Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 92 (Part 2)

Psalm 92, continued

The Hymn: Verses 5-12 (cont.)

Verses 10-12 comprise the second part of the central hymn; for the first part (vv. 5-9), cf. the previous study. Each part begins with the emphatic particle yK!.

While many Psalms evince a royal background, this aspect is particularly prominent here in vv. 10-12, where the protagonist seems rather clearly to represent the king, and certain aspects of the royal theology are vividly expressed. Given the archaic features in these verses (cf. especially below on v. 10), it seems quite possible that the lines, if not those of the entire hymn, were composed in the kingdom period.

Verse 10 [9]

“For, see, (those) hostile to you, O YHWH,
for, see (those) hostile to you shall perish—
shall be scattered, all (those) making trouble!”

This three-beat (3+3+3) tricolon builds upon the Wisdom-theme in the first part (in vv. 7-8f) alluding to the destruction of the wicked. Here in vv. 10-12, the wicked are presented as hostile enemies of the (royal) protagonist, against whom he calls to YHWH for protection. As a faithful servant of God, and a representative of God’s people, the king’s enemies are also God’s enemies, as this verse clearly expresses.

Scholars have long recognized the similarity of verse 10 to a tricolon from the Ugaritic Baal Epic (Tablet II, column iv, lines 8-9):

ht ibk b±lm
ht ibk tm—s
ht tƒmt ƒrtk

“Now your enemy, O Ba’al,
now your enemy may you strike,
now may you silence your foe!”

The first two lines of each are quite close, following an a+b+c / a+b+d pattern.

Sarna (p. 160ff) cites the parallel in support of his proposal that the hymn draws upon ancient cosmological mythic tradition, whereby the victories of YHWH (over His enemies) refer primarily to those which took place at the time of creation. In bringing forth the ordered universe out of the dark and watery chaos of the primordial time, God is depicted as subduing monstrous adversaries. For more on this ancient mythological tradition, and its application to YHWH in Hebrew poetry, see my earlier article “Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

In light of this background, it is possible to read the imperfect (yqtl) verb forms as describing past events (cf. Dahood, II, p. 337). However, almost certainly, any cosmological allusions are being applied here to the context of the hymn—namely, the expectation that YHWH will use His great power to protect His people, defeating their adversaries even as He did the primordial opponents. The verb dr^P* in the third line means “separate, divide”; here, in reference to the defeat of enemies, it can mean “scatter, disperse”, or, more cruelly, “take apart” (i.e. dismember).

Verse 11 [10]

“While you lift high my horn like (the) bull,
you make me wet with luxuriant oil.”

The initial w-conjunction establishes a contrast with v. 10: while YHWH’s enemies are defeated (and destroyed), His faithful servant (the king) is exalted. The image of the horn (esp. of a bull or ox) as a symbol of strength and vitality is traditional, as is the specific application of the motif as a reference to royal power and prestige—cf. Psalm 18:2 [2 Sam 22:3]; 74:4-5; 89:17, 24; 112:9; 132:17; 148:14; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21; Dan 7:8ff; Mic 4:13; Luke 1:69. The derivation of the noun <a@r= remains uncertain, as does the precise animal intended by the term (wild bull, buffalo, antelope, etc); a bull is most appropriate to the royal context.

The second line probably refers to the anointing of the king, however the use of the verb ll^B* for this is unusual. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is used in the context of mixing together oil; however, in Akkadian the cognate verb can mean “moisten”, and this may be the basic sense here—a person made wet by having oil poured (or rubbed) on him. The MT form and/or vocalization is problematic; it should rather be vocalized as a passive form (yT!L)B%,
“I have been made wet”), or, perhaps, emended to read yn]t^L)B^ (“you have made me wet”). I have opted for the latter.

It has also been suggested that the text should be emended to read instead the verb gl^B* (“be bright, glad, cheerful”), so that the line reads something like “I shine with fresh oil”; cf. Thijs Booij, “The Hebrew Text of Psalm XCII 11,” Vetus Testamentum [VT] 38 (1988), pp. 210-4.

While the idea of a royal anointing may be implicit, the immediate context suggests that strength and vitality (and blessing from YHWH) is the primary idea being expressed (cp. Ps 23:5). The adjective /n`u&r^ literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh, luxuriant”. The protagonist is honored by being anointed (or rubbed) with luxuriant oil.

Verse 12 [11]

“My eyes shall look on (those) watching me,
of (those) standing against me my ears shall hear.”

The final verse of the hymn is the most difficult. The irregular and seemingly overloaded lines suggests a corruption—perhaps a gloss has made its way into the text. As it stands, the MT is best parsed as an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon. However, the parallelism is better served by omitting the word <yu!r@m= (“[those] doing evil”) as a gloss, resulting in a cleaner, though still slightly irregular (4+3), couplet. The participles of the verb rWv (“watch” [i.e., with hostile intent]) and <Wq (“stand up” [in opposition]) serve as fitting descriptions of the protagonist’s enemies. According to the royal background of these verses, the verbs may refer specifically to traitors plotting against the king, even to the point of (armed) rebellion against his rule.

Based on vv. 10-11, the implication is that these adversaries have been defeated (or will be so). It is in this condition that the protagonist looks upon them and/or hears reports about them.

Conclusion: Verses 13-16

Verse 13 [12]

“(The) righteous, like (the) palm tree, will sprout,
like a cedar in the white mountains he grows tall.”

The conclusion of the Psalm is comprised of a sequence of couplets that draw heavily upon Wisdom tradition. Taken in relation to vv. 7-8 (cf. the previous study), the familiar theme contrasting the righteous and the wicked—and the correspond fate of each—is expounded. The fate of the wicked was dealt with, however briefly, in vv. 7-8, while here in vv. 13-16 the fate of the righteous is described.

The tree-motif, utilized here, is better known from its use in Psalm 1:3; the context is the same—contrasting the righteous and the wicked (and their fates). The righteous will flourish like a tree planted next to the life-giving waters. Here, the righteous will similarly flourish, sprouting and blossoming like a palm tree, and growing tall (vb hg*c* [ag*c*]) like the cedars of Lebanon (lit. the “white mountain[s]”).

Even though the Wisdom-orientation of these closing verses is quite different from the setting of vv. 10-12 (cf. above), the two sections are related according to the general concept of the exaltation of the righteous (v. 11). The growth of the horn parallels the image of the growth of the tree.

Verse 14 [13]

“Having been planted in (the) house of YHWH,
in (the) enclosures of our Mighty (One) they sprout.”

In verse 14, the location of the “sprouting” (vb jr^P*) of the righteous, like a tree, is given. They will be planted (as shoots) in the dwelling (“house”) of YHWH. The expression “house of YHWH” can, of course, refer to the Temple, but that is not the point of reference here. Rather, it is a reference to the heavenly dwelling of God. The blessed afterlife is being expressed, just as in the beatitude setting of Psalm 1 (cf. the earlier study).

Verse 15 [14]

“Still they will bear fruit (even) in old age—
(full of) fat and luxuriant they will be!—”

The promise of long life has two-fold significance in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. On the one hand, the present life on earth is intended; on the other hand, this sense of duration also extends to the idea of the blessed afterlife (cf. above)—dwelling with God in heaven. In any case, the image is clear enough: the righteous while still be vital and full of life, able to “bear fruit” (vb bWn), even in old age. This vitality is expressed here by the traditional motif of “fatness” (i.e., richness); as the adjective /v@D* can also mean “juicy”, possibly the specific idea of a tree still full of sap is intended. The adjective /n`u&r^ was used earlier in verse 11; as noted, it literally means “green”, but often in the sense of “fresh” or “luxuriant”.

Verse 16 [15]

“(able) to put out front how straight YHWH (is),
my Rock, and (how there is) no deviation in Him!”

The final couplet of the Psalm returns to the worship-context of the introduction (vv. 2-4, cf. the previous study), even repeating the use of the verb dg~n` (Hiphil), “put in front” —that is, show or declare publicly the faithfulness of YHWH (v. 3). Here the characteristic of faithfulness is expressed by the attribute of “straightness” (adj. rv*y`, “straight, level”), which is also a traditional Divine attribute—parallel with qyd!x* (“right[eous]”). Being straight, there is no deviation (lw#u*, hl*w+u^) of any kind in Him. Both rvy and lwu are frequently used in an ethical-religious sense, with rvy connoting personal integrity, honesty, and “upright” conduct; conversely, lwu can connote injustice, sin/iniquity, and (moral) perversion.

The traditional motif of YHWH as a rock (rWx) is another way of expressing the idea of His faithfulness (hn`Wna$, v. 3, lit. “firmness”).

Syntactically, verse 16 should be seen as a continuation of v. 15.

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 “Sarna” are to Nahum M. Sarna, “The Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92),” Journal of Biblical Literature [JBL] 81 (1962), pp. 155-68.

January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 91 (Part 2)

Psalm 91, continued

Verses 9-10

“Indeed, (if) you (make) YHWH (your) place of refuge,
(if) you set (the) Highest (as your) place of cover,
(then) evil shall not make an approach to you,
and (its) touch shall not come near your tent.”

Verses 9-13 form a companion unit to vv. 3-8 (discussed in the previous study), with both comprising the main body of the Psalm. Each unit begins with the particle yK! followed by a pronoun, with both elements used emphatically— “Indeed, He…”, “Indeed, you…”. It seems best to treat verse 9 as a conditional statement, parallel to the affirmation in v. 3. YHWH will protect the one who trusts in Him; and, conversely, if one trusts in YHWH, seeking refuge in Him, then He will give protection. The speaker of vv. 1-2 makes just such a statement of trust in YHWH, effectively fulfilling the condition established here. For a different way of understanding verse 9, in relation to v. 10, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 426f.

