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.

August 21: Psalm 78:56-64

Because of the length of Psalm 78, the exegesis of its couplets and verses will be presented over a series of daily notes. The previous note examined vv. 52-55; for the discussion of the opening section (vv. 1-8), see the introductory study.

Psalm 78:56-64

Verse 56

“Yet (again) they tested and defied (the) Mightiest,
(the) Highest, and His witnesses they did not guard;”

As with vv. 17, 32, 40, this next section opens with a reference to the people’s continued disobedience. Again the verbs hs*n` (“test, try”) and hr*m* (“be disobedient, defy, rebel [against]”) are used, as in vv. 17-18, 40-41. The basis of this disobedience, as recorded in Israel’s history (esp. with the generation of the Exodus), is stated in v. 7: it involves (a) forgetting about the wondrous things YHWH did on their behalf, and (b) failing to keep/guard the regulations and precepts of the Torah. The Torah represents the terms of the covenant between YHWH and Israel; failing to obey the Torah regulations means violating the covenant-bond.

The term hd*u@, denoting something which is (to be) repeated, encompasses both aspects (a-b) noted above. It refers to the witnessing record of all the wonders, etc, that YHWH has done, and it also includes the regulations and precepts of the Torah. The people of Israel are obligated to “guard” (vb rm^v*) both of these. The encompassing term (plur. todu@) is typically translated “testimonies” in English; the idea of guarding the “testimonies” of YHWH is fundamental to Israelite religious teaching and tradition—cf. Deut 6:17; Psalm 25:10; 99:7; 132:12, and the repeated references in Psalm 119 (vv. 2, 22, 24, et al).

Verse 57

“but they turned back and broke faith, like their fathers,
they turned themselves about like a bow of treachery!”

The context vv. 52-55 (cf. the previous note) indicates that the narration here refers to the period when Israel was settled in the Promised Land. They “turned back” (vb gWs) from obedience to YHWH and were unfaithful/disloyal to the covenant-bond. The verb dg~B* is a bit difficult to translate, but it basically to refers to someone who breaks or betrays an agreement (i.e., breaking faith with someone). The expression “like their fathers” means that the people behaved like the earlier generation of the Exodus.

The second line reflects the earlier phrase in v. 9 (cf. the prior discussion on that verse). The idea of a “treacherous bow” (lit. “bow of treachery”) is that it is turned against the cause, with archers/soldiers betraying the cause of their sovereign (and the people). The Niphal stem of the verb Ep^h* should probably be understood in a reflexive sense—i.e., “they turned themselves about”.

Verse 58

“Indeed, they provoked Him with their high (place)s,
and with their carved images made Him jealous!”

The people violated the covenant with YHWH, by deviating from proper religious worship in two ways: (1) they continued to use different local shrines and altars (on various “high [place]s”, tomB*), and (2) they utilized and venerated “carved images” (<yl!ys!P=). With regard to the latter, the images could be Yawhistic, meant to depict El-YHWH, but more commonly the term lys!P= refers to images (i.e., ‘idols’) of other deities (Deut 7:5, 25; 12:3, etc). Of the many references to the people’s persistent worship of false/lesser deities (spec. through their images), see the summary statement in 2 Kings 17:41.

The injunction against worshiping at “high (place)s” is more problematic, since it can apply even to faithful worship of YHWH (as the true God). It involves the centralization of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, and there is very little direct reference to the issue of aberrant “high places” in the Torah regulations. The implication in Lev 26:30 and Num 33:52 is that such “high places” represented earlier Canaanite sites (where polytheistic/idolatrous worship occurred) which the people of Israel continued to use. Almost certainly it is this association with idolatry that informs the injunction against “high places”. The continued use of the local shrines and altars is repeatedly mentioned as a persistent problem (and sin) throughout the book of Kings. There are similar, but relatively infrequent, condemnatory references in the Prophets (e.g., Hos 10:8; Amos 7:9), but here in v. 58 is the only such reference in the Psalms.

Verse 59

“(The) Mightiest heard and (boil)ed over (with rage),
and He came to despise Yisrael greatly.”

The verb um^v* (“hear”), in this instance, probably should be understood in the looser sense of “being aware” of something. The reflexive (Hitpa’el) stem of the verb rb^u* (“pass/cross over”) is relatively rare, but tends to be used in the specific context of a person becoming angry or enraged. I have adopted the English idiom of “boiling/bubbling over” (i.e., with rage). YHWH’s anger at Israel’s flagrant violation of the covenant through false/idolatrous worship (violating the fundamental prohibition of the Decalogue, Exod 20:3-4), caused Him to despise/reject (vb sa^m*) His people.

Verses 60-61

“And He left behind His dwelling-place (at) Šilow,
(the) Tent (in which) He (had) dwelt among men,
and He gave (over) His strength to captivity,
and His beauty in(to the) hand of (the) foe.”

The historical reference in these verses is the loss of the Golden Chest (Ark), the symbolic throne and seat of YHWH’s presence, after Israel’s defeat by the Philistines in the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4). This episode represents the climax of the narrative in chaps. 1-4 detailing the corruption of the priesthood at the Shiloh Tent-shrine. The strength (zu)) and beauty/splendor (hr*a*p=T!) of YHWH’s presence among the people was manifested in the sacred locus of the Ark; this helps to explain the seemingly harsh and impious-sounding expressions in v. 61, which generally reflect the statement in 1 Sam 4:21f. It also indicates how closely the manifest presence of YHWH was connected with the Ark in early Israelite religious tradition. The loss of the Ark was catastrophic in its religious significance, and represented a severe judgment. However, the Samuel narrative does not tie this loss to polytheistic idolatry among the people, in the way that this is implied here in the Psalm.

Verse 62

“He also closed up His people to (the) sword—
indeed He (boil)ed over against His inheritance!”

Beyond the departure of YHWH’s manifest presence, He went further, shutting up (vb rg~s*) His people to the judgment of the sword—i.e., death in battle and destruction through military conquest. This may continue with the immediate context of the battle of Ebenezer (1 Sam 4:2, 10; cf. on vv. 60-61 above), but likely it is also meant to encompass a range of Israelite military defeats and disasters, stretching into the Kingdom period. The defeat at Ebenezer serves as a type pattern for all such future disasters. In this way, YHWH truly “(boil)ed over” with anger against His people, as the couplet repeats the idiom (using the verb rb^u*, Hitpa’el stem) from v. 59 (cf. above).

