Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 85

Psalm 85

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-6 [1-5])

This is the second in a set of Psalms (84-85, 87-88) attributed to “the sons of Qorah [Korah]”; cf. the earlier studies on Pss 42 and 84.

This Psalm has a clear two-part structure: a prayer-petition to YHWH (vv. 2-8), and YHWH’s answer (vv. 9-14) presented in the form of a prophetic oracle. Each part can be further divided into two strophes (vv. 2-4, 5-8; 9-10, 11-14), cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 359, 363. The meter of the composition is relatively consistent, following a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format.

Like the prior Psalms (82-84), Ps 85 is not preserved among the Qumran Psalm manuscripts; however, it does survive in a Dead Sea manuscript from Masada. Though fragmentary and incomplete, the text of this MS is very close to the Masoretic Text, with no variants of note.

Part 1: Verses 2-8 [1-7]

Verse 2 [1]

“May you show favor to your land, O YHWH;
may you (bring) back a return for Ya’aqob!”

The perfect verb forms in this opening couplet (also in vv. 3-4) are best read as precative perfects—expressing the Psalmist’s wish for what will come to pass (cf. Dahood, II, p. 286). They have also been explained as prophetic perfects (cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 360, 362), declaring what will happen as though it has already occurred. If they were to be read as past-tense perfects, then the Psalm would certainly date from the post-exilic period, referring to Israel’s restoration and return from exile.

The noun tWbv= (Qere tyb!v=) has typically been explained as deriving from the root hb*v*, and thus meaning “captivity”; however, a strong argument has been made for deriving it from bWv (“turn back, return”), in which case it would mean something like a return to how things were before. The close parallel in Job 42:10 would seem to confirm this; cf. also Psalm 14:7; 53:7 [6]; 126:4. Thus, we have here an early example, probably dating from the exilic or early post-exilic period, of the prophetic theme of the restoration of Israel.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“May you lift (away the) crookedness of your people;
may you cover (over) all their sin!
May you gather up all your fury;
may you turn back (the) burning of your anger!”

These two couplets form a symmetrical poetic unit: a 3+2+2+3 quatrain, with a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker in the middle. The first couplet deals with the sin of the people; in the second line the regular noun denoting wrongdoing (lit. missing the mark, ha*F*j^) is used, while in the first line it is /ou* (“crookedness,” i.e., perversity). The Psalmist asks that such sin be forgiven; the action of YHWH is two-fold in this regard—(a) lifting/carrying it away (vb ac*n`), and (b) covering it over (vb hs*K*).

The second couplet deals with YHWH’s response to the people’s sin, having punished it, the punishment being described in terms of God’s anger. The noun hr*b=u# means something like an overflow (of anger); for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “fury”. The noun [a^ properly denotes the nostrils, but it is often used in the general sense of anger, perhaps abstracted from the more concrete (and colorful) image of burning/flaring nostrils (as a sign of anger). The Psalmist asks that this punishing anger be removed, again using two different actions by YHWH to express this: (a) gather it all up (vb [s^a*), and (b) turn it back (vb bWv, Hiphil).

By forgiving the people’s sin, and removing the punishment for it (as an expression of Divine anger), YHWH will be able to restore the fortunes of His people, returning them to a condition (in the land) as it was prior to the exile.

Verse 5 [4]

“Return us, O Mighty (One) of our salvation;
break (off) your (anger), provoked by us!”

The motifs from the first strophe (vv. 2-4) continue here, as the Psalmist calls on YHWH—now using imperatives rather than precative perfects—both to return/restore the people (again using the verb bWv), and to turn away His anger against them. The Psalmist now includes himself (“our/us”) among the people. Dahood (II, p. 287) would read the suffix Wn– on the verb in line 1 as a dative, rather than an accusative object suffix; in this case, the request would be for YHWH to “return to us”. The verb in the second line is presumably rr^P* I (“break”), though Dahood (II, p. 287) identifies it with the cognate Ugaritic prr meaning “flee” —in context, the Hiphil would mean “make your anger flee away from us”. Other commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 173) would instead, following the LXX, read a form of the verb rWs (“turn aside/away”). The noun su^K^ fundamentally means a disturbance or “stirring up” of anger—i.e., a provoking, or provocation.

Verse 6 [5]

“Will you be angry with us into (the) distant (future),
drawing your anger (endlessly) for cycle and cycle?”

The first line begins with a prefixed interrogative particle (-h), by which the Psalmist reinforces his petition with an earnest, but rhetorical, question. The question assumes/expects a negative response: surely, God will not be angry with His people forever. The noun <l*ou signifies a (period of) time extending either into the distant past or distant future; here it refers to the future. The noun roD has the basic meaning “circle, cycle”, but is often translated as “generation” —i.e., “for generation and generation”. Even if one renders roD this way here, it is important to realize that the time-frame of a generation is being emphasized, more so than the people in it; the parallel with <l*ou makes this clear. For the specific expression rwdw rwd[l] elsewhere in the Psalms, cf. 10:7 [6]; 33:11; 45:18 [17]; 49:12 [11]; 61:7 [6]; 72:5; 77:9 [8]; 79:13; 89:2 [1], 5 [4]; 90:1; 100:5; 102:13 [12]; 106:31; 119:90; 135:13; 146:10.

Verse 7 [6]

“Will you not return (and) make us live (again),
so (that) your people may be glad in you?”

The Psalmist asks a second question, this time in the negative, and assuming/expecting a positive response: surely, God will restore his people to life! Again the verb bWv (“return”) is used, with the verb pair bWv / hy`j* probably functioning as a hendiadys: i.e., “return (and) make us live” = “restore us to life”. The restoration of God’s people would naturally lead to their rejoicing and praise of Him.

Verse 8 [7]

“Make us to see, O YHWH, your goodness,
and your salvation may you give to us!”

The Piel of hy`j* (in the sense of “make live”) is followed here by the Hiphil (causative) stem of ha*r* (“see,” i.e., “cause to see, make see”). The restoration of God’s people entails blessing. The noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) refers to the blessings that YHWH gives to His people, when they are faithful/loyal to the covenant bond; ds#j#, in this covenantal context, connotes the faithfulness and loyalty (of YHWH). The blessing, and the covenant-obligation of YHWH for His people, also includes providing protection—i.e., giving “salvation”, as the noun uv^y# can also mean “well-being, safety, victory”. This is a frequent theme in the Psalms.

Part 2: Verses 9-14 [8-13]

Verse 9 [8]

“I shall make heard what the Mighty (One) speaks,
for YHWH (indeed) does speak fullness
to His people and to His devoted (one)s,
and they shall not return to a false hope!”

With Dahood (II, p. 288), I vocalize humva as a Hiphil imperfect (jussive/cohortative) form, hu*m!v=a^. The Psalmist here functions like a prophet, receiving an oracle from YHWH, which he then reports (makes heard). The oracle represents the answer of YHWH to the prayer of vv. 2-8.

The noun <olv* is typically translated “peace”, but properly denotes “fullness, completion”. It is often used (especially in the Psalms) in the context of the covenant-bond with YHWH. Fulfilling the binding agreement leads to blessing—well-being, security, and peace—from God. The adjective dys!j* (“good, kind”), like the related noun ds#j# (in v. 8), in the context of the covenant, connotes faithfulness and loyalty; I have translated it here as “devoted”. The phrase “to His people and His devoted (one)s” is another example of hendiadys (cf. verse 7 above); it essentially means “to the devoted ones of His people”.

The final line is problematic, and may be corrupt. For lack of any better option (the lone Dead Sea manuscript is not preserved beyond v. 6), I more or less follow the MT, understanding the noun hl*s=K! in the sense of a “false/foolish hope”. The promise is that, with the restoration of the people by YHWH, they will no longer be inclined to return to such folly (trusting in other gods, etc), but will be fully devoted and faithful to YHWH, placing their trust in Him alone.

Verse 10 [9]

“Truly, His salvation (is) near for (those) fearing Him—
(and His) weight (is again) to dwell in our land!”

As noted above, the noun uv^y# has a somewhat broader semantic range than the primary denotation of “salvation”; it can also mean “well-being, safety, victory” —referring to the blessings and protection that YHWH provides to His faithful followers, as an obligation of the covenant. The second line is a bit obscure, but it seems to be referring to the promise of YHWH’s presence—expressed here by the noun dobK* (“weight,” i.e., His glory)—among His people. The noun dobK* may also allude to the blessings that stem from His protective and abiding presence in the land.