In the Masoretic Text, vv. 9-10 stand as a pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets; however, the Qumran manuscript 11QApPs (11QPsApa) has a shorter text, with vv. 9-10 comprising a 3-beat tricolon. The meaning of the single line of v. 9 in this manuscript is unclear, and its text may well be corrupt. The Hebrew of v. 9, partially reconstructed (note the brackets), is wdmjm t[ is]jm ta[rq. The line, apparently, means “You have called (as) your place of refuge His delight [?]”. The locative noun dm^j=m^ means “source of delight”, indicating something desirable and precious, etc. If the text of this manuscript stands as intended, then the tricolon could be rendered:

“If you call on His delight (as) your place of refuge,
(then) you will not see [vb ha*r*] (any) evil,
and a touch (of plague) will not touch your tents.”

The MT of vv. 9-10 is much to be preferred, with the couplet of v. 9 providing parallel lines. The noun hs#j=m^ means “place of refuge” or “place of shelter”, parallel with /oum* (“place of cover, covered place”) in the second line. Both locative nouns refer to YHWH as a source of protection for the righteous. The noun hs#j=m^ occurred earlier in v. 2, and the root verb hs*j* in v. 4; both words occur frequently in the Psalms, in the context of this theme of Divine protection. Dahood’s suggestion (II, p. 333), that the form ysjm represents an archaic spelling (preserving a final y– instead of h-), seems preferable to following the MT vocalization (reading y– as a first person suffix, “my place of refuge”).

Verse 10, again with parallel lines, describes the effect of this protection. For the faithful one, who is under YHWH’s protection, evil (hu*r*) will not come near to him. The verbs hn*a* and br^q* have a similar meaning (“approach, come near”), with the former verb also connoting the idea of something (i.e., some misfortune) happening to a person. The noun hu*r* probably has here a similar general meaning—i.e., something bad that happens to a person. The parallel noun ug^n# denotes something that touches (or strikes) a person, usually in a negative sense (i.e., a harmful blow), and often with the specific meaning of “disease, plague”. Thus, ug^n# here matches the pairing of the nouns rb#D# and bf#q# in verse 6, both being terms for disease. Probably the idea in the second line is that disease will not come near one’s tent; however, the preposition B= prefixed to the noun lh#a) (“tent”) could also mean specifically that the disease will not come into the tent to strike the person.

Verses 11-12

“For He will order His Messengers to you,
to guard you in all (the place)s you tread;
upon their palms they will carry you,
lest you strike your foot on a stone.”

The Divine protection here involves the use (by YHWH) of subordinate Divine/heavenly beings, as “messengers” who carry out His business; typically, this use of the noun Ea*l=m^ is rendered as “angel”. The verb hw`x* (Piel, “command, order, charge”), used with the preposition l= (“to, for”), could mean that YHWH orders His messengers to go to the person under His protection, or, alternatively, He may be ordering them to act on behalf of (i.e., “for”) this individual. The noun Er#D#, denoting a trodden (or well-tread) pathway, often is used to designate a person’s daily life and activity, and frequently with an ethical-religious emphasis. The Divine messengers will guard (vb rm^v*) the protected person in all the pathways and places on which he treads. When needed, they will even lift/carry him, so that he will not harm himself by inadvertently striking his foot against a stone. These verses were famously quoted (by the Devil) in the Synoptic (Q) Temptation episode (Matt 4:6; Lk 4:10-11).

Verse 13

“(Yet) upon lion and poison-snake you may tread,
and can (even) trample (the) young lion and dragon!”

While YHWH’s messengers might act to keep the righteous person from hurting himself by hitting a stone with his foot, yet the Divine protection also means that the person may safely step on a dangerous animal—such as a lion or a snake/serpent—without being harmed. The verb Er^D* (“tread”) is related to the noun Er#D# used in v. 11 (cf. above), and is here parallel with sm^r* (“trample,” a more aggressive, violent action). The nouns lj^v^ and rypK= are parallel terms referring to a lion—the latter specifically designating a powerful young (and hungry) lion. Similarly, /t#P# and /yN]T^ are terms for a snake or serpent—the former denoting a poisonous snake, and the latter suggesting a larger deadly creature (dragon or [sea-]serpent) with allusions to cosmological myth (cf. my earlier article on “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”).

Verse 14

“Because he has joined with me,
so I will rescue him, will set him up high,
because he has known my name!”

In the closing verses 14-16, it is YHWH who speaks; thus the Psalm, at this point, functions as a prophetic oracle. YHWH is here effectively answering the declaration of trust by the protagonist at the opening of the Psalm (vv. 1-2).

Metrically, verse 14 is best viewed as a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, with the first and third lines clearly parallel, in a formal way. The idiom “join with me”, utilizing the verb qv^j*, is parallel with “know my name”. Both expressions characterize the person who is faithful and devoted to YHWH, being loyal to the covenant-bond between God and His people. Indeed, the verb qv^j* (“join, attach [to]”) suggests the covenant bond, though the verb is not typically used in such a context.

The central line, consisting of a pair of verb forms, describes YHWH’s action on behalf of His faithful one. Different aspects of the Divine protection are indicated: God will rescue (vb fl^P*, Piel) the individual out of danger, and then will set him up high, in a protected place; this latter action is covered by the verb bg~c* (Piel), which is rather difficult to translate concisely in English. Both of these verbs occur with some frequency in the Psalms—fl^P* 17 times (out of 25 OT occurrences), and bg~c* six other times (out of 20 OT occurrences), cf. 20:2[1]; 59:2[1]; 69:30[29], where the context is comparable.

Verse 15

“He will call to me, and I will answer him;
with him I (will be) in (his) distress—
I will draw him out and give him weight.”

YHWH’s protection is continual, as long as one continues to remain faithful to Him. This verse (another 2-beat tricolon) presents this protective action and response as a promise. Any time the faithful one calls to YHWH for help in time of distress (hr*x*), He will respond. The pair of verbs in the final line are comparable to those in the central line of v. 14 (cf. above). The verb Jl^j* (Piel) means “draw out”, i.e., bring out of danger, similar in meaning to fl^P* (“rescue, provide escape”). The second verb, db^K* (also Piel), fundamentally means “make heavy, give weight [to]”; it implies both an act of strengthening, but also of giving honor to a person (i.e., “weight” in the sense of worth, value, honor). This act of bestowing “weight” compares with the use of the verb bg~c* in v. 14; by placing the person ‘up high’, YHWH puts him in a safe/protected position, but this ‘high place’, next to YHWH Himself, is also a place of great honor.

The terse expression in the middle line, yk!n)a*-oMu! (“with him I [am]”), is reminiscent of the name la@ WnM*u! (“with us [is] God”) in Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10 (cf. also 2 Kings 18:7). This parallel may be cited as evidence that the protagonist of the Psalm is a royal figure (cf. the note below).

Verse 16

“(With) length of days I will give him (his) fill,
and I will give him to drink of my salvation.”

This final couplet builds upon the idea of the faithful one being given an honored place ‘up high’. The protection provided by YHWH is related to the goodness and blessing that He gives—both being part of His covenant-obligation (as Sovereign) to those who are loyal and devoted to Him. An honored place at His table is implied, where the faithful one may eat and drink his fill. This blessing includes both the present time (in this life) and the Age to come, with allusions also to the blessed afterlife (with God in heaven). The expression “length of days” (i.e., a long life) is flexible enough to cover all these aspects. If the protagonist is viewed as a royal figure (cf. below), then a long reign may also be implied.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 334; also I, pp. 206, 310f) in relating the verb form Wha@r=a^ here to the root hwr (Hiphil), “give drink, water [fully]” (cf. HALOT, p. 1195f), which provides a more suitable parallel to the verb ub^c* (Hiphil, “fill up, satisfy”) in line 1. The more customary (and straightforward) interpretation is to relate the verb form to ha*r* (“see”), so that the final line reads, “and I will make/let him see my salvation”.

The Qumran manuscript 11QApPs has a shorter text for vv. 14-16 that differs considerably from the MT (as well as the LXX). This shorter text, however, in its fragmentary condition, remains uncertain and requires significant reconstruction to be intelligible. Here is an approximate translation:

“[Because] you have joined with YHWH,
He will rescue you and will set you up high,
and He will make you see His salvation.”

As with vv. 9-10 in this manuscript, which also differ significantly from the MT (cf. above), vv. 14-16 comprise a single tricolon. The first two lines generally match the first two lines of v. 14, except that the address is in the second (rather than third) person. The final line matches the last line of v. 16; in this tricolon, the verb form can be derived quite fittingly from the root har (“see”), as being more appropriate to the context (cf. the discussion above).

Closing note:

In closing, it may be worth mentioning the interpretive approach that views the protagonist of the Psalm as a royal figure (king), and thus treats Ps 91 as one of the royal Psalms (cf. the earlier study on Ps 45, for example). It has been discussed, on repeated occasions, how many Psalms do evince a royal background, suggesting that a good number of the compositions (at least in their original form) date to the kingdom-period. At the same time, various traditions and stylistic conventions, drawing upon this royal background, likely continued to be utilized by later authors, as part of an Israelite (and Jewish) poetic idiom. Many of the major themes in the Psalms, such as we find here in Psalm 91—covenant loyalty, Divine protection, salvation and rescue, the threat of attacking/plotting adversaries, the promise of long life, and so forth—are probably derived, in some measure, from a royal background. Dahood (II, p. 329), drawing upon earlier scholarship, decidedly characterizes Ps 91 as a “royal psalm…composed by a court poet who recites it here before the king”. This seems to be taking the evidence rather too far.

