“Who Is This Son of Man…?”: Johannine Sayings (Jn 3:13-14, cont.)

John 3:13-14, continued

John 3:14

“And, even as Moshe lifted high [u&ywsen] the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the son of man to be lifted high [u(ywqh=nai]”

This “son of man” saying follows upon the one in verse 13 (discussed in the previous study). While it is possible that these sayings once circulated separately, they are clearly connected here, being integral—indeed, central—to the Johannine Discourse of Jesus in chap. 3 (3:1-21). In this case, the initial conjunction (kai/), connecting verse 14 with v. 13, would seem to have a coordinating (and explicative) force (i.e., “and so…”).

The bonding motif, uniting the two sayings, is the idea of ascent. In verse 13 (as in 1:51, cf. the earlier study) the verb used is a)nabai/nw (“step up”), while here in v. 14 it is u(yo/w (“lift/raise high”). Both verbs are important Johannine keywords, used throughout the Gospel, with special theological (and Christological) meaning. In verse 13, the “stepping up” of the son of man (Jesus) is anticipated, and this is expressed with greater clarity in v. 14.

We may isolate two component clauses to the saying, reflecting two distinct lines of tradition:

    • Phrase 1: An illustrative comparison from Scripture, viz., a particular Moses tradition (Numbers 21:4-9, vv. 8-9)
    • Phrase 2: A “son of man” saying rooted in the Gospel Tradition, comparable to the three Passion-prediction sayings by Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33 pars)

Before turning to the Moses-tradition, let us consider the resemblance of v. 14b to the Synoptic Passion-predictions—all of which utilize the expression “the son of man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou) as a self-reference by Jesus. The first prediction, in particular, bears a close formal resemblance:

    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to suffer many (thing)s…” (Mk 8:31)
    • “it is necessary [dei=] (for) the son of man to be lifted up high” (v. 14b)

In the Synoptic saying, the chain of infinitives covers the full range of Jesus’ Passion—suffering, death, and resurrection. By contrast, here in John, a single infinitive (of the verb u(yo/w) suffices. The parallel suggests that the verb corresponds similarly to the range of Jesus’ Passion (entailing both his death and resurrection), though it is his impending death that would seem to be primarily in view (cf. below).

The illustration of the bronze snake, set up by Moses on a ‘pole’ (Num 21:8f), certainly is suggestive (visually) of Jesus being placed upon a stake. Thus, it would seem that the primary reference is to Jesus’ crucifixion; the other occurrences of the verb u(yo/w (8:28; 12:32, 34) would tend to confirm this (see esp. the comment in 12:33).

However, the Hebrew word for the pole or staff, upon which the snake was set, is sn@, which specifically refers to a signal-flag or banner—viz., something placed up high (and waved) so that everyone can see it (and rally to it). This brings out additional associations for the symbolism. In the original Moses tradition, the snake served as signal-flag, so that, whenever a person was bitten by a snake, he/she could look to the elevated bronze snake, and thus be healed (lit. “live”). In verse 8, the verb ha*r* (“see”) is used, but in v. 9 it is the verb fb^n`, which can imply a more intense or careful looking (i.e., gazing at, contemplating).

Given the theological importance of the sight/seeing motif in the Gospel of John, it is no surprise that this aspect of the tradition is particularly brought out by the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker). This becomes clear from the expository application that follows in verse 15:

“…(so) that every(one) trusting in him should hold (the) life of the Ages [i.e. eternal life].”

In the Johannine theological idiom, seeing means trusting in Jesus (as the Son of God)—see, in particular, this correlation in the chapter 9 narrative (esp. vv. 35-41). Thus, everyone “seeing” the raised snake corresponds to everyone “trusting in” Jesus.

What significance, if any, is there to the use of the expression “the son of man” here in v. 14, beyond its use as a self-reference by Jesus? If we limit our analysis to the parallel with the Synoptic Passion-prediction (Mk 8:31 par, see above), then there would seem to be a specific association between the expression and the suffering (and death) of Jesus. This, in turn, represents a natural extension of the poetic use of the expression in the Old Testament Scriptures, in which the limitation and weakness of the human condition—including its mortality—tends to be emphasized. Jesus identifies himself with these aspects of the human condition.

However, if we turn to the prior occurrences of the expression in the Gospel of John (1:51; 3:13) there would seem to be a rather different orientation and point of emphasis. As we saw in our studies on each of these references [1:51 and 3:13], there are two key thematic motifs associated with the expression “the son of man”: (1) the heavenly origin of Jesus, and (2) the descent/ascent motif. The principal point in verse 13 is Jesus’ descent to earth from heaven; implicit in the saying is the expectation that, after his descent (stepping down) to earth, he will then ascend (stepping back up) to heaven.

It is in this regard that the verb u(yo/w (“lift up high”) can be understood as signifying something more than Jesus’ death on the cross. Indeed, while the Johannine understanding of Son’s exaltation may begin with his being ‘lifted up’ on the cross, it also includes his resurrection and ultimate return to the Father (in heaven). Jesus’ suffering and death begins a process of exaltation that reaches its climax with his return to heaven. We shall find this same Christological dynamic at work in the remaining “son of man” sayings as well.

Given the parallel between verse 14b and Mark 8:31 par (see above), it would be enough to explain Jesus’ use of the expression “the son of man” here on that basis. However, in light of the proximity to the saying in v. 13, we may fairly assume that the expression in verse 14 carries the same theological import as it does in v. 13 (and 1:51). In other words, Jesus’ identity as the “son of man” must be understood in terms of the distinctive Johannine theology. As we begin to expound this in the context of the descent/ascent motif, we can isolate two principal theological strands:

    • Descent: Jesus’ heavenly origin, and his incarnation on earth as a human being (“son of man”)
    • Ascent: A process of exaltation that begins with his death (i.e., suffering of the “son of man”), and culminates with his return to heaven.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The association with Moses in verse 14 raises an interesting (possible) point of interpretation for verse 13. Indeed, it is possible that the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) intends a specific comparison, between Jesus and Moses, in v. 13. Central to this theory is the idea of Moses’ ascension, as it is found in Jewish tradition. When Jesus declares that “no one has stepped up into heaven”, he may have the ascension of Moses specifically in mind. For traditions regarding an ascent by Moses, see Meeks, pp. 104ff, 110-111, 192-5, 235-6 (cf. Moloney, p. 56f).

Such a comparison is made more plausible by the thematic relationship, between Jesus and Moses, that runs through much of the Gospel. This begins in the Prologue (1:14-18, esp. vv. 17-18), where the comparative superiority of Jesus is established. These verses draw upon various Moses/Exodus traditions, particularly the theophany (YHWH’s revelation to Moses) in chapters 33-34—and especially the notice in 33:23 (cf. Deut 4:12ff). The wording in v. 18 of the Prologue resembles that of 3:13:

    • “no one has seen God at any time”
    • “no one has stepped up into heaven”

If the phrase in 1:18 alludes to Moses (Exod 33:23), then it is plausible that the similar phrase in 3:13 does so as well (particularly given the reference to Moses in v. 14).

