Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 102 (Part 2)

Psalm 102, continued

There are two main stanzas to Psalm 102: the first (vv. 2-12), discussed in Part 1, involves the individual sickness and suffering of the Psalmist/protagonist, while the second (vv. 13-23) focuses on the suffering of the people as a whole (and their land). The affliction of the Psalmist thus serves as an emblem for the people as whole, presumably in the exilic (or early post-exilic) period. In the first portion of the second stanza, vv. 13-18, the protagonist expresses his trust in YHWH, lauding His greatness and His Kingship, anticipating, as he does, the restoration of the Israelite/Judean kingdom (centered at Jerusalem). Just as the Psalmist’s suffering parallels that of the people as a whole, so his hope for healing and deliverance parallels the expectation for the restoration of Zion.

Second Stanza: Verses 13-23 [12-22]

Verse 13 [12]

“But you, YHWH, for (the) distant (future) sit (as King),
and mention of you (lasts) for cycle and cycle!”

This initial (4+3) couplet, praising YHWH as King, is nearly identical with Lamentations 5:19, the notable difference being “your memorial” (;r=k=z]) instead of “your throne” (;a&s=K!). It is possible that Lamentations here quotes the Psalm, making the natural substitution of “throne” for “memorial”. The noun rk#z@, from the root rkz I (“mention, have in mind, call to mind”), here relates to YHWH’s renown and glory as King, which makes Him worthy to be spoken of (and invoked) for all generations to come. The pairing of the temporal expressions, <l*oul= (“for/[in]to the distant [future]”) and rd)w` rd)l= (“for cycle and cycle”), is traditional and occurs frequently in the Psalms. The noun roD (rD)) means “circle”, indicating, in this context, a cycle of time (“age”), or the circle of people (“generation”) living during a particular cycle. YHWH’s reign as King lasts “into the far distant future” —i.e., forever.

Verse 14 [13]

“You (surely) will stand up (and) have mercy (on) Ṣiyyôn—
for (the) time to show her favor,
indeed has come, (the) appointed time!”

The pronoun hT*a^ (“you”) at the beginning of this verse matches that of v. 13; here, in particular, its occurrence is emphatic. The Psalmist urges YHWH to act, expressing confidence that God, in His ruling power (as King, v. 13), will surely now (or soon) take action. The idea is that YHWH will stand up (from His throne) and exercise His royal authority, so as to deliver Zion and restore the kingdom to the people of Israel/Judah. This restorative act is referenced in terms of “showing mercy/compassion” (vb <j^r*, Piel), implying YHWH’s deep love for His people (and the city of Jerusalem). The act is particularly described as that of a sovereign who shows favor (vb /n~j*) to a subordinate.

The Psalmist is convinced that this, indeed, is the time—considered as the “appointed (time)” (du@om)—for the restoration to occur, now, after a period of suffering and desolation (i.e., exile), which parallels the individual suffering and sickness of the Psalmist/protagonist (see above, and the exegesis of the first stanza in Part 1).

Metrically, this verse is a long 4-beat (4+4) couplet; however, the poetic rhythm seems better served by parsing it as a 4+2+2 tricolon.

Verse 15 [14]

“Indeed, your servants are favorable (toward) her stones,
and (even to) her dust they would show favor.”

If YHWH’s servants are eager to show favor to Jerusalem (in her ruins), then how much more should YHWH Himself wish to show her favor! There is also a certain chain of relationship at work here: YHWH is the Sovereign who shows favor to His servants, and they, in turn, would show favor to the ruined city (i.e., its stones and dust) by rebuilding it. But the servants can only convey this favor to the city if YHWH first bestows it upon them; in so doing, YHWH is effectively showing favor Himself upon the city.

The verbs hx*r* and /n~j* (also used in v. 14) are conceptually related in this regard. The first verb (hx*r*) indicates that a person has a favorable attitude or disposition toward someone (or something), while the second (/n~j*) denotes showing favor or bestowing a favor.

Even today, in an entirely different time period and generation, devout Israelites and Jews show favor to the ruins of Jerusalem, e.g., by spending time in prayer and meditation before the Western (‘Wailing’) Wall.

Metrically, this verse returns to the 3-beat (3+3) couplet format that tends to dominate the two main stanzas.

Verse 16 [15]

“And (even) the nations will fear (the) name of YHWH,
and all (the) kings of the earth your weight.”

The devotion that God’s people show to YHWH, acknowledging Him as King (v. 13), will eventually be shared by all the nations. This expectation, of the nations joining Israel in recognizing YHWH as their Sovereign and God, was an important theme of the Kingship Psalms 93-100. It is a key component of the eschatological prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic period, but a rudimentary form of the theme seems to have developed already by the late kingdom-period.

In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person, in a magical sort of way. This is all the more true in the religious sphere, with regard to God. A deity is understood to be present (and manifest) through his/her name; and Israel shared this basic belief with regard to YHWH. The people were able to have contact with YHWH, in a symbolic and ritual manner, through His name. This was realized in a number of different ways and context, but, most notably, through the idea that YHWH’s name was present in the Temple sanctuary. The presence of God’s name applied to (was “called over/upon”) the entire building complex; the entire structure belonged to YHWH, and His name fully pervaded its precincts. This is a key theme in the Deuteronomic Writings; see, in particular, the Prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8 par), and my recent notes on this passage. On the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, cf. the Introduction to the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”.

YHWH is also manifest through His dobK* (“weight”)—viz., His attributes, etc, all that makes Him ‘weighty’ and worthy of honor and praise, etc. This dobK* came to conceptualized visually, drawing upon storm-theophany and various kinds of light-imagery; it was envisioned as a brilliant splendor that covered and surrounded YHWH. In 1 Kings 8 (see above), the dobK* of YHWH, manifest in the Temple, is described briefly (using traditional imagery) in vv. 10-11f; in the remainder of the passage, the emphasis is on the name of YHWH.

The meter of v. 16 is 4+3, as in the first couplet (v. 13).

Verse 17 [16]

“Indeed, (when) YHWH has built Ṣiyyôn,
(and) is seen (there) in (all) His weight,”

The precise syntactical relationship of vv. 16-18 may be debated. It is possible to read verse 17 as a continuation of v. 16:

“Even the nations will fear (the) name of YHWH,
and all (the) kings of the earth your weight,
when YHWH has built Ṣiyyôn (again),
(and) is seen (there) in (all) His weight”

That is to say, it is the restoration of Israel (including the rebuilding of Jerusalem) which will lead to the nations revering YHWH (as their God). Indeed, the coming of the nations to Jerusalem is a key theme in a number of Prophetic passages (e.g., Micah 4:1-5, par Isa 2:1-4), and is particularly prominent in connection with the eschatological theme of Israel’s restoration.

This approach is altogether valid. And yet, at the same time, one can also read verse 18 as a continuation of v. 17 (see below). I am more inclined to emphasize the relationship between vv. 17 and 18, indicated by the alliterative wordplay between the verbs hn*B* (b¹nâ, “build”) and hn*P* (p¹nâ, “turn, face”); on this point, cf. Dahood, III, p. 17f.

In any case, this verse clearly expresses the expectation for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. By all accounts, such a rebuilding has not yet occurred, but is viewed as a real possibility (in the near future). This would be accord with an exilic (or early post-exilic) date for the Psalm.

The meter of verse 17 is 3+2, followed by 3+3 in v. 18.

Verse 18 [17]

“(then) He will have turned to (the) prayer of the naked,
and (indeed) will not have disregarded their prayer.”

The implication of the Psalmist’s wording here is that the rebuilding of Jerusalem will be proof that YHWH has heard and answered (“turned to”) his prayer—and, collectively, the prayer of all other faithful and devout ones, who currently suffer (like the Psalmist) in the face of the kingdom’s ruin. The Psalmist’s purpose, again, is to urge YHWH to take action, beginning the chain of events that will lead to Israel’s restoration and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

The righteous ones, who are currently suffering, are designated here, collectively, as “the naked” (ru*r=u^h*). An implicit allusion to the suffering of the protagonist (in stanza 1) is probably intended. If so, then it anticipates the concluding section of the Psalm (vv. 24-29), in which the protagonist’s suffering (and his deliverance from suffering) is paired with that of the people as a whole. The conclusion, along with the remainder of the second stanza (vv. 19-23) will be examined in Part 3.

References marked “Dahood, I”, “Dahood, II” and “Dahood, III” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968), and Psalms III: 101-150, vol. 17A (1970).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 100

Psalm 100

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsb (vv. 1-2)

This is the final Psalm of the collection Pss 93-100, all of which deal with the central theme of the Kingship of YHWH. Various thematic links from the Psalms of this collection converge in the brief hymn of praise that comprises Psalm 100. These links have been analyzed thoroughly by Howard in his study (pp. 105-65).

There is a simple three-part structure to Psalm 100, being composed of three tricola. The first and third tricola (vv. 1-2, 4) have a common 3-beat (3+3+3) meter, while the second (central) tricolon (v. 3) has an extended/expanded meter (4+4+3). Verse 3 may be considered as a bridge between the two praise strophes of vv. 1-2 and 4. This bridge-verse describes the reason for praising YHWH, emphasizing His relationship (as God) to His people (Israel). The praise strophes deal with two key themes found elsewhere in the collection: (1) the universality of YHWH’s Kingship, which demands that all people everywhere (indeed, even all of creation) worship Him; and (2) the (ritual) praise that is expected of His people, focused on the Temple in Jerusalem. The final couplet (v. 5) serves as a concluding doxology, both for Psalm 100 and the collection as a whole.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely, though it is impossible to be any more precise than this. Parallels (in Pss 93-100) to the Deutero-Isaian poems suggest a late pre-exilic time-frame. Both the Temple-setting and the Kingship theme are fully compatible with the Judean royal theology of the monarchic period. The Psalm itself may have been part of ritual worship in the Temple from early times, or, at least, draws upon such traditions.

