Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 71 (Part 3)

Psalm 71, continued

Part 2: Verses 14-24 (cont.)

Here is a reminder of the thematic outline of Part 2:

    • Vv. 14-16: Announcement of the Psalmist’s praise of YHWH
    • Vv. 17-21: Description of YHWH’s faithfulness to the Psalmist, with an expression of trust that God will deliver him
    • Vv. 22-24: Concluding declaration of praise to YHWH

For a discussion of verses 14-16, see the previous study.

Verse 17

“Mightiest, you have taught me from my youth,
and until now I have presented your wondrous (deed)s.”

In verses 14-16 (the opening lines of the second division), the Psalmist announces his praise of YHWH, in expectation that God will answer his plea for help. As in vv. 5-9ff, the protagonist affirms his lifelong devotion to YHWH, from his earliest youth (vv. 5-8) until his old age in the present (vv. 9ff). Here in verse 17, the focus is on his youth; the Psalmist’s faithfulness is shown both by the way that he has received God’s instruction (“you have taught [vb dm^l*] me”), and has extended this instruction to others. The latter aspect is described in terms of the Psalmist presenting to people (lit. putting in front of them [vb dg~n`]) an account of the “wonderful (deed)s” performed by YHWH. This verbal noun (al*P* Niphal participle) emphasizes action—i.e., wonderful things done by God. Such things include saving the righteous from their hostile adversaries. For the Psalmist, a presentation of YHWH’s wonders naturally takes the form of a poetic and musical composition.

Verse 18

“And (so) even until (my) old age and white (hair),
may you not abandon me, Mightiest,
until I should present your arm to (the) circle,
(and) your might to every (one who) shall come.”

As in vv. 9ff (cf. above), the focus turns to the Psalmist’s old age, which includes both the present and the years to come. The noun hn`q=z] indicates old age more generally, while hb*yc@ expresses the same through the vivid allusion to a person’s gray (or white) hair. It is in a person’s old age that one might naturally feel that God has abandoned him/her, as one is more prone to physical ailments and suffering, as well as being vulnerable to exploitation and attack from the wicked.

The second couplet follows the second line of v. 17, emphasizing how the Psalmist intends to continue putting an account of YHWH’s mighty deeds in front of people (again the verb dg~n` is used). God’s deeds are described here through a pair of singular nouns—u^orz+ (“arm”) and h*rWbG+ (“strength, might”)—i.e., things done by YHWH’s strong (and outstretched) arm (cf. Exod 15:16 for this ancient poetic idiom).

The noun roD is typically translated “generation”, but has the more fundamental meaning of “a circle”, i.e., a circle of people present in a particular time and place. Dahood (II, p. 175) would explain roD here as a specific reference to the public assembly (of the righteous), the congregation in which the Psalmist declares his praise of YHWH. However, the final line would seem to allude to the idea of a group of people alive at a particular time (i.e., ‘generation’).

Verse 19

“And your righteousness, Mightiest, (is) unto (the) height(s),
(the) great (thing)s which you have done,
(O) Mightiest—who is like you?”

The great deeds of YHWH also reflect His hq*d*x=. This noun has the basic meaning of “rightness”, usually translated “righteousness”; however, in the context of the covenant, it also can connote faithfulness and loyalty, much like the noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”). YHWH’s righteousness (and loyalty) extends to the “high place(s)” (<orm*), which is another way of referring to it specifically as a Divine (and eternal) characteristic. Throughout the Psalms, YHWH’s covenantal protection of the righteous is regularly expressed through the image of secure location situated on a high place.

Verse 20

“Though you made us see (time)s of distress,
(thing)s great and evil (for us),
you return (and) restore our life;
and (so,) from (the) depths of the earth,
you shall return (and) bring me up!”

I treat verse 20 as consisting of a pair of 3+2 couplets, with an additional line in the first couplet (for dramatic effect) producing a 3+2+2 tricolon. The written MT (kethib) has first person plural suffixes on the verbs in the tricolon (i.e., “made us see…”) , but are marked as to be read (qere) as first person singular (i.e., “made me see…”). The singular suffix is probably to be preferred, as being more consistent with the context of v. 20 as a whole; however, the plural is arguably the more difficult reading, and should perhaps be preferred on that basis. The communal worship setting, alluded to in this part of the Psalm, may have influenced a scribal/redactional modification to the plural. On the other hand, the “mighty deeds” of YHWH, declared by the Psalmist, certainly would have included the many things done for Israel throughout the people’s history, thus making a communal reference appropriate in context.

Just as YHWH has rescued His people (the righteous/faithful ones) in times past, so He will also do for the Psalmist now in the present. This is the expectation of the protagonist—viz., that God will answer his prayer and deliver him from his adversaries. The reference to the “depths of the earth” alludes to a life-threatening situation—i.e., that the Psalmist faces the danger of death—though this language could also be used to describe the suffering and danger faced by a person more generally.

Verse 21

“You shall increase my greatness,
you shall surround and comfort me.”

Verse 21 is a rather curious (and short) 2-beat couplet. The idea of God increasing the Psalmist’s “greatness” may relate to the idea that his opponents’ attacks are of an accusatory and slanderous nature (cf. vv. 7, 10-11, 13)—that is, an attack on the protagonist’s reputation. In any case, it is not simply a matter of YHWH rescuing the Psalmist from danger, but of truly restoring him (and his reputation) in a public manner. Once restored, the protagonist will be further surrounded (vb bb^s*) by YHWH’s protection. The root <jn has the basic meaning of “breathing deep(ly)”, often in the sense of a sympathetic reaction to a person’s situation; here it probably has the more general meaning of coming close to a person, watching carefully over his/her condition, so as to bring help, comfort, or encouragement. For poetic concision (in a short 2-beat line), I have translated the verb <j^n` conventionally as “(give) comfort”. The imperfect verb tenses, as a continuation of the Psalmist’s plea/prayer to YHWH, have jussive force.

Dahood (II, p. 177) would vocalize ytldg as yt!l*d*G+, identifying it with Ugaritic gdlt, referring to a (female) head of large cattle. The expectation then is that YHWH will increase the Psalmist’s herd(s), specifically to allow for an increase in the sacrificial offerings that he will be able to present to God. The communal worship context, in this instance, assumes a Temple setting (v. 16).

Verse 22

“(Then) indeed I will throw you (praise) with string-instrument(s),
(praise for) your firmness, My Mightiest,
I will sing to you with (the) plucking (of the) harp,
(O) Holy (One) of Yisrael.”

In the concluding verses 22-24, the Psalmist again declares his intention to praise YHWH with music and song. Loosely, verse 22 consists of a pair of 3+2 couplets, though the poetic syntax is a bit awkward and uneven, and difficult to render literally into English. Overall, however, the meaning is clear and straightforward, as also is the parallelism of the couplets. In the first line of each, the Psalmist says that he will sing praise to God on a stringed-instrument—first, quite literally, on a “instrument of skin [i.e., gut/string]”, and second on a ‘harp’ the strings of which one “plucks”.

God is praised specifically for his “firmness” (tm#a#), meaning, principally, His faithfulness (and truthfulness/trustworthiness) to the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. The covenant also informs the use of the Divine title “Holy One [vodq*] of Israel”.

Verse 23

“My lips shall ring out, indeed, (when) I sing to you,
and (also) my soul, which you redeemed.”

The Psalmist will give full-voiced praise to YHWH; indeed, his lips will “ring out” (vb /n~r*), i.e., with a resounding cry. Such praise will come forth from deep within his soul, from the life which God has (or will have) ransomed (vb hd*P*) out of death and danger. Perhaps also the more concrete meaning of vp#n#, as “throat” (rather than “soul”), is intended here; this would make a fitting parallel with “lips” and would add to the idea of giving full-voiced (i.e., full-throated) praise to God.

Verse 24a

“Indeed, my tongue all the day (long)
shall utter (word of) your righteousness.”

This short couplet continues (and concludes) the Psalmist’s declaration of praise to YHWH. From the specific idea of (full-voiced) singing, in public, the sense shifts to a quieter scene of the protagonist muttering/murmuring (vb hg`h*) praise of God’s righteousness (hq*d*x=, cf. above) all throughout the day, even when by himself in private moments. For the righteous ones, such as the Psalmist, praise of God is a continuous and ongoing activity that is not limited to public times of communal worship.

Verse 24b

“(Oh,) that they may be put to shame,
that they may be humiliated,
(those) seeking evil for me!”

As in the First Part of the Psalm (cf. verse 13), the Second Part concludes with an imprecatory (curse) wish by the Psalmist for his wicked adversaries. He asks (God) that they be put to shame (vb voB) and humiliated (vb rp@j*), very much the same sentiments expressed in v. 13. Both parts end with the same words, referring to the Psalmist’s enemies by the expression “(those) seeking my evil [i.e. evil/harm for me]” (yt!u*r* yv@q=b^m!).