Verse 63

“Fire devoured their choice (young men),
and their young maidens were not praised.”

This couplet, though a bit difficult to translate, quite clearly (and cleverly) expresses the devastating impact of military defeat (and conquest) on the population. The fire (from war/conquest) kills off (lit. eats/devours) the choice young men, which means that the young girls (of marriageable age) have no one to wed; as a result, the maidens are never to be praised (as brides) at their wedding.

Verse 64

“Their sacred officials fell by the sword,
and their widows could not (fully) weep.”

This couplet follows the formal thematic pattern of v. 63. Just as the chosen ones in the secular sphere (i.e., strong young men of military age) were killed off, so also those in the sacred sphere (the men officiating as priests, <yn]h&K)) were slain. Both groups met with death as the result of military defeat and conquest (by fire and sword, respectively). In each instance, the man’s wife (or perspective bride) has her expected life upended and shattered. Here, the slain priest’s widow has no opportunity to weep (i.e., mourn and lament) in a proper and fitting way; possibly a planned ceremony (comparable to the wedding ceremony implied in v. 63) with formal dirges and the like is in mind.

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).

March 6: Psalm 68:2-4

Strophe 1: Psalm 68:2-4 [1-3]

As discussed in the introduction, Psalm 68 has a three-part structure involving nine distinct strophes (or stanzas); each part contains three strophes. The first strophe is comprised of verses 2-4.

Verse 2 [1]

“(The) Mightiest rises (up),
(those) hostile to Him scatter,
and (those) hating Him flee from His face.”

This initial tricolon reflects the meter/rhythm of the Psalm. Though the meter is irregular, varying throughout, the general pattern is of a 2-beat (2+2) couplet, punctuated (or interwoven) by a longer 3-beat line or couplet. The short 2-beat rhythm gives a terse, dramatic feel to the poetry. Here the parallelism of the couplet is synthetic, with the second line building upon the first; indeed, the action in the second line is caused by the action (of YHWH) in the first line. The parallel is formal, better seen if the couplet is translated according to the Hebrew word order:

    • Rises | (the) Mightiest
      scatter | (those) hostile to Him

The three-beat line that follows expounds line 2:

    • they scatter | (those) hostile to Him
      and they flee | (those) hating Him | from His face

God’s enemies are described using suffixed verbal nouns (participles). The verb by~a* means “be hostile to (someone)”, while an@c* means “to hate”; both verbs essentially connote having enmity (toward someone), and thus being an enemy. The actions are also parallel, expressed first by JWP I (“scatter”), then by sWn (“flee, fly [away]”).

The verb <Wq (“rise, stand [up]”) here is used in a military context; however, the sense is that the enemies flee from YHWH even before He strikes them. The very act of His standing up is enough to scare them off and put them to flight.

Verse 3 [2]

“Like driven smoke, they are driven (away),
like melting wax from (the) face of fire,
(the) wicked (one)s perish
from (the) face of (the) Mightiest.”

Metrically, this verse is comprised of a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet. The first couplet has a formal parallelism that is synonymous—describing what happens to the wicked as YHWH begins to act against them. It thus builds upon the last two lines of v. 2. However, now it is not just that the wicked flee from YHWH before He has a chance to act; rather, God does, in fact, strike at them. This is indicated by the verb [d^n`, which signifies something that is scattered by a driving force—i.e., it drives them away. The verb is used twice (for emphasis) in the first line, and commentators (cf. Kraus, p. 46) are doubtless correct in reading the first form as a Niphal vocalized as [d@N`h!. I follow Dahood (II, p. 135) in reading the second form as a Niphal 3rd-person masculine plural (or singular with collective meaning). The context would seem to require this.

Two different (parallel) images are utilized: (1) smoke (/v*u*) that is driven away (by the wind), and (2) wax (gn~oD) that is melted (vb ss^m*) by the heat of fire. For the latter, the specific expression is “from (before the) face of fire” (va@-yn@P=m!); it is parallel with “from (before the) face of God” (<yh!l)a$ yn@P=m!). It is the powerful presence of YHWH that bring the destructive scattering of the wicked, as is clear from the final couplet.

In both verse 2 and 3, the title <yh!l)a$ (°E_lœhîm) is used in place of the divine name (hwhy/YHWH); this characterizes Psalm 68 as an ‘Elohist’ Psalm. On the significance of this plural noun as applied to God (in a monotheistic context), cf. my earlier article; I translate it as an intensive (or comprehensive) plural, “Mightiest (One)”.

Verse 4 [3]

“But (the) righteous (one)s will be glad,
they will leap before (the) face of (the) Mightiest,
and will rejoice (indeed) with gladness!”

This tricolon matches that of verse 2, only with a shift in rhythm—the meter being 2+3+2. The contrast between the righteous (<yq!yD!x^) and the wicked (<yu!v*r=) is a staple of Wisdom literature, and occurs frequently in the Psalms (as we have seen in earlier studies). The fate of the wicked (fear/scattering/destruction) was described in vv. 2-3, and now that of the righteous (gladness/rejoicing) is described here in v. 4. The contrast is focused upon the idea of being in the presence of YHWH—literally His face (<yn]P*). For the wicked, being in God’s presence results in terror and destruction, while the righteous are able to leap for joy, in safety and blessing.

Three different roots are utilized here to express the idea of joy/rejoicing: (1) jmc (used twice), essentially denoting “be glad”; (2) Jlu, signifying a leaping for joy; and (3) cWc, meaning generally to show joy, rejoice.

Strophe 2 will be discussed in the next daily note.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 48 (Part 2)

Psalm 48, continued

Verses 10-15 [9-14]

This is the second of the two stanzas of the Psalm, as indicated rather clearly by the overall structure (including the two pause-markers at the end of verses 9 [8] and 15 [14]). Overall, this stanza follows a 3+2 meter, though there are a couple of exceptions (cf. below).

Verse 10 [9]

“Shall we compare your goodness, O Mightiest,
in the midst of your palace?”

