Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:44-53

1 Kings 8:44-53

Solomon’s Prayer in 1 Kings 8 concludes with two contrasting situations for the people (and the kingdom) involving warfare. The situations each begin with the particle yK! followed by an introductory verb:

    • “When [yK!] your people goes out [ax@y@] against its enemy…” (v. 44)
    • “When [yK!] they do wrong [Waf=j#y#] to you [i.e. sin against you] … and you give them (over) to (the) face of (the) enemy…” (v. 46)

In each instance, the people go out to battle a foreign enemy. In the first instance (vv. 44-45), it is assumed that the people, as a whole, have been faithful/loyal to the covenant with YHWH (and its Torah); as a result, the expectation is that, when they pray to YHWH (in the direction of the Temple), He will hear their prayer and answer them (that is, give victory to them).

In the second instance (vv. 46-50), when the people have sinned against YHWH, transgressing against the covenant (as a people/nation), then they will be defeated by the enemy in battle. As is typical in the Old Testament, such a military defeat against God’s people is viewed as a manifestation of Divine judgment. The wording here makes it clear that defeat comes from YHWH’s initiative: “…you give them (over) to (the) face of (the) enemy”. The same basic situation was described briefly in vv. 33-34, along with an allusion to the exile of the population; the theme of exile is given much greater prominence here:

“…to (the) face of (the) enemy, and they take them captive (as) their captives to (the) land of the enemy, (whether it is) far or near” (v. 46b)

The dual-use of the verb hb*v* (“take captive”) is emphatic, emphasizing the captivity of the defeated people, being exiled off to a foreign land. Many commentators feel that this emphasis on exile is an indication of a Exilic date for the Prayer; at the very least, it does seem likely that the reality of exile played a role in the literary shaping of the Prayer (in the context of Kings) as it has come down to us. However, this need not mean that the Babylonian Captivity (of Judah) had already taken place when the Prayer was composed (and/or edited). If the reign of Josiah is the primary setting for the book of Kings (and the editing of the Deuteronomic history as a whole), then the Judean kingdom would still have been intact (along with Jerusalem and the Temple), but the reality of exile would have been experienced through the earlier Assyrian conquests (including the conquest/exile of the Northern Israelite Kingdom).

In any case, the prospect of exile for a defeated population would have been natural enough at any time in the ancient Near East. It is not necessary to make any definitive judgment regarding the background and composition of the book of Kings (or the Prayer in particular), in order for this passage (and the situation it describes) to be relevant for the audience. As in vv. 33-34, here the promise is that, if the people genuinely repent, confess their sins, and pray to YHWH, then He will forgive their sins and eventually restore them to their land (vv. 47-50).

Again, a sign of their faith and devotion is that, when they pray to YHWH, they pray in the direction of the Temple:

“And (if) they return to you with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and they make prayer to you (on the) path (to) [i.e., in the direction of] their land that you gave to their fathers, (and) to the city that you chose, and the house that I have built for your name…” (v. 48)

The Temple as the unifying focal point of prayer for the people has been emphasized throughout vv. 31-50, being specifically mentioned in each of the examples given. As I have noted, the importance of this symbolism lies in the idea that YHWH’s name resides in the Temple. Even though God actually dwells in heaven (where He hears the prayer), the prayer itself is made in the direction of the Temple, as a symbolic point on earth where God’s people can direct their worship and devotion to Him.

The presence of God’s name also indicates ownership and possession. That is to say, it is an indication that the Temple belongs to YHWH; the Temple is the focal point at the center, but the sign of ownership radiates outward, encompassing the city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and the entire land/kingdom of Israel (along with its people). All of it belongs to YHWH, even as Israel is God’s own people. This is the theological point emphasized in the concluding verses 51-53:

“For your people, they indeed are your inheritance, which you brought forth from (the) land of Egypt, from (the) midst of (the) pot for (smelting) iron, (so that) your eyes (are) to be open (to the) request for favor by your servant, and (to the) request by your people Yisrael, to listen to them in every (moment) they call to you. For you separated them for yourself, for an inheritance, from all (the) people of the earth, just as you spoke (it) by (the) hand of Moshe your servant in your bringing forth our fathers from Egypt, my Lord YHWH.”

The Prayer closes much as it began, with a reference to the Exodus (v. 16). This defining moment in the history of Israel, essentially marking the beginning of their ‘birth’ as God’s people, frames the Prayer. It provides the backdrop for the choice of Jerusalem and the centralization of worship focused on the Temple building. The name of YHWH that resides in the Temple properly symbolizes the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—they are His people (belonging to Him), and He is their God.

The same essential symbolism applies, even when the concept of being God’s people has shifted and expanded to include all believers in Christ. The idea of the unifying presence of God’s name, as an abiding sign of the covenant bond, continues for us today as believers. In the next study, we will begin to explore this line of interpretation further, even as we examine the concluding verses of 1 Kings 8, looking again at the Prayer in its narrative context.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:41-43

Before proceeding with the next section of the Prayer of Solomon (in 1 Kings 8), it may be worth considering several points of interpretation, established from our study thus far, as they might apply to Christians (both in the New Testament era and today).

In terms of the religious and historical background of the Prayer, a key theme is the centralization of worship for the Israelite people, focused on the kingdom-capital of Jerusalem and the site of the Temple (Zion). This theme runs throughout the entire Deuteronomic history, beginning with the book of Deuteronomy and climaxing with the religious reforms in Judah under Josiah (2 Kings 23). For people all over the kingdom, Jerusalem (and the Temple) was to be the focal point of their religious devotion. Sacrificial offerings were to be presented only at the Jerusalem Temple, adult males were to travel to Jerusalem for (at the very least) the three great pilgrimage festivals, and, as expressed here in 1 Kings 8, prayers were to be directed toward the Temple.

The Temple filled the ritual and symbolic role as YHWH’s dwelling place among His people, His “house”. And yet, as the Prayer makes clear, God does not actually reside on earth in the Temple sanctuary, but in heaven. This important theological principle is made repeatedly, in spite of the reference (in vv. 10-13) to the older conception of God’s manifest presence residing within the sanctuary (of the Temple, and earlier Tent-shrine).

It is only God’s name that truly resides in the Temple. The name represents the person, if only in a symbolic and ritual sense; it also signifies ownership—i.e., the Temple building belongs to YHWH, just as the city of Jerusalem belongs to Him, and also the Israelite/Judean people (as His people). It is for these reasons, that the people are to demonstrate their devotion and loyalty to YHWH by praying in the direction of the Temple, to the place where His name resides.

This idea of the centralization of worship, focused on the Temple, has important implications for Christians, in light of the Christological principle that Jesus Christ essentially replaces the Temple, fulfilling in his own person the symbolic and ritual significance of the Temple building. For more on this subject, cf. my earlier articles in the series “Jesus and the Law” (part of “The Law and the New Testament”). This shift in focus is already evident early on in the New Testament, within the historical traditions of the Gospels and Acts, emphasizing the Temple as a place for prayer (and teaching/preaching), rather than sacrificial ritual. In this regard, early Christians were essentially developing the very emphasis we find here in the 1 Kings 8 Prayer.

The focus on the name of God also is significant in this regard. We may mention, for example, the well-established early Christian tradition that prayers were to be made in Jesus’ name. Even more important, from a theological standpoint, is the idea that Jesus (the Son) makes the name of God the Father known to believers. This is a prominent theme in the Gospel of John, particularly in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17 (vv. 6, 11-12, 26). It serves as another key example of how Jesus fulfills the role of the Temple as the dwelling place for God’s name.