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“Goodness and firmness meet (as one),
rightness and fullness join (together);
firmness sprouts (up) from (the) earth,
and rightness leans down from (the) heavens.”

In the first couplet, four nouns, each of which has a wide semantic range, are used; all four allude to covenant loyalty, and the bond between YHWH and his people:

    • ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”)—cf. verse 8 (and the adjective dys!j* in v. 9b); in the context of the covenant, it can specifically connote “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”.
    • tm#a# (“firmness”)—i.e., faithfulness, trustworthiness, etc., sometimes in the sense of being truthful (and thus, more abstractly, “truth”).
    • qd#x# (“right[ness]”)—or “righteousness,” when a religious-ethical emphasis is intended; also “justice”, in a socio-ethical context; in the context of the covenant, it has a meaning that overlaps with ds#j# (i.e., loyalty).
    • <olv* (“fullness, completion”)—sometimes in the specific sense of “well-being, security”, or, more narrowly, “peace”.

These four are divided into two groups: ds#j# / qd#x# and tm#a# / <olv*. The two sides “come/join together”, a meeting or union that is expressed in the first couplet by the verbs vg~P* and qv^n` (the latter verb can specifically mean “kiss”, including the idea of embracing). The meeting can be understood as taking place in a horizontal direction. In the second couplet (v. 12), a vertical direction is indicated—i.e., coming (lit. “sprouting”) up from the earth, and leaning down from the heavens.

These verses express the presence of Divine blessings on the land and its people, in a thorough and comprehensive way. As noted above, the four attribute-nouns all reflect, with slightly different nuances, the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant. The faithfulness of the people in the time of Israel’s restoration will mirror that of YHWH Himself.

Verse 13 [12]

“Indeed, YHWH shall give (forth) the good,
and our land shall give along her produce.”

Here, the blessing from YHWH is described specifically in terms of the fertility of the land. There is a formal parallel here:

    • YHWH | gives (vb /t^n`) | the good
    • the land | gives (vb /t^n`) | her produce

While the noun bof (“good”) should be understood in a general and comprehensive sense—viz., as the richness and blessing that God provides—the specific expression “the good” (boFh^) likely is allusion to the rain that comes down from heaven (from YHWH) to water and make fertile the land (cf. Dahood, II, p. 290, and elsewhere). For an agricultural and pastoral society, rain certainly would be among the foremost of the good things and blessings that God could provide.

The noun lWby+ is a bit difficult to translate in English. It basically denotes something that is brought/carried along, or refers to the process of such carrying. The fertile land brings forth its produce, bearing it and carrying it along.

Verse 14 [13]

“Right(eous)ness shall go before His face,
and shall set (the) path for His steps.”

This concluding couplet is rather ambiguous. Who is the subject and/or what is the precise scenario being so allusively described? If it is the returning of the people that is principally in view here, then it would make sense that YHWH’s right(eousness) (qd#x#) would go before His people and set the path for them on their return. It is also possible that the emphasis is on YHWH returning, to His land and His people, in which case qd#x# would be going before Him. It may be that both points of reference are in view, as in the general parallels one finds, for example, in the book of Isaiah and the deutero-Isaian poems—e.g., 35:8ff; 40:3; 42:16; 43:19ff; 51:10-11.

Here qd#x# stands for all four of the attribute-nouns related to the idea of faithfulness and loyalty to the covenant (cf. on vv. 11-12 above). It represents the overarching characteristic of the New Age of Israel’s restoration—referring to the restored people as the righteous and faithful ones, those fully devoted to YHWH, and who walk in His footsteps, following His example.

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).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: John: 1 Jn 2:28-3:24

1 John 2:28-3:24

The central theme of 1 John, the contrast between true and false believers, was established in the first section (1:5-2:17), utilizing the dualistic light/darkness motif. The two “antichrist” sections, 2:18-27 (cf. the previous article) and 4:1-6, focus primarily on the presence and activity of the false believers (i.e., the opponents), while the section in between (2:28-3:24)—the central section of the entire work—emphasizes the nature and character of the true believer. This is presented within three thematic subsections, framed by two essential exhortations related to the believer’s identity:

    • Opening exhortation: “remain in him” (2:28)
    • The believer in relation to sin and righteousness (2:29-3:10)
    • The believer in relation to love (3:11-18)
    • The two-fold duty [e)ntolh/] of believers (3:19-24a)
    • Closing assurance: “that he remains in us” (3:24b)

From an interpretative standpoint, the first subsection on sin and righteousness is the most difficult, particularly in 3:6-9, where the author makes statements which seem to contradict what he argued earlier in 1:8-2:2. I address the matter in a set of supplemental notes.

As it happens, sin (a(marti/a, vb a(marta/nw) and righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) are two of the three subjects mentioned in the Paraclete-saying of Jn 16:7b-11, of which the Spirit will bear witness, exposing the world and proving it to be wrong. And the exposition there of the true nature of sin (v. 9) and righteousness (v. 10) should be seen as having a bearing on the apparent contradiction between 1 Jn 1:8-2:2 and 3:6-9. The first passage explains how believers do sin, while the second passage explains how they do not sin. And, whatever else one may argue about the relationship of the believer to sin, as expressed in 1 John, one point is absolutely clear: the true believer will not (and cannot) sin in the primary sense of violating the great dual ‘command’ of 3:23-24trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and love for other believers (following Jesus’ own example).

Important in this regard is the Johannine motif of believers coming to be born of God, as His offspring. This is introduced in 1 John at 2:29-3:1. First, there is the specialized use of the verb of becoming (genna/w) in 2:29:

“If you have seen that He is righteous [di/kaio$], (then) you know that every (one) doing righteousness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of Him.”

Then the use of the plural noun te/kna (“offspring, children”) occurs in 3:1:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—and (so) we are. Through this [i.e. for this reason] the world does not know us, (in) that [i.e. because] it did not know Him.”

From the Johannine theological standpoint, “doing righteousness” essentially means remaining in God’s Son (Jesus), through the Spirit, since righteousness is defined principally in the person of Jesus, who (as God’s Son) manifests the righteousness of God (the Father). For more on this, cf. my recent note on the discussion of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) in Jn 16:10. The person who does this righteousness shows himself/herself to be a true believer, a child of God who has come to be born out of Him.

As one remains in the Son (through the Spirit), one faithfully fulfills the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) of trust and love. The latter (love, a)ga/ph) is particularly emphasized in this section, with sin defined largely in terms of a failure to love. By contrast, love is a fundamental characteristic of God Himself (4:16, etc), and his offspring will love in a similar manner. God first showed love to believers by giving them/us the ability to become His children (Jn 1:12-13; 3:3-8, 16ff, etc). This was achieved through the mission of His Son (v. 8), culminating in his sacrificial death, exaltation, and the sending of the Spirit.

The pairing of the verb genna/w and the noun te/kna is repeated in vv. 9-10:

“Every (one) having come to be (born) [gegennh/meno$] out of God does not do sin, (in) that His seed remains in him, and (so) he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of God.” (v. 9)

The idea of “doing righteousness” (cf. above) is expressed here by its precise opposite, i.e., “not doing sin”. Not only has the believer come to be born out of God, but God’s seed (spe/rma) remains in the believer. This use of spe/rma provides support for commentators who would insist that the Johannine use of genna/w be understood primarily in the male sense of “beget” rather than the female “give birth”. I prefer to render genna/w in the more general (causative) sense of “cause to be (born),” which can be used of either a male or female parent.

