Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 81 (Part 1)

Psalm 81

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPse (vv. 2-3 [1-2]); 11QPsd (vv. 5-11 [4-10]; MasPsa (vv. 2-17 [1-16])

This Psalm has a curious hybrid character: part hymn, part prophetic oracle, and a composition that may have had a place in the Israelite liturgy for the celebration of the festivals (esp. Passover, cf. the discussion below). Like other of the Asaph Psalms that we have recently examined, Ps 81 appears to have a northern provenance (indicated by the Israel/Joseph pairing in vv. 5-6).

There is a definite two-part structure to this Psalm, and here the Selah (hl*s#) pause marker serves as a legitimate structural indicator. The first part (vv. 2-8) is a hymn to YHWH, functioning as a call to worship. Within this framework, the historical tradition of the Exodus provides the setting for the prophetic oracle that follows in the second part (vv. 9-17). The words of YHWH begin at v. 6b, and this fact has led commentators, incorrectly I believe, to treat vv. 6b-17 as a coherent division of the Psalm; it is the Selah marker the provides the correct structural point of division, as noted above.

Metrically, this Psalm follows the typical 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, though there are a few exceptions (which will be noted). The heading gives the musical direction tyT!G]h^-lu^, as in Pss 8 and 84; the term tyT!G] could refer to a type of instrument (perhaps a harp), or to a particular melody (or mode).

Psalm 81 is one of the best attested Psalms among the Dead Sea manuscripts, including a MS from Masada where it fully represented. All of the manuscripts are quite fragmentary, however it is perhaps worth noting that there are no variant readings of substance in the portions of the text that are preserved.

As with all of Pss 7383, this composition is attributed to (and/or associated with) Asaph. The second half of this Psalm is presented as a prophetic oracle, and, as we have seen, a number of the Asaph-Psalms have certain prophetic features; for more on Asaph, and the tradition that he and his descendants were prophets, cf. the earlier study on Ps 50).

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

Verse 2 [1]

“Ring out (praise) to (the) Mightiest, our Strength,
give a shout to (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob!”

The opening couplet is a call to worship, calling on the people to sing/shout praise to YHWH. The basic religious and theological principle is that YHWH is the God (Mighty One) of Israel (Jacob); as a result, He is considered as the ultimate source of their strength (zou) and protection. The suffixed word “our strength” is a bit unusual, and it is possible that here the noun zou connotes “stronghold”. Dahood (II, p. 263) reads parallel construct expressions in both lines (i.e., “Mighty [One] of…”) and treats the final <– of <yh!l)a$ as an interposed enclitic <-; in such a case the expressions would, indeed, be parallel: “Mighty (One) of our strong(hold) / Mighty (One) of Jacob”.

Verse 3 [2]

“Lift up music and give (it on the) tambor(ine),
(on the) sweet lyre (together) with (the) harp.”

The call to worship continues with this direction for the people to take up their instruments, in order to sing out praise to YHWH (as directed in v. 2). They are to “lift up” their music (hr*m=z]); curiously, the regular term (romz+m!) designating the Psalm as a musical composition is absent from the heading of Ps 81. The adjective <yu!n` means “sweet, pleasant”, here referring to the sweet sounds that can be produced on the lyre and harp.

Verse 4 [3]

“Blow (the) horn on the (day of the) new (moon),
on the full (moon), for (the) day of our festival.”

The call to worship continues, with the praise being located at the time of a public festival. The term gj^ came to designate the great pilgrimage festivals, such as Passover and Sukkot. Here the timing of the festival coincides with the beginning of the month—the expressions “new (moon)” (vd#j)) and “full (moon)” (hs#K@) are obviously parallel, marking the transition from one month to the next. The Exodus context of vv. 6-11 suggests that the festival in question is Passover.

Verse 5 [4]

“For this (is) an engraved (decree), O Yisrael,
an edict from (the) Mighty (One) of Ya’aqob.”

This couplet refers specifically to celebration the festival (gj^) mentioned in v. 4. If the context is the celebration of the Passover, then the solemn declaration here would be particularly appropriate (cf. the instructions and tradition regarding Passover in Exodus 12). The order to celebrate the festival is here treated as an edict or decree sent down by a king (YHWH), using the terms qj) (denoting something engraved or written) and fP*v=m! (a decision given down by a ruling figure which has the force of law).

This verse demonstrates the wide range of meaning that attaches to the simple prepositions l= and B=. Here, the first prefixed –l is best treated a vocativel (“O Israel”), though most translators render it flatly as “for Israel”; the vocative better fits the context of a call to the Israelite people to praise YHWH and celebrate the festival. The second –l clearly refers to the decree as coming from YHWH, though it also possible to translate the preposition in this instance as “belonging to”.

Verse 6ab [5ab]

“(As a duty to be) repeated He set it on Yôsep,
in his going out (from) upon (the) land of Egypt.”

The term tWdu@ is parallel with qj) and fP*v=m! in v. 5, referring to the command by YHWH to celebrate the festival; the context here would seem to require that Passover is the festival in view. According to the tradition(s) recorded in Exodus 12, the directions for celebration of Passover were given at the time of Israel “going out from the land of Egypt”.

The noun tWdu@ fundamentally refers to something which is repeated; I take it to be used here with this basic emphasis, referring to the regular/repeated celebration of the Passover festival.

The use of the preposition lu^, in the context of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, is peculiar; one would rather expect /m! as in many other such references (e.g., here in v. 11 of this Psalm). As noted above, many of the Hebrew prepositions have a wide semantic range, and lu^ can occasionally carry a meaning something like “from” in English (cf. Dahood, II, p. 264). Other commentators (e.g., Kraus, Hossfeld-Zenger) translate it here as “against”, but this does not seem appropriate (or correct). I have slanted my translation slightly, to capture the idea of the Israelite people going out from the place where they had been—viz., living upon (or spread over) the land of Egypt.

Verse 6c-7 [5c-6]

“(The) lip of (one) I did not know I heard,
(and) I turned aside his shoulder from (the) load,
and his hands passed over from (the) basket.”

There is an abrupt change of speaker at the third line of verse 6, and it immediately becomes clear that YHWH is now speaking; thus the Psalm shifts to become an oracle, with the Psalmist functioning as a prophet. The setting of the Exodus, introduced in 6b, provides the impetus for this brief but dramatic recounting of YHWH’s role in the Exodus events.

It is, I think, best to treat v. 6c together with v. 7 as a tricolon. It presents a clear narrative progression:

    • God hears Israel’s cry for help =>
      • He responds and takes away the burden =>
        • The people become free from their service/labor

It may seem strange that YHWH would refer to Israel as “(one) I did not know”. This could be an allusion to the sequence in Exodus 2:23-25: the people cry for help in their bondage, and the cry comes up to God, who hears it; the cry prompts Him to remember the covenant He established with Israel’s ancestors (Abraham/Isaac/Jacob). Then in v. 25 we read: “And (the) Mightiest saw (the) sons of Yisrael, and the Mightiest knew (them).” This was the moment when God truly knew Israel as His people.

Verse 8 [7]

“In the (time of) distress you called and I pulled you out;
I answered you (from with)in (the) hiding (place) of thunder,
(and yet) I was tested by you at (the) waters of strife.”

The oracle continues with a second tricolon that further summarizes the events of the Exodus (cf. vv. 6-7 above). The first two lines here may simply be repeating the general idea of Israel’s cry for help and YHWH’s answer; however, I think it probable that the scene has shifted to the more specific setting of the episode at the Reed Sea (Exod 14-15), where the people cried out to God (14:10), and He answered them, through the hand of Moses (vv. 13-14ff). The reference to “the hiding (place) of thunder” is an allusion to the storm-theophany, applied to YHWH as Creator and heavenly Ruler, with his control over the waters; for more on this ancient cosmological imagery, expressed with some frequency in the Psalms, cf. my earlier article “The Conflict with the Sea in Ancient Near Eastern Myth”. His power over the Sea allowed Israel to escape from Egypt. The thunder-motif, with the theophanous cloud as a ‘hiding place,’ also alludes to the scene at mount Sinai (Exodus 19ff).

The implied reference to the waters of the Reed Sea is paralleled by the reference, in the final line, to the episode at the “waters of strife/Merîbah [hb*yr!m=]” (cf. Exod 17:1-7; Num 20:10-13). Dahood (II, p. 265) is almost certainly correct in his assessment that injba needs to parsed as a passive (Niphal) form with dative suffix (of agency)—i.e., “I was tested by you”. This act of faithlessness by the people is meant as a stark contrast with the faithfulness of YHWH in answering them and rescuing them from their bondage in Egypt (lines 1-2). My translation above brings out this contrastive emphasis: “…(yet) I was tested by you at (the) waters of strife”.

This ending of the Psalm’s first half, on a negative note highlighting the people’s lack of trust in God, sets the stage for the second half (vv. 9-17), in which YHWH, in another prophetic oracle, brings forth a complaint (in the tradition of the ‘covenant lawsuit’) against His people for their lack of loyalty and trust.

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).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 71 (Part 3)

Psalm 71, continued

Part 2: Verses 14-24 (cont.)

Here is a reminder of the thematic outline of Part 2:

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

For a discussion of verses 14-16, see the previous study.

Verse 17

“Mightiest, you have taught me from my youth,
and until now I have presented your wondrous (deed)s.”

In verses 14-16 (the opening lines of the second division), the Psalmist announces his praise of YHWH, in expectation that God will answer his plea for help. As in vv. 5-9ff, the protagonist affirms his lifelong devotion to YHWH, from his earliest youth (vv. 5-8) until his old age in the present (vv. 9ff). Here in verse 17, the focus is on his youth; the Psalmist’s faithfulness is shown both by the way that he has received God’s instruction (“you have taught [vb dm^l*] me”), and has extended this instruction to others. The latter aspect is described in terms of the Psalmist presenting to people (lit. putting in front of them [vb dg~n`]) an account of the “wonderful (deed)s” performed by YHWH. This verbal noun (al*P* Niphal participle) emphasizes action—i.e., wonderful things done by God. Such things include saving the righteous from their hostile adversaries. For the Psalmist, a presentation of YHWH’s wonders naturally takes the form of a poetic and musical composition.

Verse 18

“And (so) even until (my) old age and white (hair),
may you not abandon me, Mightiest,
until I should present your arm to (the) circle,
(and) your might to every (one who) shall come.”

As in vv. 9ff (cf. above), the focus turns to the Psalmist’s old age, which includes both the present and the years to come. The noun hn`q=z] indicates old age more generally, while hb*yc@ expresses the same through the vivid allusion to a person’s gray (or white) hair. It is in a person’s old age that one might naturally feel that God has abandoned him/her, as one is more prone to physical ailments and suffering, as well as being vulnerable to exploitation and attack from the wicked.

The second couplet follows the second line of v. 17, emphasizing how the Psalmist intends to continue putting an account of YHWH’s mighty deeds in front of people (again the verb dg~n` is used). God’s deeds are described here through a pair of singular nouns—u^orz+ (“arm”) and h*rWbG+ (“strength, might”)—i.e., things done by YHWH’s strong (and outstretched) arm (cf. Exod 15:16 for this ancient poetic idiom).