The second stanza opens with a 3+2 couplet which I read as a rhetorical question, meant to inspire the praise of the people. It probably has the sense here of “To what shall we compare your goodness…?”, implying that the “Mightiest One” (YHWH) is incomparable. The noun ds#j# is translated according to its fundamental meaning (“goodness, kindness”); however, as I have often noted, the term frequently must be understood in the context of the covenant, denoting (or connoting) faithfulness, loyalty, etc. The first stanza emphasized the protection provided by YHWH, which is a central aspect of His covenant loyalty, whereby God fulfills His obligation to His people (according to the terms of the agreement).

The phrase in the second line, “in the midst of your palace”, again emphasizes Zion (Jerusalem) as the dwelling-place of the King. The “palace” (lk*yh@) of YHWH is, of course, the Temple. Even as the palace of the earthly king resides on Zion, so also does the palace of the heavenly King.

Verse 11abc [10abc]

“Like your name, Mightiest,
so (also) your praise,
(is) unto (the) ends of (the) earth.”

The meter of this verse is slightly irregular, but generally corresponds to a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. The idea seems to be that the praise which YHWH deserves corresponds to the greatness of His name. Oddly enough, in this regard, this ‘Elohist’ Psalm here does not use the Divine name (hwhy), but the substitution <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One]”, i.e., “God”). According to the ancient Near Eastern mindset, a person’s name embodies the essential nature and character of the person.

Dahood (p. 292), following the suggestion of earlier commentators, would read imvk as “like your heaven” (;ym#v*K=, spelled defectively):

“Like your heaven, Mightiest,
so (also) your praise,
(reaches) unto (the) ends of (the) earth…”

In some ways, this would be more fitting to the context of the Psalm, continuing the comparison (vb hm*D*) mentioned in v. 10. It would also develop the idea of the parallel between the heavenly and earthly dwelling of YHWH, as well as emphasizing the role of YHWH as Creator and King over the universe. The dome of the heavens extends over the entire surface of the earth; so also does YHWH’s rule, and the praise that is His due (as King).

Verse 11d-12 [10d-11]

“You right hand is full of justice—
let mount ‚iyyôn rejoice,
let (the) daughters of Yehudah twirl,
in response to your judgments!”

Rhythmically, we have here a pair of 3+2 couplets (following the meter established in the opening verse); however, the conceptual parallelism of the quatrain is rather different: the outer lines (1 and 4) forming a pair, along with the inner lines (2 and 3). The inner parallel also relates to the outer parallel:

    • Your right hand…justice
      • Let Mount Zion rejoice
      • / let daughters of Judah twirl (with joy)
    • / …your judgments

Judah and Jerusalem are to rejoice because of (/u^m^l=) the justice and judgments made by YHWH. This emphasizes God’s role as King and Judge over the universe. The noun qd#x# (“justice, right[eous]ness”) here is fundamentally related in meaning to ds#j#—both terms refer to the goodness, faithfulness and (covenant) loyalty of God. YHWH’s judgments, and the exercise of His justice over the world (and to the nations) take the form of goodness/kindness for His people.

Verses 13-14 [12-13]

“Go around ‚iyyôn and circle through her,
(and) count her great (tower)s;
set your heart to (consider) her rampart(s),
(and) examine her (fortified) dwellings—
in order that you may recount it
to the circle [i.e. generation] (that comes) after.”

This verse returns to the theme of the fortifications of Zion—and thus the protection provided by YHWH—from the first stanza (see esp. verse 4 [3]). Again, this is not meant as a literal/physical description of the city’s defenses; rather, it emphasizes two important motifs: (a) the traditional connection between the Temple mount (and the palace-locale of the ‘City of David’) and the ancient Canaanite hilltop fortress site, and (b) the protection that comes from the presence of YHWH within the city. The true nature of the city’s fortifications  lies in the protective presence of YHWH.

Three terms are used for the fortifications of Zion: (1) “great (tower), tall (place)” [lD*g+m!]; (2) “rampart” [hl*yj@]; and (3) “(fortified) dwelling” (i.e. palace, citadel) [/omr=a^].

The verb gs^P* (in the second line of the second couplet) occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning (and derivation) is quite uncertain. The context suggests a meaning something like “examine”.

The two 3+2 couplets are followed by a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet that explains the reason for counting and examining the fortifications of Zion (that is, the protection provided by YHWH’s presence)—so that it all can be declared (“recounted,” same verb rp^s* as in v. 13) for the generations (noun roD, “circle, [life-]cycle”) of people that are to come. This declaration is the essence of the very Psalm and song of praise that is being sung.

Verse 15 [14]

“For this (all belongs to the) Mightiest,
our Mighty (One from the) distant (past) until (the end)
—(so) He will guide us (into the) distant (future).”

The conclusion of the stanza (and the Psalm itself) takes the form of a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon. The initial line is best understood as an abbreviated statement: “for this (belongs to the) Mightiest”, i.e., “for this (is) God’s” —that is, the city (Zion/Jerusalem) and everything in it. In particular, the fortifications of Zion belong to YHWH. It is even possible to read the line in a more literal fashion, in this regard: “For this [i.e. the fortifications] (is the) Mightiest” —i.e., the fortifications are the protective presence of YHWH Himself.

I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 293f) in reading twm-lu (MT twm-lu^, “until death”) as toml*u), a feminine plural form of <l*ou (typically referring to the “distant” past or future), understood as an intensive or comprehensive plural (i.e., “[the most] distant [future]”), corresponding to colloquial English “forever (and ever)”. As Dahood notes, the first stanza ends with “until (the) distant (future)” (<l*ou-du^), and it is proper that the second stanza would end in a similar manner (toml*udu^).

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 48 (Part 1)

Psalm 48

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsj (vv. 1-9 [1-8])

Much like the two prior Psalms, Ps 48 is a hymn on the Kingship of YHWH, with special emphasis on Jerusalem (Mt. Zion) as the King’s city. It continues the theme of YHWH as King over all the earth (and the nations), but who has a special covenant relationship with Israel, with His throne in the sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple. This is an important component of Israelite (and Judean) royal theology. As long as Israel (and its king) remains faithful to the covenant, YHWH will continue to provide protection. The emphasis on Zion as a fortified location (on a hill) is a way of expressing this idea of God’s protection.

This Psalm consists of two stanzas (vv. 2-9 [1-8], 10-15 [9-14]), with a Selah (hl*s#) pause indicator marking the end of the first stanza. The meter is irregular, but the first stanza tends to follow a 2-beat couplet (or quatrain) format, with a brief shift to a 3+2 meter, before returning to a 2-beat quatrain in the closing verse.