References above marked “Meeks” are to Wayne A. Meeks, The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology (Brill: 1967).
Those marked “Moloney” are to Francis J. Moloney SDB, The Johannine Son of Man, Second Edition (Wipf and Stock: 1978/2007).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 103 (Part 1)

Psalm 103

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction: Vv. 1-5

Verse 1

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

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

The Hymn: Verses 6-18

First Stanza: Vv. 6-8
Verse 6

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

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

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

Verse 7

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

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

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

Second Stanza: Vv. 9-11
Verse 9

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

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

August 20: Psalm 78:52-55

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. 49-51; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:52-55

Verse 52

“And (thus) He made His people set out like the flock,
and He guided them like the herd in the outback.”

The Judgment-plagues on Egypt (cf. the previous notes on vv. 43-48 and vv. 49-51) led to the exodus of God’s people from Egypt. The verb us^n` (I) in line 1 denotes pulling up the pegs of a tent in order to take down the tent-structure, which is necessary to do before traveling; the verb is often used in the more general sense of setting out (on a journey, etc). The Hiphil stem indicates that YHWH caused this to happen.

The second line alludes, in a summary fashion, to YHWH’s guidance of His people, all throughout the years of journeying that followed the Exodus. The verb gh^n` (I, “lead, guide”) is typically used in the context of herding animals, sometimes in the sense of forcibly driving them on. The image of YHWH as a herder of His people occurs frequently in the Scriptures, most notably in the famous Psalm 23 (cf. the earlier study). The motif was used in the prior Psalm 77 (v. 20), where Moses and Aaron are specifically mentioned as the intermediaries by which God led/guided the people (like a flock).

This motif in the ancient Exodus tradition is expressed primarily by the first line of the famous couplet in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:13), where the verb hj*n` is used (see below).

Verse 53

“And He led them (on) to safety, and they did not fear;
indeed, (those) hostile to them the Sea covered over!”

The verb hj*n` in line 1 is more or less synonymous with gh^n` in v. 52b, having the comparably meaning “lead”; it is the verb used in Exod 15:13a, which has certainly influenced the wording here. The prepositional expression jf^b#l* indicates the goal and purpose (and result) of YHWH’s leading—it is to (l=) a place of safety (jf^B#). The root jfb, with the basic meaning of seeking/finding protection, occurs frequently in the Psalms, and often in the specific context of YHWH’s covenant-obligation to provide protection to those faithful/loyal to Him.

As the second line makes clear, the principal reference is to the event at the Reed Sea (Exod 14-15), particularly the dramatic moment (in the tradition) when the waters fell back down and covered the Egyptian soldiers, drowning them (14:28; 15:5ff). The statement that the Israelites “did not fear” does not quite square with the historical narrative (14:10ff); it is surely to be understood in the sense that they had no reason or cause to be afraid, since God Himself was protecting them (cf. Moses’ declaration in v. 13).

Verse 54

“And He brought them to (the) boundary of His holiness,
(the) mountain which His right hand acquired.”

The initial journey brought the people to mount Sinai (Exodus 19), understood (according to the Moses traditions, see esp. Exod 3) as the holy dwelling-place of YHWH. In ancient Semitic (Canaanite) religious tradition, any local mountain could serve as the ritual/symbolic manifestation of the Creator El’s cosmic mountain dwelling.

Of course, later Israelite/Judean tradition identified this location principally with the fortified hilltop site of the Jerusalem Temple (i.e., Zion). The reference to YHWH’s vd#q) alludes to this. The noun vd#q) can denote the abstract quality of “holiness”, but also the more concrete idea of something that is holy (spec. a holy place). The Song of the Sea (Exod 15) has the Israelite conquest and settlement of Canaan principally in view (vv. 13-17). There the Promised Land is referred to as the abode (hw#n`) of YHWH’s holiness (v. 13b), and, already in the ancient Song, the settlement of the Promised Land is closely tied to the symbolic mountain dwelling of YHWH (v. 17). The establishment of a Temple-shrine on Zion is seen as the culmination (and final goal) of the Exodus and settlement of the land. For this same idea in the Deuteronomic tradition, cf. Deut 12:9-11, and also the climactic statement in 1 Kings 8:53 (in the context of the consecration of the Temple).

Again, the wording in this couplet was almost certainly influenced by the Song of the Sea (esp. vv. 13, 17). Interestingly, however, in the Song, it was the people whom YHWH acquired (vb hn`q*) for His own (v. 16), not the mountain; the people were planted on the mountain. The reference to YHWH’s “right hand” alludes to the exercise of His power in enabling the Israelites to defeat their enemies and conquer/settle the land; cf. the context of Exod 15:16-17, and below on v. 55 of the Psalm.

As a side note, the noun lWbG+ (in the first line) means “border, boundary”, and so I have translated it above; however, doubtless the primary reference is to the idea of a mountain as a boundary-marker (cp. the cognate jabal/jebel in Arabic).

Verse 55

“And He drove out nations from (before) their face;
indeed, He made them fall in (the) line(s) of inheritance,
and caused to dwell in their tents
(the) staffs of Yisrael.”

The idea of “driving out” (vb vr^G`) the nations of Canaan from before the “face” of Israel is basic to the ancient tradition (cf. Exod 23:28-31; 33:2; 34:11; Josh 24:12; Judg 2:3; 6:9, etc). It is a general reference to the Israelite conquest and settlement of Canaan. As indicated in v. 54b (cf. above), it was YHWH’s power that caused the nations to “fall”, allowing Israel to defeat them. The expression hl*j&n~ lb#j# literally means “cord/rope of inheritance”, signifying the boundary (measured/marked out with a rope) of an inherited piece of land. The idea is that the nations were defeated within the boundaries of the land that Israel would inherit; there may also be an allusion to the idea that the measuring out of the territory necessarily involved the defeat of the nations who were being dispossessed.

Once the Canaanite peoples were “driven out”, the tribes of Israel would dwell in their abandoned tents. Here “tents” is a euphemism for the inhabited territory as a whole, referring to the land of Canaan as the territory of the twelve tribes (lit. “staffs,” i.e., staffs of tribal/confederate rule)—that is, the traditional territorial allotments, by which the land would be divided.

August 19: Psalm 78:49-51

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. 40-48; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:40-51 (cont.)

