Saturday, May 12, 2012

Psalm 76

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 76.  I’ll post Psalm 76 in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), and I’ll comment on select verses.

To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song of Asaph. In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel.

I enjoyed what the Midrash on the Psalms had to say about why Judah merited to have the kingship: because Judah in Genesis 38 confessed wrong concerning his relationship with Tamar, and the Midrash on the Psalms says that was sufficient to atone for Judah’s sin; because Judah recommended that Joseph be sold rather than killed (Genesis 37:26); because Judah offered to be captive to Joseph in Benjamin’s place so that Benjamin could be permitted to return to his father (Genesis 44:33); and because Judah was the first tribe to go boldly into the Red Sea right after the Exodus, when the other Israelites were hesitant (the Midrash of the Psalms cites Hosea 12:1, which in the KJV is Hosea 11:12).  There are historical-critics who have argued that some of these stories were invented to justify Judah’s exalted status as the home of the Davidic monarchy and the central sanctuary, by arguing that Judah did good things and thus received divine favor.  But the Midrash on the Psalms contends that Judah actually did those things, and so his line really did deserve God’s favor.  Personally, I don’t think that most of these stories depict Judah in an overwhelmingly positive light, but they do present Judah as human, and as one who confessed his mistakes, chose the lesser of two evils, and learned to sacrifice himself for somebody else’s good.

 2 In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.

The Hebrew words translated as “tabernacle” and “dwelling place” can also refer to a lion’s den, as Patrick Miller in the HarperCollins Study Bible documents, citing Psalm 10:9; Amos 3:4; Nahum 2:12; and Song of Songs 4:8.  The idea is that God as a lion (figuratively-speaking) is attacking the aggressive enemies of Israel.  The depiction of God as a lion occurs in many passages of the Hebrew Bible (see, for example, Isaiah 31:4).

 3 There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah.

The phrase that the KJV translates as “arrows of the bow” is literally “flames of the bow”.  What does this mean?  One idea is that the arrows are swift, as a flame.  Another idea is that these are fire-arrows.  You’ve probably seen them in movies: soldiers shooting arrows that have fire at their heads.

 4 Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.

What are the mountains of prey?  One idea is that this verse is saying that the enemies of Israel have slaughtered a lot of prey on mountains, but that God is greater than these feats of terror.  Another idea is that the enemies themselves are the mountains that have slaughtered prey, meaning that the enemies are powerful and intimidating, and yet God is greater than they are.  A third idea is that God is the one who has slaughtered prey, meaning the enemies of Israel, on the mountains.  The third option holds that God is glorious and excellent from (or on) the mountains of prey.

The Septuagint for the verse affirms that God shines forth from the everlasting mountains.  According to Marvin Tate, an earlier Hebrew version had the word ad, which means “prey” (Genesis 49:27; Isaiah 9:5; 33:23; Zephaniah 3:8), and a later hand substituted for that the word tereph, which also means “prey”.  But the translator into Greek had before him a manuscript that had ad, which can mean “prey” but also “ancient” or “everlasting” (Job 20:4; Habakkuk 3:6; Amos 1:11; Psalm 83:18; 92:8).  That, according to Tate, is why the LXX has “everlasting mountains” rather than “mountains of prey”.

 5 The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands.

The idea here, according to Keil-Delitzsch and Tate, is that God has immobilized the hands of Israel’s enemies.  I wonder if it could mean that Israel’s enemies are looking for their hands and cannot find them in the dark land of Sheol, the realm of the dead.  (See here for the argument that Sheol is a place of darkness.)

6 At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.
 7 Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?
 8 Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still,
 9 When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth. Selah.
 10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.

There are numerous ideas about the meaning of this verse, and I will mention only some of them.  The word that the KJV translates as “restrain” most often means “gird”.  Some have argued, however, that the word means “restrain”, for different reasons.  Rashi argues that it means “restrain” because the root appears to relate to restraint in Babylonian Talmud Chullin 18a.  And some modern scholars have compared the root to ancient words (i.e., in Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, and Mishnaic Hebrew), some of which pertain to restraint, and some of which concern lameness (See J.A. Emerton, “A Neglected Solution of a Problem in Psalm LXXVI 11, VT 24, 1974).

Here are some proposals about what Psalm 74:10 is saying:

a.  God’s name will be praised when God defeats the wrath of Israel’s enemies (or when God’s wrath is poured out on Israel’s enemies), and the enemies surviving will thereby be restrained from hurting Israel anymore.  Who praises God?  One suggestion is that Israel’s enemies do so, as the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3 was turned into praise of God.  This is tempting (since I have a degree of sympathy for universalism), but the problem is that a number of Israel’s enemies in Psalm 76 die.  Another idea is that Israel is praising God for delivering her.  A third option is that God gains glory for himself before the nations when he defeats Israel’s enemies.

b.  God was angry at Israel, which now praises God, but now God is girding up what’s left of his wrath to use it against the Gentiles.  (The Targum.)

c.  Those Israelites who survive the wrath of Israel’s enemies will be girded by God with strength so they can defend themselves.  (A view John Gill mentions.)

Some read the Hebrew word for “man” (adam) as “Edom” and the word for “wrath” (chemoth) as “Chamath”.  These were areas.  The idea is that God will cause areas that give Israel trouble, such as Edom and Chamath, to praise God or to be restrained from hostilities. 

The Septuagint understands the verse to mean (according to Brenton’s translation) that “For the inward thought of man shall give thanks to thee: and the memorial of his inward thought shall keep a feast to thee.”  According to Tate, the Septuagint’s Hebrew manuscript probably has chemed (“desire”) rather than chamath and chemoth (“wrath”) and the root for keeping a festival (ch-g) rather than tachgor (“you will gird”).

 11 Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.
 12 He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.

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