The musical direction in the superscription is quite brief, somewhat oddly indicating that this musical composition (romz+m!) is also a “song” (ryv!). On the attribution to the “sons of Qorah”, cf. the introduction to the study on Psalm 42/43.

Verses 2-9 [1-8]

Verse 2 [1]

“Great (indeed is) YHWH
and very much to be praised,
in (the) city of our Mighty (One),
(on the) mountain of His holiness.”

The second couplet emphasizes the mountain location of Jerusalem, which is somewhat misleading, since the city scarcely is located on a mountain, but rather a more modest hill. However, in Canaanite religious tradition, the Creator El (“[the] Mighty [One]”) resided on a great cosmic mountain. Any local mountain could represent this dwelling of El. The same was true in terms of Israel’s view of the dwelling of El-Yahweh. He could be seen as present upon any local mountain (such as Sinai/Horeb), or even a modest hilltop site such as Zion/Jerusalem.

Indeed, the original fortified hilltop site captured by the Israelites was the location for both the Temple and royal Palace-complex. While the name Zion (/oYx!, ‚iyyôn) could refer to the expanded city of Jerusalem, it properly signifies the smaller fortress-site (the “City of David”) where the Temple and Palace were built.

Verse 3 [2]

“Beautiful (in its) height,
(the) joy of all (the) earth:
Mount ‚iyyôn, (on the) sides of ‚aphôn,
meeting-place of (the) great King!”

The quatrain in this verse is composed of another 2-beat (2+2) couplet followed by a 3-beat (3+3) couplet. The first couplet emphasizes both the beauty of Zion and its elevated location (indicated by the rare noun [on)—so stated in the first line. Both of these attributes are figurative, rather than meant as a realistic description of the city itself. Both its beauty and its elevation are due to the dwelling of YHWH there. Zion thus represents, from a symbolic and ritual standpoint, the cosmic dwelling of El-Yahweh, traditionally understood as a great mountain filling the heavens. As the dwelling-place of God, Zion also brings joy, i.e., is a cause for rejoicing (cocm=), for the entire earth.

The second couplet makes two points. The first point is that Zion is on the “sides” (dual of hk*r@y+) of Zaphon. The noun /opx* in Hebrew commonly means “north”, though it literally refers to something “hidden” or stored away. However, in Canaanite tradition, a local manifestation of El’s cosmic mountain-dwelling (and also that of Baal-Haddu) was Mt. Zaphon, usually identified with Mt. Casius (modern Jebel el-Aqra’). This great mountain was certainly to the ‘far north’ of Jerusalem, and a suitable location for the dwelling of the Great King (El-Yahweh). El’s mountain-dwelling (also envisioned as a great domed tent) was traditionally understood as existing in the ‘far north’, which may explain the origins of the name Zaphon (/opx*). Clearly, Mt. Zion is being identified here with the cosmic dwelling of El, according to Canaanite (and Israelite) religious tradition.

In the final line, the hy`r=q! could be translated flatly as “city” or “town”, parallel with ryu! in v. 2 [1]. However, I have chosen to translate it here in a way that preserves what is likely the original meaning, as a “meeting place”. In this case, it is a place where the people can “meet” the Great King (YHWH), referring to the religious ritual surrounding the Temple and its sanctuary.

Verse 4 [3]

“(The) Mightiest (is) among her forts,
being known as a place set (up) high.”

This is a rather difficult couplet, largely due to the attempt of expressing a relatively complex matrix of ideas within the confines of a short 2-beat couplet. But the basic meaning seems to be that it is the presence of YHWH, dwelling among the fortifications of the city, that gives to Zion (Jerusalem) its secure position and protection. Remember that Zion properly refers to the old Canaanite hilltop fortress-site that was captured by Israel (in the time of David). The ancient fortifications, and elevated position, gave to the city some measure of protection against invaders and hostile peoples. However, Zion was scarcely a high mountain (like Zaphon), and the characteristic here of its being a bG`c=m!, literally a “place set high up”, is something of an exaggeration. Its figurative high elevation (and thus its secure position) is due to the presence of YHWH.

Even though the Divine name (hwhy, YHWH) was used earlier in the Psalm, the occurrence of <yh!l)a$ here may be another example of substitution (for YHWH) in the ‘Elohist’ Psalms (cf. also the closing line of v. 9 [8] below).

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“For, see! the kings are (gather)ed as appointed,
they passed by (the city) as one;
they saw (it and) thus were astounded,
they were terrified and (fle)d in fear.”

With this verse, there is a metrical shift in the stanza, from a predominantly 2-beat (2+2) couplet format to a 3+2 meter. The idea of kings gathering together, meeting at an appointed time and place, suggests that they have come together for a hostile purpose (cf. Psalm 2:1-2). The emphasis on protection in the previous verses certainly makes a military scenario probable here. The site of the grandeur and elevated position of Zion (Jerusalem) fills the kings with astonishment (vb Hm^T*). This turns to utter fear, causing them to flee in terror (vbs lh^B* and zp^j*). Their reaction, of course, is properly due to the presence of YHWH in the city.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“Trembling seized hold of them (right) there,
writhing like (that of one) giving birth;
(as when) by (the) east wind (they) are shattered,
(the proud) ships of Tarshish.”

The fear and trembling (du^r^) that take hold of the kings is here described with a pair of picturesque illustrations: (1) a woman in writhing pain (ly!j) while giving birth, and (2) trading ships (filled with goods) that are torn apart at sea by a powerful east-wind.

Verse 9 [8]

“Even that which we have heard,
so (now) we have seen (it),
in (the) city of YHWH of (the) armies,
in (the) city of our Mighty (One)!
(The) Mightiest will make her firm
until (the) distant (future)!”

As in the opening verse, so also at the close of the stanza we have a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain, though this meter is skewed slightly by the third line (which may be textually suspect [cf. Kraus, pp. 472-3]). The idea seems to be that the residents of Jerusalem (and Judah) have heard of how YHWH protected His city (and its people) in times past, but now they have witnessed this first hand. There is no way of knowing if any specific historical incident is in view, though the famous attack on the city by Sennacherib during the Assyrian invasion of Judah (701 B.C.) naturally comes to mind.