Regardless of the specific birth/begetting imagery that is intended, there can be little doubt that the “coming to be” for the believer takes place in a spiritual way, through the Spirit, and that God’s “seed” that remains in the believer should be understood in reference to the Spirit. The usage in the Gospel would seem to make this quite clear. Let us begin with the statement in the Prologue, which follows the wording of 1 John in describing believers as coming to be born “out of God” (e)k qeou=):

“But, as many as received him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring [te/kna] of God—to the (one)s trusting in his name, those who, not out of blood, and not out of the will of (the) flesh, and not out of the will of man, but out of God, came to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].” (Jn 1:12-13)

In the Nicodemus-Discourse, this same language is used (by Jesus), describing believers coming to be born:

“if one should not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] from above [a&nwqen], he is not able to see the kingdom of God” (3:3, cf. also v. 7)
“if one should not come to be (born) [gennhqh=|] out of water and (the) Spirit, he is not able to come into the kingdom of God” (3:5)

Coming to be born “from above” means the same as coming to be born “out of water and the Spirit”. As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe the emphasis in the expression in v. 5 is on a contrast between an ordinary human birth (“out of water”) and a spiritual birth (“out of the Spirit”)—i.e., a contrast between ordinary water and the living water of the Spirit (cf. 1:26, 33; 4:10-15; 7:37-39). Thus, from the Johannine theological standpoint, coming to be born “out of God” is the same as coming to be be born “out of the Spirit”. The believer is described as:

“every (one) having come to be (born) out of the Spirit” (3:8)
pa=$ o( gegennhme/no$ e)k tou= pneu/mato$

The accords fully with the usage in 1 John (3:9, first phrase), except that pneu=ma (“Spirit”) substitutes for qeo/$ (“God”), which is hardly surprising, given the theological declaration in Jn 4:24 that “God (is) Spirit” (pneu=ma o( qeo/$). Birth imagery also occurs in the Last Discourse (16:21), in the context of the coming of the Spirit (16:7b-15); and one may certainly interpret the initial giving of the Spirit (20:22) as a ‘new birth’ (a coming to be), in light of the rather clear allusion to Gen 2:7 (LXX e)ge/neto, “he became…”).

Returning to 1 Jn 3:9-10, the birth imagery is particularly emphasized within the syntax of the author’s statements. Consider first in verse 9:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) out of God
      • does not do sin
        • His seed remains in him
      • he is not able to sin
    • he has come to be (born) out of God”

The initial transformation of coming to be born out of God, as his offspring (te/kna), is followed by the abiding presence of God’s seed (spe/rma) that remains in the believer. This abiding “seed” (of God’s holy Spirit) enables the believer to be holy and without sin (“not able to sin”). Again, however, it must be remembered that “sin,” in the Johannine sense, primarily refers to violation of the great dual-command (or duty, e)ntolh/) of trust and love. Principally, the latter component of love (a)ga/ph) is in view for the author, as vv. 10-11ff makes clear. The true believer cannot sin in this sense of hating (= not showing love to) another believer:

“every (one) not doing righteousness [= doing sin] is not [i.e. has not been born] out of God, and (so it is for) the (one) not loving his brother” (v. 10)

In vv. 11-18, the author further discusses this fundamental duty of the believer to love, framing it as a message given by Jesus “from the beginning” (v. 11), as a practical example of “walking in the light”, developing the light-vs-darkness motif of 1:5ff. Believers love each other, while the world hates believers (v. 13; cf. Jn 15:18-25; 17:14; cp. 7:7). In the view of the author, any supposed believer who does not show proper love to other believers (and to the Community of true believers), actually hates them, and thus behaves just like the non-believers and hostile opponents of God in the world. Love is a fundamental sign of the true believer:

“We have seen [i.e. known] that we have stepped across, out of death and into life [cf. Jn 5:24], (in) that we love the brothers; the (one) not loving (them) remains in death.” (v. 14)

True love—that is, the love possessed by the true believer—follows Jesus’ own example, corresponding to the sacrificial love which he showed in “laying down” his soul for believers (v. 16). This love ought to be demonstrated every day, in all sorts of practical ways (vv. 17-18), even as Jesus did for the first disciples. His love, which is God’s own love, remains in the true believer (Jn 15:9-10; 17:26; cf. 5:42; 13:35; 15:13; 1 Jn 2:15; 4:16-18) through the presence of the Spirit. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 5:5, and also describes in Galatians 5 how the practical fulfillment of the ‘love command’ (vv. 6, 13-15) is realized through the guidance of the Spirit (vv. 16ff). Paul’s idea of “walking about in the Spirit” (cp. Rom 6:4; 8:4) is essentially equivalent to the Johannine idiom of “walking about in the light” (1 Jn 1:7).

Finally, as we come to the concluding verses 19-24 of this central section, the author summarizes his discussion regarding the nature (and characteristics) of the true believer:

“[And] in this we shall know that we are out of [i.e. born of, belonging to] the truth, and in front of Him we shall persuade our heart…” (v. 19)

I would argue that the expression “out of the truth” (e)k th=$ a)lhqei/a$) is essentially a shorthand for the fuller phrase “coming to be (born) out of the truth”, in which case “the truth” is more or less synonymous with both “God” and “the Spirit”. The latter identification is confirmed by the bold declaration in 5:6: “the Spirit is the truth”. The idea of believers being ‘born of’ the truth, and belonging to the truth, is very much part of the Johannine theological idiom, with the same wording being used by Jesus in the Gospel:

“unto this [i.e. for this reason] I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world, that I should give witness to the truth; every (one) being [i.e. who is] out of the truth [e)k th=$ a)lhqei/a$] hears my voice” (18:37)

The question that follows from Pilate (v. 38)— “What is (the) truth?” —receives its (belated) answer in 1 Jn 5:6: “The Spirit is the truth”. The Spirit, abiding in the (true) believer, teaches all things and guides the believer “in the way of all truth” (Jn 16:13). Through the Spirit, Jesus the Son—who also is the truth (14:6)—and God the Father, the source of all truth, abides in the believer. This assurance is referenced here in verse 20:

“…if our heart show know (something) against (us), (realize) that God is greater than our heart and knows all things”

Believers have this confidence before God, so as to ask of Him whatever we wish (cf. Jn 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24). His answer to our requests depends on our remaining in Him (through the Spirit). Under the Spirit’s guidance and teaching, we fulfill completely the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of us as believers (v. 22). This duty is declared clearly and unmistakably in verse 23:

“And this is His e)ntolh/: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and should love each other, just as he gave (the) e)ntolh/ to us.”

Those who fulfill this duty will remain in God, and He in them:

“And the (one) keeping His e)ntolh/ remains [me/nei] in Him, and He (remains) in him…” (v. 24a)

All of this ultimately is realized through the presence of the Spirit:

“…and in this we know that He remains in us, out of the Spirit which He gave to us.” (v. 24b)

Jesus (the Son) gave believers the Spirit, but God the Father is the ultimate source; the Father gave the Spirit to the Son, so that he might give it, in turn, to believers (His children). Even though there are numerous references and allusions to the Spirit earlier in 1 John (as discussed in the previous notes and articles), this is the first explicit reference and occurrence of the word pneu=ma. It is surely significant the actual word is introduced here at this supremely climactic moment, at the heart of the author’s work, where he declares the nature and identity of the true believer in Christ.

Having gone through this study of the central section of 1 John (2:28-3:24), it should give us deeper insight as we turn to the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6), in the next article. It is here that the author begins to develop his contrast between true and false believers, dealing with the subject more directly in terms of the Johannine spiritualism and the role of the Spirit.

June 11: 1 John 3:6b, 10

This note looks at the last of the six parallel components in 1 John 2:28-3:10:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are righteous, and act rightly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

Cf. the previous notes on components 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5, and the introductory discussion on 3:6-9.

1 John 3:6b / 3:10
    • “every one sinning has not seen him and has not known him” (3:6b)
    • “…every one not doing righteousness is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the (one) not loving his brother” (3:10)

Again we see the close connection between sin and righteousness (dikaiosu/nh, or “right-ness, just-ness”). Previously we had the equation doing righteousness = not sinning; similarly, here we have the reverse of this: sinning = not doing righteousness. Recall above that the use of the substantive verbal noun (participle with definite article) indicated the essential identity and character of a believer; now the same syntax is used to refer to the non-believer (or false believer). That this characterizes the non-believer is clear from the phrases “has…seen/known him” and “out of God [i.e. belonging to God, born of God]”. This is typical Johannine language, used throughout the Gospel and First Letter.

Thus the “one sinning” clearly is not (and cannot be) a true believer in Christ. But is this “sinning” meant in the general sense, or does it have a particular meaning in its context here? The final phrase of verse 10 (and of the passage) confirms that the intended meaning is quite specific, by the identification of the “one sinning / not doing justice” as “the one not loving his brother”. There can be little doubt that the use of “brother” in context means one’s fellow believer.