Psalms 98 and 100 are the only Psalms of the collection which contain a heading, simply designating the work as musical composition (romz+m!). Psalm 100 adds the detail that it is “for confession” (hd*otl=), i.e., a confession of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Verses 1-2

“Make a shout to YHWH, all the earth!
May you serve YHWH with gladness!
Come before His face with a ringing cry!”

The Psalms of this collection (93-100) typically begin with a call to worship, often emphasizing the universality of YHWH’s Kingship. His Rule extends over all the earth, and so all peoples and nations—even all of creation itself—are to give Him praise. See, for example, this theme highlighted in the prior studies on Psalm 98 (vv. 4-6ff) and 99 (vv. 1-2). The call for “all the earth” to shout (vb u^Wr) praise to God closely resembles the call in 98:4 (see also 96:1, 11; 97:1). Within the collection, the verb uWr occurs in 95:1-2 and 98:4, 6. The noun hn`n`r= is quite rare, but the verb /n~r* is quite frequent in the Psalms (e.g., 95:1; 96:12; 98:4, 8) and the later Prophetic poetry. Both verbs uwr and /nr denote the giving of a ringing shout or cry (viz., of praise).

Verse 3

“Know that YHWH, He (is the) Mightiest!
He made us, and (it is) to Him we (belong),
(we) His people and flock of His pasture.”

The central tricolon of the Psalm gives the principal reason for praising YHWH. This is indicated in line 1: He is the Mightiest (One) [<yh!l)a$]—that is, the greatest of all gods (“mighty [one]s”, <yh!l)a$), the Sovereign over all other divine/heavenly beings. This theological declaration refers to the universal aspect of YHWH’s kingship (emphasized in vv. 1-2), alluding to the Prophetic promise that eventually all peoples will recognize and worship YHWH as their God. However, it also relates to the emphasis in the third tricolon (v. 4), focusing on the worship to be given to YHWH by Israel—He is their God (“Mighty [One]”, <yh!l)a$), and they His people.

Indeed, this covenant-emphasis, occurring so frequently in the Psalms, is specified in lines 2 and 3, using traditional language and imagery. The declaration in line 2, that YHWH “made” Israel, alludes to His role as Creator, but also to the way that he formed Israel, as a distinct nation and people, when He brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This same language occurs, notably, in the Song of Moses (Deut 32:6ff).

The Kethib of the Masoretic Text reads “and not [al)w+] we”, which gives a contrastive emphasis to the line: “He (it is who) made us, and not we (ourselves)”. However, the Qere indicates that, instead of the negative particle al), the text should correctly be read as ol (“to/for him”)—the preposition l= and the third person singular suffix. Along with other commentators (e.g., Howard, p. 92; Hossfeld-Zenger, p. 492), I follow the Qere. For a different way of understanding the text, see Dahood II, p. 371f.

The third line builds upon the point made in the second line—namely, that Israel is YHWH’s chosen people (“[we are] His people”), i.e., “we (belong) to Him”. This is central to the covenant-bond that informs the Israelite religious-cultural identity. The pronoun Wnj=n~a& (“we”) could be treated as part of either the second or third line; we may also regard it as doing double-duty, serving as a kind of join between the two lines:

“(belong) to Him we

Wnj=n~a&

we (are) His people”

It is also possible that the pronoun occurred in both lines, as attested, apparently, by the LXX (Codex A). If the pronouns occurred in sequence, at the end of the second line and also the beginning of third, then the loss of one could easily be explained as a scribal error (haplography). Adding to the attractiveness of this hypothesis is the fact that restoring a second pronoun results in a more consistent (4-beat, 4+4+4) meter for the verse. Cf. the discussion in Howard, p. 95.

The motif of YHWH as a shepherd to Israel, with the people thus as His flock of sheep (/ax)), occurs frequently in Old Testament tradition. This includes numerous examples in the Psalms—28:9; 44:12[11], 23[22]; 68:11[10]; 74:1; 77:21[20]; 78:52, 71; 79:13; 80:2[1]; 95:7; 119:176, and the entirety of Psalm 23. This shepherd-motif connotes the care and guidance that YHWH provides for His people; indeed, both of these aspects are embedded in the the image of the tyu!rm!—literally, a place for grazing/feeding the sheep, translated typically (and here, for poetic concision) as “pasture”. The shepherd guides the flock to a place where they may graze, and guiding them to such place demonstrates the shepherd’s concern to nurture and care for his flock.

Verse 4

“Come (into) His gates with praise,
and in His enclosures with joyful song!
Give praise to Him and bless His name!”

The final tricolon, like the first (vv. 1-2, above), has a 3+3+3 meter. Both strophes express a call to praise YHWH; however, while the first strophe had a universal orientation (“all the earth”), the focus in this third strophe is on the worship given to YHWH by His people Israel. As noted above, this shift occurs in the second tricolon (lines 2&3). The call to worship here in verse 4 assumes a ritual setting in the Jerusalem Temple. Both the “gates” (ru^v^, plur.) and the “enclosures” (rx@j*, plur.), i.e., courtyards, are traditional allusions to the Temple precincts and its Jerusalem locale (Zion). This strophe may reflect an actual ritual procession when the Psalm itself would have been sung.

The regular nouns hd*oT (line 1) and hL*h!T= (line 2) have similar meaning—the former refers to a confession (vb hd*y` II), viz., of praise or thanksgiving (to God), while the latter (vb ll^h* II) indicates the giving forth of a bright and joyous song. The same verbal root (hd*y`) from line 1 also occurs in line 3. One is called on both to praise YHWH and to bless (vb Er^B*) Him—indicating two distinct, but related, aspects of worship. To bless the name of God essentially means the same as blessing Him; on the significance of names and naming in ancient Near Eastern thought, see the introduction to my earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. The reference here may allude to the specific tradition of YHWH’s name residing in the Jerusalem Temple; this is most prominent in the Deuteronomic writings (Deut 12:5, 11, 21; 14:23-24, et al.), as, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8, vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48)—on which, cf. my recent series of notes.

Verse 5

“For good (is) YHWH—
His loyalty to (the) distant (future),
and His firmness unto cycle and cycle!”

The final couplet forms a concluding doxology—both for Psalm 100, and the collection (93-100) as a whole. The 4+3 meter of this couplet is difficult to capture in translation, though it can be approximated somewhat by a more conventional rendering:

“For good (is) YHWH—His loyalty (lasts) forever,
and His firmness to generation and generation!”

The implicit theme of the second half of the Psalm (vv. 3b-4)—namely, the covenant bond between YHWH and His people—is emphasized also here in the final couplet. The terms ds#j# and hn`Wma$ (or the related tm#a#), paired with some frequency in the Psalms (e.g., 36:6[5]; 40:11-12[10-11]; 57:4[3], 11[10]; 69:14[13]; 85:11[10]; 86:15; 88:12[11]; 89:2-3[1-2], 15[14], 29[28], 34[33]; 92:3; 98:3, etc), are part of this covenant-context. The noun ds#j# properly means “goodness, kindness”, but, in such a context as we find here, connotes “faithfulness, loyalty, devotion”. As for hn`Wma$, it means “firmness”, but often in the sense of “faithfulness”. The adjective bof (“good”) similarly here connotes “faithful, loyal”.

This loyalty of YHWH effectively lasts forever—He Himself will never violate the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. This abiding, durative aspect of YHWH’s faithfulness is expressed by two regular idioms: <l*oul= (“into [the] distant [future]”), and rd)w+ rD)-du^ (“unto cycle and cycle”). The noun <l*ou can refer to either the distant past or the distant future; here it clearly refers to the future. The expression rd)w+ rD) (lit., “circle and circle”, or “cycle and cycle”) indicates both continuity and perpetuity—that is, as each cycle (rD)) of time passes, and, with it, each circle (rD)) of people (i.e., ‘generation’) living during that period. YHWH will remain loyal, over time, to each generation of His people.

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 “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 99

Psalm 99

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsk (vv. 1-2, 5); 4QPsv (v. 1); 4QPsb (vv. 5-6)

Like other Psalms in the collection Pss 93-100, Psalm 99 praises YHWH as King. The universality of His Kingship is likewise emphasized. Other thematic links and common vocabulary are shared by these Psalms; in the case of Psalm 99, one may note, in particular, the connections with Psalms 97 (see the earlier study) and 98 (previous study). For a relatively detailed examination of these links, see the analysis by Howard, pp. 157-9, 161-2, 164-5.

This Psalm has a strophic structure, comprised of three strophes, each of which concludes with a declaration of YHWH’s holiness (“Holy [is] He!” in strophes 1 and 2). The strophes are similar in form, but are far from consistent in rhythm. Verses 6-7 represent an interlude, drawing upon Israelite history, and establish the thematic transition to the final strophe. The meter is irregular throughout, and it is impossible to say whether the Psalm, in an earlier form, had more consistent rhythm in its strophes.

As with other Psalms in this collection, a pre-exilic date (in the monarchic period) seems likely. As Howard notes (p. 192), the use of zu) as a substantive (Divine) title (“Strong/Mighty [One]”, v. 4) occurs in early poetry (Exod 15:2; cf. Psalm 29:1), which suggests the possibility that Psalm 99 was composed at a relatively earlier point (in the monarchic period) than others in the collection.

The Qumran manuscript 4QPsk includes a heading, which designates the Psalm as a “musical composition” (romz+m!), as in Psalm 98 MT; it also (probably) included the attribution dw]d*l= (“belonging to David”), as the the letter d can be read prior to romzm.

First Strophe: verses 1-3

Verse 1

“YHWH is king—let (the) peoples tremble!
Seated (upon the) kerû»s—let the earth stagger!”

The theme of YHWH’s kingship is established in this initial (4-beat, 4+4) couplet. Again, as in other Psalms of this collection (see above), YHWH is presented as King over all creation—all of the earth and its inhabitants. We find often, as here, a call for the nations to worship YHWH, acknowledging Him as King. There is a clear parallelism between each half-line:

    • “YHWH reigns as King [vb El^m*]”
    • “being seated (on the) kerubs”

The “kerubs” (plur. <yb!WrK=) refer to the winged creatures on the golden chest (ark) of the covenant, which was situated in the Temple sanctuary, functioning as the symbolic/ritual ‘throne’ of YHWH. Thus, even though He is King over the entire universe (ruling from heaven), he is also ‘enthroned’ on earth in the Temple sanctuary.

The response of humankind to YHWH’s Kingship is indicated in the second half-line:

    • “let (the) peoples quake/tremble [vb zg~r*]”
    • “let the earth wobble/stagger [vb fWn]”

All peoples everywhere—and even all of creation itself—should shake and tremble before YHWH as King. There may be an allusion here to the eschatological notion that the nations will come to Jerusalem (and the Temple) to pay homage to YHWH (cf. Micah 4:1-3 [par Isa 2:2-4], etc).

The verb fWn occurs only here in the Old Testament. It is doubtless similar in meaning to Ugaritic n‰‰ (ffn), “wobble, totter”; as Dahood (II, p. 368) notes, weak verbs that share the same two base consonants (in this case, fn) typically have a common/similar meaning.

Verse 2

“(Indeed,) YHWH in ‚iyyôn is great—
raised high (is) He over all (the) peoples!”

This second couplet (3-beat, 3+3) emphasizes the greatness and majesty of YHWH, as he reigns (as King) from His throne in Jerusalem (Zion). The verbs ld^G` (“be great”) and <Wr (“be high”) are used. The implicit idea in verse 1, of YHWH’s reign extending over all the nations (and peoples) of earth, is expressed more clearly here. I treat the initial w-conjunction in the second line as emphatic, and, for poetic concision, I have essentially transferred it to the start of the first line in my translation (above).

Verse 3

“Let them praise your name,
O Great and Fearsome (One)!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

Rhythmically, the initial couplet (v. 1) has four beats, the second (v. 2) three beats, and the third (v. 3) here 2 beats (2+2). The couplets thus increasingly narrow their focus, becoming terser and more direct. Here, the call (for all people) to praise YHWH is essentially repeated from v. 1. Praising the name of YHWH means praising YHWH Himself. However, there may be a specific allusion to the idea that YHWH is present in the Temple sanctuary particularly through His name. This is a key Deuteronomic theme (Deut 12:5ff; 26:2, etc), found extensively, for example, throughout Solomon’s prayer (at the Temple dedication) in 1 Kings 8 (vv. 16-20, 29, 33, 35, 42-44, 48), a passage which I have discussed in a recent series of notes.

The adjectives lodG` (“great”) and ar*on (“fearsome”, or “(to) be feared”) are best understood here as descriptive epithets of YHWH, though they could just as well be applied to His name (cf. Deut 28:58).

The strophe ends with the two-beat refrain, “Holy (is) He!” (aWh vodq*). In context, this declaration could also apply to YHWH’s name (i.e., “Holy it [is]!”).

Second Strophe: Verses 4-5

Verse 4a

“Indeed, (the) Strong (One is) King! He loves justice!
You make (it) firm (with) straight (judgment)s.”

The first couplet of the second strophe has, apparently, an irregular 4+3 meter (cp. 4+4 in strophe 1). The thematic focus is on the judgment rendered by YHWH as King (and thus, also as Judge). By His straight (i.e., fair, even) decisions, He establishes justice throughout. Here, the noun fP*v=m! means both “judgment” and “justice”. The sudden shift from third person (line 1) to second person (line 2) address may seem a bit strange and off-putting, but it is not all that uncommon in the Psalms.

I follow Howard (p. 85f) and other commentators in reading zu) (“strength”) as a Divine title (i.e., “Strong [One]”); the sense could be adverbial, i.e., the One who rules with strength. The initial w-conjunction of the first line, opening the strophe as it does, should be taken as emphatic.

Verse 4b

“Justice and righteousness in Ya’aqob
(indeed) you make (stand)!”

Again, this (second) couplet has irregular meter (3+2, cp. 3+3 in strophe 1). It follows upon the first (v. 4a), expounding the justice which YHWH, as King, “makes firm” on earth. In particular, He establishes justice (and righteousness) in Israel (“Jacob”), among His people. This refers to the covenant-bond between YHWH and Israel, and His faithfulness and loyalty to that bond.

It is conceivable that a word has dropped out from the second line of v. 4b, as the short line t*yc!u* hTa^ (“you do/make”) reads somewhat oddly. Unfortunately, the three fragmentary Qumran manuscripts which contain this Psalm do not preserve verse 4, so there is no way to confirm the MT at this point.

Verse 5

“Lift high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) stool of His feet!
Holy (indeed is) He!”

The third strophe is a 3-beat couplet (as in strophe 1), calling on people to give praise and worship to YHWH. Here, the focus is specifically on the people of Israel (cf. verse 4), who are to worship YHWH as their King and God. The motif of the “stool [<d)h&] for His feet” probably alludes to the Ark (as YHWH’s ‘throne’) located in the Temple sanctuary (see v. 1b, above). Thus, a Temple worship setting is implied, and could indicate a ritual (liturgical) setting for the Psalm.

Transitional Verses (6-7)

Verse 6a

“Moše and Aharon (were) among His priests,
and Šemû’el among (those) calling His name.”

These transitional verses refer, in a general and summary way, to Israelite religious history—in particular, to those priestly/prophetic leaders who served YHWH. Moses and Aaron (in the Exodus period) are paired with Samuel (period of the Judges).

Verse 6b

“(They were) calling to YHWH,
and He answered them.”

This short two-beat (2+2) couplet follows the three-beat (3+3) couplet of v. 6a. It summarizes the dynamic relationship between YHWH and the faithful priestly/prophetic leaders: they call to YHWH, and He answers them.

Verse 7

“In a standing (mass) of cloud He spoke to them;
they guarded His repeated (command)s,
and (the) engraved (law) He gave to them.”

This long prosaic couplet (4-beat, 4+4) I have extended in translation as three lines (4+2+2). It again summarizes the dynamic for the faithful ones of God’s people, in their covenantal relationship to YHWH. Moses and Samuel, as leaders, represent the people. Their faithfulness (and covenant loyalty) serve as the ideal pattern and example for the people to follow. YHWH gave His commands (i.e., the Torah regulations) to Moses (and thus to the people) out of the cloud. The faithful ones guarded (vb rm^v*) His commands, and took care to obey them. The noun qj) denotes something engraved or inscribed, usually in the sense of an authoritative, governing rule or statute; the term here alludes the theme of YHWH’s kingship.

I have translated the plural of hd*u@ according to its fundamental meaning of “something repeated”. YHWH’s commands are to be repeated, in terms of obedience to them (their fulfillment, etc), but also in the sense of repeating them (and their importance) for subsequent generations.

Third Strophe: Verses 8-9

Verse 8

“(Yes,) YHWH, our Mighty (One), you answered them—
a Mighty (One) lifting (guilt) you were for them,
and (as the) avenging (Most) High dealt with them.”

The historical setting established in the transitional vv. 6-7 (above) leads into the third (and final) strophe. The structure and rhythm differs from the the first two strophes, reflecting the prosaic (and didactic) tone of the transitional lines. Instead of a pair of couplets, we have here an irregular (4+3+3) tricolon. The first line picks up from verse 7.

The theme of YHWH’s Kingship has been translated into the idiom of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. In this binding agreement, YHWH is the Sovereign, and the people His servants. They are obligated to serve Him faithfully, by following the terms of the agreement (i.e., the Torah precepts and regulations, v. 7). YHWH would respond to them based on whether or not they fulfilled their covenant obligations. If they fulfilled them faithfully, then YHWH would be a merciful and forgiving Sovereign, one who “lifts” (vb ac*n`) away sin and guilt, and who “lifts” His people, carrying them with His (Divine) protection and blessing. This is expressed in line 2.

However, if they were unfaithful and refused to follow the terms of the covenant, then YHWH would become an avenging (vb <q^n`) Ruler, dealing (root llu) with His people as their disobedience deserves. This negative side is the focus of line 3. I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 369), in treating lu as a Divine title (“High [One], [Most] High”); this establishes a clear parallel between the lines:

“Mighty [One] lifting…” | “High [One] avenging…”

The final word is problematic. The MT reads “their dealing”; in such a context, the noun hl*yl!a& usually has a decidedly negative connotation, i.e. “evil dealing” —that is, wicked/improper behavior and treatment of others. However, it is probably better to view the suffix here as reflecting a dative of (dis)advantage (cf. Dahood, II, p. 370), and with the noun retaining the verbal force of its root (with YHWH as the subject)—viz., “(His) dealing with them”, meaning God dealt with them harshly, as their disobedience deserved.