To preserve the poetic meter, I have translated the title toab*x= hwhy according to its abbreviated form, i.e., “YHWH of (the) armies”. However, the full sense of the expression must be understood according to its likely meaning as a sentence-title that retains the verbal force of hwhy, something like “(the One who) creates the (heavenly) armies”. From the ancient Israelite religious standpoint, once YHWH came to be used as the regular name for the Creator God (El), the expression is perhaps best understood as “YHWH, (commander) of (the heavenly) armies”, emphasizing His control over the heavens (forces of nature, Angelic beings, etc).

The final (3-beat) line is a declaration of praise to YHWH, confirming that He will protect His city, and continue to make it secure, far into the distant future (i.e., for all time). Almost certainly this Psalm well pre-dates the fall of Jerusalem (and the destruction of the Temple) in 587. It is interesting to consider how Israelites and Jews would explain this hymn from the standpoint of the Exile. The obvious theological explanation is that YHWH’s protection is contingent upon Israel/Judah remaining faithful to the covenant. As long as the nation, and its capital city of Jerusalem, remained faithful, God’s protection of her would last forever.

References above marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalms 42-43 (Part 1)

Psalms 42-43

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsc & 4QPsu (42:5 [4]); 11QPsd (43:1-3)

Most commentators recognize that Psalms 42 and 43 comprise a single Psalm, containing three stanzas (42:2-6 [1-5], 7-12 [6-11], and 43:1-5), each of which ends with a common refrain. This is one of the clearest examples of a Psalm that, in its current form, would have been especially well-suited to being sung by a congregation in public worship. Metrically, it tends to follow a 3+2 bicolon (couplet) format (the so-called Qinah meter).

The superscription is distinctive, since it attributes the composition, not to David (as in most of Pss 1-41), but to the “sons of Qorah [Korah]”. The Korahites were priestly officials who served in the Temple, as attested in the books of Chronicles (1 Chron 9:19; 26:1, 19), and also as a company of singers (2 Chron 20:19). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, they are simply designated as Levite clan (Exod 6:21; 1 Chron 6:7, 23 [22, 38]), with no additional information provided. Clearly it is the group of Temple singers that is most relevant to the superscription here (as also in Pss. 44-49, 84-85, 87-88). It is possible that they were responsible for the editing of the ‘Elohist Psalter’ (cf. below).

The musical direction of the superscription also indicates that this composition is a lyK!c=m^, a term of uncertain meaning, but presumably derived from the root lk^c* which characteristically occurs in the Hiphil stem (= lyK!c=h!). The root fundamentally indicates the use of reason and intelligence—i.e., wisdom, understanding, prudence, etc. As a poetic or musical term, it could refer to a harmonious composition, a work of great skill and artistry (or requiring skill to perform), a poem/song used for instruction, or something else entirely. The term appears in the superscriptions of a number of Psalms in the ‘Elohist Psalter’ (44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89); cf. also the earlier study on Psalm 32.

Stanza 1: Verses 2-6 [1-5]

Verse 2 [1]

“As a deer cries (out) upon channels of water,
so my soul cries (out) to you, Mightiest (One)!”

The meter of this initial couplet is 4+4, an expanded metrical form that creates a grand and solemn opening. The feminine form of the verb (gr)u&T^) in the first line does not match the noun-subject (lY`a^, “[male] deer”); we would rather expect hl*Ya^ (“[female] deer”), in agreement with the verb. Dahood (p. 255) suggests dividing the text grut lyak differently, as gr)u* tl#Y#a^K= (“like a [female] deer crying [out]”).

The verb gr^u* refers to a cry of longing; a crying out loud is indicated by the parallel between gr^u* and ar^q* in Joel 1:19-20 (the only other occurrence of gru in the OT). The idea may be of the deer’s longing to quench his (or her) thirst, but the parallel between the “channels of water” and God (“[the] Mightiest”) suggests rather a scene where the longing for thirst is fulfilled (upon finding water). The basic imagery is well-established in Semitic poetry, going back to the Canaanite poetic texts from Ugarit; most notably, the image of a deer/stag going to a spring to quench its thirst is compared to the ravenous appetite (hunger/thirst) of Death personified (Baal Epic, tablet V, column 1, lines 16-19, etc).

“Mightiest (One)” is my regular translation of the plural noun <yh!ýa$ (°§lœhîm), understood as an intensive plural when applied to El-Yahweh (in the context of ancient Israelite monotheism). It can be transliterated as a name/title (Elohim), though more often it is simply translated generically as “God”. Curiously, in Psalms 4283 Elohim is used far more often than YHWH (more than 200 times, compared with only 45 for YHWH), in contrast to the rest of the Psalms, where YHWH dominates (more than 580 times, compared with little over 90 for Elohim). This has led to Pss 42-83 being referred to as the “Elohist Psalter”. The reasons for the difference are not entirely clear. It has been thought that the regular use of <yh!ýa$ reflects an intentional editing of compositions which originally used the divine name hwhy (YHWH) throughout.

Verse 3 [2]

“My soul thirsts for (the) Mightiest,
for (the) Living Mighty (One)—
when will I come and be seen (by)
(the) face of (the) Mightiest?”

Here we have a pair of 3+2 couplets that builds upon the idea expressed in the opening verse. The motif of “drinking” has led Dahood (p. 256) to explain hara as a form of the root ary II (cognate with hwr), involving the idea of pouring out and watering (saturating) the ground, along with the related concept of a person (or animal) being filled (sated/satisfied) by drink. If his analysis turns out to be correct, then the second couplet above would be translated something like:

“when will I come and drink my fill
(of the) face of (the) Mightiest?” (cp. Ps 34:9)

In any case, the thing that will quench the Psalmist’s thirst is to experience the very presence of YHWH Himself (His “face”).

Verse 4 [3]

“My tears have been food for me
(by) day and (by) night,
in (their) saying to me, all the day (long):
‘Where (is) your Mighty (One)?'”

The motif of thirst/drinking continues in this verse (again another pair of 3+2 couplets). While the Psalmist longs to drink from the very presence of YHWH, here on earth he has been been drinking only from his tears (toum*D=)—by which is meant his experience of sorrow and suffering. The idea of eating/drinking tears (as “food” [or bread, <j#l#]) reflects another ancient Canaanite poetic idiom. Again, an example is at hand in the Baal Epic from Ugarit (Tablet VI, column 1, lines 9-10), in which, following the death of Baal Haddu, the goddess Anat, in her mourning “she weeps her fill, drinks her tears like wine”.