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 71 (Part 2)

Psalm 71, continued

Part 1: Verses 1-13 (cont.)

For a discussion of verses 1-8, see the previous study.

Verses 9

“Do not cast me (away) in (the) time of (my) old age;
at (the) ending of my strength, do not leave me!”

In vv. 5-8, the Psalmist refers to how he has been faithful to YHWH since the time of his youth; now he calls on God to remain faithful to him in his old age (hn`q=z]). The three-beat couplet has a chiastic structure:

    • Do not cast me away [vb El^v*]
      • in the time of (my) old age
      • at the ending of my strength
    • do not leave/forsake me [vb bz~u*]
Verses 10-11

“For (those) hostile to me say (things) about me,
and (those) watching my soul, they plan as one,
‘(The) Mightiest has left him,
let us pursue and seize him,
for there is no (one) rescuing him!'”

The tone of lament from the opening verses returns here; the Psalmist laments his current suffering, and calls upon YHWH to rescue him from his hostile adversaries. These wicked people are characterized here by two substantive verbal nouns:

    • by~a*— “(the one)s being hostile to me” [yb~!y+oa]
    • rm^v*— “(the one)s watching my soul” [yv!p=n~ yr@m=v)], that is, with evil/hostile intent

Dahood (II, p. 174) explains the verb rm^a* in line 1 as preserving the archaic meaning “see, watch” (as attested in Ugaritic), rather that the common meaning “say”. While this is possible, it would distort the close synonymous parallelism of the couplet:

    • “the ones hostile to me | speak…”
    • “those watching my soul | plan…(saying)”

Verse 10 is an irregular 4-beat couplet; verse 11 is a 3+2+2 tricolon, though it is perhaps better to separate out the initial word (as I have done above [some commentators would omit it]), and to read the verse as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. The terseness of this rhythm reflects the harshness and directness of the opponents’ plotting. They seek to take advantage of the fact that the protagonist, in his old age and suffering, would seem to have lost God’s protection. They can pursue (vb [d^r*) and seize (vb cp^T*) him, because there is no one (else) around to “snatch” (vb lx^n`) him (i.e., rescue him) out of their grasp; the latter verb is used frequently in the Psalms to express the protection and deliverance YHWH provides to those who are (and remain) faithful to him. The opponents think that the Psalmist is no longer under this covenantal protection, but he makes his plea to YHWH on just this basis—that he has remained loyal to God throughout his whole life.

Verse 12

“Mightiest, do not be far away from me!
My Mighty (One), hurry to (give) me help!”

The Psalmist’s plea is expressed here, with a double-address to YHWH; probably the initial <yh!l)a$ should be seen as a substitution for the divine name YHWH (hwhy), such as occurs throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms. The negative “do not be far (away) [vb qj^r*]” is parallel with the positive “hurry [vb vWj]”, i.e., come near to give help. In the translation above, I treat yt!r*z+u#l= as a verbal noun (“to [give] me help”), but it might be more accurately rendered as “to (be) my help” —i.e., YHWH Himself is the Psalmist’s help.

Verse 13

“They shall be ashamed, finished,
(the one)s accusing my soul,
shall be wrapped (in) shame and disgrace,
(those) seeking my evil [i.e. harm]”

As it stands, v. 13 is a 2-beat couplet followed by a 3+2 couplet; however, one suspects that a word may be missing from the first line, and that originally there was a pair of 3+2 couplets. In any case, the thought of the verse is clear enough, as is the parallelism of the couplets. Again the wicked are characterized by a pair of substantive verbal nouns:

    • /f^c*— “(the one)s accusing my soul” [yv!p=n~ yn@f=c)]
    • vq^B*— “(the one)s seeking my evil [i.e. harm]” [yt!u*r* yv@q=b^m=]

The imperfect verb forms in lines 1 and 3 (“they shall be…”) have jussive force, and could be translated as an imprecation: “let them be…!” Imprecatory (curse) wishes are frequent in the Psalms, however uncomfortable they may be for us (as Christians) reading them today.

Part 2: Verses 14-24

Verse 14

“But I, continually I will wait, (for you),
and will add (further) upon your praise!”

The Psalmist’s expression of trust here mirrors that in the opening of Part 1 (cf. on verse 1 in the previous study). In spite of his suffering, and the hostile attacks of his opponents, the protagonist continues to trust in YHWH. The verb used here is lj^y`, meaning “wait (for someone/something),” often with a connotation of hopeful expectation. The aspect of continuity is expressed in the first line with the adverb dym!T* (denoting extension); in the second line, the verb ps^y` (“add [to]”) can similarly have the adverbial meaning “continue to do (something)”. The focus of praise is, of course, appropriate as an expression of trust for a musician-composer like the Psalmist.

Verse 15

“My mouth shall recount your righteousness,
all the day (long), your saving (deeds),
though I cannot know (the) count (of them).”

Verse 15 builds upon the thought in v. 14, with a slightly irregular 3-beat tricolon. The final two lines expound the first, while the framing (first and third) lines involve a bit of wordplay on the meaning of the root rps (“count, number”). In line 1, the verb rp^s* (in the Piel) means “give account of” or “recount”, in the sense of declaring something, telling of it (e.g., in poem and song). However, the plural noun torp)s= in line 3 refers more concretely to the count or number of something—best understood in terms of the saving deeds performed by YHWH, represented in line 2 by the [collective] singular noun hu*WvT= (“salvation”). I follow Dahood (II, p. 174) in understanding the yK! particle in line 3 as having concessive force (i.e., “even though…”). The ironic sense of the wordplay is: the Psalmist will recount the saving deeds of YHWH, even though he is not able to count the sheer number of them.

Verse 16

“I shall come with (your) mighty (deed)s, my Lord [YHWH],
I shall cause your righteousness to be remembered, yours alone.”

The exposition of the Psalmist’s praise continues here, with the declaration “I shall come” (vb aoB). The following prepositional expression, torb%g=B!, is somewhat ambiguous. If, as I propose, the singular noun hu*WvT= (“salvation”) in v. 15 (cf. above) refers collectively to the “saving deeds” performed by YHWH, then the plural torB%g+ would simply mean the “mighty (deed)s” of YHWH. The Psalmist comes “with” (B=) tales in hand (in poem and song) of these mighty deeds. Plausibly, the scenario is of the protagonist entering the sacred place of assembly (Temple precincts, etc) with praise of these deeds, ready to declare them publicly. Dahood (II, p. 175) would understand the noun hr*WbG+ as referring to the “mighty (house)” (i.e., the Temple) of God, noting the Semitic (Canaanite) tendency of using plural forms for the names of buildings.

There is a certain chiastic structure to verses 15-16, taken together:

    • “I shall recount your righteousness
      • (I shall announce) all day your saving (deeds)
      • I shall come with (praise of your) mighty deeds
    • I shall make (people) remember your righteousness

*    *    *    *    *    *

It is possible to view verse 17 as marking the start of a distinct unit within Part 2 of the Psalm. The reference to the youth and old age of the Psalmist (vv. 17-18) certainly parallels the theme of units vv. 5-8 and 9-13 of Part 1 (cf. above). Thematically, I would divide Part 2 as follows:

    • Vv. 14-16: Announcement of the Psalmist’s praise of YHWH
    • Vv. 17-21: Description of YHWH’s faithfulness to the Psalmist, with an expression of trust that God will deliver him
    • Vv. 22-24: Concluding declaration of praise to YHWH

Verses 17-24 will be discussed in next week’s study.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 4)

Psalm 69, continued

Part 3: Verses 31-37 [30-36]

Verses 31 [30]

“(Then) I will praise (the) name of (the) Mightiest with song,
and ascribe greatness to Him with thanksgiving.”

The focus shifts from lament and prayer to praise in this final part of the Psalm, a pattern that can be found in many of the Psalms we have studied thus far. The implication is that the Psalmist expects YHWH to answer his prayer, and promises to give praise to Him—formally and publicly. In some Psalms, this is framed specifically in terms of a vow.

On the significance of the name of God in ancient Near Eastern thought, cf. the discussion in my earlier series “And you shall call His Name…” The name embodies the essence of the person; thus, to praise the name of YHWH is essentially the same as praising Him. As is appropriate for a musician-composer, praise and thanksgiving takes musical form (a “song” [ryv!]).

The meter in this opening couplet is 3+2, which marks a shift from the 3-beat (3+3) meter that dominates the Psalm.

Verse 32 [31]

“Indeed this will be good to YHWH more than an ox,
or a bull having horns and having split hooves.”