The noun roD is typically translated “generation”, but has the more fundamental meaning of “a circle”, i.e., a circle of people present in a particular time and place. Dahood (II, p. 175) would explain roD here as a specific reference to the public assembly (of the righteous), the congregation in which the Psalmist declares his praise of YHWH. However, the final line would seem to allude to the idea of a group of people alive at a particular time (i.e., ‘generation’).

Verse 19

“And your righteousness, Mightiest, (is) unto (the) height(s),
(the) great (thing)s which you have done,
(O) Mightiest—who is like you?”

The great deeds of YHWH also reflect His hq*d*x=. This noun has the basic meaning of “rightness”, usually translated “righteousness”; however, in the context of the covenant, it also can connote faithfulness and loyalty, much like the noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”). YHWH’s righteousness (and loyalty) extends to the “high place(s)” (<orm*), which is another way of referring to it specifically as a Divine (and eternal) characteristic. Throughout the Psalms, YHWH’s covenantal protection of the righteous is regularly expressed through the image of secure location situated on a high place.

Verse 20

“Though you made us see (time)s of distress,
(thing)s great and evil (for us),
you return (and) restore our life;
and (so,) from (the) depths of the earth,
you shall return (and) bring me up!”

I treat verse 20 as consisting of a pair of 3+2 couplets, with an additional line in the first couplet (for dramatic effect) producing a 3+2+2 tricolon. The written MT (kethib) has first person plural suffixes on the verbs in the tricolon (i.e., “made us see…”) , but are marked as to be read (qere) as first person singular (i.e., “made me see…”). The singular suffix is probably to be preferred, as being more consistent with the context of v. 20 as a whole; however, the plural is arguably the more difficult reading, and should perhaps be preferred on that basis. The communal worship setting, alluded to in this part of the Psalm, may have influenced a scribal/redactional modification to the plural. On the other hand, the “mighty deeds” of YHWH, declared by the Psalmist, certainly would have included the many things done for Israel throughout the people’s history, thus making a communal reference appropriate in context.

Just as YHWH has rescued His people (the righteous/faithful ones) in times past, so He will also do for the Psalmist now in the present. This is the expectation of the protagonist—viz., that God will answer his prayer and deliver him from his adversaries. The reference to the “depths of the earth” alludes to a life-threatening situation—i.e., that the Psalmist faces the danger of death—though this language could also be used to describe the suffering and danger faced by a person more generally.

Verse 21

“You shall increase my greatness,
you shall surround and comfort me.”

Verse 21 is a rather curious (and short) 2-beat couplet. The idea of God increasing the Psalmist’s “greatness” may relate to the idea that his opponents’ attacks are of an accusatory and slanderous nature (cf. vv. 7, 10-11, 13)—that is, an attack on the protagonist’s reputation. In any case, it is not simply a matter of YHWH rescuing the Psalmist from danger, but of truly restoring him (and his reputation) in a public manner. Once restored, the protagonist will be further surrounded (vb bb^s*) by YHWH’s protection. The root <jn has the basic meaning of “breathing deep(ly)”, often in the sense of a sympathetic reaction to a person’s situation; here it probably has the more general meaning of coming close to a person, watching carefully over his/her condition, so as to bring help, comfort, or encouragement. For poetic concision (in a short 2-beat line), I have translated the verb <j^n` conventionally as “(give) comfort”. The imperfect verb tenses, as a continuation of the Psalmist’s plea/prayer to YHWH, have jussive force.

Dahood (II, p. 177) would vocalize ytldg as yt!l*d*G+, identifying it with Ugaritic gdlt, referring to a (female) head of large cattle. The expectation then is that YHWH will increase the Psalmist’s herd(s), specifically to allow for an increase in the sacrificial offerings that he will be able to present to God. The communal worship context, in this instance, assumes a Temple setting (v. 16).

Verse 22

“(Then) indeed I will throw you (praise) with string-instrument(s),
(praise for) your firmness, My Mightiest,
I will sing to you with (the) plucking (of the) harp,
(O) Holy (One) of Yisrael.”

In the concluding verses 22-24, the Psalmist again declares his intention to praise YHWH with music and song. Loosely, verse 22 consists of a pair of 3+2 couplets, though the poetic syntax is a bit awkward and uneven, and difficult to render literally into English. Overall, however, the meaning is clear and straightforward, as also is the parallelism of the couplets. In the first line of each, the Psalmist says that he will sing praise to God on a stringed-instrument—first, quite literally, on a “instrument of skin [i.e., gut/string]”, and second on a ‘harp’ the strings of which one “plucks”.

God is praised specifically for his “firmness” (tm#a#), meaning, principally, His faithfulness (and truthfulness/trustworthiness) to the binding agreement (covenant) with His people. The covenant also informs the use of the Divine title “Holy One [vodq*] of Israel”.

Verse 23

“My lips shall ring out, indeed, (when) I sing to you,
and (also) my soul, which you redeemed.”

The Psalmist will give full-voiced praise to YHWH; indeed, his lips will “ring out” (vb /n~r*), i.e., with a resounding cry. Such praise will come forth from deep within his soul, from the life which God has (or will have) ransomed (vb hd*P*) out of death and danger. Perhaps also the more concrete meaning of vp#n#, as “throat” (rather than “soul”), is intended here; this would make a fitting parallel with “lips” and would add to the idea of giving full-voiced (i.e., full-throated) praise to God.

Verse 24a

“Indeed, my tongue all the day (long)
shall utter (word of) your righteousness.”

This short couplet continues (and concludes) the Psalmist’s declaration of praise to YHWH. From the specific idea of (full-voiced) singing, in public, the sense shifts to a quieter scene of the protagonist muttering/murmuring (vb hg`h*) praise of God’s righteousness (hq*d*x=, cf. above) all throughout the day, even when by himself in private moments. For the righteous ones, such as the Psalmist, praise of God is a continuous and ongoing activity that is not limited to public times of communal worship.

Verse 24b

“(Oh,) that they may be put to shame,
that they may be humiliated,
(those) seeking evil for me!”

As in the First Part of the Psalm (cf. verse 13), the Second Part concludes with an imprecatory (curse) wish by the Psalmist for his wicked adversaries. He asks (God) that they be put to shame (vb voB) and humiliated (vb rp@j*), very much the same sentiments expressed in v. 13. Both parts end with the same words, referring to the Psalmist’s enemies by the expression “(those) seeking my evil [i.e. evil/harm for me]” (yt!u*r* yv@q=b^m!).

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).

The Extent of Johannine Spiritualism: Jn 4:23-24; 6:63

Two important Spirit-references in the Gospel of John, reflecting Johannine spiritualism, have been discussed in the most recent articles in this series—the articles on 4:10-15ff (incl. vv. 21-24) and 6:63. Based on the strong spiritualistic language in 4:23-24 and 6:63, it is fair to inquire as to the extent of Johannine spiritualism. A basic feature of Christian spiritualism is the tendency to relativize or downplay the importance of external religious elements—especially as they are manifest in public (corporate) worship and ritual. The essence of worship and ritual is realized spiritually, and does not require any external observance or performance.

The language of 4:23-24 and 6:63 (in the context of 6:51-58) suggests that the Gospel writer (and Jesus as the speaker) is emphasizing just such an inward, spiritual mode of worship, over and against the external observance of any rite. I will begin which the specific relationship between 6:63 and the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), since the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58 strongly indicates that these verses at least allude to the early Christian rite of the Lord’s Supper.

John 6:63 in relation to the Eucharistic language in vv. 51-58

It is generally agreed that verses 51-58 of the chapter 6 Bread of Life Discourse contain eucharistic language, and that both author and readers would have recognized the language as referring, in some fashion, to the early Christian ritual of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). However, if this point of reference is intentional, in precisely what sense is it intended to be understood?

I would delineate two broad ways of viewing the matter. The first option is that the author intended to emphasize the physical eating and drinking of Jesus’ “flesh” and “blood” through the sacramental elements (bread and wine) of the Lord’s Supper ritual. Let us call this the ritualistic view. The second option is that the eating/drinking is meant to be understood entirely in a figurative, spiritual sense, and that one partakes of the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus inwardly, through the Spirit. This we will call the spiritualistic view. While it is certainly possible to posit a hybrid or intermediate view, somewhere between these two interpretive poles, most explanations of vv. 51-58, as reflecting the author’s intention, tend toward one of these two options. This is especially so when we consider the relationship between vv. 51-58 and the Spirit-saying in v. 63 (on which, cf. the recent article in this series).

We must also take into account the critical question of vv. 51-58 in relation to various theories regarding the composition of the Gospel, as there are differences of opinion as to whether vv. 51-58 are an integral part of the original Discourse (and the original version of the Gospel), or whether they represent a secondary (redactional) addition. We may thus outline three possibilities:

      • Verses 51-58 are original to the Discourse, and are intended in a ritualistic sense
      • They have been added to the Discourse, with a ritualistic emphasis, perhaps intended to counterbalance the (apparent) spiritual emphasis in the rest of the Discourse
      • Whether or not the verses are original to the Discourse, they are meant to be understood in a spiritualistic sense

The incompatibility of the ritualistic interpretation with the consistent figurative usage of the idiom of eating/drinking—both in the Discourse proper (esp. verses 35-50) and in the earlier Samaritan Woman Discourse of chapter 4 (vv. 10-15, 32ff)—makes it highly unlikely that there would have been a ritualistic meaning intended for vv. 51-58 if those verses were part of the original Discourse. This is all the more so if we consider the Discourse in terms of the historical tradition—viz. of Jesus as the speaker of such a discourse in a synagogue setting (v. 59). A reference to the early Christian ritual would have been completely incomprehensible to a first-century Jewish audience.

This leaves us with the last two options outlined above. Either vv. 51-58 represent a redactional addition, meant to counterbalance the spiritual emphasis of the Discourse, or they were intended to be understood in a spiritualistic manner. Many commentators (e.g., R. E. Brown, von Wahlde) would hold to some version of the former position—that vv. 51-58 are an addition to the original Discourse-tradition, and are intended to bring out a ritualistic Eucharistic emphasis. In other words, the purpose was to emphasize the need to “eat” (and “drink”) Jesus (i.e., the Bread) in a literal, physical sense—through the “flesh” and “blood” of the sacramental elements. According to some versions of this theory, the Eucharistic language of the ‘words of instution’ by Jesus, set (in the Synoptic tradition) during the Last Supper, have been transferred and relocated to the Bread of Life Discourse, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Given the early Christian tendency to associate the Miraculous Feeding episode (vv. 1-15 par) with the Eucharist, the following Discourse may have seemed like the best place to include reference to the Last Supper tradition.

If this was, indeed, the author/editor’s intent, it must be regarded as a failure. If the goal was to emphasize the Lord’s Supper ritual, this would have been accomplished much more effectively by maintaining the Synoptic connection with the Last Supper. By embedding the Eucharistic reference within the Bread of Life Discourse, any ritualistic emphasis has been thoroughly obscured. As the history of interpretation has demonstrated, with centuries of diverging opinions by commentators, it is by no means clear that vv. 51-58, in context, were intended to be understood in anything like a ritualistic sense.