Verse 49-50a

“He sent (out) on them (the) burning of His anger—
an outburst even (of) indignation and distress,
a sending (out) of messengers of evil (thing)s—
(so) He leveled out a pathway for His anger!”

The Judgment-plagues on Egypt (cf. on vv. 43-48 in the previous note) are explained here as an expression of YHWH’s anger. This abstract meaning of [a^, reflecting the emotion of anger, was discussed in the earlier note on v. 21 (cf. also vv. 31, 38). The noun [a^, and the idea of YHWH sending out His anger, serves to frame these two couplets, and indicates that the customary verse-division here is incorrect; the first line of v. 50 belongs with v. 49, resulting in a fine symmetric pair of couplets. The “sending” (vb jl^v*) of YHWH’s anger, in a general sense, in the first line, is matched by the specific image of laying out a smooth/level pathway (i.e., for the anger to travel to Egypt).

The inner lines (2-3) follow this same contrast, between a more generic sense of YHWH’s expressions of anger (line 2), and the specific imagery of messengers being sent out on a mission (line 3)—the messengers understood as embodying the angry outbursts (and their effect), or as the means by which the anger is manifest (and the judgment carried out) among human beings. The underlying religious concept is the idea that evils experienced by humans are the result of actions taken by deities (in their anger). However, it is worth noting that in the narrative of the plagues on Egypt (Exod 7-12), there is no mention of a “messenger” (‘angel’) taking part, though an allusion to this is generally assumed in 12:23 with the expression “the (one) destroying”.

There is a sense of progression in the second line, which can be seen as parallel to the traveling of the messengers (in line 3). As YHWH’s anger begins to ‘burn’ (root hrj), the following results:

    • there is an outburst or boiling over (hr*b=u#) of the anger =>
      • an indignant rage (<u^z~) directed against the people =>
        • a time of intense distress (hr*x*) and suffering experienced by the people
Verse 50bc

“He did not hold back their soul from death,
but their life to the pestilence He closed up.”

This couplet alludes rather more clearly to the final plague on Egypt, involving the death of all the firstborn males (Exod 11 & 12). YHWH “closed up” (vb rg~s*) the people to death, implying the giving over of someone into prison, etc. Here, death is explained is being the result of “pestilence” (rb#D#, i.e., disease), though this is not clearly indicated in the Exodus narrative; indeed, the term rb#D# is only used (twice) in reference to the fifth and seventh plagues (9:3, 15). However, throughout the Old Testament, when God’s judgment on humankind leads to death, the spread of disease is often indicated (or implied). In the ancient world, disease was typically understood as the result of an angry deity’s act (of judgment).

Verse 51

“And (so) He struck all (the) firstborn in Egypt,
(the) foremost of their strength in (the) tents of Ham!”

In this concluding couplet, which brings the summary of the Egyptian plagues to a climax (cf. the previous note), a reference to the final plague (death of the firstborn) is at last made explicit. There is a slight difficulty in the second line, as to whether the correct reading is <n`oa (“their vigor”) or the plural form (<yn]oa) of the MT. The LXX (and other ancient versions) translate according to the former, which also tends to be confirmed by the parallel expression in Genesis 49:3, where “my vigor” (yn]oa) occurs. The noun /oa denotes physical strength, but often in the specific sense of vital creative (i.e., sexual) power; thus the translation “vigor” is a decent fit in English. The noun tyv!ar@ literally means “first”; it can indicate the first/foremost place or position, as well as to being first in time, and also can be understood qualitatively as the “best, finest,” etc. All of these aspects of meaning apply to the parallel with rokB= (“firstborn,” in a collective sense)

According to the ancient Israelite genealogies (and ethno-geographic tradition), Egypt (eponymous for the Egyptian people) was a descendant of Ham (Gen 10:6ff). Outside of the genealogies related to the Noachic tradition (including 1 Chron 1:4ff, also 4:40), Ham is mentioned in only three other passages; in all three instances (here and in Ps 105:23, 27; 106:22), the specific association is with the land of Egypt.

August 18: Psalm 78:40-48

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. 32-39; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:40-51

Verse 40

“(See) in what (manner) they defied Him in the outback,
(and) caused Him pain in (the) desolate land!”

As in verse 17 and 32, this next section opens with a reference to the people’s continued disobedience against YHWH, using the same verb (hr*m*) as in vv. 8 and 17. The verb denotes an act of disobedience or defiance; it can even carry the more forceful meaning of rebelling against a superior. The verb in the second line is bx^u* I, which in the causative stem means “cause pain” to someone; the pain can either be physical or emotional, in which case the specific connotation may be that of bringing sorrow or grief to another.

In vv. 15/17, the parallel was between the rB*d=m! (“place out back, outback”) and hY`x! (“dry/parched [land]”); here, it is between rB*d=m! and /omyv!y+ (“desolate [land]”). In each case the parallel terms describe the same geographic conditions, i.e., of a harsh desert wilderness. It is a summary reference, of course, to the years of Israel’s journeying (‘wandering’) through the Sinai peninsula, following the Exodus.

Verse 41

“Indeed, they turned back and tested (the) Mighty (One),
and (to the) Holy (One) of Yisrael they gave pain.”

In verse 34, the verb bWv (“turn back, return”) indicated a return to faithfulness by the people; however, this proved to be only temporary, and the people once again returned to faithlessness. This lack of faith/trust in YHWH is expressed by the idea of testing God; the verb hs*n` is used frequently in this context in the Old Testament historical narrative, but occurs only rarely in poetry (it is used elsewhere in the this Psalm, vv. 18, 56; cf. also 95:9; 106:14). For the key references in the historical tradition, cf. Exod 17:2, 7; Num 14:22; Deut 6:16; 33:8. The same verb can be used, in the more positive (and reverse) sense of God testing His people (Exod 16:4; 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16; cp. Psalm 26:2). The rare verb hw`T* (II), occurring only here in the Old Testament, seems to have a meaning comparable to bx^u* in v. 40 (i.e., “give/cause pain”).

On the title “Holy One of Israel” (2 Kings 9:22), which occurs frequently in the book of Isaiah, it also is used in Psalm 71:22; 89:18. For more on the substantive adjective “holy (one)” (vodq*) as Divine title, cf. the recent note on John 6:69.

Verses 42-43

“They did not remember (the power of) His hand,
(the) day when He ransomed them from (the) adversary,
when He set (forth) His signs in Egypt,
and His marvels in (the) plain(s) of ‚o’an.”

Trust in YHWH is secured by remembering (vb rk^z`) the things He has done for His people (vv. 35, 39), particularly with regard to the wonders He performed in freeing them from their servitude in Egypt (vb hd*P*, “ransom”, cp. the use of laG` in v. 35). Those Exodus traditions (narrated in chaps. 7-12) will themselves be ‘remembered’ in the verses that follow. A lack of faith/trust is only possible when the people forget (v. 11)—that is, fail to remember or keep in mind—the wondrous things (“signs” and “marvels”) done by YHWH (i.e., by the power of “His hand”).