Finally, we should mention the related idea of believers as the dwelling place for God’s presence—now no longer symbolically, but through the reality of God’s own Spirit. The image of believers—both individually and collectively—as the Temple of God is most prominent in the Pauline letters. Paul applies the image to individual believers in 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16, while in Eph 2:21 it is applied to believers in a collective sense. The presence of God—both manifest through His Spirit, and through His name—in believers (as His Temple) demonstrates that we belong to Him and bear His name.

These points will be discussed and developed further as we approach the end of our notes on 1 Kings 8.

1 Kings 8:41-43

“And also unto (the) foreigner, he who (is) not from your people Yisrael, but comes from a land far off in response to your name— ” (v. 41)

Verses 41-43 make clear that the role of the Temple, applies, not only to Israel (as YHWH’s chosen people), but to people from other nations as well. The adjective yr!k=n` (cf. also the related rk*n@) is used as a substantive, denoting something that is “(not) recognized”, derived from the root rkn (“recognize, acknowledge”), presumably in a privative sense. From an ethno-cultural standpoint, yr!k=n` refers to a foreigner, to be distinguished, however, from the foreigner who comes to reside among the Israelite people (the word rG@ is used for such a person). Here, the idea is of a foreign visitor to the land of Israel, but particularly one who has traveled to Israel “in response to” (/u^m^l=) the name of YHWH—that is, because he/she has heard about the great things that YHWH, as the God of Israel, has done for His people. This qualification is clearly expressed in verse 42:

“for they shall hear of your great name, and (of) your strong hand and your arm (out)stretched— “

The “hand” and (outstretched) “arm” of YHWH are euphemisms for the exercise of His Divine power and strength, through miracles and mighty deeds performed on behalf of His people. This motif-pair is part of the Deuteronomic language, occurring repeatedly in the book of Deuteronomy (4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 11:2; 26:8; cf. also Jer 21:5; Cogan, p. 286), but the basic imagery is traditional—see, for example, its use in the Song of the Sea (15:6, 12, 16). In that ancient Song, as here, it is assumed that people in the surrounding nations will hear of the mighty things done by YHWH (vv. 14-16), demonstrating that He is far greater than any of the deities they worship (v. 11).

The second half of verse 42 picks up from v. 41:

“…but he comes and makes prayer to(ward) this house”

The fact that the foreign visitor makes prayer toward the Temple demonstrates two important points: (1) he/she recognizes YHWH as God, worthy of worship, and (2) she/he acknowledges the role of the Temple within the Israelite religion (i.e., the worship of YHWH). It is clear that Solomon (and the author of Kings) expects that YHWH will answer the prayers of such a devout foreigner, no less than He will those of His own people:

“you shall hear (him from) your dwelling place (in) the heavens, and shall do (for him) according to every(thing about) which the foreigner calls to you, so that (as a result) all (the) peoples of the earth might know your name, (coming) to fear you (just) like your people Yisrael, and to know that your name is called over this house that I have built.” (v. 43)

The prayer-wish is that, through the witness of such a devout foreigner, many other people, throughout all the surrounding nations, will come to respond in like manner—learning to know and fear YHWH, acknowledging Him (His name) as true God and Sovereign, and recognizing the Temple (in Jerusalem) as the place where His name dwells. This is an early example of a theme that would be developed in the later Prophets (and subsequently in Jewish eschatology)—namely, the prospect of people from the surrounding nations coming to Jerusalem in order to worship YHWH, and even joining with Israel to become part of the people of God. It is a theme that would feature prominently in early Christian thought, and, as a principle, would underlie the entire early mission to the Gentiles (cf. Mk 13:10 par; Lk 2:30-32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 10:35ff; 13:46-47ff; 15:7-11, 14-18ff, etc). A key reference to the Temple, in this regard, is found in Isaiah 56:7, a Scripture cited by Jesus in the context of his Temple-action (according to the Synoptic tradition, Mk 11:17 par); the emphasis, as here, is on the Temple as a place associated with prayer.

Within Old Testament tradition, the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13) is the most notable example of a foreign visitor who comes to Israel and acknowledges YHWH as God (v. 9). Naaman (in 2 Kings 5) also features as a foreigner who recognizes that worship must be given to YHWH alone (vv. 17f); cf. Cogan, p. 286. In the New Testament, in the context of the early Christian mission, Cornelius (Acts 10-11) is the type-figure for the God-fearing non-Israelite who becomes a believer.

References marked “Cogan” above are to Mordechai Cogan, I Kings, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 10 (Yale: 2001/8).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:33-40

1 Kings 8:33-40

Verses 31-32 (discussed in the previous note) dealt with the ritual role of the Temple, in the context of a specific socio-cultural situation. In verses 33-40 that follow, there is a return to the principal theme (and point of emphasis) in the chap. 8 Prayer of Solomon: the Temple as a unifying focal point for the prayers of the people. The idea is that the Israelite people, from every part of the kingdom, should be unified in their focus on the Temple, as the conceptual and symbolic location for the presence of YHWH (specifically, His name). In the vv. 31-32 example, the individuals involved are expected to travel to the Temple precincts in Jerusalem; however, in the examples of vv. 33-40, one simply may look toward (la#) the Temple, praying in the direction of the actual site in Jerusalem.

It is assumed that, while people may respond as individuals, in the face of dangers and crises facing the nation, ultimately the action will be collective—i.e., the entire nation unified in its prayer to YHWH, directing its petition to the place where God’s name symbolically resides.

Three different situations of crisis are given as examples, utilizing a formal pattern (with some variation). The first situation (vv. 33-34) will serve to delineate the elements of the process of the people’s prayer:

“In your people Yisrael being struck before the face of (the) hostile (one), (in) that [i.e. because] they have done wrong to you, and (if) they (then) turn back to you and throw (praise to) your name, and they make prayer and a request for favor to you in this house, then you shall hear (it) in (the) heavens and shall grant forgiveness for (the) wrong of your people Yisrael, and you shall return them to the land that you gave to their fathers.”

The condition is introduced by a construct phrase that is governed by a preposition and verbal noun (infinitive). Literally, it reads “In (the) being struck of your people…”; however, the passive (Niphal stem) verb makes this especially awkward in English, and I alleviate this somewhat above (“In your people being struck…”, i.e. “When your people are struck…”). Clearly, this refers to a military attack by an enemy nation; the verbal noun by@oa literally means “(one) being/acting hostile”, i.e. one who is hostile.

The context of verse 34 implies that the land (and its people) have been conquered by the enemy; this may simply allow for the most extreme example of being “struck” (vb [g~n`) by an enemy nation. However, the idea that the people who would pray are far away (in exile) gives added weight to the principle that, even when the people are dispersed over a great geographic distance, they are still unified in thought and purpose when they pray in the direction of the Temple. The use of the preposition B=, in the expression “in this house” (hZ#h^ ty]B^B^), can be misleading in this regard, since it might suggest that the prayer is to be made within the Temple precincts (as with the example in vv. 31-32). While individuals might, indeed, make prayer at the Temple itself, the real point of emphasis is on praying “in the direction of” the Temple; the preposition B= would then function like la# (“to, toward”). Principally, it is YHWH’s symbolic presence—His name—that resides in the Temple.