Thus, serious consideration should be given to the possibility that the verses were, from the beginning (at whatever point they were included in the Discourse), meant to be understood in a spiritualistic sense. The main arguments in support of this have been introduced and elucidated in prior notes. The central point I would make is that, if the idiom of “eating” and “drinking” was used in a figurative, spiritual sense in 4:10-15ff and 6:27-50, then it should be similarly understood the same way here in 6:51-58. Moreover, if the expression “living water” was understood (by the Gospel writer) as referring to the Spirit (7:37-39), then it is fair to assume that “living bread” has a comparable meaning in chapter 6. And, if one “eats” the living bread in a spiritual manner, then a person would “eat” (and “drink”) the flesh/blood of Jesus likewise. Properly speaking, the emphasis in vv. 27-50 is on trusting in Jesus; people eat and drink Jesus when they trust in him (vv. 29, 35-36, 40, 47, cf. also the emphasis in v. 64).

From the Johannine theological standpoint, to trust in Jesus specifically means believing that he is the Son sent to earth (from heaven) by God the Father, and that he was sent to give life to the world. This last point is expressed clearly at several key, climactic moments in the Discourse (vv. 40, 50-51, 57). While “life” (zwh/) is communicated by Jesus through the Spirit, it entails the life-giving power of his sacrificial death. I have discussed this principle, which I believe is central to the Johannine theology, in recent notes (cf. most recently on 1 Jn 1:7ff and 5:6-8). This is the reason and purpose for the eucharistic language and imagery in vv. 51-58, as it provided the only meaningful way for early Christians to express the idea of the communication of the power and efficacy of Jesus’ death through the idiom of eating and drinking.

What role, then, did the Lord’s Supper rite itself have in the Johannine congregations? The complete lack of any reference to the tradition of the institution of the Supper (as a rite to be performed)—and, specifically, in the context of the Last Supper (cf. chapter 13)—suggests that it may not have been particularly important in the Johannine religious milieu. In its place, at least within the Last Supper narrative, a very different ritual (the Foot-washing) is emphasized (vv. 4-20), to a much greater extent than the Supper ritual is correspondingly emphasized in the Synoptic narrative. Unfortunately, we have no information in the Letters regarding Johannine worship practice, so there is no way to form even a prelimary conclusion regarding the place of either the Eucharist or the Foot-washing in the life of those congregations. However, the spiritualistic emphasis, in both the Gospel and the First Letter (to be discussed), raises at least the possibility that the Johannine churches would have downplayed the importance of the Supper ritual, even if they themselves observed it, to some extent.

In this regard, we might mention Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Christians in Smyrna, written sometime in the early 2nd century (c. 110-115?). He refers to opponents who seem to have certain features in common with the opponents mentioned in 1-2 John. In chapter 7, Ignatius claims that these people “hold themselves away” from the Eucharist, apparently refusing to accept that the sacramental elements truly embody the “flesh” of Jesus, and thus (presumably) there is no need for physical consumption of them. Ignatius probably wrote his letter not all that many years after 1-2 John were written; moreover, Smyrna is located in region of Asia (Minor), centered around Ephesus, that is often thought to represent the geographic hub of the Johannine churches. All of this suggests that the opponents Ignatius mentions could have derived from the wider Johannine Community, having perhaps adopted a more extreme version of the kind of spiritualistic views that are expressed in the Gospel and Letters of John.

The Principle Expressed in John 4:23-24

“…an hour comes, and is now (here), when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for indeed the Father seeks such (people) worshiping Him. God is Spirit, and (for) the (one)s worshiping Him, it is necessary to worship in Spirit and in truth.”

This extended declaration by Jesus was discussed in the earlier article (on 4:10-15ff). It has a remarkably spiritualistic ring to it, and yet most commentators are unwilling to go very far down that line of interpretation. R. E. Brown (p. 180), in his comments on vv. 23-24, can serve to summarize the prevailing opinion:

“An ideal of purely internal worship ill fits the NT scene with its eucharistic gatherings, hymn singing, baptism in water, etc. (unless one assumes that John’s theology is markedly different from that of the Church at large).”

His assumptions about “the Church at large” are far-sized, if understandable; in actual fact, we have very little information regarding worship practice (and the associated beliefs) in first-century churches. It is quite precarious to assume that Johannine congregations would have shared, broadly, the ideas and practices mentioned, for example, by Paul in 1 Corinthians, or in the so-called “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (Didache). Brown’s caveat (in parentheses above) at least admits the possibility that Johannine congregations might have held to a more spiritualistic view regarding the nature and purpose of worship.

In the Discourse, Jesus specifically relativizes the location of worship, beginning in verse 21:

“…an hour comes when, neither on this mountain [i.e. Gerizim] nor in Yerushalaim, shall you worship the Father”

The distinction between Gerizim and Jerusalem is particular to the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews. In spite of Jesus’ words in v. 22, the implication is that such differences no longer matter. More than this, the expression “on this mountain” can be generalized to mean “in this particular location”. It would be natural (and logical) to extend this principle to emphasize that worship does not depend on any particular location; this would include any particular congregational setting.

The location for worship is no longer spatial or geographical, but is located “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati). It is possible to understand pneu=ma here in terms of the inward/internal aspect of the human spirit, but this would be quite out of keeping with the overall Johannine usage; moreover, it is contradicted by the emphasis in v. 24, with the declaration that “God is Spirit”. Jesus is clearly referring in v. 23 to the Spirit of God, a point confirmed by the repeated connection between the Spirit and truth (a)lh/qeia)—cf. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6. To worship “in truth” (a)lhqei/a| [preposition implied]) essentially means the same as worshiping “in the Spirit”.

What does all of this mean for the practice of worship, and the realization of it within the Johannine congregations? We simply do not have enough information to draw any conclusions. There may have been an ideal of spiritual worship which the congregations sought to maintain in some fashion, without completely dispensing with common traditions and ritual practices. This question will be explored further in the upcoming articles in this series dealing with the evidence from First John. Indeed, a key theme of that letter (or tract) is the need to balance and moderate a Spirit-centered communal experience, by retaining contact with established lines of tradition.

March 13: Psalm 68:33-36

Strophe 9: Psalm 68:33-36 [32-35]

Strophe 8 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 33 [32]

“(You) kingdoms of the earth,
sing to (the) Mightiest,
make music (to our) Lord,”

The opening verse of this final strophe is a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon. As previously noted, a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker occurs after the first verse of the third strophe in each part of the Psalm. Probably, the initial verse is meant to establish the musical pattern for the strophe, in some way.

This verse continues the theme of the previous strophe (cf. the previous note), calling on the nations (“kingdoms of the earth”) to join Israel in giving praise to YHWH. They are to sing and make music, just as in the scene of worship depicted in the first strophe of this part (strophe 6, vv. 25-28). In vv. 29-32, the emphasis was on the surrounding nations submitting to YHWH, resulting in their coming to Jerusalem to pay homage to Him. This homage is now expected to take the form of worship.

Verse 34 [33]

“to (the One) riding on (the) heavens,
(the) heavens of (times) before,
see!—He gives (forth) with His voice,
(the) voice of (His) strength.”

It is probably best to see this verse, syntactically, as continuing the thought of the previous v. 33. The One to whom the nations are to give praise, YHWH, the God of Israel (“my Lord”), is further identified as the Creator God and King of the universe who “rides on the heavens”. This is a variation of YHWH’s designation in v. 5, as “Rider on the Clouds” (“[one] riding on [the] clouds”); cf. also Deut 33:26. For more on this expression, cf. the earlier note on strophe 2.

The “heavens” on which YHWH ‘rides’ are further described as “(the) heavens of (times) before [<d#q#]”; this alludes to the primeval period at the beginning of Creation, when El-YHWH subdued the dark and chaotic waters, bringing order to the universe. His control over the waters, means, in particular, that He is able to bring life-giving rain in its season. The language and imagery here is cosmological.

This is also so with regard to the “voice” that YHWH gives forth (vb /t^n`). Traditionally, in the ancient Near East, thunder was thought of as God’s voice. Indeed, typically in the Old Testament, thunder is referenced simply by the word loq (“voice”), just as it is here. It is a voice of incomparable strength (zu)) and power.

Verse 35 [34]

“Give (praise with) strength
to (the) Mightiest, High (One) of Yisrael,
His height and strength (are) above (the) clouds!”

This strength (zu)) of YHWH needs to be acknowledged correspondingly through the praise given to Him by humankind. I have tried to preserve something of the wordplay (completely lost in most translations) between vv. 34-35:

    • YHWH gives (forth) [/T@y]] His voice of strength [zu)]
    • People are to give [WnT!] acknowledgment (with their voices) to God’s strength [zu)]

This one instance where I follow Dahood (II, p. 152), in reading lu as a Divine title “High (One),” or “(Most) High” (cf. the root hlu and the related title /oyl=u# [±Elyôn]), rather than the preposition –lu^. Here the poetic context and syntax seems to require such a reading. The titles <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One]”) and lu^ (“High [One]”) correspond to the attributive nouns zu) (“strength, might”) and hw`a&G~ (“height, elevation,” i.e., majesty) in the following line. More to the point, “High (One) [lu] of Israel” precisely matches the expression “Mighty (One) [la] of Israel” in v. 36 (cf. below); and the validity of this reading is thus confirmed.

The final word, the plural noun <yq!j*v= more or less corresponds to <y]m^v* (“heavens”), but specifically in terms of the atmospheric vapors or “clouds”. As in v. 34, the preposition B= here means “(up)on”, but perhaps with the specific nuance of “above”. Dahood would read the meaning here as comparable to /m! (“from”) used in a comparative sense (“more/greater than”). This is certainly possible.

Verse 36 [35]

“(To be) feared (are you), Mightiest, from your holy places!
(The) Mighty (One) of Yisrael,
He (is the One) giving
strength and might (to His) people.
Blessed (be the) Mightiest!”

Metrically, this final verse is comprised of another 2+2+3 tricolon unit, bracketed by two exclamations of praise to YHWH—a longer 3-beat line (1) and a short 2-beat line (5). The central tricolon continues the theme of strength in this strophe. Previously, it was the strength/might of YHWH Himself that was emphasized; here, the focus is on how God, in His power, gives strength to His people (cf. the same idea expressed in v. 29). YHWH is described with the verbal noun (participle) /t@n), “(the one) giving,” i.e., the one who gives. It implies that this is characteristic of YHWH, reflecting regular activity, by which He acts/works to protect and strengthen His people.

The two nouns expressing what He gives to His people are more or less synonymous—zu) (used repeatedly in prior verses, cf. above) and hmx%y&T^—both essentially meaning “strength”. The latter noun occurs only here in the Old Testament, but other related words are more common: <x#u), hm*x=u*, <Wxu*. Possibly twmxut represents a feminine singular form, rather than the apparent feminine plural; cf. Dahood, II, p. 152. If a plural is intended, it should probably be understood in a collective or comprehensive (or intensive) sense.