This is a strange couplet, in terms of the poetry, though the meaning is clear enough. The principle, that praise to YHWH (from the righteous) is more important than fulfilling the ritual sacrificial offerings, can be found in a number of Psalms (e.g., 40:6; 50:8-15, 23; 51:16-19). Such offerings (<ym!l*v= offerings) would be made to YHWH in response to God answering the protagonist’s prayer, and delivering him from his distress. Praise and worship takes the place of the sacrificial ritual.

The prefixed /m! preposition (-m) in the first line is an example of the comparative /m!, which requires, in context, a translation like “more than” instead of the literal “from”. The rather banal description in the second line may be intended to emphasize the relative uselessness of sacrificial offerings. There is also a bit of wordplay in the first line that is lost in translation, between rov (šôr, “ox”) and ryv! (šîr, “song”) in v. 31 (cf. above).

Here in this couplet the meter returns to 3+3 (from 3+2 in v. 31).

Verse 33 [32]

“See, (you) oppressed (one)s,
be glad, (you) seekers of (the) Mightiest,
and let there be life for your heart!”

This verse is best treated as a 2-beat tricolon, though the meter is slightly irregular (properly, 2+3+2). The rhythmic shift fits the sudden shift in focus, as the Psalmist calls on the righteous, characterized as “(those) seeking [vb vr^D*] the Mightiest” (i.e., “seekers of God”), that they might find encouragement in the way that YHWH answers his prayer and delivers him in his time of distress. Typically, the righteous are characterized as “oppressed” (adjective wn`u*), as in v. 30 (yn]u*). This way of referring to the righteous is common in the Psalms, where the suffering of the righteous (at the hands of the wicked) is a frequent theme.

With many commentators (e.g., Dahood, II, p. 165) I read the verbs in lines 1-2 as plural imperatives; the imperfect verb form in line 3 correspondingly has jussive force.

Verse 34 [33]

“For YHWH is listening to (His) needy (one)s,
and (those) bound to Him He does not despise.”

The adjectival noun /oyb=a# (“needy”) is another term that is characteristic of the righteous, forming a regular parallel with yn`u* (“oppressed”)—cf. 9:19; 12:6; 35:10; 37:14; 40:18, etc. The participle u^m@v) (“hearing, listening [to]”) denotes the regular (and characteristic) activity of YHWH: He hears the prayer of the righteous ones who are faithful/loyal to Him. This covenantal emphasis, so frequent in the Psalms, is indicated here in the second line, where the root rsa (“bind”) is best understood as referring to the covenant-bond. Admittedly, rsa often is used in reference to prisoners who are bound, but here the idea of a binding obligation is to be preferred. Cf. the note by Dahood, II, p. 165f.

The 3-beat couplet pattern is maintained here, but only loosely so.

Verse 35 [34]

“Let (the) heavens and the earth praise Him,
(the) seas, and everything teeming in them!”

From his exhortation to the righteous, the Psalmist now calls on all of creation to give praise to YHWH. Such an idea is not uncommon in the Psalm, though typically the call to the earth refers specifically to all people and nations on earth, e.g., 66:1ff; 96:1ff. Conceivably, the teeming waters could be meant as an allusion to the nations; however, the basic sentiment, that every living creature should praise God, is expressed clearly enough in the climactic lines of Pss 145 and 150.

The invocation of “heaven and earth” is more in keeping with the ancient covenant treaty-form, and especially the so-called ‘covenant lawsuit’, when judgment needs to be made regarding violations of the covenant—cf. 50:4; Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1; Isa 1:2. Here, the context is quite different, even though the covenant-bond with YHWH is clearly in view (cf. above on v. 34).

Verses 36 [35]

“For (the) Mightiest is keeping ‚iyyôn safe,
and He will build (the) cities of Yehudah,
and they shall settle there, even (those) dispossessed (from) her,”

The dual-thought expressed in the first two lines—that of God keeping Zion (Jerusalem) safe and (re)building the (other) cities of Judah—suggests the historical circumstances of Hezekiah’s reign, in the aftermath of Sennacherib’s invasion. However, the setting could just as easily be that of the exilic (or the post-exilic) period. In any case, the ‘Zion theology’ found here in vv. 36-37 can be seen, similarly expressed, in other Psalms—most notably, in 51:20 [18] and 102:14-23 [13-22], and overall in 4648 and 97-100. The timeframe of this theology has been associated with the final composition/redaction of the book of Isaiah; cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 176, 183.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 166), though without necessarily following his re-vocalization of the MT, in reading the verb vr^y` (“take possession, possess”) in the specific (privative) sense of being dispossessed—that is, of the people having been expelled/exiled from the land. With the rebuilding of the Judean cities (presumably after the exile), the people will be able to return and settle (vb bv^y`) there again.

Verse 37 [36]

“and (so the) seed of His servants will inherit her,
and (the one)s loving His name shall dwell in her.”

Both conceptually and syntactically, these lines continue the thought from v. 36. The faithful ones of God’s people (“His servants”), those loyal to Him (“loving His name”), will once again inherit the land (of Judah) and dwell in the cities. Jerusalem (Zion) with the Temple-sanctuary of YHWH will be the center of this restored Judean kingdom. That this will be fulfilled by the “seed” of the faithful ones, suggests that a relatively long process of restoration is involved, one that spans more than a single generation. At the same time, the focus on the “seed” of the people can imply an inheritance and settlement that will last far into the future.

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).


March 7: Psalm 68:5-7

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

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

Verse 5 [4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 6 [5]

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

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

Verse 7 [6]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 67

Psalm 67

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 1-2, 4-8 [1, 3-7])

This short Psalm has a simple and appealing structure. A central hymn in verses 3-6 [2-5] is framed by a prayer-lyric at the opening (v. 2 [1]) and closing (vv. 7-8 [6-7]) of the Psalm. The closing lyric is similar, in a number of respects, to the opening, and thus functions in the manner of repeated refrain. The core hymn shares certain ideas and features in common with the prior Psalms 65 and 66. Most notably, the theme of the nations coming to praise the God of Israel, acknowledging His greatness and power, was prominent in Ps 65 (cf. the previous study).

Like the previous two Psalms (cf. also Pss 30, 45-46, 48), this Psalm is designated both a musical composition (romz+m!) and a “song” (ryv!). As I have noted, since virtually every Psalm could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear precisely what (if anything) is distinctive in the use of the term ryv!. It has been suggested that it refers to a Psalm that was specifically sung in a ritual worship setting (in the Temple); if so, then the characterization of such Psalms as a religious hymns would be appropriate. This Psalm is also directed to be performed on stringed instruments (tonyg]n+), as also in the headings of Pss 4, 6, 54-55, 61 (and 76).

Psalm 67 also has the distinction of being one of the Psalms most completely preserved in the Qumran scrolls. This is due to the brevity of the Psalm, and the happy coincidence that the bulk of it is contained within the surviving fragments of 4QPsa.

Metrically, the Psalm follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with only a couple of exceptions (noted below).

Verse 2 [1]

“Mightiest, show favor to us and bless us,
make your face to shine (and) come upon us!”

The opening verse is a prayer-couplet, introducing the hymn proper, calling upon God (YHWH) to bless His people—i.e., the Psalmist and the other righteous/faithful ones of Israel. Four verbs are used, two in each line, three jussives along with one (precative) perfect form (cp. on verses 7-8 below):

    • Line 1:
      (a) /n~j* (“show favor”); (b) Er^B* (“bless”)
    • Line 2:
      (a) roa (Hiphil, “make shine); (b) ht*a* (“come”)

I follow Dahood (II, p. 127) in reading wnta as Wnt*a* (“come [upon] us”), rather than MT WnT*a! (“with/to us”). As indicated above, it would then be understood as a perfect form of the verb ht*a* (“come”), cf. Job 3:25; it is read as a precative perfect, to match the three prior jussive forms. The shining of God’s face is parallel to the idea of “showing favor”, while God blessing His people is explained in terms of His presence (and nearness), “coming” upon them.

The use of the term <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, i.e. ‘God’) in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH), marks this as another ‘Elohist’ Psalm.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“For (the) knowing in all (the) earth your path,
(and) in all (the) nations your saving help,
may the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

These two matching couplets, which open the hymn proper, can be viewed grammatically as a single statement. The first couplet (v. 3) describes the nations of the earth coming to know (vb ud^y`) and recognize YHWH, both in terms of His “way” (Er#D#) and the saving help (hu*Wvy+) that He gives to His people. Here the word Er#D# (lit. indicating a trodden path) should be understood in the sense of God’s dominion over the earth. The setting of the foot (of the ruler) on his territory marks it as belonging to him, and under his ruling authority. For the theme of the nations witnessing the great deeds done by YHWH on behalf of His people (Israel), cf. the previous studies on Pss 65 and 66.

The second couplet (v. 4) twice calls upon all the peoples (<yM!u^) to give (lit. throw/cast, hd*y`) praise to YHWH. In the context of the first couplet, it is clear that this praise is in response to a recognition of YHWH’s sovereign power over the world, and of the mighty acts of salvation performed by Him (such as the great Exodus event at the Reed Sea, cf. Ps 66:6).