Verse 9

“Lift (up) high YHWH our Mighty (One),
and bow before (the) hill of His holiness!”
For Holy (indeed is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”

The final couplet corresponds with that of the earlier two strophes; it is particularly close to the second strophe (see verse 5, above). Indeed, it is almost identical, only, instead of bowing down before the “stool of His feet”, the people are directed to bow before “the hill of His holiness” (i.e., His holy hill). The Temple ‘mount’ of Zion is certainly intended in both instances, referring to the location of the Temple and its sanctuary, where YHWH is ‘enthroned’ and reigns as King.

The final refrain is given in an expanded form. Instead of “Holy (is) He!”, we have the fuller phrase “Holy (is) YHWH our Mighty (One)!”. The longer phrase, with its honorific expansion, allows the Psalm to end on a dramatic, climactic note.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Howard” are to David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93-100, Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California, San Diego, Vol. 5 (Eisenbrauns: 1997).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 87

Psalm 87

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This short Psalm is arguably among the most obscure and difficult in the Psalter. The awkward phrasing, abrupt shifts in language and wording, and—most notably—the apparent ambiguities of thought and expression in vv. 4-6, have all led commentators to theorize that the MT as it has come down to us is corrupt and in a disorganized state. Some have attempted to reconstruct and reorder the lines to produce a more coherent poem (see Kraus, pp. 184-85f). Others (e.g., Dahood, Hossfeld-Zenger) are unwilling to take such a step, or do not feel the need, and attempt instead to make sense of the MT as it stands (with only minor modifications).

Unfortunately, Psalm 87, perhaps due to its brevity, is not preserved among the surviving Dead Sea Psalms manuscripts, so there is no way to confirm whether (or to what extent) the MT may be corrupt. Nor is much clarity to be found in the LXX and other ancient versions, which seem to struggle just as much as modern scholars in making sense of the Hebrew text. I have chosen to work from the Masoretic text, keeping closely to it, and adopting only modest changes in vocalization and line divisions, at several points.

As might be expected, the meter of the Psalm (in the MT) is quite irregular, and, probably to some extent, unreliable. I discuss the rhythm/meter only in a few places below.

This Psalm is attributed to “(the) sons of Qorah”, as were the prior Pss 84-85 and 87. These follow the earlier collection of Pss 42-49; on the Qorah-tradition, cf. the study on Ps 42-43. These Korahite Psalms share a number of themes and motifs, including the Zion-emphasis that we find here in Ps 87. They also deal with the relationship between Israel/Judah and the nations, reflecting certain eschatological emphases or points of reference that indicate a measure of affinity with Prophetic oracles and poems of the exilic (and post-exilic) period. For more on the the relation of Ps 87 to the Korahite corpus, cf. the discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 385-8.

The structure of this Psalm is indicated, in this instance, by the Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker, following vv. 3 and 6. The first section (vv. 1-3) is a short hymn of praise for Zion, and for its special place as the chosen dwelling of YHWH; God’s love for the site of Jerusalem/Zion is particularly emphasized. The second section (vv. 4-6) draws upon aspects of the Prophetic nation-oracles, according to the thematic emphasis of the poems in the exilic (and post-exilic) period which offer the promise that, in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the surrounding nations will join Israel in worshiping YHWH on mount Zion. The enigmatic verse 7 concludes the Psalm.

Verses 1-2

“Founded by Him on (the) mountains of holiness,
YHWH is loving (you), O gates of ‚iyyôn,
(more) than all (the) dwelling-places of Ya’aqob.”

The Psalm begins in an unusual manner, with (it seems) an orienting subordinate clause (v. 1b) that modifies the object of the central statement (v. 2a) (“[the] gates of Zion”). I take the initial word to be a verbal noun, a passive participle with 3rd person singular suffix (of agency); cf. Dahood, II, p. 299. It is a feminine form (hd*Wsy+), which presumably refers to the city of Jerusalem (the noun ryu! being feminine); the expression “gates of Jerusalem” in the central line stands for the implied object noun, specified in v. 3, “city of the Mightiest” (i.e., city of God, Jerusalem).

Cities were often personified as women in the ancient Near East, a tendency that goes beyond the grammatical gender here of ryu!. The feminine personification of Zion is perhaps best known through the expression “daughter of Zion” (or “daughter Zion”), frequent in the Prophetic texts (cf. also Psalm 9:14).

The plural “mountains” may be intended as an intensive plural (like <yh!l)a$), as a way of identifying the fortified hilltop site of Zion as the holy mountain of YHWH’s dwelling. In Semitic (and Canaanite) religious tradition, any mountain or hill can serve as a local manifestation of the great cosmic mountain where the Creator (El-YHWH) resides. Such hills are thus holy (vdq), since God has chosen to reside there. Jerusalem was founded by YHWH (vb ds^y`) on this holy site.

The central statement in v. 2a declares that YHWH loves (vb bh^a*) the site that he has chosen, and the city that is built there. The idea of God’s love for Jerusalem (and the Temple) is implied in many Scriptural passages, but only rarely stated directly. Psalm 78:68 is the most notable example, indicatin that His love extends beyond the site of mount Zion to the entire tribe/territory of Judah. There can be little doubt that the Judean royal theology informs this language and imagery a good deal. YHWH’s love is implicit in the fact that He chose Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place (i.e., the Temple sanctuary).

The expression “gates of Zion” refers both to the city (Jerusalem), but also, specifically, to the Temple precincts built on the ancient fortified hilltop-location. The gates are mentioned, along with the feminine representation of Zion (as “daughter”) in Psalm 9:14; see also Lamentations 1:4. On God’s specific love for the Temple sanctuary, cf. Malachi 2:11.

The participle bh@a) may be meant to indicate the regular and continual nature of this love, being part of YHWH’s essential character and His abiding relationship to His people. The fact that YHWH chose Zion/Jerusalem over all the other “dwelling-places” in Israel (Jacob), is an indication that He loves it more than those other sites.

Metrically, vv. 1-2, as they stand, read as a slightly irregular 3-beat tricolon.

Verse 3

“Worthy (thing)s are being spoken in you,
O city of (the) Mightiest!”
Selah

Following the MT, the sense of this verse (3+2 couplet) is not clear. The referent for the passive (Niphal) feminine plural participle (todB*k=n]), in particular, is ambiguous. Dahood (II, p. 299) would parse the lines differently, reading the participle as modifying the plural noun tonK=v=m! (“dwelling-places”), with which it agrees. He also revocalizes MT lK)m! (“from all,” with comparative /m!, i.e., “more than all”) in v. 2b to read lk@m@ (Hiphil participle of the verb ll^K*)— “(the One) completing”. By this approach, vv 2b-3 form a 4-beat (4+4) couplet:

“(the One) completing (the) glorious dwellings of Jacob
is speaking in you, O city of (the) Mightiest”

For commentators who prefer to follow the MT, the participle todB*k=n] is typically understood as referring to things (i.e., words of praise, etc) that are spoken. It is thus rendered as a substantive adjective “weighty (thing)s” (i.e., worthy, honorable, glorious things). Who is it that speaks these things? The context suggests that it is YHWH. Since He resides on mount Zion, in the Temple sanctuary, it is natural that He would be speaking there. In this sense, Jerusalem is, indeed His city (“city of the Mightiest”, i.e., city of God).

Verse 4

“I mark (down) Rahab and Bab-il—
(they belong) to (those) knowing me;
see Pelešet and ‚ôr (along) with Kûš—
‘This (one) was born there’.

The next unit of the Psalm (vv. 4-6) is difficult to interpret, leading to a variety of approaches by commentators. Though the language and poetry (as it stands in the MT) is awkward, these lines seem to express the idea that, in the (near) future, the surrounding nations will join with Israel in worshiping YHWH, becoming (in a sense) part of God’s people.

This reflects a longstanding line of Prophetic tradition which developed throughout certain oracles and poems of the exilic and post-exilic periods. It is tied to the promise of the restoration of Israel. In the New Age of Israel’s restoration, the nations will be forced to submit, and they will send representatives to Jerusalem to pay homage and to give worship to Israel’s God YHWH. The classic passage expressing the ideal of the nations coming to join Israel/Judah on mount Zion is Isaiah 2:1-5 (par Mic 4:1-5). The motif of the nations coming to Jerusalem features prominently in the Deutero- and Trito-Isaian poems, along with a universalistic message portending that the nations will find blessing and salvation in the knowledge of YHWH—e.g., 42:1-6; 49:6, 22f; 56:1-8; chap. 60; 66:18-24; cf. also 11:10ff. Another famous (post-exilic) example of this theme is found at the close of Zechariah (14:16-21). The relation of the nations to Zion is also a recurring theme in other Korah Psalms (e.g., 46-48).

I regard verse 4 as comprised of two thematically parallel couplets. In the first line of each couplet, YHWH (or His prophet) makes special note of certain representative nations—Egypt (“Rahab”) and Babylon (line 1); then Philistia, the city-state of Tyr, and Cush (line 3). The name Raha» is a mythopoeic term for the dark/chaotic primeval waters, personified as a sea-monster (cf. Psalm 89:11[10]; Job 9:13; 26:12; Isa 51:9), which YHWH (as Creator) subdued, thus bringing order to Creation (for the mythological background of this imagery, cf. my earlier article). The name Rahab is applied to Egypt also in Isa 30:7.

The guiding verb of the first line, rk^z` denotes having something in mind; in the Hiphil (causative) stem, the force is can be either “bring to mind” or “keep in mind”. Here it seems to be used in the special sense of noting something—that is, marking it down or recording it; the participle ryK!z+m^ is used as the title of an official or scribe who acts as a recorder.