Love (a)ga/ph) between believers is a fundamental mark of the Christian identity, and central to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It is part of the great command—the only command—under which believers are bound. Actually, the great command is a two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) that is required of all believers, as presented succinctly in 3:23:

“And this is His e)ntolh/: that we should trust in the name of His Son Yeshua (the) Anointed, and (that) we should love each other, even as he [i.e. Jesus] gave us the e)ntolh/.”

Thus the essential definition of sin must be expanded to include a failure to love one another. That this is primarily in mind for the author is clear enough by the section which follows our passage (3:11-24). Beginning with a statement of the love-command (v. 11), and the key illustration in v. 12 from the story of Cain and Abel, the author’s instruction turns entirely to the demonstration of love as the mark of the true believer. Remember that the issue of those ‘false’ believers who separated from the Community is at the heart of the letter, and informs this section on love, even as it does the prior section on sin. We may thus summarize the teaching regarding sin as follows:

There are four levels of meaning to hamarti/a and the concept of sin (compare with the list of three given in the previous note):

    1. “sins” (plural) = individual sins committed by human beings
    2. “sin” (singular, without the definite article) = sin in the general sense
    3. “sin” (singular, with the article) = the fundamental sin of unbelief
    4. “sinning” (verb a(marta/nw) = principally, violations of the two-fold command

The main point at issue in 1 John, especially here in 2:28-3:10, is not the first two levels of meaning (as the casual reader might assume), but specifically the last two. For the true believer, it is impossible to sin in the sense of (3.) and (4.); indeed, sin, in either of these senses, marks the very distinction between the true and false believer. To see this clearly, let us cite the concluding statement of verse 10 in full:

“In this it is shining [i.e. clear/apparent] (who are) the offspring of God and the offspring of the Diábolos: every one not doing righteousness [i.e. sinning] is not (born) out of God, and (this is) the one not loving his brother.”

What then of meanings (1.) and (2.) above? The work of Jesus, his sacrificial death and resurrection, frees believers from sin in the general sense (1:7; 2:2), as is indicated in the pair of Christological statements of vv. 5, 8b (see above). This leaves meaning #1, which, I would argue, is the only sense of sin that applies to the true believer in Christ. Believers will (or may) occasionally commit sins, as the author makes quite clear in 1:8-2:2 and 5:16ff. The same power that frees us from sin in the general sense, also cleanses us from individual sins we commit. In that way, believers do take part in the sinlessness of Jesus, and the power that he has over sin.

June 7: 1 John 2:29; 3:7bc

This note looks at the second of six parallel components in 1 John 2:28-3:10:

    • Initial exhortation, with the opening address “(my dear) offspring” (2:28; 3:7a)
    • Statement characterizing (true) believers as those who are righteous, and act rightly (2:29; 3:7bc)
    • Statement regarding the opposite—i.e. those who sin (3:4, 8a)
    • Statement regarding the purpose for Jesus coming to earth (as a human being) (3:5, 8b)
    • Statement to the effect that the (true) believer does/can not sin, and why (3:6a, 9)
    • Statement of the opposite—that the one sinning cannot be a true believer (3:6b, 10)

Cf. the previous note on component 1, and the introductory discussion on 3:6-9.

1 John 2:29 / 3:7bc
    • “If you have seen [i.e. known] that he is righteous, (then) you know that also every (one) doing righteousness has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of him.” (2:29)
    • “every (one) doing righteousness is righteous, even as that (one) [i.e. Jesus] is righteous” (3:7bc)

This statement expresses a fundamental (two-fold) principle of Johannine theology: (1) as Jesus is right(eous) [di/kaio$], so his true followers (believers) will be as well; and (2) the right-ness [dikaiosu/nh] of believers comes from that of Jesus himself, through our union with him. Here we also have the basic problem of how to translate the dikaio word group, whether by “just/justice” or “right[eous]/righteousness”. Either way, we must, I think, here avoid the tendency of understanding dikaios[u/nh] in terms of conventional ethical-religious behavior. The author certainly would have taken for granted that true believers would think and act in a moral and upright manner; I doubt that is really at issue here, since, presumably, those who separated from the Community were quite moral (in the conventional sense) as well. Some commentators assume that they were licentious, but I find not the slightest hint of that in the letters. Moreover, it is worth noting that, throughout Church history, separatist groups and supposed ‘heretics’ have tended toward an ideal of ascetic purity much more so than toward flagrant immorality.

How, then, should we understand di/kaio$ and dikaoisu/nh here? We must look to the evidence of how these words are used elsewhere in the Johannine writings. They occur infrequently in the Gospel, but there is one key passage, 16:8-11, in the great Last Discourse, where Jesus is speaking of the work that the Spirit/Paraclete will do after his departure back to the Father. As it happens, sin (a(marti/a) and righteousness are juxtaposed in that passage, much as they are in 1 John 2:28-3:10:

“and, (at his) coming, that one [i.e. the Spirit/Paraclete] will show the world (to be wrong) about sin and about righteousness and about judgment: (on the one hand) about sin, (in) that they do not trust in me; (on the other) about righteousness, (in) that I go back to the Father and you (can) look at me no longer…”

Here sin is defined as failing (or refusing) to trust in Jesus; and, I would say, that right(eous)ness is similarly to be understood as the truth of who Jesus is. The work of the Spirit is described with the verb e)le/gxw, which has the basic meaning of “expose, show (someone) to be wrong,” sometimes in the judicial context of proving someone wrong, of exposing the guilt, etc, of someone—more precisely here, that of exposing the truth of the matter. Indeed, the Spirit is closely identified with Truth in the Johannine writings, being called “the Spirit of truth” in verse 13 (also 14:17; 15:26; and see 1 John 4:6; 5:6). The truth of Jesus’ identity is defined here by two phrases:

    • “I go back to the Father” — i.e., the raised/exalted Jesus’ return to the Father, confirming his identity as the Son.
    • “you see me no longer” — this is a shorthand way of referring to the time after his departure, in which the disciples will “see” Jesus only through the (invisible) presence of the Spirit. The abiding presence of the Spirit confirms the reality of who Jesus is, and marks the true believer.

Thus “sin” and “right(eous)ness” (dikaiosu/nh) here have a very specific and distinct meaning. The terms are not being used in the ordinary ethical-religious sense, but in a decidedly theological and Christological sense. What of the dikaio word group elsewhere in the Johannine letters? The noun occurs only in our passage (2:29; 3:7, 10), but the adjective (di/kaio$) three other times in 1 John:

    • In 1:9 and 2:1, it is used as a title/attribute of Jesus, specifically in the context of his relation to the Father (as Son), with the power to cleanse/forgive sin. This is an importance point of emphasis which we will be exploring further.
    • In 3:12, immediately following our passage, it characterizes Abel in contrast to the evil of Cain. The two are brothers, and, as such, the illustration represents the contrast between true and false believers—another important point for our passage.

As in the earlier statement in 2:28, that in v. 29 is followed by an exposition with an eschatological emphasis, only much more extensive (3:1-3). It is beyond the scope of our study in this set of notes to examine these verses in detail, but the following brief points should be noted:

    • Believers are identified as “the offspring (i.e. children) of God”, essentially using the same noun (te/kna) as in the opening exhortations (2:28a; 3:7a, dim. tekni/a). This expounds the important Johannine verb genna/w (“come to be [born]”), used repeatedly as a way of identifying (true) believers as those who are born from God. This essential identity is in complete contrast to that of “the world [ko/smo$]”.
    • The identity of believers will not be realized fully until the end-time appearance of Jesus; currently, they/we experience him through the Spirit, but ultimately the union will be even more complete.

For more on the Paraclete-saying in Jn 16:7b-11, in its exposition of the words a(marti/a and dikaiosu/nh, cf. the article in the series “Spiritualism in the New Testament,” and the supplemental notes on the passage, esp. the notes on v. 9 and 10

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).

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).

May 13: John 16:10

John 16:10

Verse 10 highlights the second noun of the triad in v. 8 (cf. the prior note)—dikaiosu/nh:

“and that (one) will show the world (to be wrong)…about dikaiosu/nh…”

On the contextual meaning of the verb e)le/gxw, here translated as “show (to be wrong)”, cf. the prior note.