Verse 5 [4]

“May they be glad and cry (for joy), (the) nations,
for you judge (the) peoples (in) a level (place),
and (the) nations, you shall lead them in(to) the land.”

This verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, thus departing slightly (for dramatic effect) from the metrical pattern. Even in translation, the chiasm of the verse is rather obvious:

    • May…the nations [<yM!a%l=]
      • you judge the peoples [<yM!a^]
    • and the nations [<yM!a%l=]…

It is possible to parse the chiasm even more finely (cf. Dahood, II, p. 128):

    • May be glad and cry (out)
      (the) nations
      • for you shall judge /
      • (the) peoples (in) straightness
    • and (the) nations
      you shall lead into the land

The plural <yM!a%l= is more or less synonymous with <yM!u^ (“peoples”); however, to preserve the distinction here in v. 5 I have rendered the former as “nations” (like <y]oG in v. 3). A more literal translation might be “communities” or “assemblies” (i.e., assembled peoples).

There is likely a bit of wordplay at work in the second and third lines. The noun rovm! can be translated “straightness” (i.e., fairness, with justice), but it literally denotes a “level place”; thus, it could refer to the place where the judgment occurs, where the nations are gathered together—in other words, a depiction of the afterlife (or eschatological) judgment.

In the third line, the juxtaposition of Jr#a*B* (“in the earth/land”) with the verb hj*n` (“lead, guide”) can be understood two ways. First, the idea could be that YHWH, exercising His sovereign control over the world, will guide all of the nations on the earth, in a general way. Alternately, following upon the motif of the great Judgment (cf. above), the specific sense could be that God will lead the nations (the righteous ones) into the ‘land of the living,’ —that is, into the blessed/heavenly afterlife, along with the righteous of Israel.

Verse 6 [5]

“May the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

Verse 6 repeats the couplet in v. 4 (cf. above), like a recurring refrain to the hymn.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“May the land give (forth) her produce,
may (the) Mightiest, our Mighty (One), bless us!
May (the) Mightiest bless us,
and may they fear Him,
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

Verse 7 essentially matches verse 2, thus forming a frame for the hymn in vv. 3-6. It is a prayer asking YHWH to bless His people (and their land). The idea of material blessing, of output/produce (lWby+) from the land (Jr#a#), certainly is in mind (cp. 65:10-14, with the focus on God providing rain from heaven to make fertile the land). However, the possibility that Jr#a# in verse 5 was alluding to the blessed afterlife (i.e., the ‘land of the living’), could mean that the fertility of the land here should be understood in a similar sense.

In verse 8, a two-beat (2+2+2) tricolon is added to the couplet in v. 7, as a coda that brings the Psalm to a close. The two key themes of the Psalm are brought together: (1) a prayer for God’s blessing (line 1), and (2) the idea that the other nations would come to revere YHWH (as the one true God) along with Israel (lines 2-3). The meaning of Jr#a#, as I have translated it, shifts from the “land” (v. 7) to the cosmic/universal sense of “(the) earth” at the end of v. 8.

It is worth noting that, in the first line of v. 8, the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa has “May they [i.e. the nations] bless you, Mightiest,” rather than MT “May the Mightiest bless us.” The entire closing verse then would refer to the theme in the hymn (vv. 3-6), of the nations coming to worship YHWH:

“May they bless you, Mightiest,
and may they fear you [?],
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

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 66 (Part 2)

Psalm 66, continued

The first part of this Psalm (vv. 1-12, discussed in the previous study) is a hymn to YHWH, in three stanzas, in which the Psalmist calls upon all people to worship and give praise to God. The emphasis is on the mighty deeds of YHWH, done on behalf of His people—particularly the Exodus event at the Reed Sea (specifically alluded to in stanzas 2 and 3).

The second part (vv. 13-20) is very different. It is divided into two sections, or stanzas; here, again, the Selah [hl*s#] pause-marker is an indicator of the poetic structure. The focus is now on a individual worshiper (note the shift to 1st person singular at v. 13). The first section describes a ritual scene, in which a devout worshiper presents a sacrificial offering (in the Temple) in order to fulfill a vow made to YHWH. The association between praise and fulfilling a vow is found with some frequency in the Psalms, and the ritual fulfillment can be expressed through the very sort of praise which the Psalmist has composed. This featured prominently at the beginning of Psalm 65 (cf. the earlier study).

The ritual setting fades from view in the second section, and the focus is, instead, on offering praise to God. The two aspects—sacrifice and praise—both relate to the idea that YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer—a theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms, which often are framed within the context of prayer to God for deliverance, etc.

As in the first part of the Psalm, the meter tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, which is to be assumed (unless otherwise noted) in the analysis below.

Part 2: VERSES 13-20

Stanza 1: Verses 13-15
Verse 13

“I will go in(to) your house with (offering)s brought up,
(indeed,) I will fulfill to you (all) my vows—”

The setting is clear enough, as outlined above. A devout worshiper declares his/her intention to present sacrificial offerings to YHWH in the Temple (the house of God, “your house”). The noun hl*u), which literally signifies something (or someone) “going up”, usually refers to a (whole) burnt offering. The etymology may relate to the idea of making the offering “go up” (with smoke) to God as it is burnt in the altar-fire, or, possibly, to the more general concept of “bringing up” the offering to the altar (traditionally located at a high/elevated place). Regardless of the word’s etymology, the latter concept seems to be in view here—viz., focusing on the worshiper bringing the offering to God.

The offerings clearly are meant to fulfill (vb <l^v*) a vow (rd#n#) to YHWH. The idea is that a vow was made to God, to the effect that, if He answered the prayer, bringing deliverance in time of trouble, then the person would do such and such. As noted above, the theme of fulfilling a vow is relatively frequent in the Psalms (cf. the prior study on Ps 65, v. 2 [1]); often the vow is fulfilled through giving praise to God and proclaiming his greatness publicly to others (as in the second section, vv. 16-20, cf. below).

The plurals are intensive, as well as iterative; they describe the regular behavior of the righteous (who fulfill their vows), and also emphasize the generosity and lavish worship that the devout and faithful ones offer to God.

Verse 14

“that which my lips opened,
and my mouth spoke,
in the (time of) distress for me.”

Verse 14 follows conceptually (and, to some extent, syntactically) verse 13, continuing the line of thought; it could have been included with the prior verse. The six beats could certainly be treated as a 3-beat (3+3) couplet; however, I feel the poetic rhythm of a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon is more proper here. In the time of the Psalmist’s “distress” (rx^), he made a vow to God, that, if YHWH answered his prayer, and delivered him from his trouble, he would bring offerings to the Temple. The vow (rd#n#) designates, quite literally, a “consecrated” action. The Torah regulations regarding vow-offerings are found in Lev 7:16ff; 22:18-22; Num 15:3ff; 29:39; an entire tractate of the Mishnah (Nedarim) was devoted to the subject of vows.

The noun rx^ literally denotes something “tight” or “narrow”, as in the English idiom “in a tight spot,” or “to be in a bind”. Many Psalms are framed as a prayer to YHWH for deliverance from suffering or distress, danger and attacks from enemies, etc.

Verse 15

“(Offering)s of fatlings I will offer up to you,
with (the) rising smoke of rams—
I will offer up bull(s) with goats.”

Here the noun hl*u) (and the related verb hl^u*) seems to have in view the aspect of making the smoke (of the burnt offering) “go up” to God; the parallel noun tr#f)q= specifically denotes the rising of the fragrant smoke. The offerings of fat/plump animals (fatlings), of rams, bulls, and goats, taken collectively, are certainly lavish, and are here comprehensive in describing the kinds of offerings brought forward by the righteous. The generosity of the worshiper is also being described.

Metrically, this verse is an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon.

Stanza 2: Verses 16-20
Verse 16

“Come (and) hear, and I will recount,
(to) all you fearing (the) Mightiest,
that which He has done for my soul.”

The second section returns to the thematic setting of the earlier hymn (vv. 1-12), calling on people to hear of the great deeds of YHWH, and so to give Him the worship and praise that He deserves. In the hymn, the focus was upon what God has done for the Israelite people as whole; here, it is on the individual righteous one (the Psalmist)—that is, what God has done for him (“for my soul”). YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, delivering him in his time of distress. Every one who fears God, utilizing the adjective ar@y` (“fearing”) as a substantive adjective characterizing the righteous—i.e., “(the one)s fearing” God—will respond with praise to the Psalmist’s report (“I will recount [vb rp^s*]…”).

This initial verse is, taken loosely in its meter, a 3-beat tricolon.

Verse 17

“Unto Him (with) my mouth I called (out),
and sounds (of praise were) under my tongue.”