The initial line of the verse continues the theme of YHWH’s dwelling-place that has run through most of the Psalm. Three different such dwellings have been emphasized: (1) His heavenly dwelling, (2) the mountain dwelling of Sinai, and (3) the Temple in Jerusalem (on ‘mount’ Zion). YHWH is to be acknowledged and worshiped in all these “holy places”. The final line repeats this point, in the simplest possible terms, with the declaration “Blessed [EWrB*] (be) the Mightiest!”

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




March 12 (1): Psalm 68:25-28

Strophe 7: Psalm 68:25-28 [24-27]

Strophe 6 was discussed in the previous note; on the overall structure of Psalm 68, see the introductory study.

Verse 25 [24]

“They have seen your goings (forth), O Mightiest,
(the) goings of my Mighty (One),
my King, in the holy place.”

Metrically, this opening couplet begins with a 3-beat line, and forms a 3+2+2 tricolon, thus reversing the more typical pattern (2+2+3) of this Psalm.

The idea seems to be that, following the victorious entry of God’s people into the Promised Land, YHWH now takes up His new dwelling-place in the “holy place” on mount Zion. Having gone forth from His dwelling on mount Sinai, He now proceeds to the new sanctuary. Possibly the Psalm itself, in this final part, is meant ritually to reenact and commemorate this event. The opening verb “they have seen” implies a general audience, without any specific persons in mind.

The final prepositional expression, vd#Q)b^, is slightly ambiguous. Properly, it means “in the holy place,” i.e., God is present in His dwelling, in the sanctuary. However, the preposition B= can carry the specific meaning “into”, implying YHWH’s entry into His dwelling-place, but also (on occasion) a meaning similar to /m! (“from,” i.e., from within).

Verse 26 [25]

“(Those) singing go in front,
(and those) playing strings behind,
(and) in between (are the) maidens drumming.”

This verse gives us a clearer portrait of a ritual event, with a procession of musicians—singers, those playing stringed instruments, and young women playing tambourines/timbrels—commemorating YHWH’s entrance into His dwelling-place (the sanctuary of the Zion Temple).

Metrically, there is here a return to the more common 2+2+3 pattern of the Psalm, the inverse of the 3+2+2 tricolon of v. 25.

Verse 27 [26]

“In (their) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) water dug for Yisrael.”

The “assemblies” here refer, not just to the musicians mentioned in v. 26, but to all the people who are gathered for the ritual event. The MT vocalizes the verb as an imperative, but a Piel perfect form (Wkr=B@) seems more appropriate to the context. If an imperative is correct—i.e., calling upon the people to honor and worship YHWH—then the verb in the opening line of the strophe (War) should also be parsed as an imperative (“see, look…!”).

The identification of YHWH as the “Mighty One” (la@, here <yh!l)a$), in line 2, has greater religious and theological significance than may appear at first glance. For ancient Israelites, especially in the earlier periods, it was an important tenet of their religious identity, that their God YHWH was to be identified with the Creator God °E~l (la@). In the Patriarchal period, the latter was the principal name of God, but the former (YHWH) came into prominence with the Exodus, and Israel’s long migration from Sinai into Canaan. It was important that the Yahwist religion (worship of YHWH) be seen as a legitimate extension of the earlier °E~l-worship.

The final line associates YHWH with the ‘source of water’ for Israel, presumably alluding to His providential sustenance of the people during their wanderings in the Sinai. Several key traditions deal specifically with the need for water, and God’s provision—Exod 15:20-27; 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13; 21:16-18. The noun roqm* literally means the “place dug” (i.e., for water), but can also refer specifically the water that comes forth (i.e., a “fountain”); on the religious-symbolic use of the word, cf. Psalm 36:10[9]; Isa 51:1; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 13:1.

Some commentators would emend roqm* to read instead, e.g., ar*q=m!, which has essentially the same meaning as lh@q=m^ in line 1, viz., an assembly, a group of people called to assemble, in a particular location; cf. Kraus, p. 47. Dahood (II, p. 148) interprets the line in much the same way, but without emending the MT, deriving rwqm here from a separate root rwq meaning “call”. This, admittedly, gives a sensible parallelistic reading to the verse:

“In (the) assemblies they bless
(the) Mightiest, YHWH,
from (the) congregation of Israel.”

Verse 28 [27]

“(See) there (is) Binyamin,
(the) little (one), leading them,
(the) princes of Yehudah (in) their throng,
(with the) princes of Zebulûn,
(and the) princes of Naptalî.”

Similar to the procession of musicians in v. 26, here we have a procession of the leaders of the various tribes. Specifically, the northern territories of Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned together with Benjamin and Judah. The meaning of the word <t*m*g+r! in line 3 is quite uncertain; the noun (presumably, hm*g+r!) occurs only here in the Old Testament. It has been related to late Hebrew <g~r* (“to stone”), and cognate roots in Aramaic and Arabic; and cf. the noun hm*g@r=m^ in Prov 26:8. Others would cite Akkadian rag¹mu, “cry out”, and Ugaritic rgm, “say, speak”. The context suggests a noisy throng, uttering words of praise to YHWH.

If this strophe is meant to record an actual ritual event, it must have been a grand affair, including chief men (rulers/princes, <yr!c*) from at least three other tribes, joining with the crowd of Judeans. To avoid cluttering the poetry, I have left all four tribe-names transliterated above, rather than translating them.

The northern tribes uniting with the south, under the rule of Jerusalem, was a key theme during the Kingdom period. It took on even greater meaning after the great schism (between north and south), the ideal of reuniting the tribes lasting through the Exile, and helping to fuel Messianic expectations in the post-Exilic period.

Metrically, there are five lines to this verse, best viewed as a 2+2+3 tricolon, followed by an additional 2-beat couplet; it yields a 2+2+3+2+2 meter.

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

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 66 (Part 1)

Psalm 66

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 16, 18-20)

This Psalm has certain features in common with the prior Psalm 65 (cf. the previous study), including its designation (in the heading) as a “song” (ryv!). Since virtually every Psalm could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear if there is anything distinctive in the use of the term ryv!. It has been suggested that it refers to a Psalm that was specifically sung in a ritual worship setting (in the Temple); if so, then the characterization of Psalm 66, e.g., as a religious hymn would be appropriate.

The first part of the Psalm (vv. 1-12) does, indeed, represent a hymn to YHWH, divided into three stanzas. Here the occurrence of the Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker can be used as an indicator of the poetic structure. At the beginning of each section (vv. 1, 5, 8), people all throughout the earth are called upon to give praise to YHWH. It is for the greatness of His deeds that God is to be praised (v. 3), as manifest principally through the historical tradition of the event at the Reed Sea during the Exodus (alluded to in stanzas 2 and 3).

The second part of the Psalm (vv. 13-20) is quite different, to the point that some commentators view Psalm 66 as comprised of two originally separate compositions. It is essentially a poetic description of a ritual scene, in which a devout worshiper presents a sacrificial offering (in the Temple) in order to fulfill a vow made to YHWH. The association between praise and fulfilling a vow is found with some frequency in the Psalms, and the ritual fulfillment can be expressed through the very sort of praise which the Psalmist has composed. This featured prominently at the beginning of Psalm 65 (cf. the previous study).

There is considerable metrical variety in this Psalm, though, as often as not, a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format is utilized.

Part 1: VERSES 1-12

As noted above, Part 1 comprises the hymn proper, in three stanzas.

Stanza 1: Verses 1-4
Verse 1

“Raise a shout to (the) Mightiest, all the earth!”

Verse 1 functions as the introduction to the hymn, a single 3-beat line, in which the Psalmist literally calls on all creation (“all the earth”) to give praise (vb u^Wr, give a shout/cry) to YHWH.

It may be worth mentioning again how, throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms (as here), the divine title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest”, i.e., ‘God’) is used as a substitution for the name hwhy (YHWH).

Verse 2

“Make music (to the) weight of His name,
put (to song the) weight of His praise!”

This simple 3-beat couplet makes clear that the “shout” of praise in v. 1 is to be realized through worship in music. It is from the verb rm^z` (“make/play music”) that the noun romz+m!, used throughout in the Psalm headings, is derived, designating a musical composition. The verb <yc! in the second line, with the general meaning “set, put,” here probably also connotes a composition—with a musical (and poetic) order, structure, and (written) form. For a more nuanced explanation of the use of <yc! here, cf. Dahood, II, p. 119.

The noun dobK* literally means “weight,” often in the sense of “worth, value,” and thus in a more abstract sense as “honor”. Here it refers to God, in His manifest presence and power—that is, the reason for which people everywhere should honor Him with worship and praise. The term may also be understood as an attribute of His name, etc—that it is glorious and to be honored. As I have discussed elsewhere, in ancient Near Eastern thought, a person’s name represents and embodies the person, in a quasi-magical way. This is especially true when dealing with the names and titles of God; cf. in this regard my earlier discussion of the divine name YHWH.

Verse 3

“Say to (the) Mightiest:
How (you are) to be feared (by) your deeds,
in (the) abundance of your strength!
(Those) hostile to you shall submit to you.”

The meter of this verse is quite irregular as it stands: 2+2+2+3; it may be regarded (loosely) as a 2-beat quatrain. The concision of the poetry cannot be expressed in a literal glossed translation as I give above. The rhythm is better captured by a freer rendering:

“Say to the Mightiest:
How fearful your deeds,
in your abundant might—
your enemies shall submit to you.”

Also difficult to translate is the Niphal (passive) participle ar*on in the second line. Literally, it means “being feared” or “being fearful/frightening”. It is singular, and so presumably is not intended as an attribute of God’s “deeds”; rather, it should be understood as characterizing YHWH Himself as one worthy of “being feared” (i.e., to be feared). He is to be feared because of His great deeds, done in the abundance (br)) of His strength/power (zu)). Even those hostile to YHWH shall be forced to submit to Him, recognizing His power and authority. The verb vj^K* typically implies an act of deceit/deception, sometimes specifically of an enemy feigning submission or obedience. That could be the sense here; however, more likely the Psalmist is using a bit of irony, suggesting that the enemies who might otherwise pretend to submit to God will now be forced to do so in reality, bowing down to His authority.

Verse 4

“All the earth shall bow down to you
and make music to you,
make music to your name.”

Again the expression “all the earth” is used, as a comprehensive expression for all people everywhere (including those hostile to God). The act of bowing/laying down (vb hj^v*, Hishtaphel [reflexive] stem) indicates both submission and worship (cf. on v. 3 above). The idea of making music (vb rm^z`) to YHWH, and to His name, is repeated from v. 2.

Again the meter of this verse is irregular: 3+2+2.

Stanza 2: Verses 5-7

Verse 5

“Go and see (the) deeds of (the) Mightiest,
to be feared (in His) dealing over (the) sons of men.”

