scenario envisioned in vv. 6-7, all commentators can agree that vv. 7b-9, the remainder of the section, represents the “inscribed (decree)” [qj)] of Yahweh, in which God lays out His relationship with the Israelite/Judean king. God is the Ruler of All, enthroned in Heaven, and it is He, through His own written (inscribed/engraved) decree, who gives ruling power and authority to the king. This authority includes rule over the surrounding peoples and nations, extending even to “the ends of the earth”. It is this idea of the Israelite/Judean king’s authority over all the nations which influenced certain aspects of Messianic thought—i.e. the coming Davidic Ruler who will subdue the wicked nations and usher in God’s (end-time) Judgment against them. The influence of verses 7-9 can be seen both in the New Testament (Luke 3:22 v.l.; Acts 4:25-26ff; Heb 1:5; 5:5; Rev 2:27; 12:5), and in other Jewish writings of the period (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17:21-25; 2/4 Esdras 13:33ff). For more on the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2 (esp. verse 7) by early Christians, see Parts 6-8 and 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Here is my rendering of verses 7b-9:

“You (are) my Son—I have given birth to you th(is) day!
As (for it) from me, and I will give the nations (for) your inheritance,
and the ends of the earth (as land) seized for your (possession).
You will break them with a staff of iron,
(and) shatter them (to) pieces like vessel(s) shaped (from clay).”

Verses 10-12

A precise interpretation of these closing verses of the Psalm depend much on the textual question surrounding the last two words of v. 11 and the first two of v. 12. Because of the complexities involved, I have devoted a separate note to a discussion of the matter. Fortunately, a general interpretation is still possible, and, indeed, clear enough from the overall context. If the enthronement of the new king is the focus in vv. 4-9, here in verses 10-12 we have a warning to the surrounding nations, now that the king is on the throne. This time-indicator is present in the opening word of verse 10, hT*u^w+, which means something like “and (so) at (this) time”, i.e., “and now…”. I take the context of the warning which follows to be two-fold: (a) you missed your chance to rebel before the enthronement, (b) now that he is enthroned you must not dare to rebel against him. However one ultimately understands the first two words of verse 12 (customarily read as “kiss the son…”, cf. the supplemental note), there can be no doubt of the idea, central to the royal theology, that the Israelite king is under the protection of YHWH, and any action against the king is effectively taken against God Himself. Thus we have the forceful warning (and exhortation) for the surrounding nations, with their rulers, to submit to the rule of YHWH—who is ultimately the one on the throne (in Heaven). The closing line of the Psalm makes clear that the orientation of the work, as it has come down to us, transcends the original (historical) setting with its Israelite royal theology. Indeed, we find an echo of the beatitude that begins the first Psalm (cf. the earlier study):

“(The) happiness of all (the one)s trusting in Him!”

Thus, the second Psalm, despite the historical origins of its content, is not addressed merely to the rulers of the nations, but to the nations themselves—to all people everywhere. The one who serves as God’s representative on earth, among the people, is rightly called His “son”, being the heir to God’s own ruling power, with the privileges and protections that come from such a position. The central message of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is that divine representative, the Son of God, in the fullest possible sense, and all the ones who trust in him have the happiness and blessedness of knowing that they, too, share in that same status and position—of being children of God.

References above marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 16 (1965).