The Psalmist’s sorrow/suffering is accompanied by mocking taunts from a group of wicked onlookers. This is a familiar motif in the Psalms (cf. the recent studies on Pss 40 and 41). The suffering of the Psalmist (often depicted as the result of an illness) brings into question his loyalty and trust in YHWH. The voice of the wicked and faithless ones, which can also serve to express his own doubts, asks “Where is your Mighty (One)?”. Here “Mighty One” = “Mightiest” (<yh!ýa$), the two titles El and Elohim being so close in meaning (and significance) as to be virtually identical. The theme of the suffering of the righteous—and with it, the apparent absence of God’s presence—was popular in ancient Near Eastern Wisdom literature, and is reflected in many of the Psalms as well.

Verse 5 [4]

“These will I remember, and will pour out
my soul upon me (as I do)—
that I went over in(to the) cover of (the) <Majestic> (One),
unto (the) house of (the) Mightiest,
with a voice of shouting and casting (praise),
(amid the) noise of (those) circling.”

While these lines are difficult to interpret (and translate) in detail, the overall sense of them is clear enough. The protagonist of the Psalm, in his suffering, recalls his recent pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple, almost certainly on the occasion of a holy festival. This is indicated by the verb gg~j*, which, it seems, has the fundamental meaning of making a (circular) procession, but which early on took on the technical meaning of making a procession (to Jerusalem) for one of the three great pilgrimage feasts; a cognate root in Arabic was used later on for the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj).

Here, the festival in question may be that of Booths/Tabernacles (Sukkot), for which an allusion seems to be present in the obscure phrase “I went over in(to the) cover [Es)] of Majesty [?]”. I follow Kraus (p. 437) in tentatively emending MT <D@D^a# as reflecting the root rda—possibly a plural substantive <yr!yD!a^, or the adjective ryD!a^ with an enclitic <-. According to this line of interpretation, ryD!a^ (“great, majestic”) is a title for YHWH, creating a clear parallel: “cover of (the) Majestic (One)” / “house of the Mightiest (One)”. The Es) (sœk, “covering”) is the Temple and its sanctuary, the “booth” (= house) of God.

At such a pilgrimage festival, the Psalmist would have come before “the face” of YHWH, to “be seen” by Him (cf. on verse 3 [2] above), in a symbolic and ritual sense. Now, in the midst of his sorrow, the Psalmist longs for a real experience of God’s presence, one that he can “drink” to give him nourishment and to satisfy him in his time of need.

Refrain: Verse 6 [5]

“(For) what are you bent down, my soul,
and make (such) a clamor upon me?
Wait for (the) Mightiest (One)—
for again will I throw Him (praise),
(the) Salvation of my face and my Mighty (One).”

This same refrain occurs in all three stanzas of the Psalm. The parallel occurrences in v. 12 [11] and 43:5 make clear that the first word of v. 7 [6] is misplaced and belongs at the end of the final line of v. 6 [5].

The Psalmist’s suffering and sorrow has led to his “soul” being “poured out”, and the same idea here is expressed by the verb jj^v* (“bend down [low]”) in the passive-reflexive (Hitpolel) stem. The sense of suffering/sorrow is reinforced by the image of the soul making a loud noise (‘clamor’), vb hm*h*. The Psalmist’s response to his own troubled soul is to wait (vb lj^y`) for God—that is, for Him to act, delivering the Psalmist from the source of his suffering. Indeed, the protagonist believes that he will once again, very soon, praise YHWH and worship Him just as he did at the pilgrimage festival (cf. above). The Psalmist remains firm in his belief that YHWH is his Savior (“the Salvation of my face”) and the true God (“Mighty/Mightiest [One]”) who will act on his behalf.

This reflects the theme of covenant loyalty that runs throughout many (indeed most) of the Psalms we have studied. Because the Psalmist has remained faithful and loyal, he is confident that he will receive help and protection from YHWH. Indeed, the promise of such protection is implicit in the very terms of the covenant (between YHWH and Israel). This extends to healing and deliverance from illness, as well as relief from the attacks (and taunts) by the wicked. Only a complete deliverance will confirm the trustworthiness of YHWH (as Sovereign), and vindicate the righteousness and loyalty of the Psalmist (His vassal).

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

December 25: John 1:14

John 1:14, 16

Verse 14

“And the Word came to be flesh
and put down (his) tent among us”

These words open the fourth (and final) strophe, or poetic unit, of the Christ hymn in the Prologue of John. The first three units represent a definite sequence of development: (1) pre-existence (before the creation), (2) the creation of the world, and (3) a transition from the creation to the earthly life of Jesus. It is the latter that is emphasized here in the fourth unit, defined by the traditional theological term incarnation, a term which derives its meaning in large part from the phrase in v. 14, “came to be flesh” (sa\rc e)ge/neto).

It the Logos of God—that is, the eternal Wisdom and Word of God (personified)—who is the subject of this strophe, even as it was the subject of the first three strophes. Though we may be accustomed simply to equate Jesus for the Logos in vv. 1-13, it is important to maintain the conceptual sequence of the Prologue, following closely the development of thought.

In the third strophe (vv. 10-12a), the Logos comes into the world, reflecting the Wisdom tradition whereby the Wisdom of God seeks to find a dwelling-place among human beings on earth (cf. Sirach 24:8ff; 1 Enoch 42, and the discussion in the prior note). This pattern, or paradigm, is significant, since it establishes clearly the identification of Jesus with the Wisdom and Word (i.e., the Logos) of God. Jesus comes into the world, living among human beings, just as the Divine Wisdom sought to make a home among the people.