As in verse 1 (cf. above), people are called upon to give praise to YHWH for his wondrous deeds. Here, the call is generalized, with a pair of imperatives (“go/come!” and “see!”); witnessing God’s deeds will cause people to give praise and honor to Him. The noun lu*p=m! is essentially synonymous with hc#u&m^ in verse 3, both referring to something done or made (i.e., deed, action, work). The noun hl*yl!u& has a roughly comparable meaning, though with the specific connotation of exercising power/authority over something (or someone). I have rendered it above generally as “dealing (with)”; the accompanying preposition literally means “over”, but in English idiom we would say “with” —here, “His dealing(s) with the sons of men”, i.e., how God deals with them.

The passive (Niphal) participle ar*on (“being feared,” i.e., to be feared) is also repeated from v. 3; it is an attribute of YHWH, referring to how He is worthy of honor and praise (for his great and awesome deeds).

Metrically, this verse is a longer 4-beat (4+4) couplet.

Verse 6

“He turned (the) sea to dry (ground),
in(to) the river they crossed by foot—
come, let us rejoice in Him!”

The first two lines (of this 3-beat tricolon) clearly refer to the Exodus event at the Reed Sea, narrated in Exodus 14, celebrated in the famous ‘Song of Moses’ in Exodus 15, and referenced numerous times elsewhere in Old Testament poetry. Both terms “sea” (my`) and “river” (rh*n`) refer here to the same body of water, reflecting a traditional poetic parallelism. It is, of course, to be noted, that the Exodus event was replicated (and/or re-enacted) at the Jordan river in Joshua 3.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 121; cf. also I, pp. 81, 291), in reading <v at the beginning of the second line as an interjection (i.e., behold!, see!, come…!), cognate with šumma in Amarna Canaanite. This seems more fitting in the context of the imperfect jussive/cohortative verb form that follows, rather than the adverbial particle <v* (“there”). However, if the line here itself reflects a ritual re-enactment of the Exodus event, then it might make sense to say “there let us rejoice in Him!”

Verse 7

“Ruling in His strength (into the) distant (future),
His eyes look down (up)on the nations,
lest the rebellious (one)s rise (up) against Him!”

I understand the noun <l*ou in the first line as referring to the duration of YHWH’s rule over the universe—it lasts far into the distant (<lu) future, i.e., for ever. God rules in His strength (hr*WbG+); and here it becomes clear that the great deeds done by YHWH in Israel’s history reflect the cosmological aspect of His identity as Creator. This is a common theme in the Psalms, and was specifically emphasized in the prior Psalm 65 (vv. 6-8ff, cf. the previous study).

The all-seeing eye(s) of God are a traditional motif as well, expressing His providential governance of the world. One important aspect of this oversight is the administration of justice and maintaining the right order of things. His eye seeks to punish wrongdoing and to curb the stubborn and rebellious (rrs) tendencies in humankind.

The last lines of vv. 6 and 7, respectively, form a contrast between Israel and the nations—more specifically, between the faithful/righteous ones and those who are rebellious/hostile to God.

Stanza 3: Verses 8-12

Verse 8

“Bless, (all you) peoples, our Mighty (One),
and make heard (the) voice of His praise.”

This simple 3-beat couplet essentially reproduces the thought in the opening lines (vv. 1-2) of the first stanza (cf. above). The verbs are different—Er^B* (“bless,” or perhaps more concretely “bend the knee”) and um^v* (Hiphil, “cause to be heard”)—but the basic idea is the same: people everywhere are called on to give praise and worship to YHWH. The expression “voice of His praise” means praising God with all of one’s voice, i.e., with a loud and joyful song.

Verse 9

“The (One) setting our soul among the living,
He does not give our foot to shaking.”

This couplet is descriptive of YHWH as the God (“our Mighty [One]”) who cares for His people—that is, for the righteous and faithful ones among God’s people. He preserves the soul of the righteous, expressed here through the phrase “setting our soul among the living [one]s”, i.e., keeping our soul alive. More than this, He keeps them firm and secure in their daily life and conduct—their “foot” does not waver or slip (fwm), thanks to YHWH’s providential care.

Verse 10

“For you (have) tested us, O Mightiest—
you smelted us, as (the) smelting of silver.”

This couplet is shorter (2-beat, 2+2), its terseness reflecting the sudden shift to the idea of God’s sharp discipline of His people, testing (vb /j^B*) them, and thus purifying them. The motif of YHWH smelting/refining His people, utilizing the familiar imagery from metalworking, is relatively common in Old Testament poetry—all but 5 of the 33 occurrences of the verb [r^x* are found in the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets.

Verse 11

“You brought us in(to) the net,
you set distress (up)on our loins.”

This irregular (2+3) couplet expounds upon the idea of God disciplining His people in the previous verse. The motif of the hunter’s net covers a wide range of possible suffering and affliction which the people might endure, having been brought to it by YHWH. The second line specifically alludes to physical suffering and distress (lit. pressure, hq*u*Wm).

Verse 12

“You made pain ride against our head—
we came in(to) fire and in(to) water,
but you brought us out to fullness.”

This verse is irregular, with a short 2-beat line added to a 3-beat couplet; the final line punctuates the hymn and effectively brings it to a conclusion. I derive vwna (MT vona$) from a separate root meaning “be sick”, which I understand here in an intensive sense, i.e., referring to severe pain and suffering. YHWH has made this pain “ride” against the head of His people. In the second line, this is expressed by another allusion to the Exodus event (crossing through the Sea), but generalized in terms of having to endure suffering. The “fire” relates back to the imagery of the refining of metal in verse 10.

Even as YHWH brought His people into distress (v. 10), so He also brings them out of it again (vb ax^y` Hiphil, “bring out”). He leads them into a place of fullness and abundance. The noun hy`w`r= specifically connotes a well-watered place. While this can be understood in the general sense of the blessing God provides for His people, there is probably a specific reference here to Israel’s entering the Promised Land. If so, then the suffering described in vv. 10-12a would be alluding primarily to the years spent ‘wandering’ in the wilderness.

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).

October 28: Philippians 2:10b-11

Philippians 2:10b-11

“…every knee shall bend
of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground
and every tongue shall give account as one,
that Yeshua (the) Anointed (is the) Lord,
unto (the) honor of God (the) Father.”

These lines complete the clause begun in v. 10a (cf. the previous note), “(so) that, in the name of Yeshua…”. The force of the preposition e)n (“in”) was discussion in the previous note. While the traditional usage of the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is certainly in view, it carries a special meaning and nuance here. While the idea of prayer and baptism “in Jesus’ name” was common among early Christians, worshiping God “in the name of Jesus” is more unusual. We are not dealing with the same sense of Jesus as an intermediary; rather, it would seem that the worship and homage (bending the knee) is being directed to Jesus. For this reason, it is perhaps better to gloss the translation as “in (honor of) the name of Jesus” (cf. O’Brien, pp. 239-40). The sense of “at the name of Jesus” is also possible, meaning that the presence of the divine Jesus (in his glory/splendor, cf. the earlier note on the expression “form of God”, v. 6a) causes all creatures to bow in recognition of his exalted position, as they would to God Himself.

The principal statement in vv. 10b-11a is a citation (or allusion) to Isaiah 45:23b. The hymn reads:

pa=n go/nu ka/myh|

kai\ pa=sa glw=ssa e)comologh/shtai
“every knee shall bend
and every tongue shall give account as one”

The text of the LXX is nearly identical, except that it has future indicative verb forms rather than the aorist subjunctive forms of the hymn. Both the LXX and NT are relatively accurate translations of the Hebrew, which I render literally as follows:

“For to me every knee will bend,
and every tongue will bind (itself) sevenfold”

Like most English translators, the LXX translator did not render literally the Hebrew idiom contained in the verb ub^v* (in the passive-reflexive Niphal stem), something like “bind (oneself) seven(fold)”, instead capturing the basic idea of a solemn oath or confession (the Greek verb e)comologe/w is an intensive form of o(mologe/w, “give account as one”, i.e., acknowledge, confess [together]).

A more important point, is that, in the original prophecy, God is speaking, and declares that every knee will bend to Him (“to me”, yl!). Thus, by applying these lines to Jesus in the hymn, it is clear that the exalted Jesus takes the place of God Himself, receiving the worship and acknowledgment that belongs to YHWH. This would seem to provide added confirmation to the view that the “name” given to Jesus (vv. 9b-10a) is God’s own name, represented by the divine title “Lord” (/oda*/ku/rio$); for more on this, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The context of Isa 45:22-25 is significant for an understanding of its use here in the hymn. The basic orientation of the passage is eschatological, drawing upon the “day of YHWH” motif in the Prophetic tradition. In particular, we find the developed idea of the Day of YHWH as the time of (collective) Judgment for all the nations (v. 20). The primary basis of the Judgment is the recognition of YHWH as the Creator, the one true God (vv. 21b-22). The call goes out to Israel (and all the nations), to turn to YHWH, trusting in Him, before the moment of Judgment comes. Such trust will result in salvation (from the Judgment), with the promise that the people of God (Israel) will be deemed righteous by God, and thus be saved. All of these Prophetic (and eschatological) themes were picked up by early Christians, substituting trust in Jesus for the older idea of trust in YHWH. And this, indeed, is what we find here in the hymn as well; recognition of the divine status of the exalted Jesus (as Lord) is parallel to the traditional motif of “calling on the name of the Lord” (with Jesus as Lord), which leads to salvation (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13f, citing Joel 2:32).

Another way that the Prophetic traditions in Isa 45:22-25 were adapted in the hymn has to do with the eschatological Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 10-11. The motif of the Judgment of the Nations has been enhanced and expanded to give it truly a universal scope. This is indicated first by the pronominal adjective pa=$ (“all”) denoting totality, wholeness, and completion. Here it is used to signify every being in the universe “every name” applied to the religious context of worshiping and acknowledging a deity. This religious aspect is two-fold: (a) gestures of homage (bending of “every knee”), and (b) acknowledgment in speech (“every tongue”). The universalistic focus is enhanced by the qualifying statement inserted between the lines of Isa 45:23: “…of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground”.

The three adjectives in this statemente)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”), e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”), and kataxqw/nio$ (“beneath the ground”)reflect the basic tri-partate (three-part) cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world. The three parts are: (i) the hemispheric space above the earth, (ii) the flat disc/cylinder of the earth itself, and (iii) the space under the earth. The adjectives here are substantive plurals, referring to beings which inhabit each of these regions. The genitive form indicates that the knees and tongues, used to give worship, belong to these beingsimplying that they are personal beings possessing intelligence and will. It is common to define these three groups of beings as: heavenly beings (Angels, etc), living human beings, and the spirits of the dead (and/or evil spirit-beings bound under the earth). While this is doubtless correct, in a general sense, one be cautious in attempting to define the terms more precisely.

The main point in vv. 10-11 is that all of these created beings will give homage and worship to the exalted Jesus, bending the knee to him and acknowledging him as Lord (ku/rio$) with a spoken declaration. The verb e)comologe/w literally means “give out an account as one”, referring to something that people say together, in unison, and/or with common consent. It is possible that the scene here is of all beings making the declaration (“Yeshua the Anointed [is the] Lord”) together, in unison; more likely, however, it simply means that every being effectively says the same thing. The text allows for the possibility of a final universalism here, in a soteriological sense; that is to say, all beings ultimately come to trust in Jesus, recognizing him as Lord, and thus find salvation (cf. the context of Isa 45:22ff). A more probable scenario is that the wicked beings are forced to submit to the ruling authority of the exalted Jesus, rather contrary to their will (we may assume), as part of the Judgment that is brought against them.