Here, the Psalmist describes his own praise that he gives to YHWH. This praise should be understood as parallel to the sacrificial offerings in section 1—both are offered up to God, as fulfillment of vow, following an answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. For a musician-composer, of course, an offering in music and song is particularly appropriate.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 124) in reading <mr as a plural form (= <ym!or), related to Ugaritic rm (“sound [of music]”). Probably, <mr here is meant as a parallel to the ritual offerings “brought/sent up” in section 1 (vv. 13-15); the root <wr has a comparable denotation “rise/raise (up)”, and can, in a context of religious worship, can refer to exalting/praising God.

Verse 18

“If I had looked (for) trouble with my heart,
my Lord would not have heard (me).”

The context makes clear that God has answered the Psalmist’s prayer. This is an indication of the faithfulness and loyalty of the Psalmist. There may be a dual-meaning to the language in line 1 (involving the verb ha*r* and the preposition B=):

    • “If I had seen trouble in my heart”
      i.e., if there were any wicked or mischievous tendency visible or present in his heart
    • “If I had looked (for) trouble with my heart”
      i.e., if he had carried a wicked intent, meaning that his apparent righteousness would have been a sham

The noun /w#a* fundamentally means “trouble”, often as a characteristic of the wicked—i.e., one who is out to cause/make trouble. There is no such wicked tendency or intent in the heart of the Psalmist, which is a sign that he is faithful/righteous, and so YHWH answers his prayer; if it were otherwise, God would not “hear” him when he prays.

Verse 19

“(But) surely (the) Mightiest has heard me,
He has been attentive to (the) voice of my prayer.”

This verse simply confirms what was implied in v. 18, and what was already confirmed by the context here in the Psalm—namely, the YHWH has heard (and answered) the Psalmist’s prayer. The noun hL*p!T= is a common Hebrew term denoting a prayer or petition made to God; it is relatively common in the Psalms, with nearly half of the Old Testament occurrences (32 of 77) found there.

Verse 20

“Blessed (be the) Mightiest,
who has not turned away my prayer,
nor His goodness (away) from me!”

The meter of this verse is irregular, as a 2+3+2 tricolon, to match the 3+2+3 tricolon in v. 15 at the end of the first sections; such irregular tricola more commonly occur at the close of a poem (or stanza). Because God has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, that means He has not “turned (away)” (vb rWs) from it. The noun ds#j# in the third line means “goodness” (or “kindness”); however, as I have mentioned repeatedly in these studies, it often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, in relation to a covenant bond, such as between YHWH and His people. When YHWH answers the prayer of His loyal servant, providing protection and deliverance, He is fulfilling His covenant obligation, and is thus demonstrating faithfulness/loyalty to the bond. By not turning away the Psalmist’s prayer, God has not turned away that covenant-loyalty; indeed, YHWH is ever faithful to the binding agreement, and so is worthy of blessing and praise.

Dahood (II, p. 125) offers a different reading of the final word ytam (MT yT!a!m@, “from me”), vocalizing it yT!a@m!, as a verbal form denominative of ha*m@ (“hundred”), and thus meaning “do (something) a hundred times”. The final line would then read something like: “and (so) I declare His goodness a hundred times!” Cp. Psalm 22:26 [25], where Dahood finds the same denominative verb, in a similar context.

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 66 (Part 1)

Psalm 66

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1: VERSES 1-12

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

Stanza 1: Verses 1-4
Verse 1

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

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

Stanza 2: Verses 5-7

Verse 5

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

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

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

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

Verse 6

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

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

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

Verse 7

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

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

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

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

Stanza 3: Verses 8-12

Verse 8

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

Verse 12

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 57

Psalm 57

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This Psalm is another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics, similar to a number of the Psalms we have studied recently (cf. the previous study on Ps 56). In this instance, the hl*s# (Selah) pause markers seem to provide an indication of the structure of the composition: two stanzas (vv. 5-7, 8-12) preceded by an opening prayer (vv. 2-4). However, the meter could suggest a different structural division, with a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format dominating in vv. 2-6 and 11-12, and a 3+2 meter in vv. 7-10.

Psalms 56-60 are each designated as a <T*k=m! (miktam), a term whose meaning remains uncertain (cf. the previous study, as well as the earlier study on Psalm 16). One characteristic of these mitkams is that they seem to be poems without music (words only), which are then sung to an existing melody. This may be compared, for example, with the many Psalms designated as a romz+m! (mizmor), which are musical compositions (words and music). This particular miktam is sung to the melody “Do not destroy” (or “May you not destroy”), tj@v=T^-la^, apparently the name of a well-known lament. The miktams of Psalm 58 and 59 are sung to the same melody. The phrase itself probably is an allusion to Deuteronomy 9:26.

The superscription marks it as another Psalm “belonging to David”, associating its composition with the David tradition(s) narrated in 1 Samuel 22:1ff and 24:1ff.

VERSES 2-4 [1-3]

Verse 2 [1]

“Show me favor, Mightiest, show me favor,
for in you does my soul seek refuge,
and in (the) shade of your wings I take refuge,
until (the) falling (calamity) passes over (me).”

These opening couplets show that we are dealing with another prayer-Psalm, with lament characteristics. The Psalmist prays to YHWH (Elohim, “Mightiest”) for protection and deliverance from a “calamity” (hW`h^) that threatens him. This is best understood here in the concrete sense of the root hwh, referring to something falling (down). YHWH provides protection for the righteous from this ‘downfall’, using both the motif of shade/shadow (lx@, i.e. protection from heat, etc) and the protective wings of a bird (on this aspect of the ‘wings’ of YHWH, cf. Deut 32:11; Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4, etc). The similar imagery in Psalm 91 suggests that the “calamity” here could refer to disease or plague. The plural toWh^ is perhaps best understood as an intensive plural.

Here the verb used (twice) for seeking/finding protection is hs*j*; elsewhere in the Psalms, the more common verb used to express this idea is jf^B*.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“I will call to (the) Mightiest, (the) Highest,
to (the) Mighty (One) completing (the bond) over me;
(the) <Mightiest> will send (help) from heaven,
and will save me (from the) scorn of (those) panting after me!”

The tone of prayer (a direct plea) in the first two couplets (of v. 2 [1]), shifts to a dramatic description, depicting the Psalmist’s prayer and anticipating YHWH’s answer. Verse 3 [2] describes the prayer, as the Psalmist “calls” (vb ar*q*) to God. The use of the title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “[the] Mightiest [One],” i.e. ‘God’) is typical of the Elohist Psalms; almost certainly, it replaces the Divine name YHWH (originally in the Psalm) throughout. Retaining the Divine name here would yield much better poetry:

“I will call (out) to YHWH (the) Highest,
to (the) Mighty (One)…”

The participle rm@G), used as a descriptive title of YHWH, must be understood in the context of the covenant. The verb rm^G` fundamentally denotes finishing or completing something; here it is roughly synonymous with the more common root <lv, referring to the completion/fulfillment of one’s covenant obligations, which, in turn, completes the covenant bond. YHWH completes His covenant obligation over (lu^) the righteous by providing protection in time of need.

This covenant loyalty (an important theme in the Psalms) means that the Psalmist can be confident that YHWH will answer his plea, and will provide salvation (vb uv^y`) for him. In v. 2 [1] the specific nature of the “calamity” facing the Psalmist was unclear; I had mentioned how the parallel in Ps 91 suggested disease or plague, but here in v. 4 [3] we are clearly dealing with the familiar motif of attacks by the wicked. The verb [r^j* has a relatively wide range of meaning, but the primary idea is of throwing blame (or scorn, reproach, etc) on a person; slanderous accusations and insults are characteristic of the wicked in the Psalms. The verb [a^v* means “pant (after),” and evokes the image of a ravenous animal chasing after its prey; it was used, in a similar context, in Psalm 56:2-3 [1-2].

In any case, verse 4 [3] describes YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. In order to maintain a consistent 3-beat (3+3) meter, I have emended the first line of v. 4, adding another <yh!l)a$, though there is no real textual support for this. Along these lines, it may well be that the final line of v. 4 in the MT (following the Selah-marker) is essentially a duplication of the first line (possibly an explanatory gloss) that could be omitted; I have done so in the translation of v. 4 above. The line, if it were to be retained, reads:

“(The) Mightiest will send (with) His goodness and His firmness”

Verses 5-7 [4-6]

Verse 5 [4]

“My soul (is trapped) between lions,
I lay (amid those) raging at (the) sons of men;
their teeth (are) spears and arrow-points,
and their tongue a sharpened sword.”

The Psalmist returns to his lament in this stanza, describing the wicked who threaten him as ferocious lions. The participle <yf!h&l) in the second line literally means “blazing”, but perhaps is better rendered here in the more general sense of “raging” (i.e., a raging fire), which would better suit the image of a lion (cf. Dahood, II, p. 52).