On the parallelism of Egypt/Zoan, and the latter as a designation for the Nile Delta, cf. the prior note (on v. 12).

Verse 44

“(For) indeed, He turned their channels to blood,
so (that) their flowing (streams) none could drink.”

The couplet refers to the first ‘plague’ in Egypt (Exod 7:14-25); it emphasizes specifically that even the water of the canals (“channels, shafts”, <yr!a)y+) dug out from the Nile was turned to blood (v. 19).

Verse 45

“He sent (forth) among them a swarm (of flies),
and it ate them, and (also) frogs which ruined them.”

The syntax here fits awkwardly into the meter of the 3-beat (3+3) couplet; grammatically, a 4+2 couplet would be more appropriate. In any case, the verse is a summary reference to the third-fourth and second ‘plagues’ (Exod 8).

Verse 46

“And He gave (over) their produce to the consuming (hopper),
and their labor to the multiplying (locust).”

The terms lys!j* and hB#r=a^ presumably both refer to the locust, perhaps at different stages of its development (cf. 1 Kings 18:37; Joel 1:4; 2:25). However, in Ugaritic the distinction is between the grasshopper and the locust (cf. Dahood, II, p. 244). In any case, the reference here is to the eighth ‘plague’ (Exod 10:1-20).

Verse 47

“He killed (off) their vine(s) with the hail,
and their sycamores with the sleet.”

The first line refers to the seventh ‘plague’ (Exod 9:13-35); however, the second line is rather obscure in this context, particularly since the precise meaning of the noun lm^n`j& (occurring only here) is quite uncertain, though most commentators follow the ancient versions in translating it as “frost” or “sleet”.

Verse 48

“He also shut up their beast(s) to the hail,
and their possessions to the bolts.”

This couplet is parallel to that of v. 47 in referring to the plague of hail. The reference to “(fiery) bolts” (i.e., lightning bolts in the second line here suggests, based on the parallelism, that meaning of the obscure lm^n`j& in v. 47 should be comparable (“[fiery] sleet”?). The translation “possessions” is a literal rendering of hn#q=m! (plur.), referring to the people’s herds of livestock; it is parallel to “beasts” (collective) in the first line, a more general designation for herd animals.

The meter for each of vv. 46-48 is shortened (3+2 couplets).

The remainder of this section will be discussed in the next note.

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


August 16: Psalm 78:23-31

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. 17-22; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:17-31 (cont.)

Verse 23

“And (yet) He commanded (the) clouds from above,
and (the) doors of (the) heavens opened (up).”

This couplet follows the angry reaction by YHWH (v. 21) to the people’s faithless response regarding their predicament (i.e., lack of food to eat in the desert), vv. 19-20, 22. The initial w-conjunction could indicate that God’s opening of the heavens is an expression of His anger (“and so…”), or that He fulfilled the people’s request in spite of it (“and yet…”); the latter would seem to be a better fit.

The noun qj^v^, which almost always occurs in the plural, refers to clouds of dust or other fine particles; it could be rendered “vapors” here. The idiom “doors/gates [yt@l=D^] of the heavens” is a bit unusual; somewhat more common is the idea of windows in the heavens (cf. Gen 7:11), through which the rain comes down. Again, YHWH’s control over the waters is alluded to here, even though the motif of rain is figurative in this instance—as God ‘rains down’ bread and meat, instead of water, from heaven (v. 24; Exod 16:4).

Verse 24

“And He rained down upon them man(na) to eat,
even grain of (the) heavens He gave to them.”

This couplet essentially paraphrases Exod 16:4, and the following description in vv. 13ff. In Exodus, the expression is “bread [<j#l#] from the heavens”, while here it is “grain [/g`D*] of (the) heavens” (however <j#l# [‘bread”] is used in v. 25). The use of <j#l# is more in keeping with the tradition (Ps 105:40; Neh 9:15), followed in the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse by Jesus (Jn 6:31ff).

Verse 25

“Bread of (the) mighty (one)s did man eat—
He sent to them provision to (the) full!”

Since this bread came down from heaven, it has a heavenly nature and origin; the implication here is that it is food that the heavenly beings would eat. The plural substantive adjective <yr!yB!a^ is more or less synonymous with <yh!ýa$—both have the basic meaning “mighty ones”, and refer to Divine/heavenly beings. The singular ryb!a* is used as a Divine title for El-YHWH in Gen 49:24; Psalm 132:2, 5; Isa 1:24; 49:26; 60:16. In other passages, the plural adjective refers to powerful animals (bulls, oxen), or to human leaders/warriors by way of an animal-epithet. The idea that this heavenly food conveys life to Divine beings is certainly of significance for the use of the tradition in the Bread of Life Discourse (cf. above). This surely was a special privilege—for human beings to eat the food of the gods (or angels)!

Not surprisingly, the heavenly source of this food meant that it gave nourishment and provision (hd*yx@) in a way that was completely and fully satisfying (cf. below on v. 29).

Verse 26

“He made the front-wind set out in the heavens,
and drove forth (the) right-hand wind by His power.”

YHWH’s activity in causing the bread and meat to ‘rain down’ emphasizes still further His control over the skies and all related atmospheric phenomena (wind, etc). On the role of the wind in bringing forth the meat from heaven—i.e., driving the quail down to earth—see Num 11:31. The term <yd!q*, denoting a front or forward position, directionally refers to the east; thus the “front wind” is the east-wind. Similarly, the “right-hand” (/m*yT@) wind is the south-wind.

Dahood (II, p. 242, and elsewhere) notes that the wide semantic-range of the preposition B= includes “from”, especially in poetry where the archaic usage tends to follow that of the Canaanite (Ugaritic) poetic style. Thus <y]m*V*B^ could be translated “from the heavens”, as befits the context.

Verse 27

“And He rained down upon them meat like dust,
and feathered wing(s) like (the) seas’ whirling (sand)!”

The meat (“flesh,” ra@v=) that God “rained down” on the people was in the form of birds—spec. quail (according to Exod16:13ff; Num 11:31ff); here the visual image is of the flurry of feathers ([ou) and wings ([n`K*). A mass of birds comes down like a great dust-cloud, or like the swirling sands of the seashore; the motif of sand, in particular, is used to indicate a vast number (Gen 22:17, etc).

Metrically, this is a longer (4-beat, 4+4) couplet, prompted some commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 122) to emend the text for rhythmic consistency.

Verse 28

“And He made (it) fall in the midst of (the) camp-circle,
(and) surrounding (all) their dwellings.”