The importance of the Judgment-scene, often missed by readers and commentators, in vv. 9-11 will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note, along with a specific discussion of the final phrase of the hymn: “…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”.

References marked “O’Brien” above, and throughout this set of notes, are to Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991).


The Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I examined the references to the “holy spirit” in the Qumran Writings, focusing primarily on the three key texts—the Community Rule (1QS), the Damascus Document (QD/CD), and the Hymns (Hodayot, 1QH). These writings share a common understanding regarding the holy spirit of God, and its relation to the holiness of the Community. As it happens, there is a rather different aspect of the pneumatology of the Qumran texts, expressed within an elaborate ritual (and visionary) setting, that is attested in several key writings, most notably the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”. Because of the difficulty and complexity of this material, it is necessary to give it a separate treatment here.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

This work is preserved in at least 9 manuscripts from Qumran (4Q400-407, 11Q17), and one from Masada (Mas1k). The number of manuscripts, copied over more than 75 years, attests to the popularity of the work; presumably, it was utilized within the worship and ritual of the Qumran Community. The commonly accepted title today (Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice), reflects the structure of this work—a series of thirteen “Songs”, one for each Sabbath during the first quarter of the year. The introductory formula for each Song indicates that it was meant to accompany the daily burnt offering on the Sabbath. The association with the Temple-ritual is important for an understanding of the Community’s religious identity, both in its origins and present constitution—with a strong priestly component, having separated from the Temple establishment in Jerusalem. As occurred within Judaism following the destruction of the Temple, it was necessary for the Qumran Community to find a new way of expressing the reality of the Temple ritual for its members—at the spiritual/symbolic level, and within an entirely new visionary setting.

For a fine treatment of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, in English, with reconstruction, translation, textual notes, and commentary, cf. James R. Davila, Liturgical Works, Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans: 2000), pp. 83-167.

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice make for difficult reading; in addition to the fragmentary text, the work has a visionary and liturgical character that is quite foreign to our religious sensibilities today. A proper understanding is helped by realizing that there are three interrelated aspects throughout the Songs:

    • The ritual setting and religious life of the Community, tied to the actual Sabbath-worship during the year
    • The Old Testament description of the Temple and Tabernacle, along with related traditions
    • A visionary description of the heavenly realms, which, while drawing upon Scriptural expressions and imagery, is largely independent of Old Testament tradition

The three aspects blend together in an original and powerful way. It is the last aspect that is especially foreign to Christians today; however, it will not seem quite so strange to scholars and students who are familiar with the Jewish apocalyptic and mystical writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. and beyond. It is worth touching on these briefly before proceeding to a discussion of the Songs.

Jewish Visionary Tradition

There are certain definite parallels between the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and several lines of visionary and mystical tradition in Judaism. Certainly, many of the pseudepigraphic writings from the period c. 200 B.C. to 400 A.D. contain apocalyptic elements that include visions of heaven—even visionary journeys through the heavenly realms—similar to the descriptions we find in the Songs. However, the closest parallels are perhaps to be found in the Hekhalot literature, so named because the writings involve a visionary ascent through the heavenly “palaces” (hekhalot, tolk*yh@). It represents an expression of the so-called Merkabah (“chariot”) mysticism. The merkabah (hb*K*r=m#, “sitting/riding place”, i.e. chariot) idea stems largely from Old Testament tradition, and especially the visions in Ezekiel 1 and 10, as representing the dwelling place and throne of God. In the Merkabah-mysticism, this idea is adapted in a curious way: the mystic goes down (descends) into the chariot, which serves as the vehicle for the visionary ascent. It is possible that the “chariot” here stands as a symbol for a ritual meditative technique that enables the visionary experience. In any case, the seer ascends through the “palaces” of the seven heavenly realms, facing challenges and dangers along the way; ultimately, if successful, he reaches the Throne of Glory and is allowed a glimpse of the worship performed there by the Angels.

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice share many characteristics and manner of expression with these Hekhalot writings. The litany-like sequences and chains of phrases are quite similar at many points, though never reaching the excesses (of names, titles, and apparent nonsense-words) found in the Hekhalot literature. The central feature in common, of course, is the idea that the earthly participant is able to witness the Angelic worship and ritual that takes place around the Throne of God. The dating of the Hekhalot literature is difficult; the main texts (or macroforms) date from the early medieval period, but may contain material or traditions that go back to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D.

Another important line of tradition is the Enoch-literature, including the main Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), the later 2 Enoch, and the Hebrew 3 Enoch (which is also to be counted among the Hekhalot writings). This reflects a long line of tradition stretching back centuries. The rather cryptic reference to Enoch in Genesis 5:24 may indicate that there were already extensive Enoch-traditions in circulation by the early-mid 1st millennium B.C., though it is just as likely that the Genesis reference served as the basis for all the subsequent traditions. In any event, a central feature of the Enoch writings is a detailed description of the heavenly realm, which the exalted seer experiences as part of an extensive heavenly journey. The main Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) is a complex, composite work that was almost certainly composed over a long period of time, by different authors. The earliest portions probably date from around 250 B.C., while the latest were likely written by 100 A.D. The work was known by the Qumran Community, and may even have been regarded as authoritative Scripture; that it was also familiar to Christians in the 1st century is indicated by the reference in Jude 14-15, and by certain parallels elsewhere in the New Testament.

The Structure of the Songs

In my view, there is a clear three-part structure to the Songs:

    • Songs 1-5—In these five Songs, the setting of the heavenly realm is established, along with the “holy ones” in heaven; a comparison is also made with the earthly Temple/Tabernacle, and the “holy ones” (i.e. the Qumran Community, esp. its priests) on earth.
    • Songs 6-8—These three Songs form the heart of the work, with a central depiction of the heavenly Temple (Song 7), flanked by two Songs (6, 8) which present a series of praises and blessing by seven “Princes” of heaven.
    • Songs 9-13—In these five Songs, the heavenly Temple is described in detail, culminating with the inner Throne room of God, and the worship/ritual that takes place there.

Songs 1-5

In the first two Songs, the heavenly-setting is introduced, with the palace/temple and “holy ones” of heaven being compared with those on earth—a comparison that continues at least into the second Song. The theme of holiness is established from the beginning, along with the expression “holy (one)s”, and, in particular, the extended idiom “holy (one)s of the holy (one)s” (<yv!odq= yv@odq=). This is important because of the way it blends together three different ideas:

    • The supreme and complete holiness of God
    • The heavenly beings as “holy ones”, and
    • The sanctuary (i.e. in the Temple) where God dwells as the “holy of holies” (Exod 26:33-34, etc)

The double-plural form is best understood as an intensive—i.e., “the most holy (place), most holy (ones)”. This expression occurs multiple times in the main portion that survives from Song 1 (4Q400 fragment 1, col. i.1-21 = 4Q401 fr. 15). The parallel between the “holy ones” (i.e., heavenly beings) and the “holy of holies” (Temple sanctuary) is key to understanding the visionary landscape of the Songs. Unlike the earthly Temple, made of physical objects and lifeless furnishings, the heavenly Temple is made of living beings—that is to say, of the heavenly beings or “holy ones”, and the ones closest to God’s throne are the holiest of these. The heavenly “holy ones” are all to be understood as “spirits”. In column ii of the same fragment, the phrases “spirit [j^Wr] of all…” and “holy ones of the holy of holies” occur in close proximity (lines 5-6).

Nothing certain survives of Song 3, and very little of Song 4, so there is no way of knowing exactly what these portions contained. Also quite uncertain is the nature of the 5th Song, though it seems to provide a parallel of sorts with Song 1. This would make sense if, as indicated above, Songs 1-5 represent a distinct unit. One interesting detail is the mention of the multi-colored material (hmqwr) in connection with the “inner chamber” of the King (God); this certainly alludes to the decoration of the Tabernacle/Temple sanctuary and the curtain at its entrance, and is an important part of the parallel between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. The largest fragment of Song 5 (4Q402 fr. 4 = Mas1k i.1-7) would seem to emphasize God’s work as Creator, especially in the creation of the heavenly beings. The references to warfare (lines 7-10) may relate to the ancient cosmological myth that defines the creation of the universe as the product of conflict (among the deities) in heaven. However, I think it perhaps more likely that these references simply allude to the traditional role of the heavenly beings as “armies” who will fight on God’s behalf; in the eschatological battle depicted in the War Scroll (1QM), the “holy ones” of heaven join with the “holy ones” on earth (i.e. the Qumran Community) to defeat the forces of darkness.

Songs 6-8

As noted above, Song 7 is the center of the entire work, preceded and followed by parallel Songs (6, 8) which consist of a series of praises and blessings uttered by seven “Princes” of heaven. Possibly the number seven, apart from its symbolic and traditional importance (cf. in the book of Revelation, etc), refers to the cosmology of the time, with the idea of seven concentric heavenly domains (or spheres), and God dwelling at the highest point. Certainly the Hekhalot literature (cf. above) makes much use of this cosmological framework; given the basic similarities with the Songs in other respects, it seems likely that a similar framework may be in view here—seven heavenly realms, each with a pair of “Princes” who govern it. Songs 6 and 8 have precisely the same format; in Song 6 the praises/blessings are uttered by seven “chief Princes”, while in Song 8 the praise comes from seven corresponding Princes who are identified specifically as priests (of the interior) and called “wondrous second Princes”. The distinction with the first group of seven is not entirely clear, but it may reflect the Priest-Ruler dual leadership emphasized in the Qumran texts.

Song 7 is the center-point, and we are fortunate that at least two substantial sections have been preserved. The first of these (4Q403 fr. 1 col. i.30-47 = 4Q404 3-5 + 4Q405 4-5, 6) contains the opening of the Song and a two-fold invocation: (1) to all the “holy ones” in the heavens (lines 31-40), and (2) to those beings which make up the heavenly ‘Temple’ (41-47). These “holy ones” are also called spirits— “spirits of understanding” (line 37) and “spirits of righteousness (line 38). Moreover, the living beings which form the heavenly Temple and sanctuary are also “spirits” (of perfect knowledge and light). As noted above, the spirits in the sanctuary would have been considered especially holy, and this seems to be expressed in lines 44ff; here I cite Davila’s reconstruction of the text (p. 124) in translation:

“Most hol[y spi]rits, living divinities, [ete]rnal holy spirits above all the hol[y ones… of wonder, wonderful of effulgence and ornament. And wondrous is the God of gl]ory in the light of perfect light(!) of knowle[dge] […in all wondrous sanctuaries. The spirits of God surround the dwelling of the K]in[g of faithfulness and righteousness. All] [its walls…in the holy of holies…”

In the separate fragment 4Q403 fr. 1 col. ii.1-17 (+ 4Q404 fr. 6), we seem to have a clearer sense of the structure of the heavenly Temple, consisting of seven exalted holy places (line 11, cf. above), along with a ‘tabernacle’ (dwelling) of the “exalted chief” that apparently stands as separate “holy place” before the entrance to the inner chamber (holy of holies). All throughout this space, and especially in and around the inner sanctuary, there are “holy spirits” —spirits of God, and even those holiest of the holy ones (“spirits of the holy of holies”, line 7f). It would seem that these spirits all appear in bright, fiery colors, drawing their life and energy from the spirit of God Himself. This last point is not entirely clear, but it is suggested by the fascinating wording at the beginning of this fragment: “…complete [i.e. perfect] light, multi-colored(ness) of (the) spirit of the holy of holies”. In any case, they are depicted as colorful flames that surround God’s throne in the inner chamber (line 9f). The spirits of the inner shrine all praise God together (lines 15-16).