The Spirit will show the world to be wrong about dikaiosu/nh. This noun literally means “right-ness”, the closest approximation for which in English is “righteousness”, though in certain instances “justice” is perhaps a more appropriate translation. The noun is relatively rare in the Johannine writings; it occurs only here (vv. 8, 10) in the Gospel, and three times in 1 John.

The usage in 1 John may help to elucidate the meaning of the word in the Gospel. The context within the statements of 2:29, 3:7 and 10 is very similar:

“If you have seen that He is right(eous) [di/kaio$], (the) you know also that every (one) doing right(eous)ness [dikaiosu/nh] has come to be born out of Him.” [2:29]
“(Dear) offspring, let no one lead you astray: the (one) doing right(eous)ness is right(eous), just as that (One) is right(eous).” [3:7]
“In this is made to shine forth the offspring of God and the offspring of the {Devil}: every (one) not doing right(eous)ness is not out of God…” [3:10]

Righteousness is clearly related to the characteristic of God the Father as righteous (di/kaio$), an attribute that is also shared by the Son (Jesus), cf. 1:9; 2:1. Believers who are united with the Son (and thus also the Father) through the Spirit, likewise share this characteristic. And so, they will do what is right, following the example of Jesus (and of God the Father). In so doing, they will demonstrate that they have been ‘born’ of God.

This strong theological usage, within the Johannine idiom, informs the use of dikaiosu/nh here in the Paraclete saying (16:8): “that (one) [i.e. the Spirit] will show the world (to be wrong) about right(eous)ness [peri\ dikaiosu/nh$]”. Jesus expounds what is meant by this in verse 10:

“…and about right(eous)ness, (in) that I lead (myself) under toward the Father and not any (more) do you look at me”

On the surface, Jesus simply re-states what he has been saying throughout the Last Discourse—that he will soon be going away, back to the Father. This is most frequently expressed by the verb u(pa/gw, which literally means something like “lead (oneself) under,” i.e., going ‘undercover,’ disappearing, often used in the more general sense of “go away, go back”. It occurs quite often in the Gospel of John (32 times out of 79 NT occurrences), where it typically is used, by Jesus, to refer to his departure back to the Father. Properly construed, this ‘going away’ is part of the process of Jesus’ exaltation, of his being “lifted up” —a process that begins with his death, and ends with his return to the Father. The references to Jesus’ departure have a dual-meaning in the Last Discourse, referring to both ends of that spectrum.

The verb qewre/w, one of several key verbs in the Gospel expressing the idea of seeing, also has a double-meaning. It denotes “looking (closely) at” something (or someone), and occurs 24 times in the Gospel (out of 58 NT occurrences). Theologically it can signify seeing Jesus, in the sense of recognizing his true identity (as the Son sent by the Father), cf. 12:45, etc; yet, it also can refer to simple (physical) sight. Throughout the Last Discourse, there is conceptual wordplay between both of these meanings, and, not coincidentally, the references relate contextually to the Paraclete-sayings—14:17, 19; 16:16-17, 19. Here, qewre/w refers principally to the idea that Jesus will no longer be visible to the disciples, because he will no longer be physically present with them.

The context of the Spirit’s witness against the world here makes the similar language in 14:19 quite relevant:

“Yet a little (longer), and the world will not look at [qewrei=] me any (more); but you will look at [qewrei=te] me, (and in) that I live, you also shall live.”

Jesus seems to be alluding to his resurrection (and return to the disciples) after his death, when people will (for a time) not see him. However, the theological meaning of qewre/w is also prevalent—i.e., the “world” will not see Jesus (especially in his death) for who he truly is, the Son of God; but the disciples will recognize and trust in him.

This brings us to the statement in 16:10, which has always been something of a puzzle. Commentators have found difficulty in explaining how Jesus’ explanation relates to the Paraclete saying. How does the Spirit show the world to be wrong about righteousness specifically because (o%ti) Jesus departs to the Father (and the disciples can no longer see him)?

In the previous note (on v. 9), I mentioned how the Spirit’s role in exposing (vb e)le/gxw) the world “about sin”, refers, not only to the world’s actual sin (of unbelief), but to its understanding of the nature of sin. As I have discussed, in the Johannine writings sin refers principally to the great sin of failing/refusing to trust in Jesus, of not recognizing his identity as the Son sent from heaven by God the Father. I would argue that the nature of righteousness (dikaiosu/nh) has a similarly Christological orientation in the Johannine writings.

This would seem to be confirmed by the references in 1 John, discussed above. Jesus (the Son) is righteous (di/kaio$), just as the Father is righteous—he shares the same attribute with the Father. True righteousness, thus, is not as the world understands it—in conventional ethical and religious terms—but, rather, in terms of Jesus’ identity as the Son, who manifests and embodies the truth of the Father. Thus, the emphasis here in v. 10—as, indeed, it is throughout the Last Discourse—is on Jesus’ return to the Father. His return, to his heavenly/eternal place of origin, provides the ultimate confirmation of his identity as the Son (and Righteous One) of God.

It is also possible that there is an allusion here to a ‘false’ righteousness possessed (and valued) by the world, which corresponds precisely with their great sin (of unbelief). In this regard, it is worth noting several instances in the LXX and NT, where dikaiosu/nh is used in a negative sense, or where such is implied—Isa 64:6; Dan 9:18; Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:6-9; one may also mention the implicit contrast between the righteousness of the “scribes and Pharisees” and that of Jesus’ faithful disciples (Matt 5:20). Cf. the article by D. A. Carson, “The Function of the Paraclete in John 16.7-11”, Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 98 (1979), pp. 547-66 [esp. 558-60].

It is fair to say that the Spirit will both prove the world to be wrong in its understanding of true righteousness, and will expose the false righteousness that it holds. The connection with the disciples not being able to see Jesus—meaning Jesus will no longer be present alongside them physically—may be intended, in a subtle way, to emphasize the invisible nature of true righteousness. It is hidden to the world, and to people at large, since it is manifest principally through the Spirit. Only true believers can participate in this righteousness, through spiritual union with the Son (Jesus) and the Father. The effect and evidence of righteousness may be visible to all (cp. the saying in 3:8), but its true nature is invisible, being spiritual in nature, just as God Himself is Spirit (4:23).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 45 (Part 1)

Psalm 45

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsc (vv. 8-11 [7-10]); 11QPsd (vv. 6-8 [5-7])

This Psalm is unusual in that it is addressed, not to God (YHWH), but to the king and his queen. It is called a “song of love” (td)yd!y+ ryv!, lit. “song of loves”) in the superscription, and commentators typically identify it as an epithalamium, or wedding song—that is, for the royal wedding between the king and his bride. This may seem to us a peculiar subject for a sacred hymn, considering how kingship has been devalued in the modern age. Even in countries which still maintain the figure of a king (or queen), the honor attached to the office only faintly resembles that of kingship in the ancient world.

It is thus difficult for us to appreciate the religious and theological aspects of ancient Near Eastern kingship. Indeed, a royal theology pervades the Psalms, and is directly relevant to the background and setting of many compositions. The king had a divine status; at the very least, he functioned as God’s representative on earth. The ancient Israelite concept of kingship was tied to the covenant between YHWH and Israel. If the king remained faithful to YHWH, and did not fall into wickedness and false/aberrant religion, then he would receive the Divine blessing and protection. This covenantal relationship was an extension of the binding agreement between YHWH and the people.

The Psalm is rather clearly divided into two parts. The first part (vv. 2-10 [1-9]) is addressed to the king, the second part (vv. 11-18 [10-17]) is addressed to the queen. The meter in the first part is irregular, with 3-beat units alternating with 2-beat units (and even occasional 4-beat units). A triad or tricolon format tends to be followed, though there is considerable confusion and difference of opinion regarding how to divide and delineate the verse-structures. In a few places the text may well be corrupt, but there is no clear guidance for how it may be safely (and accurately) emended. I have, for the most part, followed the Masoretic text, though not always its vocalization and word-division.

On the term lyK!c=m^ and the attribution to the “sons of Qorah,” see the introduction to Psalm 42/43. It is another ‘Elohist’ Psalm, using the common plural name/title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “[the] Mightiest [One]”) in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH). The direction <yN]v^v)-lu^ (“[sung] upon [i.e. according to] ‘Lilies’ [?]”) presumably refers to a particular melody.