Verse 6 [5]

“(Your) height is over the heavens, Mightiest,
your weight over all of the earth!”

The lament is interrupted, curiously, by this declaration of YHWH’s majesty and glory; it is identical with the closing lines of the Psalm (v. 12 [11]), where it makes more sense. The opening word, hm*Wr is typically parsed as an imperative (“be high/exalted…!”), however Dahood (II, p. 53f) makes a reasonably compelling argument for reading it as a substantive (verbal noun), parallel with dobK* (“weight, worth,” i.e., honor), noting the occurrence of hm*Wr as a proper noun (place name) in 2 Kings 23:36. The couplet is a declaration of YHWH’s sovereignty over all of creation (heaven and earth); as Creator and King of the universe, He is certainly able to act as Judge on behalf of the righteous.

Verse 7 [6]

“A net they have set up for my foot-steps,
(and) a noose for my throat;
they have dug a pit before my face—
(that) they would fall in (the) midst of it!”

The lament returns here in v. 7 [6], the meter now shifting to a 3+2 format, giving the lines a terse and more dramatic feel. The menacing and threatening actions of the wicked are again described, but in terms of crafty human hunters, rather than fierce lions (v. 5 [4]), going after their prey. I follow Dahood (II, p. 53) in explaining the word [pk in light of the Akkadian kippu(m), meaning a curved noose or snare. This provides a fitting parallel with tv#r# (“net”) in line 1; and note the similar conceptual pairing in Job 18:8-9. Occasionally the noun vp#n# (usually translated “soul”) carries the more concrete physical meaning of “throat”; such instances are limited to the poetic idiom, as here, where it does seem to fit the context.

I also follow Dahood in understanding the perfect verb in the final line (“they have fallen”) as a precative perfect—i.e., the Psalmist describing what he wishes to occur as something that has already happened. Here it has imprecatory force, as a kind of curse, calling down the judgment of God on his wicked adversaries. The idea of the wicked falling into the very trap they constructed occurs frequently in the Psalms, and is part of the imprecation.

Verses 8-12 [7-11]

Verses 8-9 [7-8]

“Set firm (is) my heart, O Mightiest,
set firm (is) my heart—
I will sing and make music!
Awaken, my <liver>, awaken!
(with) the lyre and harp
I will awaken (the) dawn!”

The lament of the prior stanza now gives way to an expression of praise, anticipating YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. As is fitting for the Psalmist, as a poet and musical composer, this praise relates to his artistic inspiration. These two verses have an off-beat structure, consisting of two 3+2+2 tricolons. The first line of each emphasizes the Psalmist’s inspiration, referring to his inner organ (i.e., the source of thought and feeling/emotion), located specifically in the “heart” (bl@) and “liver” (db@K*, rather than MT dobK*). This inspiration leads to singing and music-making (esp. on the lyre or harp [roNK! / lb#n@]).

Verse 10 [9]

“I will throw you (praise) among the peoples, Lord,
I will make music to you among the nations.”

A more conventional expression of praise by the Psalmist, promising to make public what YHWH has done for him; this also refers to the dissemination of the Psalmist’s work as an artist and musician.

Verse 11 [10]

“For great unto (the) heavens (is) your goodness,
and unto (the) vapors (of heaven) your firmness!”

This couplet marks the beginning of Psalmist’s praise to YHWH. The deliverance which he expects to receive from God (in response to his prayer) is described as being related to the characteristic “goodness” (ds#j#) and “firmness” (tm#a#, i.e., trustworthiness) of YHWH. Both terms must be understood primarily in terms of His faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. This pairing of nouns also occurred in the third line of v. 4, which probably should be viewed as an explanatory gloss (cf. above).

Verse 12 [11]

“(Your) height is over (the) heavens, O Mightiest,
(and) your weight over all of the earth!”

If the greatness of YHWH’s attributes extends even beyond the heavens (v. 11), this is because He Himself is greater than the heavens. These lines are identical with v. 6 [5] (cf. above), but they make more sense here, and their inclusion at the earlier location could conceivably be the result of a secondary interpolation. In any case, the lines here make for a fitting conclusion to the Psalm, as a declaration of the sovereignty of God over the entire universe.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 47

Psalm 47

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (v. 2 [1])

This Psalm is similar to the previous Ps 46 in its theme of YHWH as King over all the earth (and the nations). However, it is much simpler, both in its message and its presentation. It has a simple hymn-format that would make it quite suitable for public worship. The Selah (hl*s#) pause indicator often serves as a marker for the structure of the poem, and that would seem to be the case here. The Psalm can be rather neatly divided into two short strophes (vv. 2-5 [1-4] and 7-10 [6-9]), with a central (transitional) couplet at v. 6 [5].

The central position of the v. 6 couplet strongly suggests the possibility of a ritual setting, involving a procession of the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ to the Temple, whereby the ceremonial enthronement of YHWH is celebrated.

The meter of the Psalm is irregular, but appears to be based upon a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format. In contrast to the previous Psalms (45 and 46), which were called songs (ryv!), here the typical term romz+m! is used, indicating that the Psalm is a musical composition (i.e., both words and music). On the attribution to the “sons of Qorah”, cf. the introduction to Psalm 42/43.

Verses 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“All peoples, you must clap (your) palm(s together),
(and) give shout to (the) Mightiest with a ringing voice.”

A proper interpretation of the Psalm depends on how one reads <yhlal here in v. 2 [1], along with the parallel use of <yhla in vv. 7-8 [6-7]. It is important to remember that <yh!l)a$ is plural noun, which literally means “mighty (one)s”; when used a common divine title (and word for deity), in the monotheistic context of Israelite religion, it is best understood as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural—i.e., “Mightiest (One)” (= YHWH, i.e. ‘God’). In the ‘Elohist’ Psalms (of which this Psalm may be counted), the title <yh!l)a$ is typically substituted in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH).

If the prefixed l= here is read in its customary sense (as a preposition of direction or purpose), then <yh!l)a$l@ would have to mean “to (the) Mightiest”, since all worship and praise must be directed to God (YHWH). However, Dahood (p. 284) would read the preposition in this instance as a vocative-l, in which case, we are dealing with a true plural, and the couplet would be translated:

“All peoples, you must clap (your) palm(s together),
(and) give shout, (you) mighty (one)s, with a ringing voice.”

This yields a synonymous parallelism (“peoples” | “mighty ones”), where the “mighty ones” could refer either to the chieftains and nobles, etc, among the peoples, or to their gods. However, based on the formal parallel with the first couplet of the second strophe (v. 7 [6], cf. below), the customary reading of <yhlal here is to be preferred.

Verse 3 [2]

“For YHWH (the) Highest (is to) be feared,
(the) great King over all the earth!”

This couplet gives the reason why the peoples of earth must worship YHWH: He is the King, the Sovereign, of the entire universe. The substantive passive participle ar*on is a bit difficult to translate here; literally it means “(one) being feared”, but in this context, the proper meaning is something like “(one) worthy of being feared”, i.e., “(one who is) to be feared”. The praise and worship given to YHWH is a sign of this proper ‘fear’ that is shown to Him. He is both the “Mightiest” and the “Highest” (/oyl=u#), i.e., most Exalted; cf. my earlier article on the title /oyl=u#.

Verse 4 [3]

“He pushed back (the) peoples under us,
and (the) gatherings (of people) under our feet.”

Here the contrast between Israel (the people of God) and the nations (the [other] peoples) is established. Since YHWH is the Creator (and King) of the universe, He is to be worshiped by all people everywhere. Yet Israel maintains its special position as the chosen people of YHWH. The subduing of the nations mentioned here presumably reflects the historical memory of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan, but may also refer to the victories of the early kings (Saul, David, Solomon), through which the power of Israel reached its greatest extent, with surrounding nations either absorbed into the Israelite kingdom or made into vassal states.

The verb rbd here is best understood as a separate root (I) from the more common root (II) that denotes “speech/speaking”; the fundamental meaning of rbd (I) is “go back/behind”, which in the Hiphil stem would be something like “push/force back”. Cf. Ps 18:48 for another such instance.

Verse 5 [4]

“He chose our inheritance for Himself,
(the) rising of Ya’aqob, whom He loves.”

The parallelism required of this couplet (“for Himself” | “whom He loves”) prompts me to adopt the suggestion by Dahood (p. 285), that wnl here be understood as an archaic form (WNl^ = Canannite lanh¥) that preserves the longer form of the preposition l (ln). As he notes, when the verb rj^B* (“choose”) is used with YHWH as the subject, it virtually always is in the context of choosing something (or someone) for Himself (e.g., Psalm 135:4, etc); thus WNl^ here = ol.