The visual image here is two-fold: (a) the birds fall within the bounds of the Israelite encampment (hn#j&m^), traditionally assumed to be in an arc or circle (derivation from the root hn`j*); and (b) within the camp they fall all around the individual tents. Thus the ground of the entire camp is practically covered with birds.

The meter of this couplet, too, is slightly irregular (3+2).

Verse 29

“And (so) they ate, and were filled up (full)y;
even their (very) desire He made come to them!”

On the satisfying abundance of the bread and meat that came down, cf. Exod 16:13ff; Num 11:32ff. The very abundance ultimately served as a kind of punishment for the faithlessness of the people, cf. Num 11:4, 19-20, 34.

Verse 30

“(Yet) they were not estranged from their desire,
(even while) their food (was) still in their mouths.”

From these lines, it is clear that the noun hw`a&T^ (“longing, desire”) has a negative connotation that goes beyond the natural longing for food; it alludes also to the pervasive faithlessness of the people. Moreover, the sense is of fleshly orientation that values satisfying one’s appetite, through greedy consumption, rather than obedience to God. On the basis for this idea in the tradition, cf. Num 11:33, where it is indicated that Divine judgment (in the form of disease/plague) struck the people while the meat was still in their mouth.

Verse 31

“And the anger of (the) Mightiest came up against them,
and He slew (many) of (their) fattest—
indeed, (the) choice (one)s of Yisrael He cut down!”

The motif of YHWH’s rising anger ([a^), introduced in v. 21 (cf. the previous note), is completed here; on the judgment that kills off (with disease) many of the people, cf. Num 11:33ff. Here, the emphasis on the people’s sinful craving continues, by identifying the slain as among the “fattest” ones—i.e., sturdiest and most vigorous. The implication is that chief among the slain are those most well-fed and with the largest appetite. Clearly, the tradition is being interpreted here from a moralistic standpoint, which is in keeping with the didactic purpose and wisdom-orientation of the Psalm.

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


August 15: Psalm 78:17-22

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. 9-16; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:17-31

Verse 17

“And (yet) they continued still to sin against Him,
to defy (the) Most High (there) in the dry land.”

The theme of the people’s faithless disobedience, betraying the covenant with YHWH, was introduced in verse 8, and then becomes a key refrain in each of the main sections of the Psalm, emphasizing a repeated and continual pattern of disobedience. This is particularly indicated by the combination of the verb [s^y` (“add [to something]”, often in the sense of “repeat, do again”) with the adverb dou (indicating a repetition or return to something).

The people’s lack of trust, and breaking of the covenant bond with YHWH, is expressed here through two different idioms: (1) sinning (vb af*j*) against YHWH, and (2) stubbornly defying (vb hr*m*) Him. The verb hr*m* can carry the more forceful (and dramatic) connotation of rebelling against someone, provoking an intense anger.

In verse 15, the locative noun rB*d=m! was used; it is typically translated “wilderness” or “desert”, but properly means something like “place out back” (i.e., “outback”). Here, the specific idea of a desert region is intended, through the use of hY`x! (“dry/parched [land]”).

Verse 18

“And they tested (the) Mighty (One) in their heart,
(so as) to request something to eat for their throat.”

This couplet, which expounds the statement in v. 17, refers in a comprehensive way to the various traditions regarding the people’s grumbling over the lack of food and water in the desert (e.g., Exod 16:3; Num 11:4; 20:3; 21:5). On the motif of the people “testing” (vb hs*n`) God in their heart, cf. Psalm 106:14; also 95:9; Deut 6:16; and the reference by Paul in 1 Cor 10:9. This “testing” reflects a lack of faith and trust in YHWH.

The noun vp#n# is difficult to translate in the second line. Usually rendered “soul”, which makes a fine parallel here with “heart”, it can sometimes refer to a person’s desire or appetite (i.e., longing of the soul). On other rare occasions (and always in poetry), vp#n# has the more concrete (and physiological) meaning of “throat”. Here the specific juxtaposition of “heart” (one’s inward intent and desire) and “throat” (i.e., the physical longing of the body for something to eat) seems most appropriate.

Verse 19

“And they spoke out
against (the) Mightiest and said:
‘Is the Mighty (One) able
to arrange a table-spread
(here) in the outback?'”

The meter and structure of this verse is irregular and uneven, prompting Kraus (p. 121) to recommend eliminating the initial two words; admittedly, this would instantly produce a proper 3-beat (3+3) couplet, consistent with the metrical pattern of the Psalm:

“And they said: ‘Is (the) Mighty (One) able
to arrange a table-spread in the outback?'”

However, this also eliminates the clever bit of wordplay that frames the verse, by which the Psalmist may be playing on the different meanings of the two rbd roots—one meaning “speak”, and the other denoting “be in back”. As noted above, the locative noun rB*d=m!, though typically translated “wilderness” (or “desert”), properly means something like “place out back”. I have tried to capture this wordplay in English: i.e., the people “spoke out” (against God) regarding their being “in the outback”.

Verse 20

“‘See, He did strike (the) rock,
and (the) waters flowed,
and torrents poured down;
but is He also able to give bread,
or provide meat for His people?'”

The people’s expression of faithless questioning continues here from v. 19. It indicates that they saw the dramatic scene of copious water-streams pouring out of the rock, and understood its significance (as a miraculous act by YHWH); yet they could still doubt whether God was also (<g~) able to provide bread and meat for them to eat.

Verse 21

“So then—
(when) YHWH heard this, He boiled over,
and fire blazed (up) against Ya’aqob,
yes, even His anger came up against Yisrael;”

Structurally, this verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, to which is added an initial beat for dramatic effect. YHWH’s initial reaction to hearing the people’s skeptical questioning was to “boil over” (or cross over, be overcome, vb rb^u*) with anger. This causes a “fire” to ignite and ‘blaze’ (vb qc^n`) within Him; the fire (va@) is specifically identified emotionally with His anger, rising up (vb hl*u*) against His people. The noun [a^ typically heightens this sort of anthropomorphic imagery, by including the concrete (and vivid) motif of a person’s nostrils burning or flaring (i.e., like the snorting of an angry bull). More abstractly, the sense can be of the burning of a person’s face (as a sign of his anger). Here, however, it is the specific emotion of anger, expressed by YHWH, that best reflects the meaning of [a^.

For the corresponding reference in the tradition to this reaction by YHWH, cf. Numbers 11:1ff, where it seems that a real (physical) fire breaks out in the camp—i.e., the internal fire (of YHWH’s anger) is expressed naturalistically through an actual, destructive fire.

Verse 22

“because they did not set (their heart) firmly on (the) Mightiest,
and did not put (their) trust in His saving (power)!”

