Saturday, January 25, 2014

Psalm 144

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog