In Psalm 144, there are two parts. Vv 1-11 concern deliverance from battle, and v 10 affirms that God “giveth salvation unto kings: who delivereth David his servant from the hurtful sword” (KJV). Vv 12-15 are about prosperity.
There has been scholarly speculation that these two sections were
originally separate Psalms, and that they were later combined into one.
Maybe that’s true. It does appear that vv 1-11 are about one topic,
whereas vv 12-15 are about another topic. And yet, I do believe
that the theme of prosperity is connected with the theme of deliverance
from foreign enemies in Psalm 144, for, when God delivers Israel from
her foreign enemies, that allows her to have the space to have
prosperity. She is no longer busy fighting wars, and she does not have
to worry about foreign oppressors taking the fruit of her labor.
I read Shalom E. Holtz’s “The thematic unity of Psalm cxliv in light of Mesopotamian royal ideology,” which was in Vetus Testamentum
58 no. 3 (2008). Holtz notes that, in Mesopotamian texts, the king is
the warrior and also the provider, but these themes are usually in
“unified compositions” rather than two separate sections, as is the case
in Psalm 144. Holtz speculates that an Israelite Psalmist who
was familiar with ancient Near Eastern conventions may have joined
together two Psalms—-one about victory in battle, and one about
prosperity—-to convey the message that the king of Israel, like
Mesopotamian kings, was both warrior and provider.
But there is a problem. Holtz and others have stated that Psalm 144
has Late Biblical Hebrew. For example, we see in Psalm 144 the particle
sh- and the word zan, which are characteristic of Late Biblical Hebrew. The
post-exilic period, which is when Late Biblical Hebrew was prominent,
did not have a Davidic monarch. How would a Psalm about a king bringing
Israel victory in battle and prosperity be relevant in this time?
Holtz presents some ideas: that the Psalm was originally pre-exilic and
was updated in post-exilic times to reflect Late Biblical Hebrew and to
give a royal Psalm a more general relevance, or that Psalm 144 was
pertinent to post-exilic times because there was hope that the House of
David would be restored. Leslie Allen says that we see in Psalm 144 a
royal Psalm that was later used in post-exilic times to express
post-exilic Israel’s dependance on God while surrounded by foreign
countries. Allen does not believe there is Messianism in Psalm
144, but that Psalm 144 reflects the sort of notion that is in Isaiah
55:3-5: that God’s promises to David now apply to the Israelite
community as a whole.
I can see Allen’s point. While v 10 does mention kings and
David, that does not necessarily mean that Psalm 144 is pre-exilic, for
it could just be referring to David as an example of one who received
God’s deliverance, the message being that, just as God delivered David,
so God will deliver us as we are beset by our enemies.
I’d like to note one more thing. As I look at Brenton’s translation
of the Septuagint (and the LXX itself), it seems that the Septuagint
understands the prosperity section of Psalm 144 differently from how the
Masoretic understands it. The MT of v 12 appears to say that God will
deliver Israel from the strange children, and that, as a result of that,
Israel will have prosperity. The LXX of v 12, however, seems to be
saying that the strange children are the ones with the prosperity.
Brenton translates the LXX of v 15 to say: “Men bless the people to whom
this lot belongs, but blessed is the people whose God is the Lord.” The
message of the LXX for Psalm 144 may be that, while Israel’s enemies
are currently prosperous and receive acclaim on account of that, the
truly blessed ones are those who have the LORD as their God, the
community of Israel, whom God would deliver in battle. The LXX applies
Psalm 144 to the David and Goliath story; in that context, Psalm 144
would mean that the Philistines are prosperous and are afflicting
Israel, but God would deliver Israel, and David’s defeat of Goliath
would play a significant role in that salvation.
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