In the second line of each couplet, the nations are being treated as though they belonged to God’s people and were citizens of the holy city of God (Zion/Jerusalem). In line 2, I take the prefixed preposition –l of the participial expression yu*d=y)l= in the sense of “belonging to”; the single word thus forms a distinct phrase, indicating that these nations belong (or will belong) to “(the one)s knowing me” —those who know (and worship) YHWH. In line 4, this same idea is expressed in terms of belonging to the holy city; the people of the nations will be treated like citizens born in the city (“this [one] is born there”).

Verse 5

“Indeed, for of ‚iyyôn it is said,
‘(This) man and (that) man has been born in her’ —
and He, (the) Highest, sets her firm.”

The initial –w is emphatic and explicative, building upon the previous line to explain the significance of the declaration “This (one) is born there”. It refers to the record of a person’s citizenship—that is, the place of his/her birth—specifically, of belonging to the city of God (Zion/Jerusalem).

The final line here, however, remains difficult. What is the precise meaning of the verb /WK in context? Fundamentally, the verb means make/set (something) firm, establishing it as being fixed and secure, etc. The feminine suffix (h*-) presumably refers again to the city (personified as female), and probably alludes back to the idea that YHWH founded Jerusalem upon the holy mountain(s) (see on v. 1 above), thus setting the city on a firm foundation. Possibly this imagery is meant to extend here to a person’s citizenship—that belonging to the city of God is made firm and secure (by YHWH Himself).

Verse 6

“YHWH (Himself) makes an account,
in (His) inscribing (of the) peoples:
‘This (one) was born there!’
Selah

This final tricolon reiterates the message of vv. 4-5, stating it now more directly (and less ambiguously). YHWH Himself does the recording of the nations (here, “peoples”), granting to them citizenship in the holy city of God. On an ethnic-religious level, this refers (as noted above) to the Prophetic tradition of the nations coming to Jerusalem (Zion) to pay homage to Israel/Judah and to acknowledge and worship YHWH. It can also be interpreted in a spiritual sense, whereby the “city of God” refers, not to a geographical location, but to one’s relationship (in heart/mind/soul) to God Himself.

Verse 7

“And they are singing as they twirl:
All my springs (are) in you!”

The Psalm ends, abruptly and enigmatically, with this obscure couplet, the exact meaning (and translation) of which is anyone’s guess. For lack of any better option, I have kept quite literally to the MT as we have it.

The reference to singing and dancing seems out of place, but it is fitting to the context of the Psalm itself—as a musical composition (romz+m!) and a poem to be set to music and sung (ryv!). It may imply a liturgical (worship) setting in the Temple precincts, and perhaps this is meant to relate, however tangentially, to the idea of “worthy things” being spoken within the gates of Zion (v. 3, cf. above). Kraus (p. 185), in his reconstruction of the Psalm, has verse 3 follow verse 7, with both occurring in the middle of the composition.

What is the meaning of the final line? Does it represent the words that the performers sing? Is there an allusion to the eschatological image in Zech 14:8, or to a correspondingly similar tradition? Is “my springs” even the correct way to understand and render yn~y`u=m^ here? (cf. the very different explanation by Dahood, II, p. 300). Overall, in keeping with the (eschatological) theme of the conversion/salvation of the nations, it is perhaps best to maintain (cautiously) the idea that the people of God (including members of the nations) will enjoy the blessings provided by YHWH—represented by fountains and streams of life-giving waters—in the holy city; cf. the brief discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 384-6.

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

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple (cont.)

In this conclusion to our series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, we are examining the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH. Last week, the theme of centralization of worship was discussed; today, we will be looking at the second theme.

The name of YHWH

Throughout the Prayer, there is a strong emphasis on the Temple as the place where God’s name resides—vv. 16-20, 33, 35, 42-44, 48. In this regard, 1 Kings 8 is simply continuing an important theme and motif of the Deuteronomic history. Beginning with the book of Deuteronomy, the idea of a place for God’s name is used to designate the city of Jerusalem (and the specific site of the Temple), and, by extension, the territory/kingdom of Judah as a whole. The presence of His name indicates that YHWH has chosen Judah and Jerusalem for His dwelling-place among His people. For the key references, see Deut 12:11, 21; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11; 26:2; 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 9:3, 7; 11:36; 14:21; 2 Kings 21:4, 7; 23:27.

There are three principal aspects to this emphasis on YHWH’s name that need to be noted:

    1. In ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name stands for the person, representing and embodying his/her essential nature and character. I have discussed this in the earlier series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. There was thus a quasi-magical quality to a person’s name; in dealing with a person’s name, one could effect or relate to the actual person. This was especially true in a religious context, when dealing with the name of God.
    2. Along these same lines, the name represents the presence of the person, even when he/she cannot actually be present physically. This is equally true in the case of God. As the Prayer points out repeatedly, though YHWH actually resides in heaven (vv. 27, 30, 32, 34-36, 39, 43, 45, 49), His name resides in the Temple sanctuary.
    3. The presence of a person’s name also serves as a mark of possession or ownership. So the symbolic presence of YHWH’s name is a mark that the Temple belongs to Him; and, not only the Temple, but the sign of possession radiates outward to include the entire city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah, and indeed the whole Kingdom of Israel. This aspect of the Temple is a sign that the people of Israel belong to YHWH, as His people. And, when the people pray in the direction of the Temple, where His name resides, they are essentially recognizing and acknowledging this fact.

When we turn to the New Testament, and the beliefs and practices of early Christians, we can see that this emphasis on the name of God has been developed and adapted in a number of interesting ways. I would point out three, in particular, that I wish to discuss briefly:

    1. Jesus as God’s chosen representative, who comes and acts “in His name”
    2. The Johannine theme that Jesus, as the Son of God, makes God the Father known to believers in the world—this can specifically be understood in terms of making known the Father’s name.
    3. The importance of the Jesus’ name—specifically for prayer, but also for other aspects of the religious life and experience of believers.

1. The principal Gospel passage(s) that expresses the idea of Jesus as a Divine representative who comes “in YHWH’s name”, involves the tradition of his entry into Jerusalem. This episode occurs in all four Gospels—both in the Synoptics (Mk 11:1-10; Matt 21:1-9; Lk 19:29-38) and the Gospel of John (12:12-15)—and essentially marks the beginning of Jesus’ Passion. In the overall Synoptic narrative, the ‘triumphal entry’ stands at the beginning of a period of teaching and ministry in Jerusalem (Mk 11:12-13:37 par) that precedes the Passion narrative.

In all four accounts of the Entry, the crowd that receives Jesus is recorded as quoting Psalm 118:26:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of YHWH!”

Though there are slight variations in how this declaration is presented in each account (Mk 11:9; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13), it is clearly part of the underlying historical tradition.

I have discussed this tradition in earlier notes and articles, and will be doing so again in Part 3 of my study on the Sukkot festival. What is most significant is how the quotation of Psalm 118:26 relates to the Messianic identity of Jesus. There were a number of Messianic figure-types current in Jewish thought and expectation, and early Christians ultimately identified Jesus with all of them. I discuss this subject at length, including treatments of the different figure-types, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Regardless of which Messianic figure-type Jesus was seen as fulfilling, the principal idea is that he was God’s chosen (“anointed”) representative, whose presence and activity on earth marked the end of the current Age and the beginning of the New Age for God’s people.

In the Entry episode, it is clearly the royal/Davidic Messiah that is in view (cf. Parts 68 of “Yeshua the Anointed”). In this respect, the use of Psalm 118 is especially appropriate. Even though this Psalm, as one of the Hallel Psalms (113-118), came to be associated with great pilgrimage festivals (esp. Passover and Sukkot), and were sung on those occasions, it is probable that the original context of the Psalm involved the victorious return of the Israelite/Judean king to Jerusalem (after battle). For more on this, cf. my article in the series “The Old Testament and the Gospel Tradition”. Psalm 118:26 is also cited by Jesus himself, in relation to his Messianic identity, in Matt 23:39 / Lk 13:35 (“Q” tradition).

2. The Gospel of John develops the Messianic significance of coming/acting in God’s name in a distinctive way, informed by the Johannine theology (and theological idiom). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is also the eternal (and pre-existent) Son of God. He was sent to earth from heaven by God the Father, being given a mission from the Father to complete. This mission included speaking and acting in the Father’s name—speaking the Father’s words and doing His works (such as working healing miracles and raising the dead). Like a dutiful son, Jesus follows his father’s example, doing what he sees the Father doing, and saying what he hears the Father saying. Thus Jesus (the Son) truly represents the Father, manifesting His presence and power to people on earth.

Two specific statements by Jesus may be pointed out:

“I have come in the name of my Father…” (5:43)
“the works that I do in my Father’s name, they give witness about me” (10:25)

The Son’s mission and work on earth culminates in his sacrificial death (19:30); all of this is done in the Father’s name, and the death and resurrection (i.e., the exaltation) of the Son serves to give honor/glory to the Father (12:28, note the context of v. 13). This theme finds its fullest development in the great Discourse-Prayer of chapter 17, where Jesus specifically refers to his work in manifesting the Father’s name to believers (vv. 6, 26; cf. also 11-12):

“I made your name shine forth to the (one)s whom you gave to me out of the world” (v. 6)
“and I made known to them your name…” (v. 26)

3. Finally, it is important to consider how, for Christians, the Son’s name came to replace the Father’s name. This is particularly notable in relation to the tradition of prayer by early Christians. Even though believers were still directed to pray so as to give honor to the Father’s name (Matt 6:9 par), at an early point there came to be a strong tradition of praying (to the Father) in Jesus’ name. There is surprisingly little direct evidence for this in the New Testament itself; we see it most clearly in the Gospel of John (in the Last Discourse, 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24, 26), where the tradition is rooted in the Johannine theology and Christology (i.e., the Son’s abiding relationship to the Father). Of particular importance is the idea that the Father will send the Spirit to the disciples/believers in Jesus’ name (14:26); on the sending of the Spirit as the goal (and result) of prayer, cp. the context of Luke 11:13.