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).
Those marked “HALOT” are to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (Brill: 1994-2000).

December 25: Psalm 89:22-24

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:20-26, continued

(For verses 20-21, see the previous note)

Verse 22 [21]

“(He) who (by) my hand is kept firm (in place),
with him also my arm will give him strength.”

As the King over all creation, YHWH is the source of power and authority for every human king on earth; and this is certainly so for His chosen king (David) ruling over His people Israel. The power/strength of YHWH was described by the familiar figurative use of the arm/hand motif in verse 14 (cf. the earlier note). The noun pair dy` (“hand”) and u^orz+ (“arm”) occurs again here; only, in this instance, God’s strength is used to support the king (David).

The theme of YHWH’s firmness, established in verse 2 and running throughout the Psalm, continues here, utilizing the pair of verbs /WK and Jm^a*, both of which essentially mean “be firm”. YHWH’s hand/arm—that is, His strength—is the means by which David is set firmly in place (as king), as expressed by the verb /WK in the Niphal (passive) stem. God’s supporting power remains with the king (“with him,” oMu!), strengthening his rule (vb Jm^a*, Piel stem).

Verse 23 [22]

“(The) hostile (one) shall not lift (a hand) against him,
and (the) son of perversion shall not oppress him.”

With the support and strength of YHWH on the king’s side, enemies and wicked adversaries will not be able to attack him successfully. This draws upon the militaristic imagery in verse 19, as well as the earlier emphasis on YHWH defeating His (human) enemies, just as He had subdued the dark and unruly waters at the time of creation (vv. 10-11). The king’s adversaries are defined, in a general sense, by two traditional descriptive terms, set in parallel. The first is the participle by@oa (“being hostile”), as a substantive, i.e., “hostile (one)” = “enemy”.

The second term is the expression “son of perversion” (hl*w+u^ /B#). The noun hl*w+u^, like the related lw#u^, basically means “crookedness” or “deviation”, particularly in the ethical-religious sense of something deviating from what is right; it is often translated as “injustice”, but the more rudimentary “deviation” or “perversion” is preferred. The noun /B# (“son”) often is used in the generic or figurative sense of a person who belongs to a group or category, possessing certain defining characteristics, etc. The expression “son of perversion” is a colorful way of referring to the wicked.

The verbs used, for the actions of the king’s adversaries, are also set in parallel. In the first line, the MT reads aV!y~, apparently a form of the verb av^n`, meaning “lend”. As this seems incongruous to the context, it is, I think, fair to assume that a slight scribal error has occurred, and that the correct reading is aC*y], “lift up (i.e., one’s face/hand)”, in a hostile sense; cf. Dahood, II, p. 317. Parallel with ac^n`, in the second line, is the verb hn`u* III, “press down, oppress”.

Verse 24 [23]

“Indeed, I will crush his adversaries from (before) his face,
and (the one)s hating him I will strike!”

Not only will YHWH’s power protect the king from the attacks of wicked/hostile foes, but He will defeat and destroy them completely. Again, two parallel terms are used for the king’s foes, and also for YHWH’s action against them. First, there is the plural of the noun rx^, denoting someone who is hostile, similar in meaning to the participle by@oa (cf. above on v. 23); to distinguish these terms, I have translated the former here as “adversary”. Parallel to this is a participle of the verb an`c* (“hate”), in the Piel stem, denoting someone “who hates” another.

In the first line, YHWH states that He will “crush” the king’s enemies, utilizing a relatively rare verb (tt^K*) which can have the intensive meaning “pound (to dust), pulverize”. In the second line, the verb is [g~n`, “strike, land a (fatal) blow”.

Comments for Christmas

The Lukan Infancy narrative draws upon some of this same kind of militaristic imagery, tied to the expectation that God, through His servant the (Davidic) Messiah, will defeat the enemies and oppressors of His people. This line of thought is expressed at several points in the canticles of the Lukan narrative:

    • In the Magnificat, 1:51f, we find the idea that God, through the strength of His “arm”, scatters throughout (vb diaskorpi/zw) those who are overly inflated (with wicked arrogance); He does this specifically to help His people Israel, and those of them who are oppressed (vv. 52-54f).
    • In the Benedictus, in the context of the promise of “raising up a horn for salvation” from among the descendants of David (1:69, cf. verse 18 of our Psalm), this salvation is expressed in terms of delivering Israel from the hands of enemies (those who are hostile) and those who hate them (vv. 71, 73f).

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 80

Psalm 80

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is another lament-Psalm (cf. the previous study on Ps 79), in which the Psalmist, representing the people (the righteous/faithful ones), prays to YHWH for deliverance. Dahood (II, p. 255) describes this Psalm as belonging “to the last days of the Northern Kingdom,” and this is almost certainly correct. From the opening verses, it is clear that the focus is on the northern territories. They have apparently been ravaged, but not yet completely conquered. The aftermath of the campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser III (734-733 B.C.) would provide an appropriate setting. Readers of a certain traditional-conservative mindset may find such an historical context troubling, since it would seem to imply that the Psalmist’s prayer was not answered by YHWH—at least as regards the fate of the Northern Kingdom. However, this in no way invalidates the prayer as an expression of faith and hope. The righteous will be protected by YHWH, even in exile, and their descendants will eventually be restored to the Land.

The structure of Psalm 80 is defined by the repeated refrain, calling on YHWH to “return” (vb bWv Hiphil stem) to His people and save them. It seems better to view the refrain as representing the opening call for each stanza. I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Vv. 2-3—Invocation to YHWH on behalf of the northern tribes
    • Vv. 4-7—Stanza 1: Lament to YHWH
    • Vv. 8-14—Stanza 2: Illustration of the Vine
    • Vv. 15-19—Stanza 3: Prayer to YHWH
    • Verse 20—Concluding refrain

This is the eighth in a sequence of 11 Psalms (7383) attributed to Asaph; on whom, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 50. The meter of Psalm 80 is irregular, but tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format.

The musical direction in the heading matches that of Psalm 60 (cf. the earlier study), as a poem sung to an existing melody—the melody in this case being <yN]v^ov, “lilies” (cf. also Pss 45 and 69). The poem is also designated as an tWdu@, usually translated “testimony,” but properly referring to words that are to be repeated. In Ps 60, the indication is that there is a didactic purpose to the poem, which is “to be taught” (dM@l^l=), much like the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32; however, such a purpose is not as clear here for Ps 80. Perhaps the idea is that, even after the original historical context of the poem had passed, it was still useful for instruction, as a lesson for the people.

Invocation: Verses 2-3

Verses 2-3a [1-2a]

“O Shepherd of Yisrael, give ear,
(you) leading Yôsep like the flock;
sitting (between) the kerûbs, shine forth
before (the) face of Eprayim, [Binyamin] and Menašše!

These are the first two of the three couplets that open the Psalm, functioning as an invocation to YHWH, with the Psalmist calling on God to hear (lit. “give ear” to it) and answer his prayer. The needed response involves an action on behalf of the Israelite people, to save and protect them; this is described in terms of YHWH “shining (forth)” (vb up^y`, Hiphil stem). The theme of YHWH as a herder, guiding and protecting his people (as a flock/herd), was featured in the three previous Psalms (77:20; 78:52-53, 70-71; 79:13); it is a traditional motif, best known from Psalm 23 (cf. the earlier study). It is through YHWH’s manifest presence among the people, symbolized by his sitting on/above the Golden Chest (Ark) as his ‘throne’ (with its winged kerubs), that He guides Israel.

The northern focus is indicated by the pairing of Israel and “Joseph” = the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The Psalmist’s prayer represents the northern tribes (i.e., the northern kingdom), pleading to YHWH on their behalf. The ravaging threat of the Assyrian military is presumably in view; as noted above, historical setting of the Psalm may be the aftermath of the campaigns by Tiglath-Pileser III (734-733 B.C.).

The 3-beat meter would be preserved by omitting “Benjamin” from the final line, which is otherwise too long; this would also provide a cleaner parallel with “Joseph” in the first couplet. As there is no textual basis for omitting “Benjamin”, I have retained it in brackets above.

Verse 3b [2b]

“May you rouse your strength,
and come to (bring) salvation for us!”

This couplet is also irregular (2+3), and provides a more direct plea to YHWH for salvation. The call is for God to “awaken” (vb rWu I), i.e., to rouse Himself from ‘sleep’ (i.e., inaction). The implication is that He should act on behalf of His people, using His great might/strength. This means providing a military defense (and victory) that will save the Northern Kingdom from the Assyrians.

Stanza 1: Verses 4-7 [3-6]

Verse 4 [3]

“O Mightiest, return (to) us!
Let your face shine that we might be saved!

As noted above, this refrain begins each of the three stanzas (see vv. 8, 15), being repeated again in the final verse (v. 20). The wording varies slightly in each instance; thus, one should not be too quick to fill out the first line here (i.e., “Mighty [One] of the armies”), even though this would produce a more consistent 3-beat (3+3) couplet. The 2+3 meter of the verse as it stands (in the MT) matches that of the previous v. 3b.

