Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.
This relatively short Psalm is difficult to classify, as most commentators admit. It probably has most in common with the poetry of certain prophetic oracles. The overriding theme of YHWH’s Judgment on the earth—specifically upon the wicked of the nations—shows obvious thematic and stylistic similarities with the judgment-oracles in the Prophets. In this regard, it is worth noting again the tradition that associates Asaph (and his sons) with prophetic inspiration (1 Chron 25:1-2; 2 Chron 20:14ff; 29:30). A similar prophetic tone and style can be seen in other Asaph-Psalms (e.g., 50, 81, 82).
There are several dozen Psalms that are also referred to as a “song” (ryv!). As any musical composition (romz+m!) with words could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear why only certain Psalms have this designation. In this instance, it may denote a poem that is set to an existing melody, rather than being an original musical composition, in spite of the fact that the term romz+m! is also used (cp. the heading of Ps 46). Here, the melody is that of tj@v=T^-la^ (“Do not destroy”, or “May you not destroy”), apparently the name of a well-known lament. The miktams Pss 57-59 are sung to the same melody; cf. the study on Ps 57.
The meter of Psalm 75 is irregular, but tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format. The poetic and thematic structure of the composition will be discussed in the notes below.
“We cast (praise) to you, O Mightiest;
we cast (praise), <calling on> your name,
recounting your wonderful (deed)s!”
A three-beat couplet is followed by an additional 2-beat line, added for dramatic effect, producing a tricolon. The first-person plural verb indicates a communal worship setting, such as that in which the Psalm might be performed.
As Kraus (p. 103) and other commentators have noted, the LXX reads kai\ e)pikaleso/meqa to\ o&noma/ sou (“and we call upon your name”) in the second line, suggesting that the underlying Hebrew was imvb arq rather than MT imv bwrq. In which case, arq should perhaps be read as an infinitive (ar*q=). I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 210) in reading wrps as an infinitive in the third line; if his suggestion, that the W– postformative element represents an archaic ending for the infinitive, is correct, then perhaps the infinitive in the second line originally had a similar form (warq), which could have been reduced to wrq. If that were so, then the MT would not need to be emended at all, only redivided: imvb wrq.
“When I take (the) appointed place,
I will judge (with all) straightness.”
In verses 3-4, it is apparently YHWH who is speaking, meaning that the verses represent a Divine oracle and mark the prophetic character of the Psalm (on which, cf. above). As is fitting for a judgment-oracle, YHWH announces His intention to take His place as Judge. The noun du@om means “appointed place” —here, the place appointed for the Judgment. Probably a great level place is envisioned, where the assembled people will stand before Him. This levelness corresponds with the “straightness” (rv*ym@) with which God Himself judges—i.e., fairly, with justice and equity. The plural form <yr!v*ym@ should probably be understood as an intensive/emphatic or comprehensive plural (with “all straightness,” i.e., total justice and fairness).
“(The) earth trembles and (those) sitting on her,
(while) I measure (out) her standing (post)s.”
YHWH is still the speaker in v. 4, continuing to announce the coming Judgment. The earth and its inhabitants are made to tremble (vb gWm Niphal), as God “measures” the columns/pillars (lit. “standing [post]s”). There is a dual meaning to the imagery in the second line. On the one hand, YHWH measures the pillars of the earth, alluding to His power and activity as Creator; at the same time, He is now busy preparing the place for His coming activity as Judge, where He will “measure out” the judgment for the earth (and its people). There is some syntactical wordplay that is almost impossible to translate fully in English; note the parallelism of the suffixed participles in each line:
- h*yb#v=y) “(those) sitting (on) her”, i.e., those dwelling on her, the earth’s inhabitants
- h*yd#Wmu^ “(those) standing (on) her,” i.e., her standing pillars/columns
The precise meaning of the verb gWm is not entirely certain. The Arabic root m¹³a (“surge, shake, totter”) is probably related, suggesting that the basic meaning is something like “shake, tremble”.
The Selah (hl*s#) pause marker at the end of v. 4 probably serves to demarcate the shift in speaker—from YHWH to the Psalmist. Since the first line of v. 5 begins (“I say/said…”), the pause helps the listener to realize that a different “I” is now speaking.
“I say to the (one)s boasting: ‘Do not boast!’
and to the wicked: ‘Do not lift high (your) horn!'”
The Psalmist, filling the role of prophet, gives a warning to the boastful (vb ll^h* II) and wicked people on earth. For poetic concision, I have translated the imperfect (jussive) verb forms as imperatives.
“Do not lift up your horn to the place on high,
(nor) speak against (the) ancient Rock!”
In my opinion, there is some clever wordplay in this couplet that resists simple translation. To begin with, in the first line, which otherwise repeats v. 5b, the word <orM*h^ (lit. “the place on high”) connotes “the One dwelling on high”. This results in a double meaning: (a) lifting up one’s “horn” to the place up high (i.e. where YHWH dwells); and (b) lifting it up against YHWH Himself, as an arrogant challenge to His sole authority over the nations.
