Saturday, November 2, 2013

Psalm 132

I have two items for my blog post today on Psalm 132.  To read the Psalm, see here.

1.  Vv 1-7 say (in the King James Version, which is in the public domain): "A Song of degrees. LORD, remember David, and all his afflictions:  How he sware unto the LORD, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob; Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed;  I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids,  Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.  Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood.  We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool."

What I want to focus on in this item is v 6: "Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood."  I encountered at least three interpretations of this verse.

The first interpretation is that David heard about the Ark back when he was living in Bethlehem, which is equated with Ephrathah in such passages as Ruth 1:1-2; 4:11; and Micah 5:2.  During the time of Samuel, the Ark came to be at Kiriath-Jearim, where it stayed for twenty years (I Samuel 7:1-2).  Many interpreters see a reference to this event in the part of Psalm 132:6 that says "we found it in the fields of the wood", for the Hebrew word for "wood" in that verse is ya-ar, and it is apparently in the name Kiriath-Yearim, "city of woods."  Later, after becoming king, David brought the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6).  John MacArthur holds this sort of interpretation.

The second interpretation is that Ephratah in Psalm 132:6 refers to Ephraim, since Ephrati appears to mean an Ephraimite in I Samuel 1:1 and I Kings 11:26.  According to this interpretation, the idea in Psalm 132:6 is that the Ark was in Shiloh, which was in Ephraim, before it came to be in Kiriath-Jearim.

The third interpretation is that of Keil-Delitzsch, and it is that Ephrathah is mentioned in Psalm 132:6 because Kiriath-Jearim was within the district of Ephrathah.  Keil-Delitzsch base this on such passages as I Chronicles 2:19, 50 and 4:4.

Any of these interpretations seems to me to be plausible.

2.  Corrine L. Carvalho had an article in the October 1995 Catholic Biblical Quarterly entitled "Psalm 132: A Methodological Inquiry."  Carvalho's argument is that Psalm 132 concerned Israel's exile and desire for restoration.  Here are a couple of passages of Carvalho's article:

"In these verses the priests wish to be clothed in [tsedek], 'righteousness' (v 9), to which God responds by clothing them in [yesha], 'salvation' (v 16).  The effect of God's entrance into the temple, then, will be not only the renewal of the promise to David but also the restoration of the priesthood to its proper position."
"The only point in Israel's history when both God was not in the temple and, at the same time, the priests were unclothed and silent was during the exile."

Carvalho addresses why Psalm 132 talks about the Ark as a part of Israel's restoration, when the Ark was missing during Israel's post-exilic period.  Carvalho notes that there were different visions of the restored Temple----that some envisioned the restored Temple without the Ark (I think here of Ezekiel and Jeremiah), whereas the post-exilic I Chronicles depicts the pre-exilic Temple with the Ark.  (The idea here seems to be that the Chronicler was revealing his ideas about what the post-exilic Temple should be like in his depiction of the pre-exilic Temple.)  Perhaps Psalm 132 is exilic and reflects a desire that the Ark be a part of Israel's restoration, or the Ark functions symbolically for God's presence in Psalm 132 (and I'm offering my own ideas here, without necessarily reflecting Carvalho).

In any case, I think that an exilic context for Psalm 132 is plausible: that it is hearkening back to the days of David in asking God to grant salvation to Israel, the monarchic seed of David, and the priesthood.  The Psalmist is pointing out David's concern for God's residence in encouraging God to have mercy on David's descendant and those whose family functioned as priests at God's residence.  The Psalmist also hopes that the same thing will happen that occurred under David: that God's presence will come to Jerusalem.

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