Another Johannine theme which is more firmly rooted in the wider Gospel tradition is the idea of the disciples (believers) continuing the (Messianic) mission of Jesus on earth. This goes back to the early tradition of the choosing of the Twelve and their initial mission (Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13 pars). The disciples were specifically chosen by Jesus, and were allowed to share the same authority (and ‘anointing’) that he possessed, so that they would proclaim the good news (Gospel) and perform healing miracles, etc., in his name. The particular association with Jesus’ name is seen more clearly in the Gospel of Luke (10:17; 24:47; cp. 9:49; 21:9 pars), after which it occurs frequently throughout the book of Acts (3:6, 16; 4:7, 10, 17-18, 30; 5:28, 40-41, etc).

Part of this ministry involved the baptizing of new believers, as a ritual symbol of their belonging to Jesus, and of their participating in the life-giving power of his death and resurrection. One trusts in Jesus’ name (i.e., his identity as the Messiah and Son of God; cf. Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; John 1:12; 2:23; 3:18), and so is baptized in that name (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16, etc). Everywhere that believers work or gather together, they are representatives of Jesus, and so act in his name (Matt 18:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 5:4; Col 3:17, etc). The identity of belonging to Christ, conferred and realized through the baptism ritual, governs and informs all aspects of our life as believers.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8 and the Role of the Temple

Having completed our recent series of notes on the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8, set on the occasion of the inauguration of the Jerusalem Temple, it is worth considering the broader interpretive implication of the two major themes of this Prayer (and its surrounding narrative): (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the name of YHWH.

The Centralization of Worship

An important religious and theological issue in 1 Kings 8 is the centralization of worship for the Israelite people. By this is meant the central place of Jerusalem and the Temple for the religion of the kingdom of Israel/Judah, a principle rooted in the developing royal theology of the kingdom period. Religious unity is essential for unifying the kingdom, and the presence of the Temple was a focal point for this goal of unity. The centrality of Jerusalem (and the Temple) is a fundamental theme of the entire Deuteronomic history, being established in the book of Deuteronomy itself (cf. 12:5-6ff; 14:23-25; 16:2ff; 17:8ff; 26:2; 31:11), but naturally coming into much greater prominence in the book of Kings. In 1 Kings 8, this centrality is expressed two different ways:

    • In the surrounding narrative (vv. 1-11, 62-66), people from all over the kingdom come to Jerusalem, to the Temple precincts, for the festival of Sukkot/Booths, according to the directive given in Deut 31:10-11ff. Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrimage festivals, during which all adult males were required to “appear before YHWH” (Exod 23:14, 17; 34:23); in the Deuteronomic tradition, this meant traveling to “the place which YHWH will choose” (16:16, etc)—that is, to Jerusalem.
    • Within the Prayer (vv. 12-61), the Jerusalem Temple becomes the focus of the people’s prayers. Regardless of where the people are throughout the kingdom (or even far away in exile), they are to pray in the direction of the Temple.

It is interesting to consider how the religious significance and symbolism of the Temple developed in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and how these lines of tradition ultimately were inherited by early Christians in the first century. A particularly important line of tradition is eschatological—the Temple played a key role in Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought during the first centuries B.C./A.D. I discuss this subject at some length in an earlier article.

It is thus not surprising that the relation of Jesus to the Temple was a theme of some prominence for early Christians, being expressed and developed at various points in the New Testament. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, who was ushering in a New Age for God’s people, meant that the eschatological (and Messianic) significance of the Temple had to be applied to the person of Jesus in some way.

I have discussed Jesus’ relationship to the Jerusalem Temple in the series “Jesus and the Law”, examining it within the broader context of his view of the Law (Torah). The Temple ritual is an important part of the commands and ordinances in the Law, and Jesus’ relation to it is an important aspect of this subject. My study of the subject, in the aforementioned series, was divided into three areas:

    1. Jesus’ “cleansing” of the Temple
    2. The “Temple saying” of Jesus
    3. Other sayings and teachings related to the Temple

The first two are discussed in Part 6, while the third is examined in Part 7.

In particular, the Temple-action and Temple-saying(s) by Jesus have eschatological (and Messianic) significance, both at the level of the original historical event/tradition, and the way that these have been narrated and presented in the Gospels. Was Jesus consciously responding to the traditional line of eschatological thought—viz., that the “restoration of Israel” at the end-time would involve a new/restored Temple (cf. my previously mentioned article)? I believe that the answer must be regarded as affirmative, though with some qualification. From the earlier studies on the eschatology in the Sayings and Parables of Jesus, we have seen how Jesus repeatedly began from the point of the traditional expectation, but then proceeded to re-interpret it, giving it a deeper meaning in relation to his own person and identity (as Messiah and Son of Man). The same appears to be true with regard to the Temple action, and also the Temple saying (in John they are combined together).

Three distinct strands can be found in the Gospel tradition:

    • The destruction of the Temple in terms of the end-time Judgment
    • A new/restored role and purpose for the Temple—as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The identification of Jesus himself as the new/true Temple, which also marks the end of the old Covenant and the beginning of the new (in Christ)

Early Christians developed all three strands, though it is the last of these which came to dominate by the end of the New Testament period.

Early Christian Views of the Temple

The last two themes mentioned above were applied and developed by early Christians almost immediately, indicating that they followed naturally from Jesus’ own teaching; this pair of themes may be summarized:

    • The Temple as a place of prayer and teaching
    • The Temple fulfilled in the person of Jesus

Both aspects involve the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, allowing for the Temple idea to continue among believers long after the historical Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Already in the Gospel tradition, several statements by Jesus identify the Temple with his own person, and thus imply that following him effectively takes the place of fulfilling the Temple ritual (Matt 12:5-8; John 2:19ff, etc; cf. Parts 6 and 7 of “Jesus and the Law”). This came to be made more explicit by early Christians, and two areas of the New Testament may be highlighted:

    1. The sacrificial ritual is fulfilled and completed (i.e. put to an end) by Jesus’ own (sacrificial) death. This is expressed all throughout the body of Hebrews (4:14-10:18), as well as in passages such as Rom 3:25; Eph 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
    2. Believers in Jesus are priests, able to touch the holy things and to enter, in a spiritual manner, the sacred shrine through our union with Christ. Cf. 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; also Rom 15:16.

Combining both ideas leads to the core image of believers, collectively and in community, as the body of Christ—i.e., the (true) Temple and House of God. This is found numerous times in the Pauline letters—1 Cor 3:9ff, 16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; and especially Eph 2:19-22. In 2 Cor 5:1, it refers to the eternal life awaiting believers following death and resurrection. In this regard, there is a clear echo of the Temple-saying of Jesus (in Mk 14:58), with its use of the adjective a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”; cf. also Col 2:11 and the wording in Acts 7:41, 48, 50 [referring to Temples]). In John 2:19ff, the Temple-saying of Jesus was interpreted precisely in terms of his death and resurrection, in which believers now have a share. The idea of believers as the (spiritual) house of God is also found in 1 Pet 2:5; cf. also Rev 3:12.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 84

Psalm 84

Dead Sea MSS: MasPsa (vv. 1-13 [1-12])

This is the first in a set of Psalms (84-85, 87-88) attributed to “the sons of Qorah [Korah]”; Pss 42-49 have the same ascription. The Korahites were priestly officials who served in the Temple, as attested in the books of Chronicles (1 Chron 9:19; 26:1, 19), and also as a company of singers (2 Chron 20:19). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, they are simply designated as Levite clan (Exod 6:21; 1 Chron 6:7, 23 [22, 38]), with no additional information provided. Clearly it is the group of Temple singers that is most relevant to the superscription here. It is possible that they were responsible for the editing of the ‘Elohist Psalter’.

This Psalm has a clear three-strophe structure, with the hl*s# (Selah) pause-marker here serving as a structural indicator. Each strophe concludes with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). There is also a certain step-parallelism that joins the strophes together; the concluding thought and imagery in the strophe is picked up at the beginning of the next strophe.

Psalm 84 evinces a strong Zion-theology, emphasizing the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple. Whether or not the composition derives from a festal setting, it unquestionably makes use of such associations. The pilgrimage festival of Sukkot (Booths) is probably in view, given the theme of “dwelling-places” (vv. 2-5, 11) for the faithful, as well as the idea of God providing rain (vv. 7, 12) as a blessing for the land; the latter was a traditional association with the fall harvest festival, when the people offered prayer to God for the coming rain.

The Psalm in its finished form probably dates from the Exilic period. If so, then the imagery in the central strophe would relate to the promise of the people’s return from exile, much in the manner of the Deutero-Isaian poems. The pilgrimage motif would then apply to the exiles’ return to Jerusalem. It is possible that the current three-strophe Psalm represents an expansion of an earlier two-part composition, the core of which is preserved primarily in the first and third strophes. Like many Psalms, the third strophe of Ps 84 evinces a royal background, featuring the king as the protagonist. An emphasis on Jerusalem and the Temple is very much part of the Judean royal theology, and the Psalm could have its origins in the pre-exilic (late monarchic) period.

Metrically, Psalm 84 follows a 3+2 couplet format, especially in the first two strophes. Any irregularities will be noted below. In addition to its attribution to the “sons of Korah” (cf. above), the heading gives the musical direction tyT!G]h^-lu^ (“upon the tyT!G]“), which also is indicated for Psalms 8 and 81. It is not clear whether this refers to a melody, musical style (or mode), or a kind of instrument; probably tyTG]h^ (“[at] the winepress” [?]) designates a particular melody or type of song (to be sung at the winepress?).