The conceptual pattern in the Prologue is finally realized in verse 14, with the majestic declaration that the Logos “came to be flesh and put down (his) tent among us”. The presence of God, through His Word and Wisdom, is now embodied through the presence of a real flesh-and-blood human being. There are two parts to this declaration in v. 14a; let us examine each of them in turn.

o( lo/go$ sa\rc e)ge/neto
“the Word came to be flesh”

The noun sa/rc (“flesh”) was used in verse 13 (cf. the previous note), as a shorthand reference for the sexual (and physiological-biological) process of human childbirth. Here, too, the birth of a child is certainly in view. The use of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) confirms this, since it frequently connotes a human being coming to be born (cf. also the related verb genna/w, v. 13). Though this verb has been used repeatedly in the Prologue, always in reference to created beings, it is now used of the Logos, which would seem to be incongruous and inappropriate. It does, however, rightly refer to the birth of a human being. Thus, the statement implies that the Logos came to be born as a human being.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find such a clear (theological) declaration, to the effect that God—or, more precisely, the pre-existent Word/Wisdom (or Son) of God—came to be born as a human being. The references to the virginal conception of Jesus in the Infancy narratives do not go nearly so far, however much the Divine Presence (through His Spirit, etc) is implied (Matt 1:18, 20, 23; Lk 1:35). Paul, on two rare occasions, alludes to Jesus’ birth and suggests, through his wording, at least a rudimentary belief in Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4, cf. also the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6ff). The Johannine Prologue, however, has a much clearer and developed sense of Jesus’ divine pre-existence. Even so, the specific idea of incarnation is not limited to the Gospel of John, for we find comparable expressions in Phil 2:7, and again by Paul in Rom 8:3:

“…he emptied himself, taking (the) form of a slave, coming to be in (the) likeness of men” (Phil 2:7)
“…God (did), sending His Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin…” (Rom 8:3)

The statement in v. 14 does not have the negative context of sin and slavery present in those passages, but the darkness of the world, into which the incarnate Logos was entering, was clearly established in verses 5ff, and that dualistic motif (i.e., light vs. darkness) certainly entails the idea of sin and bondage (cf. 1:29; 8:34-35; 16:8-9),

R. E. Brown, in his commentary (p. 30), suggests a conscious parallel in the Prologue between verse 1 and 14 (marking the first and fourth units of the hymn). These are the only verses which specifically mention the Logos by name, and properly reflect the beginning- and end-points of the hymn (pre-existence and incarnation). Note the conceptual parallelism:

The Word was (h@n) [v. 1]
(Divine Existence)
The Word came to be (e)ge/neto) [v. 14]
(Existence as a human being)
The Word with (pro/$) God [v. 1] The Word among (e)n) human beings [v. 14]
The Word was God (The Word came to be flesh [i.e. a human being])

These dual-aspects of the Logos—Divine existence with an existence as a human being—come together in the image of the incarnate Logos (i.e., the Wisdom of God) making its dwelling among human beings.

kai\ e)skh/nwsen e)n u(mi=n
“and put down (his) tent among us”

The verb skhno/w is often translated blandly as “dwell”, however it literally refers to putting down (pitching) a tent (skh/nh). In Old Testament tradition, YHWH is described as dwelling among the people Israel, primarily through the portable Tent-shrine (Tabernacle), which later took a more fixed form in the Jerusalem Temple structure. But the original (and fundamental) idea was of God having his tent-dwelling, among the tents of his people. This “tent” had both a symbolic and ritual aspect, as well as a more numinous (and mystical) aspect, being the place where chosen ones—priests and prophets—encountered the Divine Presence.

Within this conceptual religious pattern, two distinct lines of Jewish tradition influenced the use of the tent-dwelling motif here in the Prologue:

    • The idea of the Wisdom of God seeking to find a dwelling on earth, among human beings (and the people of Israel)—Prov 8:31; Sirach 24:8ff; 1 Enoch 42; cf. the prior discussion on verses 10ff.
    • The convention of referring to the Word (Aramaic ar*m=ym@, Mêmr¹°) of God, as a pious substitution, in place of YHWH Himself. Thus, the idea that YHWH would dwell among His people, was expressed in terms of His Memra (Word) dwelling among them.

This same imagery is applied to Jesus as the incarnate Wisdom/Word of God—dwelling among His people in a new and different way.

The preposition e)n can mean “among”, especially when dealing with a group of people, etc. However, a more literal rendering of the phrase would be “and put down (his) tent in us”. This would reflect the Johannine theology in its more developed form within the Gospel narrative. By the point of the Last Discourse, set at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, we find most clearly the idea that God the Father, along with Jesus the Son, would take up His dwelling in (e)n) believers, through the presence of the Spirit (14:16-17, 20, 23; 15:4-5; 17:21-26). Again, this can be understood in terms of God dwelling among believers (collectively) or within each one (individually)—both are entirely valid ways of understanding the situation.

So also, the pronoun “us” (“in/among us,” e)n u(mi=n) has several layers of meaning, when considered within the full context of the Johannine Gospel:

    • Historical:
      “us” = the people of Israel, those living in Galilee and Judea, etc, who encountered Jesus during his earthly life
    • Traditional/Theological:
      “us” = the people of God, especially the righteous/faithful ones who accept the Wisdom and Word of God
    • Johannine/Christological:
      “us” = believers in Christ, those who accept Jesus as the Son of God, in accordance with the Christology of the Johannine Gospel (including the Prologue)

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us never lose sight of the profound mystery of the incarnation, a mystery that we will continue to explore through our study of the Johannine Prologue. The initial statement of verse 14, discussed here in this note, is just the beginning of the climactic strophe of the Prologue-hymn. Six marvelous lines remain, and we will proceed on our journey through them in the next daily note.

May 20: Isaiah 63:10-14

Isaiah 63:10-14

As we come to the end of these studies on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, it is time to consider the specific expression “holy spirit”. For those who have not looked into the matter, it may be surprising to learn that this expression scarcely occurs in the Old Testament at all. Of course, the idea of God’s holiness is common enough, and the association of the spirit of God with water-imagery and cleansing (i.e., making things pure/holy) is attested in a number of passages, as we have seen. However, the actual expression “holy spirit” (lit. “spirit of holiness”, vd#q) j^Wr) is quite rare. I discussed its use in Psalm 51 (v. 11) in an earlier note; the only other occurrence is in Isaiah 63:10ff, which we will examine today.