The parallel verbs /m^a* (Hiphil stem) and jf^b* both express the idea of having faith/trust in someone. The latter specifically refers to seeking refuge or protection, and is used frequently in the Psalms (46 out of 120 OT occurrences). The former verb (/m^a*) in the Hiphil (causative) stem denotes making something firm, or causing it to stand firm, etc; it is often used in the more abstract religious-ethical sense of having faith or trust—indicating that one’s heart is firm.

The remainder of this section (vv. 23-31) will be discussed in the next note.

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

August 14: Psalm 78:9-16

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. For the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:9-16

Verse 9

“(The) sons of Eprayim, armed (and) shooting (the) bow,
turned about on (the) day of coming near (for battle).”

In the Prophetic oracles and writings, “Ephraim” serves as a designation for the Northern tribes (and the Northern kingdom) as a whole, Ephraim being the most prominent of the northern tribes; cf. especially the usage in Hosea and Isaiah (Hos 4:17; 5:3ff; 6:4; 7:1; Isa 7:2ff, 17; 9:9; 11:13; 17:3, etc). The focus in the Psalm thus is on the faithlessness of the Northern tribes; cf. the discussion in the introduction. This faithlessness is depicted here in military terms—of the turning about (vb Ep^h*, i.e. turning back) by soldiers in the time of battle. When they should have “come near” (root brq I) to fight, they ‘turned tail’ and ran away.

Dahood (II, p. 239), along with other commentators, is doubtless correct in discerning a bit of wordplay between the roots hmr I, i.e., “casting/shooting (with the bow)”, and hmr II (“deceive, act treacherously”). The Israelite soldiers who were supposed to shoot with the bow (in battle), instead were faithless and betrayed the cause. It is not at all clear that a particular historical incident is intended; the couplet may simply refer, in a roundabout way, to the treachery of the Northern tribes, and allude to their defeat/conquest.

Many commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 121) would view verse 9 as a secondary addition to the Psalm, in light of the way that it seems to disrupt the flow between vv. 8 and 10. On the other hand, it is possible that this opening reference to the Northern kingdom (Ephraim) is meant to balance the later reference in vv. 67ff, thus framing thematically the body of the Psalm.

Verse 10

“They did not guard the bond of (the) Mightiest,
and in His Instruction they refused to walk.”

On the theory that originally v. 10 followed v. 8 (cf. above), the couplet here refers to the faithless generation of the Exodus, which died out in the desert because of their rebelliousness and unwillingness to keep faith with YHWH. However, in the immediate context of v. 9, the primary focus is on the ‘treachery’ of the Northern kingdom by which they broke faith with God.

The noun tyr!B= denotes a binding agreement; it is typically translated “covenant”, and this is fine, but I think it preferable to preserve the fundamental meaning of the word in translation—here “bond” is a poetic shorthand for “binding agreement”. The “Instruction” (hr*oT) refers, as is typical, to the regulations and commands of the Torah (esp. the “Ten Words”), which represent the terms of the binding agreement between YHWH and His people. The people of Israel are obligated to fulfill these terms, otherwise they are in violation of the agreement. By not “walking” in the Instruction, they do not guard (vb rm^v*, i.e., keep) the covenant. This is traditional religious-ethical language, used throughout the Old Testament, and is found regularly in the Psalms; it also reflects the strong Wisdom-component that is present in many Psalms.

Verse 11

“And they forgot His dealings (with them),
and His wonders that He caused them to see.”

The root llu (I) generally denotes the way that one person deals with another; here the plural noun refers to YHWH’s dealings with His people (and on their behalf). In particular, the reference is to the “wonderful (thing)s” (verbal noun, from al^P*), i.e., “wonders”, that He did for them; the principal point of reference, as the following verses make clear, is to the miracle-traditions surrounding the Exodus. The only way that the people could abandon the covenant with YHWH is if they completely “forgot about” the miraculous things He had done for them in the past.

Verse 12

“In front of their fathers He did wonder(s),
in (the) land of Egypt, (the) plain(s) of ‚o’an.”

The people of Israel saw these wonders, performed by YHWH right “in front of” (dg#n#) of them. The miracles of the Exodus period are meant, as the geographic reference in the second line makes clear. The Hebrew /u^x) (‚œ±an) is a transliteration of the Egyptian place-name Dja±net, referring to the district of Tanis (in the Nile Delta), capital of 21st-22nd Dynasties. In the Israelite Kingdom period (11th-8th centuries), the Nile Delta region would have been referred to, generally, this way. In earlier times (of the Exodus and prior centuries), the capital city in the region would have been Avaris (Tell ed-Dab±a) or Pi-Rameses (Qantir, probably). The Israelite ancestors who migrated to Egypt (along with many other Semitic migrants) dwelt and worked in the Delta, being heavily concentrated there; Old Testament tradition identifies the original settlement region as the “land of Goshen” (Gen 45:18, etc), i.e., the fertile area around the Wadi ˆumilât.

Verse 13

“He split the Sea and made them cross over,
and He made stand (the) waters as a pile.”

While YHWH performed many wonders in Egypt, in connection with the Exodus (as narrated in Exod 7-12), the foremost of these was the event at the Sea of Reeds (chaps. 14-15), when YHWH “split apart” (vb uq^B) the waters (14:16, 21), causing them to pile up on either side (as if behind a dam). The rare noun dn@ is almost always used in this context—i.e., for the piling up of dammed waters (Exod 15:8; Josh 3:13, 16; Psalm 33:7).

Verse 14

“And He (also) led them by the cloud (in the) daytime,
and all (through) the night by (the) light of fire.”

This is an obvious reference to the tradition in Exod 13:21f; 14:19, 24; 33:9-10; Num 14:14; Neh 9:12, 19, etc. The “wonders” performed by YHWH at the time of the Exodus include the guidance and protection given to the people during their journeys.

Verse 15

“He split apart (the) rock in the outback,
and let (them) drink abundantly (from the) depths.”

This is a reference to the famous episode narrated in Numbers 20:1-13. The fact that a singular rock (or rocky crag, ul^s#) is always mentioned, would tend to support the observation by Dahood (II, p. 240) that MT <yr!x% here represents another example of the familiar scribal confusion between a singular noun + enclitic <– suffix and a plural form. I also follow Dahood, generally, in treating the preformative –K (of MT tomh)t=K!) as having emphatic force. In agreement with other commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 119; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 285), it seems best to understand the adjective hB*r^ (“many, much, abundant”) in an adverbial sense (i.e., “abundantly).

Verse 16

“Indeed, He brought out flowing (water)s from (the) cleft,
and made waters come down like the river-streams.”