Like the prior Psalms (82-83), Ps 84 is not preserved among the Qumran Psalm manuscripts; however, it does survive, virtually complete in a Dead Sea manuscript from Masada. The text of this MS is very close to the Masoretic Text, with no variants of note.

Stanza 1: Verses 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“How lovely (are) your dwelling-places,
YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!”

The title toab+x= hwhy, which occurs at the close of all three stanzas, is established here in the opening couplet. The origins of this title are not certain; it may preserve the verbal force of the name YHWH, referring to God (la@) as the Creator, who brings into existence the heavenly beings and entities (cf. Cross, pp. 68-71). These are the “armies” (toab*x=) of the heavens, including the celestial bodies of the sun, moon, and stars, and related natural phenomena. They are under YHWH’s control, and ‘fight’ like soldiers at His command. This militaristic imagery relates to the storm-theophany as it is applied to El-YHWH in Israelite and Old Testament tradition. God’s control over the heavens, and waters above, is manifest in the awesome power and fury of the storm, bringing wind and rain, etc. In Old Testament tradition, expressed mainly in the ancient poetry, the celestial phenomena (of the storm, etc) work at YHWH’s behest, doing battle against the enemies of His people—cf. Exodus 15:3-10; Judg 5:4-5, 20-21; Hab 3:4-6, 8-13. For more on the background of the storm-theophany, see my article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”.

The “dwelling-places” (tonK=v=m!) of YHWH are, indeed, in (and above) the heavens. Yet the term also alludes to His dwelling on earth, among His people; the Temple sanctuary (like that of the earlier Tent-shrine) is His dwelling in a ritual and symbolic sense. The plural of the noun /K^v=m! is rather rare; it is applied, as here, to the dwelling(s) of YHWH in Ps 43:3 and 132:5, 7. Dahood (I, p. 262; II, p. 279) notes the Canaanite poetic practice of using plural forms with singular meaning when referring to a building or site. Thus, the plural here can very much refer to the Temple sanctuary. The Zion/Temple theology draws upon ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite) mythic-religious tradition, whereby the Creator (El) dwelt in/on a great cosmic mountain; this cosmological motif could be applied to any local mountain, even the modest elevation of a hilltop-site such as Zion.

Verse 3 [2]

“My soul is longing, yes even is consumed,
for (the) enclosures of YHWH;
my heart and my flesh rings out (completely)
to (the) Mighty (and) Living (One)!”

The “loveliness” (adj. dyd!y+) of YHWH’s dwelling-place was expressed in v. 2. This beauty and appeal causes the protagonist to desire it greatly. In the first couplet here in v. 3, his soul is said to “long for” (vb [s^K*) the “enclosures” of YHWH. The plural torx=j^ is largely parallel (and synonymous) with tonK=v=m!, referring to YHWH’s dwelling-place in a comprehensive way. The specific wording may allude to the idea of the Psalmist being within (inside) the dwelling. He longs for this experience, even to the point of his soul being “finished” (vb hl*K*); in English idiom, we would probably say “my soul is consumed with longing”. Though in the Qal stem here, the verb hl*K* really needs to be translated in a passive/stative manner much like the Niphal of [s^K*.

In the second couplet, this longing bursts forth with a great cry or shout (vb /n~r*, “ring out”) that encompasses the Psalmist’s entire being—both “heart” and “flesh”, soul and body. This reflects a primal sense of worship that stems from the deepest part of a person. This same idea is expressed in the famous Shema (Deut 6:5). For the devout worshiper, the dwelling of God is desirable because He Himself dwells there.

Verse 4ab [3ab]

“Even (the) chirping (one) finds a home,
and (the) swift a nest for her,
where she may set her sprouting (young),
near your places of slaughter.”

The curious imagery in these two couplets is the means by which the Psalmist approaches the idea of a human being taking up abode in the dwelling of God. He makes the striking juxtaposition of a bird establishing a nest for her young right next to the place where animals are slaughtered for sacrifice. The particle ta# in the last line is best understood in terms of proximity (i.e., “with, near, beside”). The noun j^B@z+m! literally means “place of (ritual) slaughter”, i.e., an altar where animal sacrifices are offered; even though it can be used for other kinds of altars as well, the emphasis on the slaughter of animals should be preserved, in order to bring out the paradoxical contrast of the altar as a safe location for a bird to have her nest. The plural (“places of slaughter”) follows the use of the plural in vv. 2 and 3a (“dwelling places,” “enclosures”) with singular meaning—i.e., as a reference the altar of burnt offerings in the Temple courtyard. One might also note the tradition of the altar as a place of sanctuary, where a person could take refuge for protection (e.g., 2 Kings 2:28-29ff).

Verses 4c-5 [3c-4]

“O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies,
my King and my Mighty (One),
happiness to (those) sitting in your house,
(who) continually give praise to you!”
Selah

As noted above, all three stanzas close with an invocation using the title toab*x= hwhy (“YHWH of [the heavenly] armies”); on which, cf. verse 2 (above). Verse 4c can be read as either a 4-beat line or a 2-beat (2+2) couplet. Like the bird who makes her nest (v. 4ab), the righteous/faithful ones are said to be “sitting” (vb bv^y`), i.e. dwelling, in the “house” of God. The possibility is thus raised that a human being might take up residence in God’s dwelling-place.

Stanza 2: Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“Happiness for (the) man whose refuge (is) in you,
(the) pathways up (to it are) in (his) heart.”

I have noted how there is a certain step-parallelism in this Psalm, whereby the thought and imagery at the close of a stanza is picked up at the beginning of the next stanza. Here the beatitude-motif from verse 5 is essentially repeated here. The idea of a person finding a place of refuge (zou[m*]) in YHWH is parallel with the image of people “sitting” (i.e., dwelling) in His house.

A place of refuge/protection is usually understood as a secure location up high, and this is reflected here by the use of the noun hLs!m= (“highway”), denoting a pathway or road that is “built up” (raised) above ground level. The paths that lead a person to God’s dwelling are located in the heart. On the one hand, this is a spiritualization of the Temple concept; but, at the same time, it reflects the fundamental idea that a person’s devotion, which enables him/her to be able to dwell with God, stems from the intention and purpose of the heart. Cf. the longing-theme, along with the use of the noun bl@ (“heart”), in verse 2.

The image of a highway or road suggests the notion of a pilgrimage—that is, of people journeying to Jerusalem (and the Temple) for a festival (such as Sukkot, cf. above). I also discussed the possibility that there is an allusion here to the people’s return from exile, and their restoration in the land (with a new kingdom centered at Jerusalem). The noun hL*s!m= is used in such a context in the book of Isaiah (11:16; 40:3; 49:11; 62:10).

With Dahood (II, p. 280), I read the <– suffix on <bblb as an enclitic, though it is also possible that a plural suffix (“their heart”), i.e., the righteous ones collectively, is meant as a counterpart to the singular (“[the] refuge for him”, i.e. whose refuge).

Verse 7 [6]

“Passing through (the) valley of shrub(s),
they set it (to be) a place of spring(s),
(the) blessings (with which) rain covers (the land).”

The precise meaning and syntax of this verse is difficult. The subject of the first two lines is by no means clear. There would be some clarity if the intended subject were the “blessings” brought by the rain, expressed in the third line; this would indeed be sensible, except that the feminine plural noun tokr*B= does not agree with the masculine plurals in the prior lines. Many commentators view the subject as an implicit (and otherwise unspecified) group of pilgrims, or of the people (collectively) on their return from exile. Overall, in spite of the disagreement of gender, it seems best to view the verse as referring to the effect of the rain, giving water to the dry desert land, and thus making it fertile. Such imagery could well be meant to symbolize the restoration of Israel.

The noun ak*B* apparently refers to the balsam shrub of the Judean hill country. It presumably is used to represent the shrubbery of an arid/dry terrain, but there may also be a bit of wordplay with the root hk*B* (“weep”).

Verse 8 [7]

“(So) they go from rampart to rampart, (until)
they see (the) Mighty of Mightiest in ‚iyyôn.”

How does verse 8 relate to the prior verse 7? It is possible that an unspecified (and generalized) collection of righteous/devout people is the implied subject of both verses (cf. above). The imagery then would be of the people passing through the Judean desert (v. 7) until they reach the walls of Jerusalem (and the Temple). Certainly the righteous ones, collectively, seem to be in view here. As they approach, and then enter, the Temple, they see God—that is, the place of His dwelling, where He resides. The verb form ha#r*y@ is a Niphal (passive) singular form (“he/it is seen”), which does not agree with the plural of line 1. I follow Dahood (II, p. 282) in vocalizing as a Qal active plural, War=y] (“they see”). If the MT is retained, then the line would read: “(until the) Mighty of Mightiest is seen in Zion”.

There is likely a bit of word play involving the noun lyj, which (vocalized lyj@) could mean “surrounding wall, rampart”, or (vocalized ly]j^) “strength, wealth, riches”. The rain brings blessings (i.e., richness) to the land, and the people experience similar blessings as they come near to YHWH’s dwelling-place in Jerusalem.

With other commentators, I read <yhla la (with la vocalized la@) as a double-superlative Divine title: “Mighty of Mightiest (One)s,” i.e., “God of Gods”.

Verse 9 [8]

“YHWH, Mightiest (One) of (the) armies,
may you hear my prayer—
give your ear, O Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob!”
Selah

This stanza, like the first (see v. 5, above), closes with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy), in an expanded form with the inserted appellative <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” i.e., God). The Psalmist asks YHWH to hear his prayer.