The people’s response implies repentance and a return to faithfulness. The verb bWv (“turn (back), return”) is frequently used in this religious-ethical sense. By turning back to God, one also turns away from sin. It is clearly indicated, in this example, that Israel’s defeat is a consequence of the people’s sin. For consistency with vv. 31-32 (cf. the previous study), I have translated the verb af*j* as “do wrong”. In vv. 31-32, a person does wrong to another person; however, here the wrong is done to YHWH, i.e., the sin is against God, implying a violation of the covenant.

It was common in ancient Near Eastern thought to consider military defeats, especially when they involved the destruction of cities and the exile of populations, etc, as a manifestation of divine judgment. The ancient Israelites were no different, and, indeed, the Old Testament typically explains Israel’s defeats in this way. It is an especially prominent theme in the Deuteronomic history, particularly as recorded and presented in the books of Kings. Idolatrous worship of deities other than YHWH is the principal violation of the covenant that brings about catastrophic judgment on the nation.

If the people, collectively, repent of their sin, turn back to YHWH, praising His name and focusing their prayers in the direction of the Temple (where His name dwells), then the expectation is that God will hear and answer their prayers, and will (eventually) restore any exiled populations back to the land. The sin will be forgiven (vb jl^s*), and the covenant bond between YHWH and His people will be restored.

In verses 35-36, a different kind of national crisis is referenced: an extended lack of rain (drought). This is introduced in the same way as the condition in v. 33, with a construct phrase using the preposition B= and a verbal noun (infinitive):

“In (the) closing up of (the) heavens, and there is (thus) no rain, because they have done wrong to you…”

The syntax overall is very similar to the earlier passage; it continues:

“…and (if) they pray to(ward) this standing place [i.e. where the Temple stands], and throw (praise to) your name, and turn back from their wrong (so) that you would answer them, then you shall hear (in) the heavens and shall forgive (the) wrong of your servants, even your people Yisrael…”

There is some variation in wording, but the formula here in the Prayer definitely follows the pattern from vv. 33-34. The expected response by YHWH, however, is given in a more expanded form:

“…(so) that you might instruct them (in) the good way in which they must walk; and you shall give (then the) rain upon your land that you gave to your people for an inheritance.”

Clearly, the drought, like the military defeat/conquest of the people, is viewed as the consequence of sin against YHWH (i.e., violation of the covenant). In the ancient world, for agricultural and pastoral societies, a lack of rain could be just as devastating (and life-threatening) as a military attack. Repentance from sin, accompanied by faithful worship and prayer to YHWH, will bring about a return of the needed rains.

In addition to the restoration of the pre-sin condition (i.e., abundance of rain), mention is made of the idea that YHWH would give instruction/direction (vb hr*y`) to His people, once they have repented, so that they would be able to remain faithful to the covenant in the future. This particular promise underwent development in the later Prophetic writings (of the exilic and post-exilic period), being specifically tied to the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. The Instruction (Torah) will come to be written on the heart of the people, so that they might fulfill the covenant without needing to be taught or disciplined (as in the past) any longer. For a list of the key Prophetic passages, with links to detailed notes, cf. the introduction to the recent series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”.

The final example (vv. 37-40) involves a famine (lit. “hunger,” bu*r*) in the land. Drought and famine are often closely related; however, life-threatening hunger can be caused by other circumstances, such as a military attack/siege, forced migration, displacement of populations, the shifting of rivers, and so forth. Verse37 actually mentions some of the agricultural conditions that can lead to failed crops (and thus hunger/famine): pestilence/disease, blight, mildew, locust (using two different terms, hB#r=a^ and lys!j*), and the siege (of a city) by a foreign enemy. This suffering from famine/hunger is broadened to include the idea of any “touch” (of disease) or “sickness/weakness” (the terms ug~n# and hl*j&m^, respectively).

Again, prayer to YHWH, directed toward the Temple, will bring forgiveness, and (it is implied) a restoration of healthy conditions. This example does differ from the previous two, as it implies that certain individuals or communities may experience suffering that others do not (v. 38). However, the expectation is that, for anyone who repents and prays earnestly to YHWH in this manner, the prayer will be answered (v. 39). This focus on the individual provides an important counterbalance to the collective/national emphasis in vv. 33-36:

“Indeed, you shall give to (each) man according to his ways, (in) that you know his heart—for you alone know (the) heart of every (one) of (the) sons of man” (v. 39b)

As in verse 36 (see above), Solomon’s prayer here also includes the hope that the Israelite people would learn from any such discipline, however painful, so as to remain faithful to YHWH (and the covenant) into the future:

“…so that they might fear you all the days that they live upon (the) face of the land that you gave to our fathers.” (v. 40)

Next week, as we continue our study on the Prayer (looking at vv. 41-45), we shall begin drawing some exegetical conclusions, based on our analysis thus far, which can be applied to the life-situation of Christian believers today.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:31-32

1 Kings 8:31-40

Verses 31-40 of the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8 (cf. the previous studies) illustrate the principle of the centralization of worship for Israel/Judah, involving the Jerusalem Temple. The newly-built Temple (in the context of the narrative) clearly is intended to have a central position in the religious and cultural life of the people, continuing the tradition established with the earlier Tent-shrine (vv. 3-4ff). While the Tent-shrine was portable, moving along with the people, the Temple is built at a fixed (permanent) location. This has important implications for the religious experience of the people, and reflects the royal theology of the Kingdom. The people experience and relate to God, in a fundamental way, through the framework of the Temple and its ritual.

1 Kings 8:31-32

While most of the examples in vv. 31-40 emphasize the Temple as the focal point for the people’s prayers, the initial case involves social relations among the people. The ‘vertical’ relationship between the people and God has a corresponding ‘horizontal’ relationship of one person to another. Both need to be maintained, at both a ritual and ethical level, and the Temple plays a central role in this process.

However, with the specific example given in vv. 31-32, it can be a bit difficult to discern the precise situation being described. It is introduced with the substantive particle ta@, followed by the relative particle rv#a&. The particle ta@ often marks a predicate accusative (or direct object), but it can be used for other purposes as well; here it introduces a subject for discussion, and the combination rv#a& ta@ can be translated something like “in a situation where…”, “regarding (times) when…”. The specific situation in vv. 31-32 is summarized simply:

“when a man does wrong to his neighbor…”
ohu@r@l= vya! af*j$y# rv#a& ta@

The verb af*j* means “miss (the mark)”, often in the general sense of “fail to do (something)”, or with the specific ethical-religious nuance of “fail  to do (what is right)”, i.e., “do (something) wrong”. It corresponds to a(marta/nw in Greek, with both verbs being translated (in most instances) as “sin”. The phrase here can be rendered “sins against a neighbor,” but a somewhat more accurate translation is “does wrong to a neighbor”. The noun u^r@ denotes an associate, someone living or working close to another person; “neighbor” captures the general social situation.

The nature of the wrong done to a person is not specified, and it presumably could cover a wide range of offenses. It is serious enough, however, that the person who was wronged wishes to clear himself of any wrong-doing (on his own part) that could have justified such mistreatment by his neighbor. This touches upon a ritual aspect of life in the ancient world that is largely lost and foreign to us today. It involves the swearing of oaths, with the religious-magical force that such binding oaths were thought to possess. A formal action is described here in verse 31:

“and (if) he should impose on him a curse [hl*a*], to make him swear (under force of) the curse [vb hl*a*]…”

The principal verb is av*n`, which is typically used in the context of money-lending, and can refer to the imposition of a debt (and/or the exaction of it). Here the verb would presumably mean that an oath (with a curse) is imposed upon the person (who wronged his neighbor). However, some MSS read the visually similar verb ac*n` instead, which means “lift/take up” —i.e., take up an oath/curse.