The call is for YHWH to “return” (vb bWv) to His people. The use of the Hiphil (causative) stem could be understood in the transitive sense of “make us return”, i.e., “restore us”, in which case it would be possible to read the Psalm as post-dating the fall of the Northern Kingdom. In the initial invocation (cf. above), this returning is described through the idiom of YHWH fulfilling His role as Herdsman of His people, guiding and protecting them (from all threats). The idiom of YHWH “shining” forth (here, lit. “giving light”, roa Hiphil) also was introduced in the invocation (vb up^y` Hiphil). The motif of God’s “face” implies His protective presence, but also the manifestation of His anger—viz., against the enemies of His people (who are also His enemies).

Verse 5 [4]

“YHWH, Mighty (One) of (the) armies—
until when will you smoke (in anger)
at the prayer of your people?”

This verse is slightly irregular, and I treat it here as a 3+2+2 tricolon. The full expression “YHWH Mighty (One) of (the) armies” here perhaps explains the shortened form in v. 4 (cf. above), so as to avoid cumbersome repetition. The “armies” (toab*x=) refers to the heavenly/celestial entities, which YHWH created, and which do His bidding. They function as soldiers under His command, who fight on behalf of His people Israel. For references in the tradition of the celestial bodies (and other forces of nature) fighting for Israel, see, e.g., Josh 10:10-11; Judg 5:20-21; the storm-theophany applied to YHWH, has a strong militaristic emphasis, and is part of the same broad tradition (frequently in the Psalms, 18:10-14; 77:17-18; 144:5-6, etc). The more common expression is “YHWH of (the) armies”, which may preserve the original verbal force of the Divine name, i.e., “(the One) causing the (heavenly) armies to be” (i.e., creating them); cf. Cross, pp. 68-71.

In the refrain of v. 4, the implication is that YHWH’s anger (i.e., His “face”) should burn against Israel’s enemies, rather than against His own people. But here in verse 5 it is clear that, at least recently, His anger has been “smoking” (vb /v^u*) against Israel, presumably alluding to attacks by the Assyrians on the Northern Kingdom. Instead of smoking against their prayers, the Psalmist asks that God would answer their prayers (in favor of them), and burn/smoke with anger against Israel’s enemies.

Verse 6 [5]

“You have made them eat (the) bread of tear(s),
and made them drink tears three (times over).”

The suffering of the people is clear from this couplet, utilizing the traditional ancient Near Eastern motif of eating/drinking tears (cf. Psalm 42:4[3]; 102:10[9]) as a expression of extreme sorrow; this motif occurs, for example, in the Canaanite Baal Epic (Tablet VI, col. 1, lines 9-10, “she is sated with weeping, drinks tears like wine”). The final word vyl!v* presumably means “three (times over), threefold” (or possibly “three times [a day]”); however, Dahood (II, p. 257) suggests that the word may be related to Ugaritic ¾l¾, thus referring to a bronze/copper bowl or container (i.e., drinking a bowl full of tears).

Verse 7 [6]

“You have set us as strife for (those) dwelling by us,
and (those who) are hostile to us mock at us.”

The noun /odm* typically denotes some kind of fighting or strife, which fits the parallelism of Israel’s neighbors (“[those] dwelling [near]”) being hostile (vb by~a*); for a different explanation of /wdm, cf. Dahood, II, p. 257. Presumably, the mocking of Israel by her neighbors is a response to the Assyrian attacks, which have ravaged the Northern Kingdom and greatly reduced its status. Those hostile to the Israelites would naturally take advantage of the situation to mock and belittle them still further.

According to the MT, the suffixes in v. 6 are 3rd person plural, while those here in v. 7 are 1st person plural. This shift, it would seem, reflects the Psalmist’s identification with the people, functioning as their representative in prayer to YHWH. Most commentators follow the minority reading of the MSS (along with the LXX), Wnl* (“at us”) rather than the majority text oml* (“at them”).

The remainder of the Psalm (Stanzas 2 and 3) will be discussed in next week’s study.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 77 (Part 2)

Psalm 77, continued

PART 2: Verses 12-21 [11-20]

Strophe 4: Verses 11-13
Verse 11 [10]

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

Thematically, verse 11 [10] belongs to the first half of the Psalm (on which, cf. the previous study); however, poetically, according to the five-strophe arrangement (proposed by B. Weber, and followed by Hossfeld-Zenger [pp. 273-6]), it can be counted as the first couplet of the fourth strophe (vv. 11-13).

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

The root hlj (I) denotes being weak or sick. The Psalmist describes how he became worn-out physically during his night-time vigil (strophe 2, vv. 5-7), during which time he has meditated and prayed fervently to God—with apparently no answer given (strophe 3, vv. 8-10). The moment is also characterized as a “day of distress” (v. 3) for the Psalmist; this can refer to individual suffering, but it is likely that the protagonist also is meant to represent the people as a whole. Thus, the “sickness” he feels also refers to the condition of the people (of Israel/Judah), perhaps alluding to an Exilic setting.

The “right hand” (/ym!y`) is an idiom for strength and power—and, particularly, the ability to act. When applied to YHWH, it typically connotes His ability to save His people from danger and distress; cf. especially in the Song of the Sea (Exod 15:6, 12), and similarly in Deut 33:2; note the usage in the Psalms (17:7; 18:36[35]; 20:7[6]; 44:4[3]; 60:7[5]; 78:54, etc. Probably the event at the Reed Sea is being alluded to specifically (cf. below on vv. 17-20).

The Psalmist’s fear is that YHWH’s strong right hand has “changed” (verbal noun from the root hn`v* I). This verb can sometimes connote “growing old”, with the associated attributes of weakness and withering, etc. If God has chosen (for some reason) not to act, that is one thing, but what if He is now unable to deliver His people? This is the unspoken question among the people, spurred by fear, frustration, and despair.

Verse 12 [11]

“I call to mind (the) dealings of YH(WH);
indeed, I bring to mind your wonders from before.”

The Psalmist responds to the question of fear in v. 11—which, again, thematically marks the climax of the first part of the Psalm—with a hymn of praise to YHWH. The shift from speaking of YHWH (line 1), to addressing Him directly (line 2), is transitional, and makes somewhat more sense when v. 11 is read as the beginning of a strophe. The repetition of the verb rk^z` (“bring to mind, remember”) serves this transition; the verb occurred earlier in vv. 4, 7 (cf. the previous study), being something of keyword for the Psalm. The Kethib has a Hiphil (causative) form in line 1, while the Qere ‘corrects’ this as a Qal imperfect (to match the form in line 1); the Kethib reading is to be preferred as the more difficult, and thus more likely to have been modified by scribes. The Hiphil stem is appropriate for the Psalmist, who, through his composition, will cause YHWH’s deeds to be remembered; however, it also fits the dramatic scene, as the composer wishes to spur God to action by making Him remember what He has done for His people in the past.

The noun ll*u&m^ (from the root llu I), denotes a person’s dealing (i.e., how he deals) with another; specifically it refers here to how YHWH has dealt with His people (and their adversaries) in the past. In particular, the Psalmist has in mind the wonderful deeds (“wonder[s]”, collectively al#P#) God has performed—i.e., miracles, such as the event at the Reed Sea, by which He rescued and brought victory for His people. The word Hy` here is typically understood as the shorthand for the Divine name hwhy (YHWH, i.e., YH or Yah); however, Dahood (II, p. 229) would read it as a superlative (suffixed) element, Hy`-, attached to the noun (i.e., “[your] magnificent deeds”).

The expression <d#Q#m!, as in verse 6, indicates that the Psalmist is referring to things YHWH has done in the past—lit., “from (times) before”.

Verse 13 [12]

“So will I make mention of all your deeds,
and will compose on all your dealings.”

I treat the initial w-conjunction as emphatic (“so, indeed”), building upon the prior couplet. The verb hg`h* properly means something like “mutter”, even though it can be understood specifically as uttering something internally, within one’s heart/mind (i.e., “meditate”). The line is often translated that way here (“I meditate on your deeds”); however, the context suggests that the Psalmist is about to speak. I have rendered the verb loosely as “make mention”, building upon the idea of the Psalmist bringing God’s actions to mind (vb rk^z`) in the prior couplet.

The verb j^yc! in the second line can similarly be used both of audible communication and of something that one goes over in the heart/mind. The latter is probably more common, but here I think that audible communication is intended. In any case, the meaning of “going over” a set of words or facts is primary, and would also be appropriate for the Psalmist’s act of composing; I have translated the verb loosely above as “compose”. I.e., the Psalmist expresses here his intention (fulfilled in vv. 17-20) to compose a poem on YHWH’s mighty deeds from times past.

The supplemental character of this couplet is indicated by its shortened meter (3+2, or 2+2).

Strophe 5: Verses 14-16
Verse 14 [13]

“O Mightiest, your path (is) in the holy (place)—
who (is) a mighty (one) great like (the) Mightiest?”

Dahood (II, p. 230) is probably correct in understanding the noun Er#D# (“path[way]”) in the sense of “domain, dominion” (cp. in Ps 1:1 [I, p. 2])—i.e., the territory where the sovereign treads (ird) as representing his domain. YHWH’s domain (as King) is in the “holy (place)”, that is, the heavens high above; the noun vd#q) specifically refers to God’s dwelling—i.e., His holy palace, represented on earth by the Temple-shrine and its sanctuary. In Near Eastern cosmological tradition (cf. below), the Creator/Sovereign dwells on a great mountain that reaches up into the highest heaven.