Verses 2-10 [1-9]

Verse 2 [1]

“My heart is stirred (to this) good word,
(and) I am speaking my creations, (my) king!
My tongue (is the) pen of a swift recorder.

This is a relatively rare example of the Psalmist describing the creative process of his art. The idea seems to be of a poet-singer at court, making use of an improvisational style of composition. He is inspired (“my heart is stirred”) to this poem, and speaks it (creating it) in the moment. He did not write it out or compose it beforehand; rather, on this occasion (the king’s wedding?), he creates it as he speaks/sings it out loud (in performance).

The verb vj^r* occurs only here in the Old Testament, so its meaning is uncertain. Evidence from later Hebrew suggests a meaning of “stir”, which would be appropriate for a poet’s inspiration. It has been suggested (cf. Dahood, p. 270) that this vjr is a metathetic variant of the root vrj (II), which has the fundamental meaning “engrave,” but which can be used figuratively in the sense of “devise,” i.e., create, compose (cf. Zeph 3:17).

Metrically, this first verse is an extended 4-beat (4+4+4) tricolon.

Verse 3 [2]

“You are most beautiful from (the) sons of men,
favor having been poured on your lips—
upon this has (the) Mightiest blessed you f(rom the) distant (past)!”

The curious doubled form typypy has been parsed as a Pealal verb form, probably to be understood in an intensive (and/or iterative) sense. Assuming its derivation from the root hpy, denoting something that is “bright, beautiful, fair,” etc, here it would mean “the most beautiful,” the one who is truly beautiful. A fine handsome form, setting him apart from other human beings (“from [the] sons of men”), would be a traditional indicator of someone destined for (and worthy of) the role of king (cf. regarding Saul in 1 Sam 9:2; 10:23-24).

Such a man has been favored by YHWH, gifted by God to be king. Not only is he handsome in appearance, but is gifted in speech (“in/on your lips”)—a helpful, if not necessary, attribute of leadership. Both his fine physical appearance and eloquence in speaking are signs that YHWH has blessed him. The expression /K@-lu^ literally means “upon this”, and can be translated in English as “from this (we know that…)”.

The temporal expression <l*oul= can mean “from the distant (past)” or “into the distant (future)”. Both would be valid in context, but I have opted for the first, implying that YHWH has (pre)destined the chosen individual to be king. It could also indicate that the Divine blessing will remain upon him, so long as he remains faithful, for the remainder of his life (and for all time).

It is possible, however, that <l*oul= is a secondary addition to the text, since the final line of the tricolon in the MT seems to be overloaded, leading to an irregular 3+3+4 meter, whereas one would expect a consistent 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon.

Verse 4 [3]

“Gird your sword upon (your) thigh!
Be strong (in) your splendor and honor!”

The blessing of YHWH on the king is marked by the apparel and accoutrements that he wears, symbols of (divine) honor and splendor (the nouns doh and rd^h^, similar in meaning). Chief among the king’s apparel is his sword, representative of his ability to protect his people (and their territory) and to subdue the enemies of Israel. This militaristic aspect is elaborated in the verses that follow.

I tentatively follow Dahood (p. 271) in reading rbg as an imperative (vocalized rb^G+, “be strong…!”), parallel with rogj& (“gird [on]…!”) in the first line. Rhythmically, the verse is a 3-beat (3+3) couplet.

Verse 5 [4] ab

“Press through (and) ride upon a word of truth,
and work justice (for the) oppressed”

A most difficult verse. It is quite possible that these lines are corrupt, but any attempt at emendation must be considered tentative at best, especially without any supporting evidence from the Qumran manuscripts (the verse is not among the portions that have been preserved). With some hesitance, I follow commentators such as Kraus  (p. 451) in reading the opening word of v. 5 as a dittography (i.e., repetition from the closing word of v. 4), and have omitted it.

With this adjustment, the first two lines of the verse form a fine 3+2 couplet. Overall, the sense seems clear enough. The king is to act in his role as protector of the people, using the symbols of his majesty (including his military trappings of sword, horse/chariot, bow and arrows, etc) to establish justice  and righteousness. When he “presses through” (vb jl^x*) and “rides” (vb bk^r*) into action, he must do so “upon a word of truth [tm#a#, lit. firmness]”, with special attention being paid to working to bring justice (vb qd^x*) for the oppressed. I follow Dahood here (p. 272) in dividing the consonantal text differently than the MT, reading qdxh wnuw: “and work justice [Hiphil of the verb qd^x*] (for the) oppressed” (comp. Psalm 82:3).

Verse 5c-6a [4c-5a]

“and (the thing)s bringing fear in your right hand will point you,
your arrows (indeed are) sharp!”

As the king rides to bring justice to the land, the weapons (lit. “[the thing]s causing fear”) in his ‘right hand’ point the way for him. There is a play on words here with the idea of “pointing”, as the very arrows he holds—and which he would fire against the wicked and other enemies—are also “pointed” (i.e., sharp, vb /n~v*). Metrically, this is another 3+2 couplet, and probably should be joined together with the prior couplet (in v. 5ab [cf. above]) as a poetic unit.

Verse 6 [5] bc

“(The) peoples under you shall fall,
in heart, (the) hostile (one)s of the king!”

There are also difficulties surrounding this verse, primarily due to the curious (and tantalizingly incomplete) evidence from the Qumran manuscript 11QPsd. Without clearer elucidation, any attempt at emending the text here is questionable, at best. Somewhat reluctantly, I have held to the MT, which provides a reasonably clear (if slightly awkward) couplet. The surrounding peoples, who would set themselves as being hostile to the king of Israel, will fall under him. This suggests a military defeat, with the king benefiting from the power and protection of YHWH (fighting on his side). Even more significant, perhaps, is the further implication that the peoples may submit, falling under his authority “in [their] heart”, without the need of actual battle.

Verse 7 [6]

“(The) Mightiest has enthroned you,
(from the) distant (past) and until (the end),
(and) a staff of straightness
(is the) staff of your kingdom.”

Since the Psalmist has been consistently addressing the king, the apparent shift to addressing God (Elohim = YHWH) in this verse seems out of place. Dahood (p. 273) suggests that the opening word, iask, should be read as a (Piel) denominative verb (with object suffix), from the noun aS@K!, “ruling-seat, throne”. This is an attractive solution, despite the lack of textual evidence, and I have followed his suggestion above.

The king is able to subdue his enemies and establish justice in the kingdom because YHWH (Elohim) has put him on the throne. This implies that God protects the king (so long as he remains faithful), and works/fights on his behalf. The king’s rule is symbolized by his staff (fb#v@), which produces a straight and fair result, leading to righteousness, justice, and equity for the people. This straightness (rovym!) reflects that of YHWH Himself.

Verse 8 [7] ab

“You have loved justice and hated wickedness—
upon this, (the) Mightiest, your Mighty (One) has anointed you”

Metrically, this is a 4-beat (4+4) couplet, but could also be divided as a 2-beat (2+2+2+2) quatrain, which yields a cleaner and more attractive result (and follows the same meter as v. 7 [6] above):

“You have loved justice
and have hated wickedness;
upon this He has anointed you,
(the) Mightiest, your Mighty (One).”

The anointing (vb jv^m*) of the king is here equivalent to his enthroning by YHWH (in the prior verse); it is another way of referring to the establishment of his kingdom and rule (by God). The righteous character of this person is indicated by the fact that he “loved justice and hated wickedness”, even before becoming king. Indeed, it was because of (lK@-lu^) this righteous character that YHWH chose to anoint him as king.

The doubling of <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest [One]” = “Mighty [One]”) in the last line is another clear indication of how, in the Elohist Psalms, <yh!l)a$ was substituted for the Divine name YHWH (hwhy). In its original form, the line almost certainly would have read: “…YHWH, your Mighty (One)”.

Verse 8c-9a [7c-8a]

“(The) oil of rejoicing (is on) your robes,
myrrh and aloes and cassia all (on) your garments.”