Stanza 3: Verses 10-13 [9-12]

Verse 10 [9]

“May you, our Protector, see, O Mightiest (One),
and look upon (the) face of your anointed.”

Continuing with the step-parallelism in this Psalm, the invocation (and prayer) at the close of the second stanza is picked up at the beginning of the third. The noun /g@m* is often translated “shield” but literally means “protection”. YHWH is the protection for His people (the righteous); the same idea was expressed at the beginning of the second stanza (v. 6), referring to God as the place of refuge for the righteous. I translate /g@m* here as “protector”, personalizing the noun, rather than as the more abstract “protection”.

The protection for the Israelite/Judean people naturally extends to the king (“your anointed”). This suggests that the origins of Psalm 84 stem from the pre-exilic (monarchic) period; indeed, many of the Psalms evince such a royal background, in which the king functions, at least in part, as the protagonist and vassal-servant of YHWH in the Psalm.

Verse 11 [10]

“For good is a (single) day in your enclosures
(more) than a thousand in the grave;
(better) to be at the threshold of (the) house of (the) Mightiest
than to go around in (the) tents of wickedness.”

The Psalmist returns here to the idea of dwelling in the house of God, the principal theme of stanza 1 (see esp. the climactic verse 5). He would much rather spend a single day in the “enclosures” of God’s house, than to spend a thousand days “in the grave”. The final word of the second line of the first couplet is problematic. It can be dealt with three ways:

    • The MT can be retained, yT!r=j^B*, a verb form of rj^B* (“choose”); the line would read “(more) than a thousand I might have chosen”.
    • It can be parsed as the preposition B followed by the noun trj, meaning “grave”; this noun would be cognate with Ugaritic —rt and Akkadian —£r£tu (cf. Dahood, II, 282f).
    • The text could be emended to yr!d=j#B= (“in my chamber”), cf. Kraus, p. 166; the line would then be “(more) than a thousand in my (own) chamber”.

I have chosen the second option, as being more fitting to the parallelism of the verse. It also has the benefit of not requiring the text to be emended; the postformative y-, if retained, could be explained as an archaic case ending that was unwittingly preserved, or the author may be personalizing the object/location as “my grave”. The “grave” probably is meant figuratively, parallel in meaning with the expression “tents of wickedness”.

In both couplets the preposition /m! (“from”) is used in a comparative sense; in English, this has to be translated “(more) than, (better) than,” etc.

Verse 12 [11]

“(For) indeed, (our) Sun and Shield
(is) YHWH (the) Mightiest;
favor and weight does He give (us),
nor will YHWH hold back (the) good
to (those) walking in complete(ness).”

The structure and meter of this verse is somewhat complex. I think it is best read as a 3+2 couplet (in the metrical pattern of the Psalm), following by a 3+3+2 tricolon.

The noun /g@m* (“protection”), as a title (“Protector”), is repeated from verse 10 (cf. above); for poetic concision, I have translated it here as “Shield”. It is paired with the noun vm#v# (“sun”), also used as a Divine title. Referring to YHWH as “Sun” suggests the bestowal of life-giving and sustaining blessings (like the rain-motif in verse 7). These blessings are defined here as “favor” (/j@) and “weight” (dobK*), the latter term understood in the sense of “worth, value, honor”. Moreover, YHWH is faithful in His bestowal of blessings, fulfilling His covenant obligation in this regard; indeed, He will not “hold back” (vb un~m*) any good thing from those who are faithful and loyal to Him—lit. “(those) walking in complete(ness),” or “…with a complete (heart)”, “…in complete (loyalty)”. The adjective <ym!T* (“complete”), in this ethical-religious sense, connotes faithfulness, loyalty, and (personal) integrity.

Again, YHWH is like the rain (v. 7) in bringing down what is good (blessings, etc) on the land and its people; indeed, there is some indication that the noun bof (“[the] good”) can be used as a specific reference to the rain; compare, for example, Amos 4:7 with Jer 5:25 (cf. Dahood, I, p. 25f; II, p. 283).

Verse 13 [12]

“O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies,
(how) happy (is the) man
taking refuge in you!”

As mentioned above, all three stanzas conclude with an invocation using the title “YHWH of (the heavenly) armies” (toab*x= hwhy). Also, like the first stanza (v. 5), this stanza closes with a beatitude expresses the happiness (rv#a#) that belongs to the one who resides with God in His dwelling-place. Here the beatitude is virtually identical in meaning with the one in verse 6; in both instances, the happiness is defined in terms of seeking/finding refuge in YHWH. This is expressed in verse 6 by the noun zou (“[place of] refuge”), while here the verb jf^B* is used; this verb occurs with some frequency in the Psalms (46 times). The theme of YHWH providing protection, as part of His covenant-obligation, to those who are faithful/loyal to Him, is prominent in many Psalms.

For poetic concision, I have rendered the beatitude formula here “(how) happy (is)…”. The meter of this concluding verse I read as a terse 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).
Those marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:62-66

1 Kings 8:62-66

Verses 62-66 comprise the narrative conclusion to the Prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8 (cf. last week’s study on vv. 54-61). Together with the introduction in vv. 1-11, these verses frame the Prayer itself and constitute the core historical tradition upon which the overall literary work was based. Verses 62-66 could be read after verse 11 without disruption or without the sense that anything was missing.

Interestingly, while the Prayer itself makes virtually no mention of the Temple cultus (i.e., the sacrificial ritual), emphasizing instead the Temple as a focal point for the people’s prayers, the surrounding narrative has a ritual emphasis. The festival setting (Sukkot) is established in vv. 1-2ff, and, in vv. 62-64 the associated sacrificial offerings are described. Verse 62 presumably refers to the prescribed offerings outlined in Numbers 29:12-38. Bulls, rams, and yearling lambs were all to be presented, collectively by the people, as burnt offerings. In all likelihood, the number of burnt offerings for the seven days (combined) is meant to have symbolic importance: 70 bulls, 28 rams, 98 lambs; additionally, there was to be the sin offering of a goat each day (7 in all, with another on the eighth day), along with grain and drink (libation) offerings. On the eighth day, the burnt offering would be: one bull, one ram, and seven lambs.

The offerings described in vv. 63-64, presented specifically under the king’s supervision (cp. 2 Sam 6:18; 1 Kings 12:32; 2 Kings 16:12-15), would have been separate from the offerings prescribed for Sukkot. They are specifically referred to as <l#v# offerings. The term <l#v# is often translated flatly, and somewhat misleadingly, “peace offering”. In actuality, the word defies easy translation into English; some translators render it “offering of well-being”, and this is rather closer to the mark. The root <lv denotes “fullness, completion”, and is frequently used in the context of a binding agreement (covenant) between two parties—and, specifically, of the covenant between YHWH and Israel. The <lv word-group, in this context, refers to the “fulfillment” of the covenant-bond—i.e., of maintaining and reinforcing the binding relationship between YHWH and His people (and of the people with one another). Only a portion of the <l#v# offering (i.e., the blood and fat) was devoted to God, with certain meat-parts (right thigh and breast) reserved for the priest(s); the rest of the animal could be used/eaten by the worshiper in a votive meal.

As would be fitting for the spectacle of the occasion (the inauguration of the Temple), Solomon supervised an enormous number of sacrificial offerings. Most commentators view the sheer number as an unrealistic exaggeration. Be that as it may, the author (and his underlying tradition) clearly intends to bring across the grandeur of the scene, being appropriate for the occasion: “And (so) the king and all (the) sons of Yisrael inaugurated (the) house of YHWH”. The verb En~j* denotes the beginning or initiation of something; in this context, “inaugurate” would be a proper translation of the verb.

In order to offer the sacrifices (by fire) to YHWH, it was necessary specifically to consecrate (vb vd^q*) the altar, along with the area around the altar (in the middle of the courtyard), because of the consecrated space needed to support the size and scope of this ritual celebration (v. 64).

The concluding verses 65-66 form an inclusio for the narrative with vv. 1-2, emphasizing again the celebration of the Sukkot festival. Apparently, the festival was held over a 14-day period, rather than the normal 7-day period, thus doubling the length of time. According to the parallel in 2 Chron 7:9, the first seven days were devoted to the inauguration of the Temple, with the second seven days belonging to the festival (cp. 2 Chron 30:23ff); in any case, the final (eighth) day of the festival would have occurred at the end of the 14-day period.

With the king (Solomon) having fulfilled his role overseeing the celebration, the focus at the close of the narrative shifts to the people. They bless the king (parallel to his blessing of the people in vv. 54-61), after which—

“…they went to their tents, (being) glad and good of heart over all the good that YHWH had done for Dawid His servant and for Yisrael His people.” (v. 66)

The closing reference to David brings to mind again an important point of emphasis in the Prayer—namely, that of defining the established covenant-bond between YHWH and His people in terms of the Judean royal theology. This theology particularly involves the person of the king and the royal city of Jerusalem. The location of the Temple in Jerusalem, as part of the palace-temple complex on the ancient hilltop site of Zion (i.e., the “city of David”), firmly roots the covenant within this royal setting. Compare this same emphasis as it is expounded in vv. 15-26.

As I have previously noted, a key purpose of the Temple was to unite the hearts and minds of the people, unifying the kingdom from a religious and spiritual standpoint. There are two main aspects of this process: (1) the centralization of worship, and (2) the emphasis on the name of God. In next week’s study, the concluding study in this series on 1 Kings 8, these aspects will be discussed in more detail, and we will also attempt to apply the principal results of our exposition to the religious identity and experience of believers in Christ today.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:44-53

1 Kings 8:44-53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Prayer: 1 Kings 8:41-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Kings 8:41-43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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