The second line demonstrates the basic problem with translating both la@ (E~l) and <yh!ýa$ (E_lœhîm) equally (and flatly) as “God”. Here it results in a translation (“Who [is] a god great like God?”) that Dahood (II, p. 230) rightly calls “insipid”. This all changes, however, when one properly retains the distinction between the old singular form la@ (“Mighty [one]”) and the plural <yh!ýa$ (“Mighty [ones]”), treating the latter as an intensive/superlative (or comprehensive) plural (“Mightiest [One]”). Now, the character of the line as a confession of Israelite (Yahwistic) monotheism becomes clear: “Who (is) a mighty (one) [i.e. a god] (who is great) like (the) Mightiest [i.e., our God El-Yahweh]?”

Verse 15 [14]

“You, the Mighty (One) doing wonder(s),
you make known your strength among the peoples!”

Indeed, YHWH is the only true God (Mighty [One], la@), Creator and Sovereign of the universe, unsurpassed in greatness and strength. For poetic concision, I have translated the perfect verb form in the second line “you make known,” but it should properly be rendered “you have made known”. By the wonders YHWH has performed on behalf of His people (in the past), he has made known His strength (zu)) among all the surrounding peoples. The use of a participle (hc@u), “doing”) in the first line indicates that the performance of “wonders” is part of YHWH’s character; He is able to do such things on a regular basis, so there is no reason why He cannot can act again, now, and perform wonders once more on behalf of His people.

Verse 16 [15]

“You redeemed, with your arm, your people,
(the) sons of Ya’aqob and Yôsep.”

The wondrous deeds performed by YHWH in the past served to redeem (vb la^G`) the Israelite people, freeing them from servitude to a foreign nation (e.g., Egypt). Indeed, the Exodus from Egypt is primarily in view, with the specific mention of the “sons of Jacob and Joseph” —i.e., the Israelites who came out of Egypt. This reference sets the stage for the poem in vv. 17-20, with its echoes of the Song of the Sea (Exod 15), alluding to the event at the Reed Sea.

Cosmological Poem: Verses 17-20

This brief poem (or portion of a poem) has been inserted into the fabric of the Psalm. It is presented as the work of the Psalmist, but it may represent an older poem, with similarities in theme and structure to the ancient Song of the Sea (or Song of Moses, Exod 15); cf. also Habakkuk 3:10ff. Of course, the Psalmist could simply have written a poem in an archaic style, imitating older poems (like the Song of the Sea or Psalm 18, 29, etc).

This poem has a three-beat (3+3+3) tricolon format, while the rest of the Psalm tends to follow a bicolon (couplet) pattern. The poem’s emphasis is cosmological, referring to the subduing of the primeval waters by YHWH (on which, cf. my article in the Ancient Parallels feature on this site). As in the Song of the Sea, this cosmological motif is applied to the history of Israel—esp. to the Exodus and the event at the Reed Sea. YHWH demonstrates his control over the waters, by separating the waters of the Sea, and allowing His people to cross over and escape from Egypt.

Verse 17 [16]

“The waters saw you, O Mightiest,
the waters saw you and swirled—
even (the) depths shook (with fear)!”

These lines allude to YHWH’s subduing of the primeval waters at the beginning of Creation (Gen 1:2); on this cosmological mythic theme, applied to El-Yawheh in ancient Hebrew poetry, cf. my aforementioned article (“Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”). The primary reference here, however, is to the control and power YHWH has over the waters. The waters themselves recognize this power, and acknowledge YHWH as their Lord, responding with fear at the sight of Him. The verb lWj in the second line has a double meaning; fundamentally, it means that the waters “swirled”, but the verb can also connote “twisting” or “writhing” (i.e., in anguish, etc), which would be more fitting to the theme of the waters showing fear. Cf. Psalm 114:3 and Hab 3:10.

Verse 18 [17]

“(The) dark clouds poured forth waters,
(the) fine clouds gave (forth your) voice—
and your arrows went back and forth.”

The theme of YHWH’s control over the waters continues here, shifting the focus to the rain that comes down out of the clouds, accompanied by the phenomena of the storm: thunder (line 2) and lightning (line 3). The Near Eastern storm-theophany is applied to El-YHWH with some frequency in ancient Hebrew poetry (including a number of Psalms, e.g. 18); the similarities with Canaanite Baal-Haddu in this regard helps to explain the fierce ‘rivalry’ between YHWH and Baal, at the religious level, in early Israelite history.

Thunder is frequently denoted by the word loq (“voice”)—i.e., as the “voice” of God; similarly, bolts of lightning are depicted as God’s “arrows” being shot back and forth. The ancient storm-theophany typically has a militaristic context, and especially so when applied to El-YHWH in the Old Testament. To some extent, as noted above, this motif of God as a warrior reflects the cosmological myth of the Creator defeating (subduing) the chaotic primeval waters, and thus allowing an ordered universe (capable of sustaining life) to be established.

The third line of this tricolon, like that of v. 17, begins with the particle [a^, a primitive adverbial/conjunctive particle with emphatic force (“[so] also, even”); it is typically used in poetry, or in comparable poetic/ritual forms.

Verse 19 [18]

“(The) voice of your thunder in the rolling (cloud)s,
(your) lightning-flashes light up (the) world,
(and so) the earth shakes and quakes!”

The power of the storm, and thus of the storm theophany (as applied to YHWH), is vividly expressed in this third tricolon. Here the “voice” (loq) of YHWH (v. 18) is explicitly identified as thunder (<u^r^). Earlier, it was stated that the waters shook in fear at the sight of YHWH; now the entire earth below shakes/quakes in fear at the awesome power of YHWH that is expressed through the rainstorm.

Verse 20 [19]

“On the sea, <Mightiest,> (is) your path,
and your passage-ways on mighty waters,
and (yet) your heel(print)s are not seen!”

The expression of YHWH’s power/control over the waters culminates here with the idea of his treading upon (B=) the waters. The preposition B= could also be rendered “in”, and this meaning is probably intended, at least secondarily, as an allusion to the Exodus event at the Reed Sea, when God led His people “through” (i.e., in) the waters of the Sea. However, it would seem that the principal reference here is to YHWH’s dominion over the waters, illustrated by the path(way)s he walks over/upon them. Yet, in spite of this anthropomorphic imagery, God leaves no “heel-marks” (i.e., footprints) in the surface of the water. His presence is invisible; we can only see the effects of His powerful presence and the control he has over the universe (esp. the rain and storm).

The first line (of the MT) has only two words/beats, in utter contrast to the rest of the poem. It thus seems relatively certain that something has dropped out, and a word is missing. The simplest solution is to propose that an occurrence of <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” i.e., God) has somehow been omitted.

For more on the use of the noun Er#D# (“path[way]”), in the sense of “domain, dominion”, see the note on verse 14 above.

Conclusion: Verse 21 [20]

“May you lead, like the flock, your people,
by (the) hand of Moshe and Aharon!”

The Psalm concludes with this 3+3 couplet, returning to the regular meter of the composition. In a sense, the couplet follows upon verse 16, resuming the line of thought from strophe 5 (cf. above), after the intervening poem of vv. 17-20. If the verb form is read as a typical indicative perfect, then the couplet simply concludes the recitation of YHWH’s past action on behalf of His people—i.e., “You led your people like a flock…”. However, given the prayer-lament emphasis of the Psalm as a whole, a precative perfect seems more fitting as a conclusion (as Dahood, II, p. 233, suggests). That is, the Psalmist states his heartfelt wish for what YHWH will do, expressing it in terms of something that has already happened. A more literal (but very cumbersome) translation would thus be: “(O, that) you (would) have led your people (again) like a flock…!”.

The wish is that YHWH will lead his people out of bondage/distress, just as He did in the time of the Exodus (“by the hand of Moses and Aaron”). This suggests an Exilic setting for the Psalm—viz., God will lead His people out of the (Assyrian/Babylonian) Exile, essentially repeating what He did in the Exodus from Egypt. This is an important theme, for example, in the Deutero-Isaian poems, where the idea of a new Moses also seems to be implied. This Moses-symbolism, accompanied by an application of the prophecy in Deut 18:15-19, helped shaped the eschatological expectation of the “Prophet-like-Moses” who is to come. For more on the Messianic Prophet figure-types, cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

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 71 (Part 2)

Psalm 71, continued

Part 1: Verses 1-13 (cont.)

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

Verses 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 12

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

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

Verse 13

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

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

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

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

Part 2: Verses 14-24

Verse 14

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

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

Verse 15

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

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

Verse 16

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

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

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

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

*    *    *    *    *    *

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

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

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

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 2)

Psalm 69, continued

In the previous study, I mentioned a number of variant reading in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa. Typically, what survives of a particular Psalm in the Qumran MSS is too fragmentary to allow for any substantial textual comparison. The situation is rather different in the case of Psalm 69, where much of the first half of the Psalm (vv. 1-19) has been preserved in 4QPsa (frag. 19 col ii–frag. 20 col. iii). This includes more that a dozen points in the surviving text where the Qumran reading differs from the Masoretic Text [MT]. I thought it worth surveying these, before continuing on with an exegesis of the remainder of the Psalm. Many of the readings occur in vv. 2-13—that is, in the first part of the Psalm, discussed in the previous study. I did not address these in the prior exegesis.

