Saturday, February 4, 2012

Psalm 62

For my weekly quiet time this week, I'll comment on select verses of Psalm 62. I will use the King James Version, which is in the public domain.

To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, A Psalm of David.

1Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation.

The word translated as "Truly" in this verse is the Hebrew word ach, which can mean "truly" or "only". This word appears six times in Psalm 62----in vv 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 9. Charles Spurgeon called Psalm 62 the "Only Psalm", not because he thought that this was the only Psalm in existence, but because it uses ach a lot, and he interpreted the word in many cases to mean "only" in this Psalm.

Does ach mean "only" in verse 1, or "truly"? If it means "only", then the Psalmist is affirming that he waits only on God for salvation, and that accords with the theme in this Psalm that people should rely on God rather than human beings or wealth. If it means "truly", however, then perhaps the Psalmist is trying to commit himself to wait upon God, amidst his lingering doubts. Marvin Tate says that ach appears so often in this Psalm because the Psalmist is wrestling with doubts amidst his predicament.

The word that the KJV translates as "waiteth" is dumiyah, which means "silence" or "rest". John MacArthur states that the Psalmist is silent before God because he is patient and uncomplaining. Although the Psalmist in Psalm 62 appears mostly to be hopeful (or at least he is trying to be hopeful), however, he does complain some about his enemies (vv 3-4), and he also encourages people in v 8 to pour out their hearts to God, which seems to be expressing one's concerns before God rather than being silent. Perhaps the Psalmist is attempting to arrive at a state of rest and peace, such that he can wait before God in silence. But it's a journey, for he's not entirely arrived at his destination.

2He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved.

The Psalmist may very well be wrestling with doubt, or increasing in his faith as the Psalm progresses. John MacArthur notes that the Psalmist in v 2 says that he will not be "greatly" moved, but, in v 6, he affirms that he shall not be moved, period.

3How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be slain all of you: as a bowing wall shall ye be, and as a tottering fence.

The Hebrew word that the KJV translates as "ye shall be slain" is teratzchu, which (according to my BibleWorks) is a pual, a passive. The Targum goes with this understanding. The Septuagint, some Hebrew versions, and the Ben Naphtali tradition, however, point the word differently (or, in the Greek Septuagint's case, it regards the pointing as different from what the MT has) and believe that it is saying "you shall slay". For the second part of this verse, the KJV has added the words "shall ye be", which means that the Hebrew only has "like an inclined wall, a towering fence". In v 3, the Psalmist is either affirming that the wicked will be slain in a state of instability and insecurity (like an inclined wall, a towering fence), or he is lambasting the wicked for slaying people and making them unstable and insecure.

4They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies: they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah.

In his comments on v 9, Tate says that the Psalmist uses ach because he is surprised about people's futility, for, on the surface, the Psalmist's enemies appear to be good. In my opinion, that insight can apply to v 4 as well: the Psalmist is saying ach ("truly") because he is surprised that people who appear to bless him actually are lying and curse him inwardly. If ach means "only", however, then this verse may mean that the only goal of the Psalmist's enemies is to overthrow him. The Psalmist feels that his enemies are obsessed with causing his downfall, and perhaps he would like to believe that they are his friends and have some good in them, but he concludes that (at least in terms of their relationship to him) they do not.

5My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.

6He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved.

7In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.

I like what scholar David Brand said about God being a rock and a refuge: "Men homeless in an alien universe crave the permanent, something or someone to tie to..."

8Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

9Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.

Here, ach probably means "surely", for I do not think that the Psalmist would say that "only" men are vanity, considering that there are many futile things.

The reason that the KJV sees class distinctions in this verse ("men of low degree" and "men of high degree") is that bene Adam and bene ish, especially when they appear together, can refer to common people and nobility, respectively (see my discussion on Psalm 49:2 here). Although the Septuagint often recognizes that distinction (i.e., in Psalm 49:2), however, it does not in its translation of Psalm 62:9, for it uses the Greek word anthropon for both adam and ish. Either way, the Psalmist recognizes the futility of humanity.

Literally, what the KJV translates as "to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity" reads "in balances to go up, they than vapor together". What this could be saying (according to many scholars) is that human beings altogether are so insubstantial that they "go up" (or fly off) when they are placed on scales. David Brand states that the point is that "There is no substance to man's power, or possession, or achievement", and that "It is only God who gives man 'honor,' 'weight,' 'importance'" (see v 7).

The Psalmist may be despairing that he will receive any help (or any genuine help) from human beings, which is why he trusts only in God (assuming that ach means "only" in vv 2, 6). I heard Christian preachers say that we should pray rather than consulting therapists or seeking advice from our friends. In Spurgeon's Treasury of David, William Struther insightfully remarks that human counsel is futile because people have different motivations, and "what pleaseth one will offend twenty".

But Proverbs presents having a multitude of counselors as a good thing (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), plus David had people who were helping him when he was fleeing from Absalom (i.e., Hushai, Abiathar, Zadok). And yet, David did leave the outcome to God (II Samuel 15:31), perhaps because he recognized that the efforts of him and his allies could fail without God's help.

Should we trust in God alone, or can we receive helpful advice and assistance from human beings as well? I agree with Struther that so many people are telling others to do so many different things, and people contradict each other in the advice that they are offering. But we can still benefit from listening to people's advice and insights, and it is our decision what to do with what we hear. Trusting in God alone for advice is not in itself foolproof, for our conception and interpretation of what God wants is filtered through our biases and subjectivity, as are other people's ideas about the will of God. But I do believe that there is a stability that exists in God----that, even if others cannot help us adequately or do not want to help us, God is there to be our rock. Often, God may bring into our lives people who can help. And I think that God wants for us to try to help others, and for social structures to be in place so that people do not fall through the cracks.

10Trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary thinks this is saying that the vulnerable Psalmist should not feel that his oppressors are invincible, just because they are increasing in wealth. Others maintain that the verse is attempting to dissuade people in general from trusting in wealth, even if they have it, but rather is encouraging them to trust in God. Either way, it's easy for the oppressed to feel that wealth decides issues, and to envy their oppressors for the wealth that they have gained from oppression and robbery. But the Psalm is telling the oppressed not to think this way but rather to trust in God.

11God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.

12Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work.

Vv 11-12 probably mean that God is powerful enough to punish the Psalmist's oppressors and to deliver him, and that God is kind and merciful enough towards the oppressed to want to do so. The Psalmist is drawing strength from the idea that God repays people according to their works.

I like what Matthew Henry says: "If he were not a God of power, there are sinners that would be too great to be punished. And if he were not a God of mercy, there are services that would be too worthless to be rewarded."

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