This verse, the closing couplet of the section, builds upon the previous description in v. 15, further emphasizing (and dramatizing) the abundant water that YHWH wondrously brought forth out of the rock. This poetic emphasis probably alludes to the idea of YHWH’s control over the waters, a cosmological theme brought out in a number of Psalms; see, for example, in the prior Psalm 77 (vv. 16-20), discussed in a recent study. Cf. also my earlier article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

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).

August 2: John 6:63 (2)

John 6:63, continued

This set of notes is examining the saying of Jesus in John 6:63, from a Christological standpoint—that is, in terms of the Johannine Christology, as expressed (primarily) in the Gospel. This Christological aspect is largely established by the immediate context of the verse—particularly, the words of Jesus in vv. 61-62. However, in order to understand the significance of the Son of Man saying in v. 62, we must first examine the earlier parallel in 3:13. Here again I give vv. 12-15 in translation (cf. the previous note):

“If I told you (about) the (thing)s on earth, and you do not trust, how (then), if should tell you (about) the (thing)s above (the) heavens, will you trust? (For) indeed, no one has stepped up into heaven, if not the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven—the Son of Man. And, just as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e., eternal life].”

There are several points of emphasis here that are clearly relevant to the context of 6:62f, and form distinct parallels in terms of the Johannine theology and mode of expression. Let us consider each of these.

1. Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man. Throughout the Gospel Tradition, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), or identifies himself with that expression. In a number of the Son of Man sayings, the expression designates a heavenly figure, who functions as God’s chosen representative (in an eschatological setting), drawing upon a line of (Jewish) tradition based on Daniel 7:13-14. For more on this background, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” and the supplemental study on Dan 7:13-14 in relation to the Son of Man sayings. In other sayings, Jesus uses the expression in reference to his suffering and death. Both of these aspects are present in the Johannine sayings, including here in 3:13ff.

2. The use of a)nabai/nw/katabai/nw, in connection with the Son of Man figure. The Gospel of John regularly uses the common verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”, i.e. come/go up) and katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e. come/go down) in a distinctive theological (and Christological) sense. The verb a)nabai/nw refers (or alludes) to the incarnation and mission of the Son—his “stepping down” to earth; similarly, the verb katabai/nw refers to the completion of his mission, and to his exaltation (“stepping up”) and return to the Father. Both verbs occur in the first Johannine Son of Man saying (1:51), and also here in 3:13ff. From a Christological standpoint, both verbs signify the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Divine/eternal Son, sent to earth by God the Father. The use of the expression “Son of Man” conveys this aspect in traditional (eschatological and Messianic) language (cf. above).

3. Association with Moses traditions—fulfillment of the Moses figure-type. The context of 3:13 and 6:62, in each case, entails the application of ancient Moses-traditions to the person of Jesus. In 3:13ff, it is the ‘bronze serpent’ tradition (Num 21:9), while 6:62 (in its literary setting) is connected with the manna tradition(s) (Exod 16; Num 11:7-9; Deut 8:3ff), by way of the phrase “bread out of heaven” (6:31ff; Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Neh 9:15, 20). In each instance, the traditional motif and symbolism is applied to the person (and work) of Jesus, as the fulfillment of a type. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is associated, in a comparative way, with Moses (3:14; 6:32), indicating how he, as the true fulfillment of the figure-type, far surpasses Moses himself—cf. 1:17; 5:45-46; 7:19ff; 9:28-29. There are numerous other allusions, developing this same theme (comparing Jesus with Moses and/or the Torah); beyond this, the very conception of Jesus as the Messiah, in the Gospel of John, seems to be centered (primarily) on the Messianic Prophet figure-types (including Moses as “the Prophet” who is to come)—1:21, 25; 4:25ff; 6:14; 7:40; cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

4. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Tradition has the ultimate purpose of producing trust in him (leading to eternal life). This is clearly stated in 3:15 (continuing in vv. 16ff), and is equally prominent in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47f, 51ff, 57-58), leading up to vv. 62-63 (cf. also v. 68).

With these important parallels in mind, let us turn to 6:62. We must keep in view the immediate context; in response to Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), some of his disciples declared: “This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?” (v. 60). The adjective sklhro/$ is typically translated “hard”, but fundamentally means “dry” (vb ske/llw, “be[come] dry”). The basic connotation is of the harshness of dry ground, etc; here, in the context of the Moses/Exodus traditions (cf. above), it almost certainly alludes to Israel’s experience during the desert/wilderness journey, when the people grumbled (for lack of food and water, etc). Indeed, this allusion would seem to be confirmed by the use of the verb goggu/zw (“murmur, mutter,” often in the sense of complaining, i.e., “grumble”); cf. LXX Exod 16:7; Num 11:1; 14:27, etc:

“And Yeshua, having seen [i.e. known] (with)in himself that his learners [i.e. disciples] were muttering [goggu/zousin] about this, said to them: ‘Does this trip you up?'” (v. 61)

The verb skandali/zw is a bit difficult to translate in English; it essentially refers to a person falling into a trap (or snare, ska/ndalon), with the verb skandali/zw denoting the cause of falling. It is typically used in a generalized and figurative sense for anything that can ‘trip up’ a person. In the New Testament, it occurs almost exclusively (26 of 29 occurrences) in the Gospel sayings/teaching of Jesus—in the Gospel of John, only here and in 16:1; for use outside of the Gospels, see 1 Cor 8:13; 2 Cor 11:29.

What is it that “trips up” (skandali/zei) the disciples? In the literary context (of the Bread of Life Discourse), it can only be Jesus’ teaching identifying himself with the “bread from heaven” (cf. the discussion in the previous note). Two aspects of this identification would have been particularly problematic: (1) the implication that Jesus has come down (vb katabai/nw) from heaven, and thus has a heavenly origin; and (2) that, as the true bread, it is necessary for a person to eat Jesus. On the latter point, Jesus clearly, in the Discourse, explains this in terms of trusting in him; even so, it would have been difficult for people at the time to have understood this application of the idiom. Even more provocative is the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58, which further elaborates the problematic idea of eating Jesus (as bread) in terms of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. When viewed from the standpoint of the original historical context—i.e., teaching Jesus would have given to his disciples and others at the time (see v. 59)—this would have made no immediate sense whatsoever. The thought of consuming a person’s flesh and blood would, indeed, have struck many in the audience as harsh (and offensive).

One can certainly sympathize with the disciples’ response. Jesus’ own response, in turn, is seemingly ambiguous and enigmatic:

“(And) if, then, you should observe the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first…?” (v. 62)

This curious question will be examined in the next daily note.

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous study), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

“Therefore, holding such (a) hope, we use much outspokenness [parr¢sía]…” (v. 12)

The word parr¢sía indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (kálumma) over his face. The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God. However, this is not at all clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34); indeed, it seems to be Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). After he had communicated God’s word and will to the people, then he donned the covering, wearing it until the next time he encountered YHWH in the Tent of Meeting.