The noun hl*a* denotes an imprecation or curse, typically in the specific context of a binding oath, etc. The related verb, in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicates the forcing of someone to take such an oath—i.e., making them swear, under the force of a curse. The curse is an essential part of the oath, as it is intended to compel truthfulness and the fulfillment of any binding obligation. If a person violates the oath (or swears falsely), then the curse will come about against him/her. This is built into the magical character of the oath-idea: whatever the person utters in the curse-formula will come to pass if the oath is violated (or made falsely). Moreover, the deity thought to witness the oath will ensure that the curse comes about, as a form of divine punishment against the violator. In the context of Israelite monotheism, of course, it is YHWH who brings about the curse-punishment.

Thus, it is necessary that YHWH witnesses the oath (and its curse), and, for this reason, the oath is made, in a ritual (and symbolic) manner, in the presence of YHWH—that is, within the Temple precincts, in His “house”:

“…and he should come (and) utter the curse [vb hl*a*] before your slaughtering-place [i.e. altar] in this house”

The oath, with its curse, is made in front of the altar (lit. the place of [ritual] slaughter, j^B@z+m!) in the Temple courtyard. Based on the other examples given in vv. 33-40, one might suppose that it would be enough for the oath to be made in the direction of the Temple; however, at least in this situation, as it is described, the individuals are present at the Jerusalem Temple itself. The altar is a symbolic point of contact between the people and YHWH, a place where, in a ritual manner, they encounter His presence (the inner sanctuary being off-limits to the general population). By making the oath before God’s altar, the person makes the oath (and utters its curse) before God Himself.

Yet God is not actually present in the Temple, since His true dwelling is in heaven (cf. the discussion in the previous study); still, the request (and expectation) is that YHWH will hear the oath, and will respond accordingly:

“then you will hear (it in) the heavens, and you will act, and you will judge (between) your servants—to declare wrong (the one who is) wrong, (so as) to give (him) his (wicked) way (back) on his head, and to declare right (the one who is) right, (so as) to give to him according to his righteousness” (v. 32)

The prayer is that God will act to make clear who is right and who is wrong, punishing the wicked one and clearing/blessing the righteous. The adjectives uv*r* and qyd!x* are typically translated, in a religious-ethical sense, as “wicked” and “righteous”, respectively; here, however, the legal-judicial aspect of being “wrong” and “right” needs to be emphasized as well. The force of the curse, uttered in the oath, will come down upon the person shown to be wrong, and it is YHWH who will ensure this, as a matter of divine punishment against wickedness (and the false swearing of an oath).

In the ancient world, the swearing of oaths was a natural and normal component of social-relations, and served as an effective means of resolving disputes, securing truthful/honest dealings, and so forth. The magical-religious dimension of binding oaths (and their curse formulas) may be foreign to us today, with only a faint vestige remaining (associated with jury trials and other legal proceedings) in our culture; however, they played an important role in regulating interactions and relationships within society, helping to maintain a level of justice, fairness, and equity throughout. It is only natural that such oaths would be made, symbolically, in God’s presence, at the altar in the Temple. For the different approach to oaths that we (as Christians) are to follow, according to the teaching of Jesus, cf. my earlier article discussing the ‘Antitheses’ in the Sermon on the Mount (spec. the fourth ‘Antithesis’, Matt 5:33-37).

In the next study, we will survey the examples given in vv. 33-40.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:27-30

The Monday Notes on Prayer feature for the remainder of Summer (in August & September) is focusing on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. Verses 22-26 were discussed in the previous study.

1 Kings 8:27-30

With verse 27, the focus of the Prayer shifts to the role and purpose of the Temple. This is significant, since the purpose indicated in the Prayer differs noticeably from the emphasis earlier in vv. 10-13. The shift in emphasis began already in vv. 16-17ff, with the statement that the “house” (i.e., the Temple) was built specifically for the name (<v@) of YHWH. The distinction is between a dwelling for YHWH Himself and a dwelling for His name.

In vv. 10-13 (cf. the earlier study), the clear implication is that YHWH personally comes to dwell in the “house”, being present through the theophanous cloud. This reflects an older line of religious (and theological) tradition, drawing upon anthropomorphic and cosmological-mythic concepts—i.e., the Deity is personally present and manifest in the theophanous cloud, with the Temple building (esp. the sanctuary) serving as His dwelling-place on earth.

While this line of tradition is acknowledged in vv. 10-13, it disappears completely from the remainder of the narrative. Indeed, within the Prayer proper, there is no mention at all of YHWH Himself dwelling in the Temple, but only His name. This is especially clear here in verse 27:

“But (is it) that (the) Mightiest can truly sit [i.e. dwell] upon the earth? See, the heavens—even (the) heavens of the heavens—can not contain you, (and) even (less) that this house which I have built (could do so)!”

The theological point is that the Creator El-YHWH cannot truly, in a metaphysical sense, dwell in a building on earth. His true dwelling is in heaven—and yet, even the heavens cannot actually contain him. The verb lWK has the concrete meaning “contain” (as in a vessel), implying that a physical/material substance is involved. This is one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament Scriptures regarding the transcendence of God, expressed in terms of size. YHWH is simply too great and vast to be contained in any physical space.

The expression “heavens of the heavens” (<y]m^V*h^ ym@v=) is idiomatic; it follows a pattern—e.g., “holy of holies”, “king of kings”, “song of songs” —in Hebrew (and other Semitic languages), using this particular mode of construct expression as a superlative. The particular meaning of the expression here is “the greatest heaven,” “the highest heaven”, etc.

The ancient Near Eastern cosmology was geocentric, with the surface of the earth dividing a cosmos that tended to be seen as spherical in shape, the upper half certainly being hemispheric. There were layers—commonly three layers (i.e., three ‘heavens’)—to the upper hemisphere. Eventually the concept of a concentric spherical cosmos, with seven layers/heavens, came to be adopted on a widespread scale throughout the ancient world. According to this traditional cosmology, YHWH would be seen as dwelling in the ‘highest’ heaven.

Clearly, if YHWH cannot be contained in the vastness of the heavens, he certainly cannot be contained in a single building (built by human beings) on earth. In spite of this, Solomon continues:

“Yet may you turn to (the) prayer of your servant, and to his request for favor, O YHWH my Mighty (One), to listen to (the) cry and to (the) prayer which your servant prays before you th(is) day, (and for) your eyes to be opened to(ward) this house, night and day, to(ward) this standing place of which you said ‘My name shall be there’, (and) to listen to (the) prayer which your servant shall pray to(ward) this standing place.” (vv. 28-29)

The basic request, at the heart of the entire prayer, is that YHWH would pay attention to prayers made in the direction of (la#, “toward”) the Temple. As becomes clear in the remainder of the prayer, the Jerusalem Temple is to become the focal point of Israelite worship—in particular, for the prayers made by the people. Solomon (as king) represents the people in this regard. At the beginning of the request (in v. 28), Solomon refers to himself as YHWH’s loyal servant (“your servant”); but, at the close of the request (in v. 29), the same expression “your servant” stands for any faithful Israelite who prays to YHWH (as is clear from v. 30, cf. below).