I have translated /oaG+ quite literally as “rising”, but it here has the honorific connotation of “exaltation” —i.e., YHWH honors (exalts) Jacob (= Israel) by giving him the land of Canaan as his inheritance. This would also tend to confirm that the subduing the nations (under Israel’s feet) in the previous verse refers primarily to the initial Israelite conquest of Canaan. A secondary reference would be to the military victories under Saul, David, and Solomon, which completed the conquest, giving to the Israelite kingdom something close to the traditional borders of the Promised Land.

Central Couplet (v. 6 [5])

“(The) Mightiest has gone up with a ringing cry,
YHWH with (the) voice of (the sounding) horn!”

As noted above, this couplet is transitional between the two strophes of the Psalm, and almost certainly reflects the original ritual/ceremonial setting of the composition. The “going up” (vb hl*u*) of YHWH refers to the modest ascent to the site of the Temple sanctuary (i.e., Mt. Zion). It is quite likely that a ritual procession of the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ to the Temple was involved, the procession being accompanied by priests and musicians, etc, giving shouts of praise and blowing the ceremonial horn (rp*ov). Once the Ark (symbolically carrying YHWH) arrived in the Temple sanctuary, YHWH would be ceremonially enthroned and worshiped as King. This was a local/ritual realization of the universal Kingship of YHWH.

Verses 7-10 [6-9]

Verse 7 [6]

“Make music, (you) mighty (one)s, make music!
Make music to our King, make music!”

The parallelism with the first couplet of the first strophe (v. 2 [1], cf. above) would seem to require that <yh!l)a$ here be translated as a true plural, “mighty ones”, parallel with “[the] peoples” in v. 2 [1]. Possibly, the reference could be specifically to the gods of the nations (their “mighty ones”), who give worship to YHWH as King over all. This is a roundabout way of demonstrating that the nations recognize the absolute superiority of Israel’s God (YHWH) and worship Him.

The customary rendering of this verse treats <yh!l)a$ here as = <yh!l)a$l@ in v. 2 [1]:

“Make music (to the) Mightiest, make music!
Make music to our King, make music!”

Some commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 466) would emend the text to this effect.

Verse 8 [7]

“For (He is) King over all the earth—
mighty (one)s, make skillful music (to Him)!”

We have here the same ambiguity involving the use of <yh!l)a$; I read it again as a true plural (“mighty ones”), referring either to the chieftains and nobles of the nations, or to their gods. Again, the customary translation treats <yh!l)a$ as the Divine title (“Mightiest” = ‘God’)—

“For (the) Mightiest (One is) King over all the earth—
make skillful music (to Him)!”

but this yields an unsatisfactory 4+2 meter, and does not seem to be correct; nor have I seen any emendation that is worthy of adopting.

Verse 9 [8]

“(The) Mightiest (One) is King over [lu^] (the) nations,
(the) Mightiest sits on [lu^] (the) throne of His holiness.”

In this verse, unlike in the two prior couplets, <yh!l)a$ is the Divine title (“Mightiest [One]” = ‘God’); this may seem inconsistent, but it simply reflects the dual meaning of the plural term <yh!l)a$. Probably the use of <yh!l)a$ in the first line is an ‘Elohist’ substitution for the Divine name YHWH; in which case, the original form of the couplet would have been:

“YHWH is King over the nations,
(the) Mightiest sits on the throne of His holiness.”

The wordplay and the intentional contrast between YHWH (the Mightiest) and the “mighty ones” in vv. 7-8 strongly suggests that these “mighty ones” refer specifically to the gods of the nations, who are called on to admit the superiority of Israel’s God (YHWH) as King.

Verse 10 [9]

“(You) willing (one)s of (the) peoples, gather (round)
(the) people of (the) Mighty (One) of Abraham;
for to (the) Mightiest belong the protectors of (the) earth,
(and so He is) very much to be lifted up!”

Earlier in the strophe, the “mighty ones” of the nations were addressed, which, I believe, refers to the gods of the nations. The figurative turning of these ‘gods’ to acknowledge the Kingship of YHWH represents how the nations themselves will recognize the absolute superiority of YHWH. Here, however, a different plural term is used—<yb!yd!n+, which literally means “willing (one)s”, but sometimes connotes the nobility of the willing act (or of the person who so acts). It is possible, then, that the term here refers to the leaders (i.e., nobles) of the nations; if they willingly choose to gather around Israel, worshiping YHWH, the people of the nations (as a whole) will follow. There is a clear contrast between Israel (the people [<u^] of God) and the nations (the other peoples [<yMu^]).

The wording of the second couplet is awkward, and, as noted above, it is possible that the text is corrupt. The implication of the first line is that YHWH is King over all the other ‘gods’ of the nations, repeating the key theme of the second strophe. The noun /g@m* is often translated “shield”, but literally means “place of protection” or “place of cover”. It can be used as an honorific term for kings and rulers. Here the meaning is probably two-fold: (a) the royal power/authority of the nations belongs to YHWH (as King of the universe), and (b) YHWH is King over the ‘gods’ of the nations (i.e., the gods as their would-be “protectors”).

Whether the final line is correct as it stands, or has been truncated, the basic message is clear enough. Because YHWH is King over the universe, holding authority over all the nations (and their gods), he should be worshiped—i.e., exalted, “lifted up” (vb hl*u*).

In some ways, this final couplet is parallel to the central couplet of v. 6 [5] (cf. above). The worshipers “lift up” YHWH, presumably through the ritual act of carrying the Ark to the Temple sanctuary, the procession being accompanied by shouts of praise and ceremonial blowing of the horn. Now, at the close of the Psalm, all people everywhere, led by the willing/noble ones of the nations, are called upon to “lift up” YHWH in a similar manner. By “gathering (round)” Israel, the nations may follow the example of God’s chosen people, recognizing the Kingship of YHWH and giving to Him the worship that is His due.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol 16 (1965).
References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 40 (Part 1)

Psalm 40

Dead Sea MSS: 11QPsd (verse 1 [only part of the superscription survives])

This Psalm is clearly comprised of two parts: (1) a hymn of thanksgiving to YHWH for deliverance (vv. 2-11 [1-10]), and (2) a lament in which the Psalmist describes his suffering/oppression and makes a plea to YHWH for help (vv. 12-18 [11-17]). The very different character of these two portions has led commentators to regard the Psalm as a combination of two prior (and originally separate) poems. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that vv. 12-18 [11-17] closely resemble Psalm 70. Still, the order of the compositions here is curious; we might rather have expected the thanksgiving to follow the lament (instead of the other way around).

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 3+2 bicolon (couplet) format. The superscription is common, designating the work as another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”.

Verses 2-11 [1-10]

Verse 2 [1]

“Gathering, I gathered YHWH (with my voice),
and He stretched (down) to me,
and He heard my cry for help!”

The initial verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon, essentially an expanded form of a 3+2 bicolon with a doubling of the second line. The last two lines are in a kind of synthetic parallelism, in which the second line builds upon the thought in the line prior.

I follow Dahood (pp. 121-2, 245) in understanding the verb in the first line to be a form of hw`q* II (“gather, collect”) rather than the more common hw`q* I (“wait [for], hope, expect”). The Psalmist “gathers” YHWH in the sense that he calls Him with his voice (cp. Ps 19:5 [4]). The doubling of the verb—an infinitive followed by a perfect form—represents a bit of Hebrew syntax that is difficult to translate in English. I have rendered it here quite literally (“Gathering, I gathered…” = “Calling, I have called…”); but often it is used in an intensive sense–viz, “surely I have called…”, “I called repeatedly,” etc.

The Psalmist’s call “gathers” YHWH to him, and God “stretches” (or bends, vb hf*n`) down to him in response. Indeed, He has heard the urgent (and/or repeated) cry for help.

Verse 3 [2]

“And He brought me up from (the) pit of ruin,
and (up) from (the) muck of the mire;
and He made my feet stand upon (the) rock-cliff,
He fixed my steps (to walk) straight.”

This pair of 3+2 couplets continues the thought in verse 2 [1], describing YHWH’s response to the Psalmist—bringing deliverance/salvation for him, using the vivid imagery of a rescue out of a muddy bog. This “pit of ruin” (/oav* roB) is a traditional idiom for Death (and the realm of the dead). This indicates that the protagonist of the Psalm had been in danger of death when YHWH rescued him. Stuck in the mire, he was like a man trapped in quicksand, or in the midst of a deep and treacherous bog, threatening to engulf him. The nouns fyf! and /w#y` are more or less synonymous (each referring to mud/mire), and are joined together here for dramatic emphasis.

From this deep and muddy “pit”, the Psalmist is lifted out and placed on a high rock-cliff (ul^s#) with firm footing. The extreme contrast is intentional and meant to convey how completely YHWH has delivered him. There could not be a greater difference in location—i.e., deep muddy pit vs. high rock-cliff. The verb /WK (here in the Polel stem) refers to something that is established or fixed in place. It expands on the idea of the Psalmist’s feet being firmly planted on the rock-cliff: the dual yl^g+r^ (“my [two] feet”) is parallel with the plural yr*v%a& (“my walking/going [straight]”). The root rva denotes going straight toward something.