Comparison of MT with 4QPsa

Verse 3 [2]

“I have sunk in mire of (the) deep (sea),
and there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
and (the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT as I have translated it is presented above; the words in italics represent the points where the text differs from 4QPsa. The main difference is that, in line 1, the Qumran MS reads /yb (apparently the preposition /yB@, “between”), rather than /wyb, which the MT vocalizes as /w@yB!—the noun /y@y` (“mire”) with the prefixed preposition B= (“in”). At the beginning of the 2nd and 4th lines, the prefixed –w conjunction is not present in 4QPsa. Translating the Qumran text of this verse yields:

“I have sunk between (the) deep (sea),
there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
(the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT is to be preferred, particularly with regard to the 4QPsa reading of /yb, which is most likely either a scribal error, or a ‘correction’ of a somewhat difficult construct expression (“in [the] mire of [the] deep [sea]”).

Verse 4 [3]

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my eyes are finished,
from waiting for my Mighty (One).”

In the third line, 4QPsa reads ynv (“my teeth”), rather than MT ynyu (“my eyes”). In the fourth line, instead of ljym (“from waiting”), the Qumran MS has lyjb (“in writhing,” i.e., in anguish). Also, 4QPsa apparently includes the word [lar]cy (“Israel”), the portion in square brackets representing a suggested restoration of the fragmentary text. If that Qumran reading is correct, then a word has dropped out of the MT, and yhlal would be vocalized as part of a construct expression— “for (the) Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Israel” —rather than the noun with a possessive suffix (“my Mighty [One]”). The Qumran version of the verse would be translated:

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my teeth are finished
in writhing for (the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael.”

Verse 5 [4]

“Many (more) than (the) hairs of my head…”

Here the difference is one of gender. In the first line of v. 5, 4QPsa has a masculine plural construct form (yrucm), rather than the MT feminine form (twrucm). Both the masculine noun ru*c@ and the feminine hr*u&c^ are attested in Hebrew; both mean “hair”, though the feminine noun (in the plural) would specifically refer to the individual hairs (cf. GKC §122t), and thus would be more appropriate to the context of counting hairs.

Verse 6 [5]

“Mightiest, you (indeed) know of my foolishness,
and my faults, from you they are not concealed.”

Instead of the MT reading ytlWal, which essentially means “(belonging) to my foolishness,” i.e., what I have done in my foolishness, 4QPsa has ytywl awl, which appears to be a nonsense reading (“not my wreath[?]”), and is presumably reflects a scribal error.

Verse 7 [6]

“May they not be ashamed by me,
(those) looking to you, my Lord,
O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!
May they not be disgraced by me,
(those) seeking you, Mighty (One)
of Yisrael!”

In the parallel lines 1 and 4, the Qumran MS omits the suffixed preposition yb (“by me”).

Verse 9 [8]

A stranger I have become to my brothers,
and (one) foreign to (the) sons of my mother.”

At the beginning of the first line, 4QPsa has rz ym instead of MT rzwm. In the MT, the expression is “I have become (one who is) estranged [rz*Wm]”; the Qumran reading (if it is not a nonsense reading from scribal error) presumably would mean something like “Who [ym!] made me to be a stranger [rz]…?”

As in v. 3 (cf. above), the Qumran MS omits the initial –w conjunction.

Verse 11 [10]

“When I poured out my soul with fasting,
it even came to be as scorn toward me.”

In the MT, the initial word of the first line is hkbaw, which I vocalize as hk*B)a#w`, from the verb Eb^n` (= Ep^n`), meaning “pour (forth)”. By contrast, 4QPsa has iaw, apparently reading the verb hk*n` (“strike”),  rather than Eb^n`—i.e., “when I struck my soul with fasting…”

Verse 12 [11]

“And I gave rough cloth for my garment,
and I became for them as a byword.”

In 4QPsa, the first word of the second line is yhtw (“and it [fem.] became”), rather than MT yhaw (“and I became”). If the feminine form is original, or was intended (as such) by the scribe of 4QPsa, then presumably the subject is still “my soul” from v. 11; more likely, it reflects a scribal error influenced by the second line of v. 11.

Verse 13 [12]

“About me they rehearse, (those) sitting (at the) gate,
even songs strummed (by those) feasting on drink.”

The text of the first line in 4QPsa is the same, but with a different word order. In the second line, the verb /g~n` (“strum,” i.e. play on stringed instrument) is used (wngny, “and they strummed”), rather than the related noun hn*yg]n+ in the MT, which refers to the song/music that is strummed.

Part 2: Verses 14-30 [13-29]

Verse 14 [13]

“And (as for) me, my prayer (is) to you, YHWH.
Now (may you show) favor, Mightiest,
in your abundant goodness, answer me,
in (the) firmness of your salvation!”

This verse marks the beginning of a new section of the Psalm, as the author moves from lamentation to delivering a prayer/petition (hL*p!T=) to YHWH, as stated clearly here in the first line. Dahood (II, p. 159) proposes that tu@ be read as hT*u^ (“now”), and, as it happens, that is the reading in 4QPsa, which I adopt here. The precise meaning of the syntax is uncertain, however; it could mean “now (there is) favor (from you)”, but I prefer to see an implicit imperative at work, i.e., “now (may you show) favor…”. Dahood would emend the text to read an imperative here: yn]x@r=, “show favor to me”.

For poetic concision, I have translated the third line “in your abundant goodness,” whereas the more literal rendering would be “in (the) abundance of your goodness”, which parallels the syntax of the fourth line. As I have pointed out numerous times, the noun ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”) often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, i.e., in a covenantal context, which is typically present in the Psalms.

Metrically, and syntactically, the verse is best understood as comprised of an initial 3-beat line, followed by a 3+2+2 tricolon.

Verse 15 [14]

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down);
let me be snatched from (those) hating me,
and from (the) depths of (the) waters!”

This verse echoes the thought and imagery from the opening (vv. 2-3) of the first part of the Psalm (cf. above, and in the previous study). The deep waters, and the mud/mire existing in them, threaten to engulf and pull down the Psalmist. As in the first part (cf. verses 5ff), the waters symbolize the danger posed by the Psalmist’s enemies, those wicked persons who threaten and attack the righteous. Here, as is frequently the case, the enemies are specifically designated by the verbal noun (participle) “(those) hating me”. The idea of YHWH rescuing the Psalmist is expressed by the verb lx^n`, which fundamentally means “snatch/tear away,” i.e., out of danger; it is used here emphatically, twice, in lines 1 and 3.

The Qumran MS 4QPsa contains an additional line that is absent from the MT, yielding a tricolon rather than a couplet:

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down),
(nor) let (the one) seizing me take me

The watery mire functions like a person seizing the helpless Psalmist, blending together the two motifs. There are two other small variants in 4QPsa: (1) instead of the passive verb form (“let me be snatched”) in line 3 of the MT, the same Hiphil active form (from line 1) is repeated; and (2) the –w suffix at the beginning of the final line in the MT is absent (cf. above for similar examples of this).

Verse 16 [15]

“Do not let (the) swirl of waters engulf me,
and do not let (the) deep swallow me,
and do not let close over me
(the) pit—her mouth!”

Metrically, I parse this verse as a 3-beat couplet followed by a short 2-beat couplet; the latter, however, could also be read syntactically as a long 4-beat line: “and do not let (the) pit close her mouth over me!” The imagery from v. 15 continues here, most vividly. The initial line essentially echoes the final line of v. 3 (cf. above), with its use of the noun tl#B)v! (denoting a swirling/whirling flood) and the verb [f^v* (“flow/rush over, engulf”).

The specific image in line 2, of a “deep place” swallowing (vb ul^B*) the Psalmist, draws upon ancient mythological tradition, depicting death (and the realm of the dead) as a being with a ravenous appetite—and possessing a giant mouth with which it devours all people. The deep waters frequently symbolize both death (and the danger of death) and the realm of the dead. For more on this line of tradition, cf. my earlier note on the Sheol motif. Here, specifically, the “Pit” (ra@B=) threatens to close up “her mouth” over the Psalmist. The Qumran MS (4QPsa) here reads “my mouth” (yp), which makes no sense whatsoever, and is certainly a copyist’s mistake.

Verse 17 [16]

“May you answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your faithful kindness;
according to (the) abundance of your love,
turn (your face) unto me!”

This verse is comprised a pair of short 2-beat couplets, which is difficult to capture in translation; the rhythm is better preserved by a looser rendering:

“Answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your kindness;
in your abundant love,
turn (your face) to me!”

If verses 14-16 comprise the substance of the Psalmist’s plea, he now calls on YHWH to answer (vb hn`u*) his prayer, and thus to rescue him out of the danger he faces from his enemies. Conceptually, lines 1 and 4 are parallel, as God “turning” (vb hn`P*) His face to the Psalmist means the same as answering the prayer. On the noun ds#j# connoting covenantal faithfulness and loyalty, cf. above. In this regard, the noun <j^r^ is comparable in meaning, essentially referring to a deep feeling of love and compassion toward another person. The suffixed plural form here may be rendered as “(depth)s of your love,” which would fit well with the earlier motif of the deep waters that threaten the Psalmist (cf. above).

Verse 18 [17]

“And do not hide your face from your servant,
for (there is) distress (now) for me—
(please) be quick and answer me!”

The opposite of God turning his face toward the Psalmist would be for Him to hide (vb rt^s*) His face, or to turn it away. Dahood (II, p. 160; cf. also I, p. 64) would parse rT@s=T^ as a form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”); whether the verb is rt^s* or rWs, the basic sense of the line would be much the same. The Psalmist designates himself as a faithful “servant” of YHWH, meaning that he is loyal to the covenant bond.