There is a symbolic and ritual aspect to prayer, in relation to the Temple building. The location of the Temple (lit. its “standing place,” <oqm*, i.e., the place where it stands) has a unifying role for the people, and as a religious expression of their faith and devotion to YHWH. By praying in the direction of the Temple, the place where YHWH’s name dwells, this demonstrates that a person’s heart is directed toward God. Such prayer can be made at any time (“night and day”); according to Solomon’s request, YHWH’s eyes will constantly be open, attentive to any such prayer, and listening to (lit. hearing, vb um^v*) it. In the traditional religious idiom, for God to “hear” a prayer means that He will answer it.

The root llp is used several times in vv. 28-29, both the verb (ll^P*) and the related noun hL*p!T=; it is the basic Hebrew root denoting prayer to God. Prayer here is also defined specifically as a request made to God that He would show favor—i.e., respond favorably, giving help and bestowing blessing or benefits, etc. The noun signifying such a request is hN`j!T= (from the root /nj), which is formally parallel to hL*p!T=. Another word used is hN`r!, which means a ringing cry or shout; it can connote either a desperate plea (i.e., cry for help), a joyful expression of praise, or a confident shout (of triumph, etc).

From a theological standpoint, it is most significant that it is YHWH’s name, specifically, which “dwells” in the Temple. While YHWH Himself dwells in the heavens, His name dwells on earth among His people. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represented and embodied (in a quasi-magical way) the essence and nature of the person. This was equally true in a religious context, when applied to a deity; to know a deity’s name meant knowing the deity. This name-theology represented a more abstract and rational/intellectual way for a person to relate to a deity. In this regard, it is particularly meaningful that YHWH’s name is related to the act of prayer. This is the aspect of the Temple’s purpose that is being emphasized here, rather than its role in the sacrificial ritual, for example.

The name of YHWH was important in Israelite religious tradition from the earliest times, but the name-theology took on special prominence in the book of Deuteronomy (and the subsequent Deuteronomic History, of which 1-2 Kings is a part). Beginning in chapter 12 (vv. 5, 11, 21), and then throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the implicit location of Jerusalem (and the Temple site) is repeatedly referenced as the place chosen by YHWH to set His name. The names of the Canaanite deities are to be removed from the land (Deut 12:3), replaced entirely by the name of YHWH, the one true Creator God, with whom Israel is joined in a special covenant-bond. His name is thus closely connected with the covenant, as is clear implicitly from the references here in vv. 9, 21. The people belong to Him, and this is symbolized by the Temple which bears His name, indicating a sign of ownership, etc. God’s faithful vassals (“servants”) will pray in the direction of the Temple—that is, toward His name—as a sign of covenant loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign.

The people, collectively, as YHWH’s servant(s), are emphasized in verse 30:

“May you indeed listen to (the) request of your servant for favor, and of your people Yisrael, when they shall pray to(ward) this standing place; you shall listen at (the) place of your sitting [i.e. dwelling] (in) the heavens, and (when) you listen you shall forgive.”

As noted above, the expression “your servant” refers not only to the king, but to the people as a whole; this point is made quite clear here in v. 30. Solomon’s request is that whenever the people pray toward the Temple, YHWH will respond favorably to them, answering their prayers, even to the point of forgiving (vb jl^s*) their sins.

The preposition la# has a dual-meaning in this verse; on the one hand, the directional aspect of praying “to(ward)” the Temple is in view (continued from vv. 28-29), but in the second half of the verse it also is used in the locative sense of YHWH’s dwelling in the heavens. This dual-use may be intentional, as a subtle way of juxtaposing the dwelling-place of YHWH’s name (i.e., the Temple) with the place where He Himself dwells (in heaven). For more on this, see the discussion above.

In the verses that follow (vv. 33-44), a number of examples are given of circumstances under which the people might pray to God, using the Temple as their religious focal-point. In the next study, we will begin examining these.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:12-21

The Prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 8)

For the remainder of the Summer, in the Notes on Prayer feature, we will be looking at the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8. The focus will be on the version in the book of Kings, rather than the parallel in 2 Chronicles 6; the Chronicles version will be referenced only occasionally, where significant differences are worth noting.

The setting of the Prayer is the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple—the construction of which was described in chapters 5-7. The historical tradition of the inauguration is presented in the narration (vv. 1-10, 62-66) that frames the Prayer. In spite of the apparent chronological discrepancy, between the information in 6:38 and here in 8:2, 65, there is little reason to doubt the historicity of the basic tradition. The harvest festival (Sukkot, v. 2) would have been an appropriate occasion for a large-scale celebration involving dignitaries and military-age adult males from all over the kingdom.

The focus in the narrative introduction (vv. 1-11) is on the transfer of the golden Chest (/ora&, i.e., the ‘Ark’), which functioned as the ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH, into the newly built Temple. However, in some ways, the key thematic detail in this narration is the specific mention of the old Tent-shrine (i.e., Tabernacle), which was brought up along with the Chest (vv. 4ff). The presence of the Tent-shrine—called the “tent of (the) appointed place [i.e., for gathering]” (du@om lh#a))—serves, at the religious-cultural level, to legitimize the new Temple building in Jerusalem.

This is clear, symbolically, by the way that “the Cloud” (/n`u*h#), representing the theophanous presence of YHWH, fills the Temple building (vv. 10-11), just as it did at the inauguration of the old Tent-shrine (Exod 40:34ff). This sense of continuity belies a certain tension, preserved in the Deuteronomic History, between the construction of a fixed “House” for YHWH (in Jerusalem), and the earlier tradition of the portable Tent-shrine. This tension is expressed most clearly in the narrative of 2 Samuel 7, where the oracle given by YHWH to Nathan seems to affirm both the idea that a portable Tent (rather that a permanent structure) is the proper dwelling for YHWH (vv. 5-7), and also recognizes the validity of the House that would be built by David’s son Solomon (vv. 3, 13ff). For a summary of the critical issues involved in this complex passage, cf. Cross pp. 241-61.

1 Kings 8:12-13

Compared with 2 Samuel 7, the tension between these two concepts of the proper dwelling-place for YHWH is only briefly indicated here in 1 Kings 8, with the short poetic quotation that begins Solomon’s address (vv. 12-13):

“YHWH said (He was) to dwell in the storm-cloud;
(yet) building I have built an exalted house for you,
a fixed place for your sitting (into the) distant (Age)s.”

The specific use of the term “house” (ty]B^) and “fixed place” (/okm*) clearly present a conceptual contrast with the temporary dwelling of a portable tent-shrine. But the portable tent-shrine also reflects the movable presence of YHWH in the theophanous form of the storm-cloud. The term lp#r*u& denotes a thick/dark cloud, referring quite clearly to the rain/storm-cloud(s). The term occurs in the Old Testament primarily as a description of the manifest presence of El-YHWH—cf. Exod 20:21; Deut 4:11; 5:22; Ps 18:10 [par 2 Sam 22:10]; 97:2; cf. also Job 38:9, and the references to Divine manifestation of Judgment in Joel 2:2; Zeph 1:15.

In ancient Near Eastern religious thought, the storm—with its awesome clouds, fearsome thunder/lightning, and powerful (life-giving) rains—was especially appropriate as a manifestation of the Divine presence. In the Canaanite world, it was applied to Baal-Haddu, while the ancient Israelites applied it equally to El-YHWH. The control over the waters was a particularly important sign of YHWH’s power as Creator and King of the cosmos; cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. The imagery of the storm-theophany is seen most frequently in ancient Hebrew poetry (e.g., Psalm 18, 29), but it is also a major component of the theophany at Sinai, when YHWH established the covenant with His people (cf. the Exodus and Deuteronomy references above).