In 2 Cor 3:13, Paul essentially repeats what he said in verse 8, though here the language is more difficult, since he is effectively summarizing the entire line of argument from vv. 7-11 in a single verse:

“…and not according to (the way) that Moses set a covering upon his face, toward the sons of Israel (so that they) not stretch (to see) [i.e. gaze] into the end/completion of the (thing) being made inactive…”

For the verb katargéœ (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous study on vv. 7-11. The word télos (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [télos] of the Law”); Paul typically means it in the sense of the termination of a period of time, or of the state of things at the end of such a period. Elsewhere, it is clear that the Law (Torah) of the old covenant is only binding and in force until the coming of Christ (see especially the illustrations in Galatians 3-4 and in Romans 7:1-6).

The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. It is in this light that Paul makes use of the veil motif from Exodus 34. His usage here would imply that Moses wore the covering so that the people would not see the reflected glory fade from his face. That glory was temporary; it shone on Moses’ face after his meeting with YHWH in the Tent, and then would fade, until the next encounter. This detail is not stated specifically in the narrative, but Paul seems to interpret the passage with it in mind.

Clearly, Paul gives to the Scriptural tradition a uniquely Christian interpretation, which is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole. Even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”. Paul uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

In verse 17, Paul adds a third aspect to the word kýrios (“Lord”):

“And the Lord is the Spirit; and (the place) in which the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (that is) freedom”

Here we reach the climax of Paul’s argument, with two central points of emphasis: (1) the Spirit (pneúma), which is the Spirit of God (and Christ), and (2) freedom (eleuthería). With regard to the last point, in Galatians Paul speaks of “freedom” specifically in terms of freedom from the Law (Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13), while in Romans the emphasis is primarily on freedom from the power of sin (Rom 6:7-23; 8:2, 21), though this too is related to freedom from the Law (Rom 7:1-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, sin is not part of the discussion, but the Law is—the contrast between the old covenant, with its written (tablets of the) Law, and the new covenant makes it likely that freedom from the Law is to be affirmed here as well.

And yet, it is also clear that something more is meant: a freedom that is centered on the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul can identify the Spirit with either God (the Father) or Jesus Christ; generally, the emphasis is on the latter—the Spirit represents Christ and communicates his presence (and power) to believers, both individually and collectively. Just as believers are “in Christ”, so we live and walk “in the Spirit”; and, as Christ is in us, so the Spirit is in us. The presence of the Spirit means freedom—the same freedom that we have in Christ (Gal 2:4).

It has been somewhat puzzling to commentators just why Paul chooses to compare himself (and other apostles) with Israel as he does in 2 Cor 3:1-18. One may further ask why he breaks off from the main line of argument (at v. 6a) to embark on the discourse in vv. 7-18? Neither the Spirit-vs-letter dualism nor the pointed contrast between the old and new covenant appears to have been necessary for his discussion regarding the nature of the apostolic ministry. Why, then, does he step so boldly in that direction, beginning at v. 6b-7?

One theory is that his opponents were Jewish Christian “Judaizers”, as in Galatians (see also Phil 3:2ff). This would perhaps be supported by the context of 2 Cor 10-13 (see esp. 11:22ff). If there were influential “apostles” working at Corinth who stressed the importance of continuing to observe the old covenant, then the application of Exod 34:29-35 in 2 Cor 3:7ff is especially appropriate. In Jewish tradition, the “glory” (dóxa) associated with Moses and the Sinai covenant does not fade, but continues (forever)—see, for example, 2/4 Esdras 9:37; Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3. Paul declares quite the opposite, in the sense that, with the coming of the new covenant (and its overwhelmingly greater glory), the old covenant has ceased to be active or effective any longer; on the use of the verb katargéœ to express this, see above.

However, there may be another reason for the illustration contrasting the old and new covenants; it has to do with an emphasis on external criteria which Paul seems to associate with his opponents, especially in chapters 10-13. Note how he begins the long polemical discussion in 10:7 with a reference to looking at things “according to the face” (katà prósœpon), i.e. according to outward appearance. Throughout, Paul feels compelled to compare himself with certain “extra important” (hyperlían, “over-abundant”) apostles, though it clearly makes him uncomfortable to do so (10:12ff; 12:11, etc). He emphasizes various missionary labors (10:1211:15, 27-29), physical hardships (11:23-33, also 6:4-10), special visionary experiences (12:1-7), miracles (“signs of an apostle”, 12:12), skill in speaking and writing (10:9-11; 11:6), but also his own natural ethnic-cultural and religious pedigree (11:22ff).

From all of this, we may infer that there were “apostles” at work among the Corinthians who could make claim to some of these sorts of things, and who may well have denigrated Paul’s own credentials and abilities. The reference in 3:1-6 to letters of introduction/commendation could indicate that these were itinerant or visiting missionaries (or dignitaries) who possessed (and/or relied upon) such letters to establish their external credentials as well. While Paul does engage in some rhetorical/polemical “competition” and comparison of credentials, it is important to note two key qualifying arguments he introduces in chapter 10 at the start:

    • that Paul and his associates (as true apostles) do not live and act “according to the flesh” (katà sárka), vv. 2-3—this expression is sometimes used specifically in the sense of sin and immorality, but here, more properly, it refers to a worldly manner of acting and thinking, worldly standards, etc., and, as such, is parallel with “according to the face” (katà prósœpon) in v. 7.
    • that his true “boasting” (as an apostle) resides in what God has given to him for the proclamation of the Gospel, vv. 8, 12ff; in this regard, note also the discussion in 12:7-10.

The connection between chapters 10-13 and 1-7, 8-9 remains much debated; however, this analysis may help to elucidate the force of Paul’s argument in 3:7-18. The old covenant was manifest in external form—written on tablets of stone, along with a visible aura of light which could be covered up by a veil—while the new covenant is internal and invisible (see also 4:16-18). The new covenant is written in the heart and its glory comes from within. For more on this aspect of the passage, you may wish to consult the recent series of exegetical notes on 2 Corinthians 3, as part of the study series “Spiritualism in the New Testament”. The notes are designed, in part, to elucidate the nature and extent of Paul’s spiritualism.

The Spirit operates from within, giving to believers freedom and the power to live according to God’s will; it is also the source of the apostles’ authority and boldness. That the new covenant does not depend on external criteria is confirmed by the famous conclusion in 3:18. One might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…”

The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

The primary purpose of these studies was to examine the context of Paul’s famous declaration in verse 18. It is not possible here to expound the verse itself. I have done this recently, as part of the aforementioned set of exegetical notes. For a detailed exegesis of v. 18, please consult these notes.

Next week, we will round out this study of the context of verse 18 with an examination of what follows, in 4:1-6ff.