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon; the terse 2-beat lines capture the sense of the Psalmist’s desperation: “there is distress for me [i.e. I am in distress] / be quick [vb rh@m*] and answer me!”

Verse 19 [18]

“Come near to my soul (and) redeem it;
from (the) lair of my enemies, ransom me!”

By turning to the Psalmist, in response to his prayer, God acts to rescue him out of danger from his enemies. This is expressed here, poignantly and powerfully, with the idea of YHWH “coming near” (vb br^q*) to the soul of the Psalmist. God enters right into the midst of the danger, into the deep ‘waters’, coming right up next to the faithful/righteous one and so to snatch him out of the grasp of death. The verbs la^G` and hd*P* each refer, in different ways, to the idea of freeing someone from bondage by making payment on their behalf. In particular, la^G` typically signifies payment that is made by a near-relative or kinsman. Both terms, however, can also be used more generally, in the sense of freeing someone from danger, etc.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 161) in vocalizing /uml as /u)m=l!—that is, the noun /oum* (“dwelling-place”) with the prefixed preposition –l—rather than MT /u^m^=, with its general meaning “in response to, on account of, because of”. The noun /oum* can specifically refer to the lair/den of predatory animals, which would certainly fit the setting here—viz., of YHWH freeing the Psalmist from the power of his enemies, and from the domain of wickedness and death.

(The remainder of this Psalm will be examined in the next study.)

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

March 11: Psalm 68:20-24

Strophe 6: Psalm 68:20-24 [19-23]

Strophe 5 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 20 [19]

“Blessed (be the) Lord
day (after) day,
He lifts the burden for us,
the Mighty (One) (is) our salvation!”

As previously noted, in the third strophe for each part of this Psalm, a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker occurs after the first verse. The reason for this is not at all clear. It may be that the opening verse in the final strophe functions as a refrain, setting the musical pattern, in some fashion, for the lines that follow.

Here, the opening verse consists of a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets, very much according to the overall metrical pattern of the Psalm. The familiar theme of salvation (hu*Wvy+) is established in this strophe; we may assume that the earlier thematic elements, involving the historical tradition of the Exodus/Conquest, and of YHWH’s cosmological role as a warrior, who fights on behalf of His people, are continued here.

The verb sm^u* denotes carrying a load or burden, but here the idea is surely that of God relieving His people of their burden; Dahood (II, p. 143f) would parse smu in this verse as a Piel privative form, specifically emphasizing the removal of a burden. The Exodus motif of Israel’s deliverance (by God) from bondage and hard labor in Egypt is likely in view. The definite article on la@ (la@h*) in the final line is presumably emphatic, perhaps emphasizing that YHWH (the Mighty [One]) Himself is the source of Israel’s salvation.

Verse 21 [20]

“The Mighty (One) (is indeed) for us
(the) Mighty (One) for (our) salvation,
and to YHWH (our) Lord (we owe)
(our) going forth from death.”

The first couplet of v. 21 essentially repeats the message of v. 20, the repetition itself having an emphatic function. Again the definite article on the first occurrence of la@ is emphatic—i.e., “the Mighty One is indeed for us…”. There is a subtle bit of wordplay, virtually imperceptible to us, in the double use of la@. I have translated the word the same way in both lines; however, it is worth noting that in the first line la@ functions as a proper name (“Mighty [One]”), while in the second line it is a more general term (“[the] mighty [one]”). This is practically identical to the way that we use the word “God” in English; to capture the distinction, we might translate the lines as:

El (is indeed) for us
the God for (our) salvation”

For ancient Israelites, of course, YHWH was identified with the Creator God (la@, El), and the Divine name is used here in the second couplet. This Yahwistic emphasis was an important aspect of Israelite religion that is sometimes overlooked by modern readers of the Old Testament. It is more prominent in the older layers (including the poetry) of the Old Testament Scriptures.

The plural noun toax*oT (“goings forth”) is probably being used in a comprehensive (or intensive) sense, with the reference being primarily to the Exodus. It could also encompass other episodes in Israelite history when YHWH worked salvation for His people. The preposition l= occasionally is used with a meaning similar to /m! (“from”), which would be required by the context here.

Verse 22 [21]

“Indeed, (the) Mightiest struck
(the) head of His enemies,
(the) crown He split (open)
(of him) walking about in his sins.”

Salvation for God’s people means defeat for His enemies, lit. “(those) hostile to Him”. Almost certainly an ordinary military action is implied, though this may be accompanied by supernatural events, such as we see recorded in the Exodus event at the Reed Sea, and in the defeat of Jabin/Sisera (Judges 4-5); the miraculous side of the enemies’ defeat is particularly emphasized in the poetic accounts (Song of the Sea, Song of Deborah).

The defeat is described by the action of YHWH striking (vb Jj^m*) their heads. I follow Dahood (II, p. 144f), in reading MT ru*c@ (“hair”) as a form of the verb ru^v* I (“split [open]”); this root is attested primarily by the noun ru^v^ (“opening, gate[way]”), but cognate occurrences of the verb are known in Ugaritic (¾²r) and Arabic (¾a²ara). This preserves a proper parallelism between the middle lines: “He struck | (their) head / (their) crown | He split”.

The final line, following the ordinary interpretation of the MT, is problematic:

“(of the one [?]) waking about in his sins”

While this rather banal description would certainly characterize the “enemies” of YHWH (i.e., the wicked), it seems awkward and slightly out of place at this point in the strophe. I am tempted to adopt the interpretation of Dahood (II, p. 145), who explains the aleph (a) in wym*v*a&B^ as a prosthetic aleph, and thus reads the word as a form of <y]m^v* (“heaven[s]”), rather than <v*a* (“sin, guilt”). The participle EL@h^t=m! (“walking about”) then would refer to YHWH, not the wicked person (cf. verse 25). Dahood would read the line as follows—

“going (forth) from His heavens”

which would continue the theme from the earlier strophes, emphasizing YHWH’s march alongside His people to the Promised Land, fighting their enemies (who are also His enemies) along the way, making war on their behalf.

Verse 23 [22]

“(The) Lord said:
‘From /v*B* I make (them) return,
return from (the) depths of (the) sea.'”

This verse, as it stands, is even more difficult and enigmatic than v. 22. To begin with, there is no object specified for the Hiphil (causative) verb byv!a*, used twice, in lines 2 and 3. The verb bWv means “turn (back)”, and the Hiphil form here thus means “I make turn (back), I make return”. Presumably the people Israel, God’s people, are the implied object. Moreover, the act of making them ‘return’ must be related in some way to the salvation He works on their behalf, defeating their enemies, etc.

The use of the idiom of “the depths [tolx%m=] of the sea” suggests a general reference to the rescue of His people out of grave danger. In view of this, it is unlikely that /v*B* in the prior line is another reference to Bashan (cf. verse 16). One suspects that a bit of wordplay is involved, which certainly would be typical of the Psalmist’s style. An answer is at hand, by explaining /vb (bšn) here as cognate to Ugaritic b¾n (cf. also Akkadian bašmu), a reference to the great mythic-cosmic Serpent (or Dragon) associated with the Sea (and the primeval waters). In ancient Near Eastern cosmological myth, the Creator God subdues the (dark and chaotic) primeval waters, an act often depicted in terms of defeated a great Serpent-monster. I discuss this mythic tradition in an earlier article. There are a number of references and allusions to this tradition in Old Testament poetry, including several in the Psalms; perhaps the most explicit reference is in Isa 27:1, where the cosmological event is given an eschatological interpretation (cp. in the book of Revelation).

It is significant that, in several passages, the defeat of the sea-monster is tied to the Exodus event (at the Reed Sea), and to the deliverance of the Israelite people from Egypt; cf. Isa 51:9-10; and note the parallel in Ezek 29:3ff. In Psalm 74:12-14, the cosmological tradition of God subduing the Sea-monster is clearly applied, in a general sense, to the idea of His “working salvation in the midst of the earth”. Thus, the idiom could be understood here either in a general sense, or in the specific context of the Exodus. Cf. Dahood, II, p. 145.

Verse 24 [23]

“‘So then you may <wash>
your feet in (the) blood,
(and for the) tongue of your dogs
(your) enemies (shall be) their portion!'”

The final two couplets of this difficult strophe are vivid in their imagery, but rather awkward in terms of the clarity of the poetic syntax. The twisted character of these forceful lines could well be intentional, as if meant to convey, in poetic terms, the harshness of the enemies’ fate. The words of YHWH continue from the previous verse.

There is no doubt that, in accordance with the idea expressed throughout this strophe, YHWH works salvation for His people by defeating their enemies. A military defeat (in battle) is implied, as with the earlier imagery of crushing heads and splitting skulls (v. 22). Here the dominant image is of a bloodbath; i.e., so much blood has been spilled that the victorious Israelites will be able to wash their feet in it. Most commentators are in agreement that the verb Jj^m* (“strike”) in the first line of the MT should be emended to the verb Jj^r* (“wash”), cf. Ps 58:12 [11]; the error presumably was introduced under the influence of the occurrence of Jj^m* in v. 22 (cf. above).

The imagery is extended, in a cruder and more grotesque manner, in the final couplet, as it is announced that the dogs of the Israelite people will have the corpses as their “portion” (hn*m*), able to lick up the blood and feed on the flesh of the bodies (cf. 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23-24, 38, etc).