In the Exodus/Wilderness traditions, YHWH traveled along with His people, moving across the skies in the numinous form of the cloud, only stopping when the people set up camp; He would dwell/reside at the location of the Tent-shrine, which essentially served as His own tent-dwelling among the people (cf. Exod 40:34-38; Num 9:15-22, etc). This same symbolic image of YHWH’s presence among His people is expressed by the scene of the dark-cloud filling the Temple building (vv. 10-11, cf. above).

The term lb%z+ (z®»¥l) marks, at the religious level, another point of similarity between El-YHWH and Canaanite Baal-Haddu, as zbl (“exalted one,” i.e., prince) is used as a divine title for Baal (“Prince Ba’al of the earth”, zbl b±l °rƒ). The construction of a grand Palace-House for Baal-Haddu is an important theme in the Ugaritic Baal Epic. From his newly-constructed Palace, Baal rules (sitting enthroned) as king over the world; much the same idea is expressed here of El-YHWH in v. 13. The noun lb%z+ occurs, in a similar context, in Isa 63:15 and Hab 3:11.

Interestingly, however, after this reference in v. 13, the idea of the Temple as YHWH’s dwelling disappears from the chapter. Indeed, throughout Solomon’s address, beginning at v. 27, it is repeatedly emphasized that YHWH’s real dwelling-place is in heaven, not in the Temple sanctuary. This is important because it indicates that, despite the earlier tradition of the Tent-shrine (and thus also the Temple) as God’s dwelling-place, the purpose of the Temple is given a very different emphasis in the remainder of the narrative. This can be summarized according to three key themes:

    • The Temple sanctuary specifically as the dwelling for the name of YHWH
    • The symbolic place of the Temple sanctuary as an embodiment of the covenant between YHWH and His people, and
    • The role of the Temple as a focal-point for the religious devotion and prayer of the people

All three of these will be discussed as we proceed through an exegesis of the passage in the upcoming studies.

1 Kings 8:14-21

Following the poetic statement in vv. 12-13, the remainder of the opening portion of Solomon’s address (vv. 14-21) functions as a short summary of the Deuteronomic History, emphasizing the Judean royal theology, centered on the person of David (as king) and the location of Jerusalem (as the holy/royal city). The Temple building is at the heart of this royal theology, with verses 16-20 echoing 2 Sam 7:3-13 (cf. above).

Solomon’s address here is presented as a blessing to YHWH, but is properly directed toward the people. By framing this theology in the historical-traditional context of the Exodus (v. 16), the (Judean) royal theology is firmly aligned with the covenant promises made by YHWH to His people. This is expressed in vv. 20-21, where two of the aformentioned themes of the Prayer are established—(1) the Temple as a dwelling for the name of YHWH, and (2) the Temple as symbolizing YHWH’s covenant with His people. The two declarations by Solomon in vv. 20b-21 state this directly:

    • “I have built th(is) house for the name of YHWH, the Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Yisrael” (v. 20b, see vv. 16-17)
    • “I have set there a standing-place for the Chest [i.e. Ark], which therein (resides) the binding-agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant] which YHWH cut with our fathers, in His bringing them out from (the) land of Egypt.” (v. 21)

The Instruction (Torah) which YHWH gave to Moses represents the terms of the covenant, which the people are obligated to fulfill. The “Ten Words” are at the heart of this Instruction, having been engraved on stone tablets (the second set, Exod 34:1, 28ff; cp. 32:15ff). The Deuteronomic version of this tradition is found in Deut 10:1-5, along with the specific notice that the tablets were placed within the Ark (v. 5; cf. Exod 40:20). There is thus a strong point of connection between the Temple sanctuary and the covenant.

In the next study, we will begin our examination of the Prayer proper, looking at the initial section in vv. 22-26.

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 77 (Part 1)

Psalm 77

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPse (v. 1); 11QPsb (vv. 18-21 [17-20])

This Psalm has a definite two-part structure. The first half (vv. 2-11) is a lament, in which the Psalmist makes his suffering and distress known to YHWH. In the second half (vv. 12-21), the author/protagonist shifts to praise of God, focusing on the mighty deeds performed by YHWH (on behalf of His people) in times past. This emphasis, found in a fair number of Psalms, has two functions, at the literary level: (1) it is intended to spur God to act in a similar way in the present, and (2) it provides comfort and encouragement to the people, so that they might trust that once again YHWH will exercise His power on their behalf.

It is possible to outline a more detailed structure to the composition. See, in particular, the analysis by Beat Weber (Psalm 77 und sein Umfeld: Eine poetologische Studie [1995]), followed by Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 273-6), which divides the Psalm into five strophes, with vv. 17-20 representing an older/archaic (cosmological) poem that has been included within the final strophe. I will be noting these divisions below. The turning point of the structure, in any case, is the difficult and ambiguous verse 11.

Metrically, the Psalm follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, which two exceptions: (a) the irregular meter at the beginning (vv. 2-3), and (b) the tricolon format of the cosmological poem in vv. 17-20.

As with all of Pss 7383, this musical composition (romz+m!) is attributed to (and/or associated with) Asaph (cf. the earlier study on Ps 50). The term /Wtydy+ (or /WtWdy+), which also occurs in the heading to Pss 39 and 62 (cf. the earlier study), is apparently associated with the figure of Yedutun, a priestly (Levitical) musician who served in the Tent/Temple during the reigns of David and Solomon. His descendants continued the line of tradition, and the term here may designate a specific musical style.

PART 1: Verses 2-11 [1-10]

Strophe 1: Verses 2-4
Verse 2 [1]

“My voice to (the) Mightiest—so I cry out;
my voice to (the) Mightiest—so may He give ear to me.”

The lament portion of the Psalm begins with an irregular (3+4) couplet, that may express, poetically, the burden felt by the protagonist. Many commentators and translators would add a verb to fill out the initial phrase in each line—i.e., “my voice (goes out) to the Mightiest”; however, I feel a precise literal rendering (“my voice to the Mightiest”) helps convey a sense of the urgency that the Psalmist feels. My translation treats the w-conjunction as emphatic, giving dramatic effect to each line. The Psalmist’s focus in his prayer (and plea) to YHWH is that God will hear (and answer) him.

Verse 3 [2]

“In (the) day of my distress, I search (for) my Lord;
my hand poured forth in the night,
and did not grow numb,
(yet) my soul refuses to be comforted.”

The meter of this verse is highly irregular; an initial 4-beat line is (apparently) followed by a 3+2+3 tricolon. Kraus (p. 113) suggests that the word hl*y+l^ (“at night”) should be eliminated, as overloading the line; this would lead to a more consistent (4+4+3 tricolon) structure for the verse. However, the day/night contrast is fitting, even though “in the day (of)” here has the more general sense of “in the time when…”. Lines 2-4 expound the Psalmist’s statement from line 1—i.e., how he “searches for” God in the time of his distress. This searching (vb vr^D*) extends all through the night. The idiom of the Psalmist’s hand (“my hand”) being “poured out” (vb rg~D*) may seem a bit odd; probably here “hand” (dy`) simply connotes “strength” —that is, the Psalmist pours out his plea to YHWH with all of the strength he has at his disposal (i.e., in his “hand”). He keeps this up all through the night, and does not slacken (lit. “grow numb,” vb gWP); even so, his soul gains no comfort from his effort.