Songs 9-13

The final 5 Songs provide a more detailed description of the heavenly Temple and sanctuary, culminating with a liturgical presentation of the praise/worship of God that takes place before His Chariot-Throne (Songs 12-13). The chariot-motif for the throne of God stems primarily from the visions in Ezekiel 1 and 10, as noted above. Throughout in these Songs there continue numerous references to the “spirits” who are the beings that comprise this living sanctuary, and especially those “spirits of the holy of holies” (11Q17 col. iv, etc) who surround the Throne of God. Those spirits who make up the curtain and floor, etc. of the sanctuary are especially glorious—spirits of light in various shapes, wondrous colors, etc. As we move in closer to the very throne of God, the praise of these spirits begins to grow quiet, and we even read of a “spirit of quiet” that emerges among these divine beings. From this quiet blessing (cf. the beginning portions of Song 12), a tumult of praise comes forth again, radiating outward into the entire heavenly realm.

In the concluding Song 13, the focus shifts from praise of God to the (sacrificial) ritual aspect of worship performed by the priests. On the heavenly level, of course, these are holy ones (Angels/spirits) who perform the ritual, but they have their corresponding form among the holy ones (the Qumran Community) on earth. These ministers perform their offerings in purity, with a “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr, 11Q17 col. ix). The holy ones approach God in living garments that correspond with the colorful spirit-beings who form the curtains, etc, of the sanctuary—they have garments “of light of the spirit of the holy of holies” (4Q405 fr. 23 col. ii.8ff). They possess pure colors, with the substance/likeness of the “spirit of glory”.


From this study of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, as well as those texts and passages discussed in Part 1 of this article, it is clear that the Qumran Community had a very distinctive understanding of the “holy spirit”. On the one hand, it continued the concepts and terminology from earlier Old Testament and Jewish tradition, emphasizing the cleansing aspect of God’s Spirit, along with the close association with wisdom and spirit-inspired leadership. There were two main aspects to the role of the Spirit in the leadership of the Community—focusing on the priestly character of the Community, and the continuation of the inspiration of Scripture (the Torah and Prophets) through the inspired teaching/interpretation that took place within the Community.

However, in terms of the specific expression “holy spirit” (or “spirit of holiness”), the Qumran texts understand (and express) this almost entirely in terms of the holiness of the Community. The true members of the Community, by  their very nature (as “sons of light”), possess an upright spirit, given to them by God, even prior to joining. Upon entry, they are further cleansed (symbolically and ritually) by God’s holy spirit, and are made completely holy. The need to maintain this holiness and purity was central to life in the Community. Indeed, the Community itself, as representing the faithful ones in Israel, possessed a “holy spirit”. This emphasis on its holy character is best seen in the Community Rule (1QS) 8:20-21ff: it is a “Community of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and comprised completely of “men of holiness” (or “men of complete holiness”), being established, in truth, by God’s own “spirit of holiness”.

I disagree with commentators (e.g., Charlesworth) who claim that the references to the “holy spirit” in the Qumran texts are a precursor to the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. I find little indication of this. Instead, the “spirit of holiness” appears to be one of many different “spirits” who function together to perform God’s will. Of course, all of these spirits are holy—they are among the “holy ones”, as is clear from the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. There is no one “holy spirit”, but many holy spirits—those closest to God being the most holy (“spirit[s] of the holy of holies”, etc).

Thus I would maintain that, for the Qumran Community, there is an interesting example of the “one and the many” with regard to the “holy spirit”. On the one hand, the texts can still speak in traditional terms of the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —that is, His own Spirit that is at work in the world. At the same time, this Spirit is manifest in many different ways and forms, through the different spirits that serve God on His behalf, in relation to His people (the Community). All of these are holy, but when one is emphasizing or focusing on this idea of holiness or purity, specifically, one can speak of a distinct “spirit of holiness” that is present in the Community, and is reflected in the “holy spirit” of the Community itself, along with the “spirits” of its individual members.

It is in the entrance ritual that the Qumran understanding of the “holy spirit” is closest to that of the New Testament and early Christianity. During the water-ritual (par. to Baptism), the “spirit of holiness” cleanses the individual from sin, and the person’s own spirit is thus made holy. The holy person then becomes part of a holy Community. The main difference in early Christianity was that the very Spirit of God comes to dwell within the person (and in the Community). I do not find anything comparable in the Qumran texts. Instead of the person’s own spirit being made holy, the emphasis is on the Spirit of God abiding in their spirit (and uniting with it). There is also, of course, the idea of the Holy Spirit as representing the continuing presence of the exalted Jesus in and among believers; this is thoroughly unique to Christianity, with noting remotely like it in the Qumran texts.

December 9: Revelation 19:9-10

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:9-10

“And he says to me, ‘You must write (this): Happy (are) the (one)s having been called into the marriage supper of the Lamb’. And he says to me, ‘These are the true accounts [i.e. words/sayings] of God’.” (v. 9)

The subject of “he says” is not immediately clear; there is certainly a Messenger present with the seer in v. 10, perhaps to be identified with one of the two mentioned in chapter 18 (v. 1, 21). At the beginning of the book, the seer (John) was commanded to write down the things he would see in the visions (1:11, 19), a command which effectively runs through the letters to the seven cities (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). A closer parallel is found in 14:13, where what he is told to write is a beatitude, likewise beginning “happy (are) the ones…” (maka/rioi oi(…):

    • “Happy (are) the dead, the (one)s dying away in the Lord from now (on).” (14:13)
    • “Happy (are) the (one)s having been called into the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (19:9)

On the beatitude form itself, see my earlier study series on the Beatitudes of Jesus, esp. the introductory article on the contextual and historical background of the form, and the concluding article on the other beatitudes in the New Testament. The context of these beatitudes is fundamentally eschatological—that is, they relate to the blessed state of the righteous in the afterlife (or, in the Age to Come), following the Judgment. In Christian terms, the righteous and faithful ones (believers) will join in the heavenly, divine life, in the presence of the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and God the Father. From the standpoint of the symbolism in the book of Revelation, this refers to the People of God in their heavenly aspect.

In this instance, the blessed life is expressed by the motif of a marriage and its wedding festivities (cf. the previous note). In Jesus’ parable of Matthew 22:1-10, the invitation to a wedding feast serves as a figure for the calling of believers and the proclamation of the Gospel. The meaning is comparable here, only the setting is that of the exalted condition of those believers who have remained faithful. There is actually a blending of images here, since believers represent both the bride and the wedding guests. As it happens, a number of written wedding-feast invitations, that are roughly contemporary, are preserved in the surviving ancient Greek papyri (e.g., P.Fay. 132, P.Oxy. 1579, 3313; Koester, p. 731).

The second declaration by the Angel (“these are the true words/accounts of God”) affirms the promise of salvation and the blessed future life for believers in Christ. Even as God Himself is true (a)lhqino/$, 3:7, 14; 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:2), so also are all His words and promises. This also confirms the inspired character of the visionary message (cf. on verse 10 below). One is reminded of the Johannine emphasis that identifies truth (a)lh/qeia) with the Holy Spirit (Jn 4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 4:6; 5:6).

“And I fell (down) in front of his feet to kiss toward [i.e. worship] him, and he said to me, ‘See (that) you do not (do that)! I am a slave together with you and all your brothers, (all) the (one)s holding the witness of Yeshua; (it is) God (that) you must kiss toward [i.e. worship]. For the witness of Yeshua is the Spirit of profhtei/a.'” (v. 10)

In previous notes, I have mentioned how there is a close relationship between believers and the heavenly beings (i.e. Messengers/Angels), both essentially making up (together) the People of God. This is expressed various ways throughout the book, and is emphasized again here in chapter 19, as exalted believers blend into the heavenly multitude (vv. 1-3, 6-8). The conjunction is also represented by the twenty-four Elders alongside the four Living beings (v. 4f). Perhaps nowhere is this relationship expressed more clearly than here in verse 10, where the Messenger (heavenly being) declares that he is “a slave together with” all human believers. The main thing they have in common is that they hold (vb e&xw) “the witness of Yeshua”. The directive by the Angel that the seer not give homage to (lit. “kiss toward”, i.e. worship) him, is found in other apocalyptic writings (e.g., Ascension of Isaiah 7:21) of the period, and so may have been something a standard traditional detail. It of course reflects the fundamental idea that worship belongs to God alone.

The expression “witness of Yeshua” (h( marturi/a  )Ihsou=) is central to the book of Revelation, which makes extensive use of the nouns marturi/a (9 times), ma/rtu$ (5 times), and the related verb marture/w (4 times)—the verb and noun marturi/a also occur frequently in the Johannine Gospel and Letters. The specific expression “witness of Yeshua” occurs four other times in the book of Revelation (1:2, 9; 12:17; 20:4). The genitival relationship can be understood two ways: either as a subjective genitive, i.e. Jesus is the one witnessing, or an objective genitive, in which case it is a witness about Jesus. Both are entirely valid, and each fits well in the overall outlook of Revelation. However, given the way that the book begins (cf. the initial note on 1:1), the subjective aspect should be given priority. Jesus is the one who gives witness, and believers reproduce Jesus’ own witness, both by word (preaching/proclamation) and example. This is beautifully expressed by the idea of believers following the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4).

The concluding declaration by the Angel states that “the witness of Yeshua is the Spirit of profhtei/a“. The relationship of this statement with the rest of vv. 9-10 is not immediately apparent. Normally, I would translate the noun profhtei/a rather literally as “foretelling”; however, this can be misleading, as it suggests that the word refers merely to predicting the future. Certainly, the visions in the book of Revelation are to be taken as prophetic in that sense (1:1, etc), and yet early Christian use of the Greek word-group is better understood in light of the corresponding Hebrew root abn. A ayb!n`, in the religious sense, functions as a spokesperson for God—i.e., one who speaks on God’s behalf, communicating His word and will to the people. This is fundamentally the significance of a profh/th$ (foreteller, prophet) in early Christianity as well. Such divine communication was considered to inspired by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God and Christ. Here, the statement confirms still further the close relationship between heavenly Messenger (Angel) and believer. Just as the Angel conveys the word and will of God, so also do believers through the Spirit. The basic message both groups convey can be defined as “the witness of Jesus”, and what unites believers (especially those gifted as prophets) with the heavenly beings—as messengers—is the guiding presence and activity of the Spirit. There are relatively few references to the Spirit in the book of Revelation, apart from the letters to the seven congregations in chaps. 2-3 (once in each letter). The seer (John) is said to be “in the Spirit” on several occasions, indicating the inspired and prophetic character of the visions (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10); however, the closest parallel to the statement here is perhaps found at 22:17, in the concluding words of the book.