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 62 (Part 1)

Psalm 62

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (v. 13 [12])

This Psalm has a curious structure and thematic development. In this instance, the Selah (hl*s#) pause marker appears to be a structural indicator. The markers divide the Psalm into three stanzas. The first two stanzas have similar openings, especially in the first two couplets. In these lines, the familiar theme of divine protection is emphasized. We have seen how many of the Psalms feature the covenant-theme of the protection YHWH provides for the righteous, with the specific idea (often framed as a prayer-request) that God will deliver the Psalmist from his ‘enemies’ and from the danger of death.

The first stanza, however, has an expanded form, in verses 4-5 (cp. vv. 8-9), which are heavily influenced by Wisdom-traditions. These Wisdom-elements feature even more prominently in the final stanza, which functions as a coda—a didactic section containing proverbial material. We have seen how Wisdom-traditions shaped many of the Psalms, giving a new (communal) framework to the ancient royal/covenant themes. This is very much the case in this Psalm as well, though the structuring of the material overall is a bit peculiar.

The superscription marks this Psalm as another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), and specifically identifies it as a musical composition (romz+m!). The term romz+m! last occurred in Psalm 51, not being used in Pss 52-61, though it is perhaps implied in Ps 61.

The precise meaning of the expression /WtWdy+-lu^ is uncertain. /WtWdy+ (Y®¼û¾ûn, Jeduthun) was the name of a Levitical musician who served in the Tent-shrine during the reign of David (1 Chron 16:41-42; 25:6). A musician with the same name served in Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron 5:2), and the name seems to refer to a family of Priestly musicians. In the heading of Psalm 39, Jeduthun may be identified as the musical director; however, here the use of the preposition lu^ (“upon”) suggests a particular musical style or mode (i.e., in the manner of Jeduthun); cf. also 77:1. Possibly it could refer to a specific melody (cf. 60:1, etc), or even (less likely) to a kind of instrument (cf. 61:1, etc).

Stanza 1: VV. 2-5 [1-4]

Verses 2-3 [1-2]

“To (the) Mightiest alone (I go, to my) strong tower,
(O) my soul, from Him (comes) my salvation!
He alone (is) my rock and my salvation—
my place up high, I will not at all be shaken!”

The first two couplets are essentially repeated at the beginning of the second stanza (vv. 6-7), with slight variation (discussed below).

I follow Dahood (II, p. 90-1) in viewing the noun hY`m!WD as essentially equivalent to hm*WD in v. 6, but deriving not from the root <Wd (= <md), “be silent,” but rather as being cognate to Akkadian dimtu, denoting a tower or other strong/fortified location. That would appear to be the meaning of hm*D% in Ezek 27:32, and it is much more suitable to the context here than the idea of “silence”. This is confirmed by the parallel of rWx (“rock”) in the first line of the second couplet. The basic motif is of a secure (fortified) location on a high rock, as a way of emphasizing the security and protection that YHWH provides for the righteous.

The parallel in verse 6 suggests that –la# here is equivalent in meaning to the prefixed preposition l= there. Dahood (II, p. 92) regards the latter as an emphatic element, and this would be consistent with the overall theme (of YHWH Himself as the Psalmist’s protection). It might also, however, be possible to read la#/l= as a true preposition, in which case the line would be something like: “To (the) Mightiest along (do I go)…,” emphasizing the idea of the Psalmist seeking protection (i.e., going to find refuge) in YHWH (cf. on v. 9 below). I have tentatively opted for this sense in my translation above.

Also with Dahood, I include yv!p=n~ (“my soul”) as part of the second line, thus producing a pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets. As for the particle Ea^ that begins each couplet, it can be read in an asseverative (“indeed”) or restrictive (“only, alone”) sense; I have opted for the latter, but the former would work just as well.

The locative noun bG~v=m! in the second couplet, which literally means something like “place up high,” again emphasizes the motif of a secure location high on a rock; it occurs frequently in the Psalms, as part of the vocabulary of Divine protection (of the Psalms we have studied, cf. 9:10; 18:3; 46:8, 12; 48:4; 59:10, 17-18). The verb fom (“slip, [be] shake[n]”), in a negative sense (i.e., “will not be shaken”) also occurs frequently in the Psalms, in the context of the protection and deliverance God provides. The adjective hB*r^ (lit., “much, great”) would seem to be used here in a simple emphatic sense—i.e., “I will not be shaken at all”).

Verse 4 [3]

“Until when will you rush against a man,
(to) dash (him) to pieces, all of you—
like a wall bending (down),
(or) a fence th(at is) pushed down?”

The perspective of the stanza suddenly shifts, matched by a shift in meter. From the idea of YHWH as a place of protection for the Psalmist, we have the portrait of the wicked as attacking/assailing others (including the righteous)—thus emphasizing the need for God’s protection. This depiction continues the military imagery (of the fortress/stronghold). Without YHWH’s protection, a man is vulnerable to being attacked by enemies (i.e., the wicked)—they will rush on him (vb tWj, occurring only here) and dash him to pieces (vb jx^r*, “shatter,” spec. “slay, murder”). The dual motif of the bending wall and pushed-down fence is best understood as describing the man without protection. Instead of YHWH as a strong fortress, the person without God’s protection, has but flimsy walls and palisades that will easy be pulled down by wicked assailants.

The opening compound particle hn`a*-du^ (“until when,” i.e., for how long…?) seems to be addressed to the wicked, as a kind of condemning taunt, but it perhaps better applies to the victim—i.e., how long will you let yourself be attacked without going to YHWH for protection? Even so, the Wisdom-themed contrast between the righteous and the wicked occurs frequently in the Psalms, and is certainly present here.

Metrically, in this verse, we have a single 3-beat line, following by a triad of 2-beat lines (2+2+2).

Verse 5 [4]

“Only deceptions against him do they plan,
to drive (him) away, they take pleasure in lie(s)!
With their mouth they bless,
but with what is inside them they curse!”

The contrast between the righteous and wicked continues here, bringing the stanza to a close. From the imagery of a military assault (implying violence), the focus here in v. 5 is attack with the mouth—i.e., using the weapons of lying (bz`K*) and deception (ha*WVm^). The commentators are surely correct who read the consonantal text here (wta?m) as ota)V%m= (“deceptions against him”), rather than the MT ota@c=m! (“from his height/elevation” [?]).

The sense of treachery is brought out by the contrast between what the wicked seem to say (blessing), with what they actually intend in their heart (cursing).

Metrically, in this verse we have a 3-beat (3+3) couplet, followed by a 2-beat (2+2) couplet.

Stanza 2: vv. 6-9 [5-8]

Verses 6-7 [5-6]

“To (the) Mightiest alone (I go, to) my strong tower,
(O) my soul, from Him indeed (comes) my hope!
He alone (is) my rock and my salvation—
my place up high, (and) I will not be shaken!”

The opening couplets of the second stanza are largely identical with those of the first stanza (vv. 2-3, cf. above). The differences are relatively slight, and may be summarized:

    • In the first line: the prefixed preposition l= is used instead of -la#, but apparently with the same meaning (“to[ward]”); as noted above, Dahood would read the l here as emphatic.
    • Again in the first line, the noun hm*WD (with first person suffix) is used instead of hY`m!WD (suffix implied), but with identical meaning (“fortress, tower,” cp. Ezek 27:32)
    • In the second line, the noun hw`q=T! (“hope”) is used instead of hu*Wvy+ (“salvation”); possibly the latter in v. 2 could be a scribal error (influenced by the same word in the first line of v. 3).
    • The particle yK! could be a secondary addition; but, if original, it is used as a emphatic (“indeed”).
    • The final line is missing the adjective hB*r^ (“much, great”) in v. 3; possibly this is a scribal omission, which alters slightly the rhythm of the line.
Verse 8 [7]

“Upon (the) Mightiest (rests) my safety and my worth,
(the) rock of my strength, my shelter (is) in the Mightiest.”

The parallelism in this couplet is chiastic:

    • Upon the Mightiest
      • my salvation / my worth
      • my rock of strength / my place of shelter
    • in the Mightiest

The corresponding verses (vv. 4-5) in stanza 1 depict what happens to a person without God’s protection. Here, in the second stanza, the image is of YHWH’s protection being maintained for the righteous. YHWH Himself is the place of protection (hs#j=m^) for the Psalmist, again being described as a fortified location high on a rock—the specific expression is “rock of my strength” (i.e., my rock of strength, yZ]u%-rWx). The locative noun hs#j=m^ occurs frequently in the Psalms (14:6; 46:2; 61:4; 71:7; 73:28, etc).

The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of the value or worth of something. Here it is used parallel with uv^y# (“salvation, safety”). The idea seems to be two-fold: on the one hand, the person who trusts in YHWH for protection will come through safe and with his/her own worth intact; on the other hand, the salvation God provides, understood in terms of military victory, also leads to honor for the one who trusts in Him.

Verse 9 [8]

“Seek protection in Him at all time(s),
O people, pour out before Him your heart,
(for the) Mightiest (is the) place of shelter for us.”

Continuing the same theme, the stanza ends with an exhortation for God’s people (i.e., the righteous of Israel) to seek protection in YHWH, trusting in Him at all times (tu@-lk*B=). The verb jf^B* is a keyword in the Psalms (occurring 46 times), fundamentally referring to the act of trusting in YHWH for safety and protection. It is more or less synonymous with the verb hs*j*, also frequent in the Psalms (the derived locative noun hs#j&m^ occurs again here in v. 9, cf. above). The colorful act of “pouring out” one’s heart is used as an idiom for trust.

(The remainder of the Psalm [the third stanza] will be discussed in next week’s study.)

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