Isaiah 63 is part of a complex set of oracles and poems, located within the broader context of chapters 56-66 (so-called “third Isaiah”, trito-Isaiah). The Deutero-Isaian themes associated with the restoration of Israel and return from exile, have been developed within a more pronounced apocalyptic and eschatological framework, much as we see in Zechariah 9-14. The restoration of Israel comes to be viewed as part of a wider canvas of end-time/future events, including the judgment of the nations (and also their conversion), and the inauguration of a New Age for God’s people (depicted in cosmic terms as a New Creation, cf. 65:17; 66:22). These themes are woven through the oracles, along with a continuation of older prophetic and historical traditions. We certainly see this in chapter 63, which features a summary of Israelite history (vv. 7-14) at its heart, similar in certain respects to what we saw in the prayer of Neh 9:6-37. The traditional juxtaposition of rebellion (i.e. breaking the covenant-bond) and restoration is expressed, in verses 10-14, in terms of the presence and work of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“But they rebelled and provoked (the) spirit of His holiness [ovd=q* j^Wr], and (so) He turned (himself) to become an enemy to them (and) He made battle with them.” (v. 10)

The “rebellion” of the people, their violation of the covenant, is understood primarily in terms of religious unfaithfulness—that is, the syncretistic adoption/acceptance of Canaanite (polytheistic) beliefs and practices, rather than worship of YHWH alone. At the same time, this unfaithfulness was also realized in ethical and moral terms, marked by the (widespread) occurrence of wickedness and injustice within society. All of this was incompatible with the holiness of God, and necessitated a withdrawal of His protecting presence, and the bringing of punishment (in the form of military conquest) upon the people. Likewise in Psalm 51, it is sin that threatens the removal of God’s presence (His spirit) from the Psalmist. The same expression occurs there in v. 11: “spirit of your holiness” (i.e. “your holy spirit”). It is scarcely to be understood as a name or title; rather, the emphasis is on the holiness of God—as a quality, characteristic or (divine) attribute. If one were to view it as an abstract or absolute expression, then “holy spirit” would be seen as a shorthand for “spirit of the holy God”, or something similar (cp. Daniel 4:8-9, 18, etc).

The rebellion (and punishment) described in verse 10 is followed by the promise of future restoration, of a return of God’s holy spirit to dwell with His people. This is viewed as a return to the time of Moses, when the people were guided into the promised land by his divinely-inspired leadership:

“And (then) He remembered (the) days of (the) distant (past), (of) Moshe (and) His people. Where is the (One) bringing them up from (the) sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is the (One) setting (the) spirit of His holiness in(to) his inner (parts)?” (v. 11)

The hope (and longing) is for a leader like Moses, one possessing within him the very “holy spirit” of God. This theme was central to the Deutero-Isaian oracles and poems, expressed, for example, in the ‘Servant Songs’, beginning in chapter 42 (on this, cf. the earlier note). It is proper to regard this as an early form and example of Messianic expectation—hope for the coming of a spirit-inspired anointed leader, following the type-pattern of Moses, the servant of God. The presence of God’s spirit is evidenced by the miraculous events leading to Israel’s salvation (vv. 12-13a). Ultimately, the people were brought to a place of peace and rest in the promised Land (vv. 13b-14), marked especially by the presence of God’s spirit:

“Like an animal going down in(to the) valley, (so the) spirit of YHWH made him [i.e. Israel] to rest (there). Thus did you drive along your people, to make for you(rself) a name of beauty/glory.” (v. 14)

Clearly the “spirit of His holiness” is the spirit of YHWH Himself, His very presence among His people. The future hope is that this will be realized again, with the restoration of Israel in a New Age, soon to come.

May 14: Joel 2:28-29 (continued)

Joel 2:28-29 [Heb 3:1-2]

(continued from the previous day’s note)

The book of Joel has been rather difficult to date, with estimates ranging from the 8th century to the post-exilic period. This is largely due to the brevity of the book, and the general lack of clear historical indicators within the oracles. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

These oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together. The “day of YHWH” now represents the moment when the nations, collectively, would be judged, in one great “valley of Judgment”. The great oracle of Ezekiel 38-39, and those in Zechariah 12 and 14, are the other key examples of this (eschatological) theme in the Old Testament.

When we turn to the oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5], it can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

We saw the same sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (cf. the earlier note):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [j^Wr] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail:

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [j^Wr] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as ayb!n`,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

Note the following points emphasizing a total, comprehensive inclusivity:

    • that it comes on every person is specified (“all flesh”)
    • male and female (“your sons and your daughters”)
    • old and young (“your elders…your choice ones [i.e. children]”)
    • even the male and female servants

As previously noted, this seems to fulfill the wish expressed by Moses in Numbers 11:29, as well as the ancient ideal regarding the identity of Israel as a holy nation, made up entirely of priests, prophets, and kings (Exod 19:6, etc). While this had not been realized in Israel’s history up to that point—during the periods of the migration (exodus), settlement, Judges, and the monarchy—the oracle here indicates that it will be fulfilled in the ‘golden age’ to come. Admittedly, it is not specified exactly when this will occur. The oracle utilizes a general expression “following this” (/k@-yr@j&a^), comparable to the oracular expression “in the days following, in the days after [this]” (<ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^B=, Gen 49:1 etc), which came to be used in a distinct eschatological sense (cf. also “in those days”, here in Joel 3:1 [4:1]; also Jer 31:29, 33; 33:15-16; Zech 8:23, etc). As a message of hope to the people of the time, we may assume an imminent expectation, even if the specific details of the future ideal expressed in the oracle were not always meant to be understood in a concrete, literalistic sense.

This is all the more so for the supernatural cosmic phenomena mentioned in vv. 30-31 [3:3-4]. The true significance of this imagery is that of theophany—i.e. a manifestation of God’s presence, according to the ancient manner of expression (cp. the scene in Exodus 19-20, as well as many examples of the storm-theophany applied to El-Yahweh [e.g., Psalm 18 A]). This theophany-language and imagery came to be used by the Prophets as part of the “day of YHWH” theme, in the nation- and judgment-oracles; it became more clearly defined and pronounced in the later Prophets, and from there passed on into Jewish tradition to form a staple of apocalyptic and eschatology in Judaism (and early Christianity) during the first centuries B.C./A.D.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this framework? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives (and cf. the earlier note in this series on the Psalms references). Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (ayb!n`) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (<ya!yb!n+), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. As I discussed in the previous note, this is part of a tendency, seen especially in the later Prophets (of the 6th/5th centuries), toward what we might call a “democratization” of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a ayb!n`.

In the next daily note, we will consider this tendency as it is expressed in the book of Ezekiel, along with a brief comparison with several key passages in the book of Jeremiah.