The meter here returns to a 3-beat (3+3) couplet. The imagery develops the idea of the king’s anointing. The sacred oil of his anointing has permeated all of his garments (and his surroundings). The meaning of iyrbjm is uncertain. The context, and the parallel with ;yt#d)g+B! (“your garments”), suggests that something like “your robes” is intended. The root rbj fundamentally means “join together”, and the use of the nouns tr#b#j) and tr#B#j=m^ in Exod 26:4, 10; 28:27 shows how it can refer to sewn or woven fabrics (drapes, curtains, etc).

Along with the oil, the king’s garments are fragrant with aromatic spices, another indication of the honor and splendor (and sacredness) that was associated with kingship in the ancient Near East.

Verse 9b-10 [8b-9]

“From (your) palaces of (ivory) tooth,
how they make you joyful,
(the) daughters of kings (who)
stand among your precious (one)s,
(and the) queen to your right hand,
in (the) gold of Ophir.”

I read this final portion as a sextet, or trio of 2-beat couplets. The splendor of the king’s surroundings continues here with a scene in the royal palace-rooms, filled with ivory (lit. the “tooth” or tusk of elephants). Further filling this splendid environment are the “precious ones” of the royal court, especially the noble ladies (“daughters of kings”). Among these women stands the queen, clothed in gold (from Ophir). The queen stands at the right hand of the king, and it would seem that the scene has shifted, most subtly and skillfully by the poet, to the moment of the royal wedding.

In any case, the mention of the queen makes for a suitable transition to second part of the Psalm, which is specifically addressed to her.

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).

May 6: Isaiah 53:11

Isaiah 53:11

“From (the) labor of his soul he shall see and be satisfied,
with his knowledge my just servant shall bring justice for (the) many,
and their crooked (deed)s, he shall carry (them) along.”

This verse continues the theme from verse 10 (cf. the previous note), regarding the Servant’s reward for remaining faithful, enduring the suffering and punishment (from YHWH) on behalf of the people. In v. 10, the promise is that the Servant will see his descendants (“seed”) flourishing; here, the same verb (ha*r*) is used, but in a more general sense. There is no object provided in the MT for what the Servant will “see”, but the Qumran MSS 1QIsaa and 1QIsab include the word roa (“light”)i.e., “…he shall see lightand this reading would seem to be confirmed by the LXX. Whether or not this represents the original text, it probably reflects the sense of the line accurately enough.

The “light” seen by the Servant, and the satisfaction (vb ub^c*) experienced by his soul, indicates his presence in a heavenly/blessed afterlife. This is the reward for the labor (lm*u*) and suffering of his soul during his lifetime. He is now freed from this toil in the afterlife. If the setting of the passage, as suggested, is the heavenly court, then these verses reflect the decision passed down on the Servant’s behalf, in his favor. The announcement is made by YHWH Himself (“my servant”), or in His name.

The second line shows that the Servant, in his new heavenly position, will, in many ways, be continuing the service he performed on earth. That is to say, he will act on the people’s behalf, functioning as their intermediary and intercessor. With his just/right character having been confirmed, before YHWH in the heavenly court, the Servant is now able to establish justice/righteousness for the people of YHWH. Here he is called the “just [qyD!x^] servant” of YHWH (“my just servant,” or “[the] just [one], my servant”). And he will work to make/bring justice (vb qd^x* in the Hiphil causative stem); the religious aspect of this work would be emphasized by translating this verb form as “do righteousness, make righteous”. However, we should perhaps understand the verb here in the fundamental sense of “make right”, in terms of the covenant between YHWH and his people (but cp. the Servant’s role in bringing justice to the nations in 42:1-4). The Servant’s role in establishing the new covenant, likely reflects the role of Moses as the mediator of the first covenant.

It is not entirely clear what the knowledge (“with/by his knowledge”) is through which the Servant will accomplish this work. There are two possibilities: (1) it refers to his knowledge (i.e., the experience, etc) of his suffering, especially its purpose and significance; (2) the focus is on his new heavenly position in the presence of God, which gives to him a new awareness and revelatory knowledge. I would lean toward the first option. Since the emphasis in the entire passage is on the suffering of the Servant, it seems likely that his “knowledge” must be related to it as well. In any case, this knowledge and understanding is fundamentally given to him by YHWH (on this theme elsewhere in Deutero-Isaiah, cf. 40:14; 41:20; 42:16ff; 43:10; 50:4-5; 51:7; 52:6; and cp. 11:2).

In the final line, it is declared that the Servant will carry the “crooked (deed)s” (or “crookedness,” in a general sense) of the people. This continues the motif from earlier in the passage, only here the verb lb^s* refers, not so much to the lifting of a heavy burden, but of transporting it, i.e., carrying it along. In other words, the Servant now does not merely bear the sin of the people, he transports it; likely a sense of expiation is in view herethat is, the sins of the people are taken away. However, this does not apply to all the people, but to the “many” (<yB!r^).

The motif of the “many” was introduced at the beginning of this passage (52:14-15), and is taken up again at the conclusion (53:11-12). The significance is perhaps best understood in light of the traditional “remnant” motif in the Prophets. In a time of great wickedness only a small portion of people are declared holy or righteous, with the implication that only they will survive or be rescued from the judgment. Now, with the dawn of the New Age, and a new covenant established between YHWH and Israel, the situation is reversed: a multitude (“many”) will be righteous and faithful throughout to YHWH. The same even applies, it would seem, to the nations— “many” of them (and their rulers) will come to be holy and righteous in the New Age. This will be discussed further in the next daily note (on v. 12).


Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 26

Psalm 26

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsr (vv. 7-12)

The dramatic setting in Psalm 26 involves an affirmation of the Psalmist’s innocence and faithfulness to YHWH, framed as an appeal to God. The basic setting is thus judicial, with the heavenly court (tribunal) of El-Yahweh in view. Quite possibly, the scenario envisioned for the protagonist of the Psalm may correspond with that described briefly in 1 Kings 8:31-32; if so, then the ‘action’ takes place in the Temple sanctuary, in front of the altar, and verse 6 would seem to confirm this as generally correct (cf. below).

Rhythmically, this Psalms follows a three-beat (3+3) bicolon format, but not without several points of irregularity (cf. on v. 1 below). The superscription simply marks it as “belonging to David”, with no other musical information indicated.

Verse 1

“Judge me, YHWH,
for (indeed) I have walked in my completeness—
and (indeed) in YHWH I have trusted (and) have not wavered.”

The opening verse establishes the Psalmist’s appeal to YHWH (cf. above), and the basis for it. The tension of the moment is reflected in the irregular meter. Essentially, a 3+3 couplet has been expanded, by the addition of the opening (2-beat) line, and also the second line of the couplet is overloaded, primarily by the inclusion of the divine name (“and in YHWH”). I regard the initial w-particle of the second line, and also the yK! particle of the first line, as emphatic—juxtaposing the protagonist (“I”) with God (“YHWH”):

    • “for (indeed) I…” (yn]a& yK!)
    • “and (indeed) in YHWH…” (hw`hyb^W)

The Psalmist requests YHWH to render judgment on his behalf—a familiar theme in the Psalms. The basis for his appeal is reflected in the parallelism of the couplet:

    • “I have walked | in my completeness”
    • “I have trusted | (and) have not wavered”

“Walking” here implies walking in the way of God, according to His instruction (cf. the previous study on Psalm 25); thus, it corresponds with “trusting” in Him. The expression “in my completeness” relates to a person’s integrity and faithfulness to YHWH in all things; it thus is equivalent to the idea of never wavering in trust of God.

Verse 2

“Examine me, YHWH, and test me,
refining my inner organs and my heart.”

This couplet essentially expounds the appeal of the opening line in v. 1 (above)— “Judge me, YHWH”. It uses three verbs that are similar in meaning. In the first line we have /j^B* (“examine, test”) and hs*n`, which also means “test”, but in the sense of testing the quality of something; this leads to the use of [r^x* in the second line, which refers to the refining (i.e. testing/proving) of metal. I take the final h– on the verb form hp*orx= as locative, pointing to where this refining takes place—namely, in the inward parts (inner organs [kidneys, intestines], and heart). This corresponds with the emphasis on a person’s “completeness” in v. 1, meaning the testing extends not only to outward behavior, but to one’s inner attitude and intention.

Verse 3

“For your goodness is t(here) in front of my eyes,
and (surely) I have walked about in your truth.”