For a very different way of explaining these lines, cf. Dahood, II, p. 225-6.

Verse 4 [3]

“I set my mind to (the) Mightiest, and I groan;
I go over it (in my mind), and my spirit grows weak.”

This 3-beat (3+3) couplet establishes the metrical pattern for the remainder of the Psalm (vv. 4-16, 21). It develops the idea of the Psalmist “pouring out” all the strength he has in him. He purposely “sets his mind” on YHWH, praying intently to Him. The verb rk^z` is usually translated “remember”, but should properly be understood in its broader meaning of mental activity, i.e., putting one’s mind to something. The verb j^yc! has a comparable meaning, but with the more intensive (and iterative) sense of “going over” something in one’s mind (repeatedly). The idea of the Psalmist’s soul finding no comfort is here paralleled by his spirit becoming weak (vb [f^u* III). For all of his devotion to God, the protagonist feels no ease or help coming from YHWH in his time of distress.

The Selah-pause marker after verse 4 supports the view that vv. 2-4 represent a distinct strophe, or unit, within the Psalm (cf. the introduction above).

Strophe 2: Verses 5-7
Verse 5 [4]

“Watching takes hold of my eyes;
I am thrust (about) and cannot speak.”

The theme from vv. 3-4 (cf. above) of the Psalmist’s restless night continues here. The MT vocalizes the initial word tzja as a second person verbal form (T*z+j^a*, “you take hold [of]”), which, while appropriate to the thematic context of the Psalmist praying to God, is out of place here in the first half of the Psalm. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 227) in reading it as a passive participle, referring to the “watching” (plur.) that “takes hold” of the Psalmist’s eyes. This is probably a roundabout of saying that he cannot sleep; but the root rmv also can indicate an intentional night-time vigil (i.e., “keeping watch”). The feminine noun hr*m%v= occurs only here in the OT, and is typically translated (somewhat dubiously) as “eyelid”.

The verb <u^P* may be denominative from the noun <u^P^ (“foot, step,” cf. Dahood, II, 227). In all the other occurrences (Gen 41:8; Judg 13:25; Dan 2:1, 3), it is used in reference to a person’s “spirit” (j^Wr) being troubled or disturbed; in the Daniel references, the person is unable to sleep, which is presumably the same situation being alluded to here. In this light, Dahood would understand the verb rbd as deriving from the root denoting being back/behind, rather than the one denoting “speak”. He notes the cognate tadabara in Ethiopic (“to lie on one’s  back”), and understands the same meaning here—viz., “I cannot lie down”.

Verse 6 [5]

“I think on (the) days from (times) before,
(the) years of distant (time)s I bring to mind.”

The parallelism of the couplet, along with metrical concerns, would seem to require that the first word of MT verse 7 (hr*K=z+a#, “I bring to mind”) be included with v. 6. The same verb occurred in v. 4 (cf. above). The protagonist is specifically putting his mind on the “days before” and the “distant years” past; this establishes the context that will dominate the second half of the Psalm—viz., the mighty deeds performed by YHWH, on behalf of His people, in times past.

Verse 7 [6]

“(I play) my strings in the night with my heart;
I go over (it), and my spirit searches (it) through.”

By including the first word of MT verse 7 as part of v. 6 (cf. above), both verses now yield consistent 3-beat couplets. Again, the theme of the Psalmist’s restless night-time vigil, from vv. 3-4, is continued here, utilizing some of the same basic imagery, including the verb j^yc! (denoting going over something in one’s mind), and the verb cp^j* (parallel with vr^D*, meaning “search out”). As is fitting for the Psalmist, his meditation takes on a musical form—playing a song on the harp or lyre with his heart. The MT reads a suffixed noun (“my string[s]”, or “my stringed-music”); Dahood would parse this as a form of the related verb (“play/pluck [on strings]”), but the meaning is essentially the same, in either case.

There is no Selah-pause marker in the MT at the end of this strophe, to match those following vv. 4 and 10.

Strophe 3: Verses 8-10
Verse 8 [7]

“Will my Lord reject (us) into (the) distant (future),
and not continue to show (us) favor any more?”

Here, the context established in verse 6, alluding to the mighty deeds performed by YHWH (on behalf of His people) in times past, comes to a point with this pained and almost despairing question. Compare the opening of Psalm 74 (cf. the earlier study). This parallel may indicate an exilic setting here for Psalm 77 as well. In any case, the Psalmist’s personal distress is representative of the suffering of the people (collectively). It may even indicate that the fervent prayer and meditation of his night-time vigil is focused on the deliverance of God’s people as a whole. This is certainly the focus that dominates the second half of the Psalm.

The verb jn~z` (“reject, repel”) occurs relatively frequently in the Psalms (10 of the 20 OT occurrences), e.g., 43:2; 44:10, 24; 60:3, 12; 74:1, being a natural part of the vocabulary in the Psalms of lament. Here it is contrasted with the verb hx*r* (“be pleased [with], show favor [to]”).

Verse 9 [8]

“Has His kindness gone away to (the) end?
Has (the) showing (of it) ceased for cycle and cycle?”

The meter of this couplet is slightly irregular (3+4), as in verse 2 (cf. above), and may be an expression, in poetic terms, of the burden felt by the Psalmist. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) is a fundamental term, used frequently in the Psalms, where it almost always connotes the idea of faithfulness and loyalty (to the covenant).

In the second line, I treat the noun rm#a) in relation to the rudimentary meaning of the root rma (“show”), rather the more common and conventional meaning “say”, though the latter is certainly possible here—i.e., referring to YHWH’s communication (speaking) with His people. Yet, I do think that the principal idea here is how YHWH shows His goodness/loyalty to His people through mighty and wondrous acts.

I typically render the noun roD according to the fundamental meaning “circle, cycle”; though here it could be understood in its more conventional sense of an “age” (i.e. cycle of time) or “generation” (the people living in a particular age/cycle). Here the temporal aspect (cycle of time) is primary.

Verse 10 [9]

“Has (the) Mighty (One) forgotten (how) to show favor,
or has He gathered up all His love in (His) anger?”

In the concluding question to this strophe, the Psalmist raises two possibilities: (a) God has forgotten how to show favor (/n~j*, parallel to hx*r* in v. 8), or (b) He has simply gathered together all of his love (toward His people) and anger has taken its place. The noun <j^r^ refers to a deep-seated feeling of love toward another, manifested by caring compassion (like that of a mother for her child). The plural is comprehensive of this loving care and compassion. It is contrasted with the noun [a^, in the general sense of “anger” (i.e. the emotion), rather the more concrete physical idiom of the smoking/flaring of nostrils or the burning of one’s face.

Thematically, verse 11 [10] belongs to the first half of the Psalm; however, poetically, according to the proposed strophic structure, it can be counted as the first couplet of the fourth strophe (vv. 11-13), which I will discuss in the next study (Part 2).

It is possible to treat verse 11 as either another question (continuing those of the previous strophe), or as a declarative statement by the Psalmist. The context (though not necessarily the syntax) suggests another fearful question:

“And I said ‘My sickness—(is) it (due to)
(the) changing right hand of (the) Highest?'”