In the third line, the adjective qt*u* has the basic meaning “old, ancient”, but can also be used in combination with the verb rb^D* (“speak”) as an idiom indicating bold and arrogant speech, characteristic of the wicked (cf. for example, 1 Sam 2:3; Psalm 31:19; 94:4). The preceding word in the MT is raW`x^b= (“with [the] neck”), but the LXX has “against God”, which suggests that the Hebrew is rWxb= (“against [the] Rock”), with rWx (“rock”) as the familiar Divine title. Whether the MT or LXX more properly reflects the original, it seems likely that the Psalmist is intentionally giving a double meaning to the line:
- “do not speak with a stiff neck”
(i.e. arrogantly) /
“do not speak against the ancient Rock [i.e. against YHWH]”
- “do not speak with a stiff neck”
“Indeed, not from (the) going forth and darkening (of the sun),
nor from (the) out back (to the) mountains,
(is there any) but (the) Mightiest judging,
the (One) who brings low,
and the (One) who lifts high.”
Verse 7 of the MT, as it stands, is obscure. Dahood (II, p. 212f) would vocalize al as al@, rather than MT al) (negative particle), reading it as a verbal adjective or noun (participle) of the root yal meaning “prevail”. It thus designates YHWH as the “one prevailing”. This is an intriguing suggestion, but with relatively little evidence to support it.
It seems better to take vv. 7-8 together, as comprising a single syntactical statement. The basic message is that there is no one in the entire world besides YHWH who is capable of serving as Judge. The first line of v. 7 establishes the full scope of the earth from east to west—lit. from the “going forth” of the sun to its sinking (“darkening”). The second line does the same, moving from the “place out back” (outback, i.e., ‘wilderness, desert’) to the “mountains” (<yr!h*). The word <yr!h* could be taken as a verbal noun (Hiphil infinitive) of the root <Wr (“be high”), parallel with the imperfect form <yr!y` at the end of v. 8. In my view, this not correct, though the Psalmist likely is utilizing some wordplay again here, playing on the two possible meanings of <yr!h* (“mountains” / “lifting high”).
As the Sovereign Judge of all Creation, YHWH is the one who “brings low” (vb lp^v* Hiphil) and “lifts high” (vb <Wr Hiphil); thus, no human being should dare to lift one’s self up high (vv. 5-6, cf. above), acting in the place of God.
“For (there is) a cup in (the) hand of YHWH,
and wine foaming, full of mixed (spices),
and He pours out from this—
how He shall squeeze out its dregs!—
(and) all (the) wicked of (the) earth shall drink.”
This verse is rather complex in its structure: a three beat tricolon (lines 1-2, 5) is expanded into a quintet, with the addition of a pair of 2-beat lines (3-4) that builds suspense and heightens the dramatic effect. The Psalmist, functioning as a prophet delivering a judgment-oracle against the nations (i.e., the wicked), indicates that the great Judgment is about to take place. The cup of judgment is in God’s hand, and he is about to pour it out, upon the earth.
This image of judgment as a cup of wine that is poured out can be found in the Prophets (Isa 51:17ff; Jer 25:17ff; 51:7ff; Ezek 23:31-33; Hab 2:16; Zech 12:2, etc). It was adapted most vividly in the book of Revelation (14:10; 16:19; cf. 17:4; 18:6). The association between red wine and blood is obvious, and serves as a natural image for destructive/violent judgment (e.g., Joel 3:13ff; Rev 14:15-20).
“But I—I will put forth (praise) to (the) Eternal (One),
I will make music to (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob.”
The Psalmist’s declaration of his intent to give praise to YHWH matches the opening announcement in v. 2 (cf. above). I follow Dahood (II, p. 215f) in reading <l*ou here as a Divine title. Properly, the noun refers to either the distant past or the distant future, often connoting the sense of “etern(al)ity” when applied to God. The expression <l*oul= certainly could be taken here to mean “(in)to the distant (future)” (i.e., forever), as it often does in the Old Testament. However, the parallel with the expression “the Mighty One of Jacob” in line 2 strongly suggests that we are dealing with another Divine title here.
The verb dg~n` (in the Hiphil) literally means “put in front (of someone)” (in this case, in front of God); for poetic concision, I have translated the verb here as “put forth”.
“Indeed, all (the) horns of (the) wicked I will cut down,
but (the) horns of (the) righteous (one) shall be lifted high!”
The Psalm ends with another Divine oracle, announcing the coming Judgment. It thus functions in tandem with the oracle in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), framing the judgment-oracle of the Psalm as a whole. The contrasting fates of the wicked and righteous are clearly described, using the same motif of the animal’s horn (/r#q#), along with contrastive idiom of bringing low / lifting high, found throughout the Psalm. On the horn of the bull or wild ox as a symbol of honor and strength (especially for a king or human leader), cf. Ps 18:3 [par 1 Sam 22:3]; 89:18, 25; 92:11; 132:17; 148:14; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21; Dan 7:8ff; 8:5ff; Lk 1:69.
The parallelism of “horns of the wicked” vs. “horns of the righteous” is precise, but the syntax differs slightly:
- “two horns [i.e. horn-pair, dual] of the wicked [plural]”
- “horns [plural] of the righteous [singular]”
The judgment comes on the wicked collectively, as a group; they each have a pair of horns (like the bull/ox). By contrast, the blessing/exaltation of the righteous comes to each one individually, with the implication that a great single horn will be raised up for each, resulting a multitude of horns (indicating honor) for the righteous as a whole. On the other hand, it may be that the plural tonr=q^ is meant as a comprehensive or intensive plural, alluding to the greatness of the honor (“horn”) for each righteous person.
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).