Some commentators would treat verse 10 as the end of a major section, thus separating it from the remainder of chapter 19. The declaration regarding the prophetic Spirit would certainly fit such a climactic position. However, I do not believe this way of dividing the book is correct; in my view, it is much preferable to retain the integrity of chapter 19 as a distinct unit, a set of three visions similar in structure and theme to those of chapter 14. Indeed, it is the sequence of visions in chaps. 14 and 19, rather than the more elaborate seven-vision cycles, which best encapsulates the traditional early Christian eschatology. This will be discussed further in the next daily note (on vv. 11-16).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png

December 8: Revelation 19:4-8

Revelation 19:1-10, continued

Revelation 19:4-5

“And the twenty-four elder (one)s and the four living (being)s fell (down) and kissed toward [i.e. worshiped] God the (One) sitting upon the ruling-seat, saying: ‘Amen, Hallelu-Yah!’ And a voice came out from the ruling-seat, saying: ‘You must give praise to our God, all His slaves [and] the (one)s fearing Him, the small (one)s and great (one)s (both)!'”

On the significance of the twenty-four Elders and the four Living beings, cf. the earlier notes on 4:1-5 and 4:6-13. In my view, the 24 “elders” (presbu/teroi) represent the People of God, in their heavenly aspect, perhaps alluding to the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel together (see 21:12-14). Their voices come between the two songs of praise by the multitude (cf. below); all they say in response is simply “Amen, Hallelu-Yah!”. The centrality of this scene is confirmed by the fact that these beings surround the throne of God; and it is a second voice, coming from the throne, which calls on the the People to give even greater praise to God. While such a heavenly voice often signifies that it is God Himself speaking, here it more probably refers to a great Messenger (Angel), one associated specifically with the throne.

In verse 2, believers were called “slaves” (dou=loi), as here again in verse 5; in fact, this is a regular label for Christians in the book of Revelation (1:1; 2:20; 7:3; 10:7; 11:18, etc), as also in the New Testament as a whole. It specifically connotes those who are faithful to the witness of Jesus and the proclamation of the Gospel (Paul uses it frequently as a self-designation for himself and other missionaries). The New Testament conception of dou=lo$ does not quite fit our modern idea of slavery, but it also rather inaccurate to translate with the softer term “servant”. While servitude is definitely indicated, here in the book of Revelation, especially, is the important idea of belonging to a master. The seal or branding provides the mark of ownership. Believers belong to God and Jesus (the Lamb), while the wicked (non-believers) belong to the forces of evil (Sea-creature/Dragon/Satan). Here all believers are addressed, collectively—small and great alike, from all backgrounds and segments of society.

Revelation 19:6-8

“And I heard as (though) a voice of a throng (of) many (people), as a voice of many waters, and as a voice of strong thunderings, saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! (For it is) that [our] Lord God the All-mighty ruled as king!
We should be glad and leap (for joy) and give honor to Him,
(in) that the marriage of the Lamb came,
and his woman [i.e. wife/bride] made herself ready (for it),
and it was given to her that she should throw (fine) linen about (her), bright and clean,
for the (fine) linen is the just (thing)s of the holy (one)s!'”

Again, as in vv. 1-3, a “throng of many (people)” (o&xlo$ pollo/$) uttered a song of praise, only now the multitude (of believers) has blended more completely into the heavenly scene, sounding also like “many waters” and “many thunderings”, both expressions characteristic of theophany—the presence and manifestation of God Himself (1:15; 4:5; 6:1; 11:19; 14:2). At the same time, the “many waters” in the vision of chapter 17 were interpreted as the nations and peoples of the earth (vv. 1, 15); this adds to the idea that we are still dealing with a great multitude of believers, the people of God, as in vv. 1-3 (cp. 7:9-10). However, now they speak with a voice that is virtually indistinguishable from the heavenly voice of God.

What the multitude sings is a hymn of praise to God, as in vv. 1-3, again opening with “Hallelu-Yah!”. The focus is on God’s kingship and kingdom, as it has finally been realized over all the nations and kingdoms on earth. The fall of the Great City, and with it the defeat of the nations (vv. 17-21), has demonstrated the ultimate authority of God and His anointed one, the exalted Jesus (the Lamb), over the earth. The verbal tenses throughout vv. 6, 7b-8 are aorist forms, indicating something which has taken place (in the past). However, here they could be understood as ingressive-stative aorists, i.e. that things are entering into a particular state; or, perhaps, as consummative or effective aorists, indicating that a climax has been reached, etc. Certainly, the great Judgment, marking the end of the current Age, makes for a dramatic climax to the visionary narrative. In terms of the narrative, the marriage (ga/mo$) of the Lamb is something that is about to happen. On the language in verse 7, cf. Isaiah 61:10 (Koester, p. 728).

There are numerous layers of meaning and significance to the motif here of marriage and wedding ceremony. To begin with, at the close of chapter 18, as part of a list of daily activities that will come to an end with the fall of the Great City are “the voice of bride-groom and bride”, i.e. wedding festivities and the institution of marriage. While they are gone from the fallen earthly City, they remain in the heavenly City, and, indeed, there is to be a great wedding between the exalted Jesus (the Lamb) and believers (the woman). I have intentionally rendered gunh/ as “woman” rather than “wife”, despite the odd/inappropriate sound this has in English. The main reason is that I feel it is important to retain the connection with the prior woman-figures in chapters 12 and 17-18. In chapter 12, the Woman represented the People of God, especially in her heavenly aspect (Heavenly City); by contrast, the Woman (the prostitute) in chaps. 17-18 represents the forces of evil and wickedness in the world (Earthly City). After the fall of the wicked/earthly Woman, the scene shifts back to the pure/heavenly Woman; and it is this woman, the purified believers in Christ, who are to be married. This sexual imagery was introduced in 14:1-5, and reaches it climax here in chapter 19.

The richness of this motif may be summarized by noting the following strands of tradition which relate to it (cf. Koester, pp. 728-9):

    • The period of betrothal (prior to marriage) during which the bride (as also the bride-groom) was expected to remain faithful; even while living apart during this engagement, bride and groom were required to act in faithfulness, as though they were already married. For believers in Christ, the betrothal-period began with Jesus’ departure to heaven, and continues through the end-time period of distress (qli/yi$). For the author and original audience of the book of Revelation, they were thought to be living in this period, presumably at an early point in the distress. The question was whether the bride (i.e. believers) would remain faithful to Christ, or be led astray under the influence of the wickedness (fornication/prostitution) of the “Great City”.
    • In numerous passages of the Old Testament, God (YHWH) was depicted as a husband with the people Israel as His bride. Cf. Hosea 2:19-20 (and chapters 1-3 as a whole); Isaiah 54:5; 61:10; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2; 3:20; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:8-13. Many Jewish readers and commentators interpreted the Song of Songs along similar lines. The question of faithfulness/fidelity was central to this tradition as well.
    • The eschatological application of marriage imagery (esp. the wedding festivities) to the end-time appearance of God (and/or his Anointed representative) bringing salvation/deliverance for the faithful. The seeds of this line of tradition begin in the Old Testament Prophets (e.g. Isaiah 25:6), and continue in Jewish apocalyptic literature, etc (2 Baruch 29:1-8; 1 Enoch 62:14-15). Jesus utilized this same imagery in his eschatological sayings and parables (Mark 14:25 par; Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29). Of special significance in this regard was the idea of waiting faithfully for the bride-groom’s appearance, which could be readily applied to believers in the end-time period prior to Jesus’ return (Matt 25:1-13). Interestingly, this wedding/marriage imagery does not appear to have been generally applied to Messianic figure-types in contemporary Jewish sources, and may have been a uniquely Christian development.
    • Another Christian tradition is a corollary of the God-as-Husband motif (second item above), so that Jesus is the husband (bride-groom) and the faithful people (of Israel, etc) the bride. There is evidence for this application already in the Gospel tradition (Mark 2:19-20; Matt 19:15; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Gospel of Thomas log. 104; cf. also the contextual setting of John 2:1-11). Admittedly, the motif is not prominent elsewhere in the New Testament, though Paul clearly makes use of it in 2 Cor 11:2 (cf. also Eph 5:28-32). Believers as the “Bride” of Christ became a common-place idea in early Christian writings (e.g. 2 Clement 14:2), and has continued on in Christian tradition to the present.

What is specifically emphasized here in verses 7-8 is how the woman (or “wife”, gunh/) makes herself ready (vb e(toima/zw) for the marriage. This should be understood on two levels: (1) the period of betrothal (cf. above), during which she remains pure and faithful, and (2) preparation for the actual wedding festivities. Both aspects are indicated by the bright and clean (i.e. white) linen garments she is to wear. There is special eschatological (and Messianic) significance to the verb e(toima/zw in the New Testament. This goes back to the association of Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) with the preaching of John the Baptist as one who “prepares the way” for the Messiah (Mk 1:3 par; Lk 1:17, 76). In Luke 9:52, Jesus’ disciples similarly “prepare the way” for him as he begins his journey to Jerusalem (for which there may also be an allusion in Mark 14:12, 15-16 par). Otherwise, the eschatological usage tends to be on God (and/or Jesus) preparing a place in his kingdom for the faithful (Matt 25:34; Luke 17:8; John 14:2-3; 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16). The idea of believers being prepared for the coming of the bride-groom (and the wedding festivities) is certainly central to the parable in Matt 25:1-13.

The motif of pure white (linen) garments is traditional (Ezek 16:10, etc), with white (i.e. shining bright) clothing typical of heavenly beings (Dan 7:9; Matt 17:2; John 20:12; Acts 1:10, etc). It indicates purity and holiness, but also can serve as a sign of honor. Believers are said to wear (or put on) white garments at several points in the book of Revelation (3:4-5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14). In the context of the visions, and according to the traditional imagery, this marks believers’ as belonging to the People of God, in its heavenly aspect. Cf. Koester, p. 314.

In verse 8 it is stated specifically that these bright linen garments are the dikaiw/mata of the holy ones. The plural noun dikaiw/mata would be translated as “things (that are) right”, “things (that are) just”, sometimes more pointedly as “just deeds”, “right actions”, etc. The word is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring only 10 times, half of which are by Paul in Romans (1:32; 2:26; 5:16, 18; 8:4). In the only other occurrence in the book of Revelation (15:4), the dikaiw/mata belong to God or are characteristic of Him. Here the word is best understood in the sense that believers have been faithful to God, in obedience to Him and the witness of Jesus His Anointed.

References marked “Koester” above (and throughout this series) are to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014). This outstanding critical commentary has been especially useful in locating and confirming many related references in Classical and Jewish literature.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2019EschatologyNT_header1a.png