This will be discussed further in the notes to Strophe 4, in the next 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).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 72 (Part 2)

Psalm 72, continued

VERSES 12-19

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

Verse 12

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

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

Verse 13

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

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

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

Verse 14

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

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

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

Verse 15

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

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

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

Verse 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 18

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

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

Verse 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Prayer: Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:28, 35

After a short hiatus this Spring, the Monday Notes on Prayer feature returns. This week I offer a short discussion on prayer for one’s enemies, in light of the past Sunday Psalm Study on Psalm 72. In that particular Psalm, the poet presents a prayer to God on behalf of the king. In the opening verse, YHWH is asked to give sound judgment and right decision-making to the Israelite king, so that the king’s reign will be peaceful and prosperous, characterized by justice and righteousness, especially on behalf of the poor and oppressed in society.

I have to wonder how many Christians today actually pray for the nation’s leaders and governing officials, in a similar way, asking that God might grant to them wisdom and sound judgment. In the vicious partisan climate of modern politics—which characterizes the darkness of the world, and not the light of God—it is much easier to speak ill of people in positions of government, mocking and berating them. The tendency (and temptation) to respond in such a way is all the greater when the governing officials hold views and positions that are opposite to those which we, as Christians, might hold. In that regard, the nation’s leaders could be considered opponents, or enemies, and one might well be inclined to speak ill or evil of them. But this is not the way of Christ, who taught his disciples to pray, even for their enemies—on behalf of all those who might be hostile to them.

Matthew 5:44-45; Luke 6:27-28, 35

Jesus’ clearest sayings in this regard are found in the Matthean ‘Sermon on the Mount’, and the parallel Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’ —that is, part of the so-called “Q” material. In the Sermon on the Mount, the sayings occur within the “Antitheses” of 5:21-47, so-called because of the way that Jesus contrasts a customary/traditional saying with his own teaching—e)gw\ de\ le/gw u(mi=n (“but I say to you…”). Jesus’ argument differs in each Antithesis; the customary saying may reflect a distortion of the original meaning and intent of the Law, or he may argue that simply following the letter of the Law is insufficient. The six Antitheses may be divided as follows:

    1. On murder/anger (vv. 21-26)
    2. On adultery/lust (vv. 27-30)
    3. On divorce (vv. 31-32)
    4. On swearing (an oath) (vv. 33-37)
    5. On revenge/retaliation (vv. 38-42)
    6. On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

The sayings in question are part of the six and final Antithesis, on showing love toward one’s enemies.

On love for one’s enemies (vv. 43-47)

    • Customary saying:
      “you shall love your neighbor [lit. the one near] and (you shall) hate your enemy [lit. the one hostile]” (v. 43)

    • Jesus’ saying:
      “love your enemies and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the ones pursuing [i.e. persecuting] you” (v. 44)

Relation to the Law:

The saying is extracted from Leviticus 19:18 [LXX], a verse frequently cited in the New Testament (Matt 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:9, cf. below); however here the phrase “as yourself” (w($ seauto/n) is not included as part of the citation, presumably to better fit the second part of the saying. The second half of the saying does not come from the Old Testament Scripture at all, but should be regarded as a customary and natural (logical) extension—if one should love one’s friends and neighbors, the opposite would seem to follow: that we should hate our enemies. For the principle expressed in ethical-philosophical terms, see e.g., the Delphic aphorism (“to friends be of good mind [i.e. be kind], with enemies keep [them] away [i.e. defend against, ward off]”) and the famous maxim in Xenophon Mem. 2.6.35 etc. (“a man is virtuous [on the one hand] in prevailing [over] friends in doing good, and [on the other] [over] enemies in [doing] ill”).

Jesus’ Exposition:

Jesus flatly contradicts the conventional wisdom, commanding his disciples instead to love one’s enemies and to pray to God on their behalf. This relates both to personal enemies and to those who persecute [lit. pursue] Jesus’ followers (cf. in the Beatitudes, vv. 10-12). Of all Jesus’ statements in the Antitheses, this represents the most distinctive Christian teaching, and the one which is perhaps most difficult to follow. As in most of the other Antitheses (see above), Jesus extends the Torah command and gives it a deeper meaning—in addition to loving one’s friends and relatives, one must also love one’s enemies.


As the basis for this command, Jesus cites as an example (verse 45) God the Father himself who:

    • makes the sun to rise upon the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people alike
    • sends the rain upon the ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ people alike

In some ways this is a curious example, drawing from simple observance of natural phenomena, apart from any ethical or religious considerations—for certainly, we see many instances in Scripture where God brings evil and judgment against wicked/unjust people. However, the emphasis here is on the more fundamental nature of God as Creator—giver and preserver of life.

Verses 46-47 provide a clearer application of Jesus’ teaching, and is parallel to the statement in verse 20. The so-called “love command”, with its extension even to one’s enemies, proved to have immense influence in subsequent Christian teaching, even if the force of it was sometimes softened—cf. Rom 12:19-21 (citing Prov 25:21-22). In Galatians 5:14 Paul refers to the love-command (as represented by Lev 19:18) as “all the Law fulfilled in one word”. There are various forms of Jesus’ saying in verse 44 preserved elsewhere in early Christian writings, which may reflect independent transmission: Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; Didache 1:3; 2 Clement 13:4; Justin Martyr First Apology 15.9; Athenagoras’ Plea for Christians 11.1; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus 3:14; cf. also 1 Corinthians 4:12; Justin Dialogue 35:8; 85:7; 96:3; Clementine Homilies 12:32.

Ultimately the purpose (and result) of following Jesus’ teaching is stated in verse 45a:

“how that [i.e. so that] you may come to be sons [i.e. children] of your Father in the heavens”

This demonstrates a clear connection with the language and imagery of the Beatitudes (esp. v. 9); by following God’s own example (in Christ), we come to be like him—the same idea which concludes the Antitheses in verse 48.

The Lukan Version

In the Lukan version of this material, the contiguous sayings of Matt 5:44-45 are shown to be two separate and distinct sayings. That corresponding to v. 44 is found at Lk 6:27-28:

“But I say to the (one)s hearing (me): ‘Love your enemies, do good [kalw=$ poiei=te] to the (one)s hating you, give good account of [i.e. speak well of, bless] the (one)s bringing down a curse on you, (and) speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray] over the (one)s (hurl)ing insults upon you‘.”

The portions in bold match the shorter Matthean saying, the only difference being that, instead of praying for those who persecute (lit. pursue [after]) them, Jesus’ disciples are to pray for those who “hurl insults upon (them)” (vb e)phrea/zw). However, since e)phrea/zw can also connote putting forth threats against a person, the two versions of the saying may not really differ all that much.

However, the Lukan saying is more extensive, citing four kinds of hostile acts (instead of two in Matthew), thus placing even greater emphasis on the disciples responding with love, and the challenge that is involved in doing so. No matter how such people mistreat us or act as our enemies, we, as believers in Christ, must not respond in a like manner, but instead do good to them and pray for them.

The saying corresponding to Matt 5:45 occurs at Lk 6:35, which includes a separate (second) command to love one’s enemies:

“(But) all the more you must love your enemies, and do good [a)gaqopoiei=te], and lend (to them) without expecting (anything) back from (them)—and (then) your wage [i.e. reward] will be much, and you will be sons of (the) Highest…”

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 72 (Part 1)

Psalm 72

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

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

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

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

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


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

Verse 1

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

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

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

Verse 2

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

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

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

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

Verse 3

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

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

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

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

Verse 4

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

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

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

Verse 5

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

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

Verse 6

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

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

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

Verse 7

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

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

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

Verse 8

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

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

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

Verse 9

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

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

Verse 10

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

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

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

Verse 11

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

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

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

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