Verse 4 [3]

“And He gave [i.e. put] in my mouth a new song,
a shout (of praise) to our Mighty (One);
many shall see (this) and be afraid,
and shall seek protection in YHWH.”

The two couplets in this verse continue the course of action, describing the response by people to YHWH’s saving deed. For the Psalmist himself (lines 1-2), it leads him to utter a song (ryv!) and shout (hL*h!T=) of praise to YHWH; indeed, we may understand vv. 2-11 of the Psalm as this very song. For others who see (or come to know) what God has done on the Psalmist’s behalf, it will cause them to fear YHWH, and to seek His protection. The verb jf^B*, used frequently in the Psalms, denotes seeking (or finding) protection in someone or something; it also can refer specifically to the trust one has in that protection. It is often used in the context of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people—that is, to the protection that He is obligated to provide (so long as the people remain faithful).

Verse 5 [4]

“(The) happiness of the strong (one) who makes YHWH his place of protection,
and does not turn to (the) proud (one)s,
and (to the one)s swerving (to) lie(s)!”

This irregular tricolon contains (in its first line) a beatitude (on the use of yr@v=a^, “happy [thing]s of,” “[the] happiness of”, cf. the study on Psalm 1). It clearly draws upon the language of the previous verse, with the noun jf*b=m! (lit. “place of protection, protected place”) derived from the root jfb (“seek/find protection,” cf. above).

As in Psalm 1, the beatitude-form here is part of a Wisdom-contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous trust in YHWH, while the wicked turn to false deities (or to comparable unethical/immoral behavior). In the second line, the wicked are characterized as those who “turn to (the) proud (one)s”; in the third line, the expression is “(one)s swerving (toward) lie(s)”.

Both of these phrases can be understood in a religious and an ethical sense. The term bz`K* (“lie”) is often used in reference to idolatry and the worship of false deities, while the verb fWc, though extremely rare (cf. Ps 101:3), seems to have the sense of “turning away” (i.e., swerving, veering). At the same time, these expressions can also refer to the moral/ethical conduct of the wicked, with their tendency toward arrogance and pride (bh*r*) and toward speaking/believing lies.

Verse 6 [5]

“Many (are they that) you have done, YHWH,
your marvelous (deed)s, my Mighty (One),
and your thoughts to(ward) us—
there is none compared to you!
(If) I should put (them) up front and speak (them),
they would be great beyond numbering!”

This verse is comprised of three couplets, but the awkwardness and lack of a clear poetic flow suggests the possibility of textual corruption. However, there is (as yet) no satisfactory approach for emending or navigating these difficulties. For lack of any better option, I have retained the Masoretic text throughout.

The emphasis in the first couplet is on the wonderful/marvelous deeds that God has done. They are described as “many” (toBr^), but the same adjective can also indicate “greatness”. The Psalmist has included his own experience within the wider experience of God’s people. YHWH has done many great deeds (including miracles) during Israel’s history, and His deliverance of the Psalmist is one more such deed.

The second couplet is a bit obscure in meaning, but the focus is on thought, rather than action. It also creates a transition between what YHWH thinks of us (His people), and what we think of Him (our God). His thoughts toward us are loving and caring, expressed through the “marvelous deeds” He has chosen to do on our behalf. Conversely, our thoughts toward Him recognize that, because of such deeds, etc, YHWH is truly the “Mightiest (One)”, the true God, and there is no one like him. The actual wording here is “there is none compared to you”. The verb Er^u* literally refers to arranging things in a row—in this case, so that they can be compared one to another.

The final couplet turns again to the great deeds of YHWH, as the Psalmist recognizes that they are so many (<x#u#, lit. “strength, abundance”) that they are beyond being numbered—i.e., beyond anyone’s ability to count them all (cp. John 21:25).

Verse 7 [6]

“(Ritual) slaughter and gift you did not desire,
(instead) you cut (open the) ears for me,
rising (smoke) and (offering for) sin you did not request.”

This is a curious and difficult verse, again giving the impression that something may be missing here in the text. The basic sense is clear enough, reflecting a Wisdom-message, found frequently in the Prophets, to the effect that obedience to God is more important than the ritual duty of performing sacrificial offerings (summarized in lines 1 and 3). The wording in the middle line is difficult; literally it reads (apparently) “ears you cut (open) for me”. Possibly the cutting (vb trk) of the ears is meant as a contrast with the ‘cutting’ (i.e. ritual slaughter) of the sacrificial offerings. In this case, the action is taken by YHWH, rather than the Psalmist: He has opened the Psalmist’s ears, so that he can hear and understand, responding in obedience to God’s Word. Conceivably, there may also be an allusion to the idea of having one’s ears ‘circumcised’ (i.e., as an idiom for obedience, cf. Jer 6:10).

Verses 8-9 [7-8]

“Then I said: ‘See, I come!
In (the) roll of (the) account it is inscribed upon me:
to do your pleasure, my Mighty (One), (so do) I delight,
and your Instruction (is) in the middle of my (in)ner parts!'”

Again, the poetic style and rhythm in this verse feels rather forced and awkward. Metrically, we have a pair of 3+3 couplets (but only loosely so); conceptually, it might be better to view the verse as a 3-beat quatrain (3+3+3+3). The poetry is subservient to the religious message, which can be summarized as a confessional statement that characterizes the righteous.

The first two lines are preliminary to this statement, and their precise meaning is not entirely clear. The idea seems to be that the righteous person (the Psalmist) is committed to acting/behaving in accordance with his identity (as a righteous/ faithful one). Another possibility is that the afterlife is in view—that is, the promise of blessed life in heaven (with God) for the righteous. In this latter context, the declaration “See, I come” could refer to the Psalmist’s readiness to enter the blessed afterlife. The beatitude context of verse 5 [4] would tend to confirm this interpretation. In any case, the “roll of the account” refers to the accounting (or ‘book’) of a person’s deeds, etc, recorded by God in heaven, which will be used in the afterlife judgment-scene. At the same time, it reflects the ultimate destiny of the person (cf. Job 13:26, etc); for the righteous, this is equivalent to being written down in the ‘book of life’ (cf. Exod 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; 139:16; Mal 3:16; Jubilees 30:19ff; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 21:27).

The last two lines record the confessional statement that defines the righteous. The destiny and purpose of the righteous is to do what pleases YHWH (or what He favors). The term /oxr* fundamentally refers to something that is received favorably, implying that a person finds pleasure in it and desires it, etc. In a religious and ethical context, it is used to express the will of God (i.e., what He desires that should be done). The delight (vb Jp@j*) of the righteous is to do God’s will, to do what pleases Him. And, what it is that pleases YHWH is stated clearly enough in the final line: it is to observe faithfully all of the precepts and regulations, etc, in the Instruction (hr*oT, Torah) that God has given to His people. Observance of the Torah is so much a part of the righteous person’s character and way of life that it resides deep within him (lit. “in the middle of my inner parts”).

Verse 10 [9]

“I have given the news of (your) justice in (the) assembly,
see! my lips have not refrained—
YHWH, you know (this)!”

The song and shout of praise that the Psalmist gives to YHWH (cf. verse 4 [3] above), recounting God’s great act(s) of deliverance (v. 6 [5]), is done publicly, in the assembly (lh*q*), the gathering of faithful ones. This refers to actual gatherings, but even more as a symbolic reference to the righteous (as a collective group). A characteristic of the righteous is that they “do not refrain” from confessing all that God has done (and continues to do). As noted above, the Psalmist includes his individual experience of deliverance as part of the wider experience of God’s people.

Verse 11 [10]

“Your justice I have not kept hidden in (the) midst of my heart,
your firmness and your saving (power) I have declared—
I have not kept back your goodness and truth from the great assembly.”

This portion of the Psalm concludes with yet another irregular tricolon, with the poetic style and rhythm stretched to fit the religious message. It continues the thought from verse 10 [9], emphasizing how the Psalmist makes known the greatness of YHWH in the (public) assembly of the righteous. The context of corporate worship is very much in view—the sort of setting in which a Psalm like 40:2-11 would be sung.

The themes of the prior verses are drawn together, combining the inward and outward aspects of righteousness. What is true within the heart of the righteous, is also proclaimed publicly. Here, the terms bl@ (“heart”) and hu#m@ (= inner organs, inner parts, v. 9 [8]) are synonymous. By declaring the marvelous deeds of YHWH one also exclaims His character and attributes. These include his “right[eous]ness” and “justice” (qd#x# / hq*d*x=), and also his “goodness” (ds#j#). Both of these terms are often used in a covenantal context—i.e., referring to faithfulness and loyalty to the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people.