If verse 2 expounds the opening line of v. 1, verse 3 here expounds the main couplet that follows (cf. above). A similar parallelism of thought is found here: trust in YHWH / walking in His way. The idea of trust is expressed in terms of the Psalmist keeping the “goodness” (ds#j#) of YHWH in front of him (right before his eyes); while the idiom of “walking” here makes explicit what is implied in v. 1, that the righteous person walks in the way (or the “truth”) of God. The Psalmist affirms that he has lived and acted in the same righteous manner.

Verse 4

“I have not sat with men of (those things of) emptiness,
and with (the one)s concealing themselves I have not come.”

The thrust of the Psalmist’s appeal shifts from the positive aspect of his trust in YHWH and faithfulness, etc, to the negative aspect—i.e., that he has not been a part of the wicked/faithless ones. The idea of “sitting” with the wicked was expressed, famously, in Psalm 1 (v. 1, cf. the earlier study), and has more or less the same meaning here. Parallel with “sitting” (vb. bv^y`) is the idea of moving about (coming/going, vb. aoB). The wicked themselves are characterized two ways:

    • by the expression “men of emptiness” (aw+v* yt@m=), where the noun aw+v* (“emptiness”) likely functions as a euphemism for false religion and idolatry (i.e. the god/image as a vain/empty thing), as noted by Dahood (p. 162) and other commentators.
    • by the verb <l^u* (“hide, conceal”), niphal (passive/reflexive) participle—i.e., persons who “hide/conceal themselves”, in the religious sense of hiding (to others) their unfaithfulness and disloyalty to YHWH, or that their wickedness is manifest especially while they are hidden.
Verse 5

“I have hated (the) gathering of (those) doing evil,
and with (the) wicked (one)s I have (never) sat.”

The Psalmist reaffirms his avoidance of evil/wicked persons, going so far as to state emphatically that he hates (vb an@v*) their gatherings. The repetition of the idea of sitting among the wicked should also be understood here as most emphatic—i.e., he has never sat with them.

Verses 6-7

“(See,) I wash my palms [i.e. hands] in cleanness,
and I go around your place of (ritual) slaughter, YHWH,
to make (it) heard with (the) voice of a shout (of praise),
and (there) to recount all your wonderful (deed)s.”

This couplet, situated at the heart of the Psalms, seems to allude to a ritual background, perhaps corresponding to the idea expressed in 1 Kings 8:31-32 (as noted above). As part of the process for judging wrongdoing, the accused was allowed to take an oath before the altar of YHWH in the Temple, calling upon God to decide the matter—condemning the guilty or vindicating the righteous (i.e. innocent). The ritual image here involves the washing of hands and circling the altar. However, it should be noted that frequently in the Psalms a ritual setting is used for a more general application to the righteous, i.e. in a religious-ethical sense, often influenced by wisdom traditions. The motif of ritual purity (washing the hands) here likely refers to the overall righteousness and integrity of the Psalmist (cp. Ps 24:4, “clean of hands and pure of heart”). The Temple sanctuary corresponds to the court of YHWH in heaven; even at the ritual level this would have been evident. The appeal is made in the Temple, while God hears and judges in Heaven.

The Temple-setting brings in an additional aspect of communal worship—giving praise to YHWH and recounting all the wonderful things God has done for his people. Whether or not this was ever part of a particular ritual (involving a person accused of wrongdoing), the worship-component certainly is intended to reflect the righteousness and loyal devotion (to YHWH) of the protagonist.

Verse 8

“[YHWH,] I have loved (this) place of abode (in) your house,
and (this) place to stand, (the) dwelling-place of your weight [dobk*].”

The initial occurrence of the divine name in line 1 may be a secondary addition, as it disrupts the 3+3 meter; if so, it is a natural addition. In this couplet, the religious devotion of the Psalmist is expressed by love for the Temple and its sanctuary, as the dwelling-place (/K^v=m!) of God. The corresponding noun /oum= in line 1 has a similar meaning (“place of habitation/abode”), but refers here to a place where the righteous (i.e. the Psalmist) may take up a temporary abode, a place of safety and refuge (where he finds ‘sanctuary’). In particular, the location by the altar is the “place to stand” (<oqm*), where he will be judged (and vindicated) by YHWH. “Weight” is a literal rendering of the noun dobK*, in the specific sense of “worth, value”; when applied to God it often refers to the value He is to be accorded by human beings—i.e., the honor, glory, etc, that is due to Him.

Verses 9-10

“Do not gather up my soul with (the) sinful (one)s,
and my life with (the) men of blood,
in whose hands (there is a wicked) plan,
and their right-hand is full of (evil) ‘gift(s)’.”

The Psalmist’s appeal to YHWH now turns into a prayer, a plea for God to recognize his righteousness/innocence and to judge him accordingly. As he affirmed earlier (vv. 4-5, cf. above), he should not be counted among the “sinful (one)s”, i.e. the wicked. The expression “men of blood” would normally indicate the violent tendencies often associated with the wicked; Dahood (p. 163), however, understands <ym!d* here not as “blood” (in its common plural form), but as a plural noun derived from the root hm*d* (“be like, resemble”), and thus as a reference to idolatrous “images” (cf. above on verse 4). While this is possible (cp. Ps 5:7), the overall orientation of the Psalm appears to be focused on wickedness in a more general sense (as expressed in verse 10). Certainly, however, an emphasis on religious devotion to YHWH would naturally have false religion—i.e., worship of other deities (and their images)—as the main point of contrast.

The actions of the wicked are summarized in verse 10, using the parallelism “hand(s)” / “right-hand”; this is a synonymous parallel, but one in which the second line also builds upon, and intensifies the imagery of, the first. In line 1, it is an evil purpose (or plan, hM*z]) that is in their “hands”, while in line 2, we see how they act on this wicked intention (with their “right hand”), by presenting a ‘gift’ (dj^v)), which is common euphemism for a bribe.

Verse 11

“And I, I will (continue) walk(ing) in my completeness—
ransom me, and show favor to me.”

Here the Psalmist restates his claim from verse 1, which serves as the basis for his appeal to God. Just as he has been completely faithful and devoted to YHWH, so he vows to continue to be so, living with integrity and walking in the way of God. The plea/prayer from verse 9 is also restated here, but in a positive form. He asks YHWH to “ransom” him, which here means being saved from the wicked and their (false) accusations against him. By judging in his favor, God will vindicate the Psalmist and “show favor” to him; in the context of the covenant, this implies a recognition and confirmation by the sovereign (YHWH) that the Psalmist is a faithful and loyal friend.

In the Masoretic text as it stands, this couplet has 3+2 meter; however, the Greek version reflects the presence of the divine name in the second line, which, if original, would yield 3+3, consistent with most of the other couplets. While it is possible that the divine name has dropped out of the MT, it is far more likely that is a secondary addition in the LXX. The only manuscript of Psalm 26 among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QPsr) has a different reading of this line, which also would effectively restore the meter:

“ransom me and preserve my life

Verse 12

“My foot takes its stand on a straight [i.e. level] place,
(and) in (the) places where (they) gather I bless YHWH.”

The juxtaposition of images in this final couplet is awkward and a bit confusing. The imagery in the first line is that of a person taking his stand (vb dm^u*), with firm footing, on level ground. The noun used (rovym!) literally means a “straight place”; however, the idea of “straightness” conveyed by the root rvy often has a religious and ethical connotation—i.e., “straight” = “upright, righteous”. Thus the firmness of the ground where the Psalmist is able to plant his feet (thanks to the favor YHWH has shown him), is also symbolic of the place where the righteous gather together (others take their stand there with him). This inference leads to the imagery in the second line, where the rare noun lh@q=m^ (parallel to rovym!) is used. Morphologically, this noun is presumably derived from the root lhq (“gather, assemble, call to assembly”), and would mean a place of gathering. The only other occurrence in the Old Testament is at Psalm 68:27 [26]. I suggest that the idea expressed here is twofold:

    • It refers to all the places were the righteous gather to worship YHWH
    • It refers to a place were all the righteous gather together—a vast assembly—which likely contains an allusion to the righteous dwelling with God in the blessed afterlife (cf. Psalm 1:6; 5:9, 12; 11:7; 16:11).

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