Psalm 123

Like the three previous Songs of Ascents [see previous posts on Psalms 120, 121, 122], Psalm 123 opens in the first person singular, meaning that an individual is speaking using “I” or “me.” Also, like Psalms 120 and 121, the psalm does not identify the speaker. In these cases, they are written as expressions of any of the faithful who are personally committed to Yhwh and find themselves on a journey to meet with him. But, like the speakers in the previous psalms, the unnamed speaker of Psalm 123 is addressing a prayer to Yhwh because of a precarious situation. In this case, as vv. 2–3 make clear, the speaker joins with the congregation as one seeking the grace of Yhwh, and about this request, they are desperate.

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So the poet begins: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” As is readily apparent, there is somewhat of an echo here with Ps 121:1–2 both in the lifting of the eyes and in the use of heaven(s).[1] In Psalm 121, the psalmist expressed confidence in lifting the eyes to the mountains because help was coming from Yhwh, who is the maker of heaven and earth. Here the psalmist directs an address to Yhwh in a personal way (“to you”) but then identifies the object of that gaze as the one who sits in the heavens. He is both the one who made the heavens, and he is the one who dwells above mankind in the heavens, perhaps metaphorically speaking. Thus, lifting the eyes is the certain posture of the one who directs his or her attention to Yhwh.[2]

Elsewhere, the Psalter describes Yhwh as the one dwelling in the heavens (among other places, such as 11:4) in Ps 2:4, where the one sitting in the heavens cannot but laugh at those who would dare try to usurp him and his king. But much in the same way that Psalms 1 and 2 laid out a definite relationship between Yhwh and the righteous versus Yhwh and the wicked, so here the speaker does not find a God who scoffs at him, rather, the speaker looks with hopeful expectation at this God.caesarea-051.jpg

The poet further describes what is meant by the lifting of the eyes and the significance of such by making an analogy in v. 2a: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.”

And the psalmist’s point is driven home by a clear use of repetition in the parallelism throughout vv. 1–2. Consider the following (my translation for clarity sake):

To you I lift my eyes.
Like the eyes of servants to the hand
Like the eyes of a maidservant to the hand
Thus our eyes to Yhwh, our God.[3]

The you of “to you” in v. 1 has now been identified as (1) the one who is enthroned in the heavens and (2) Yhwh our God. Yhwh, the covenant God, is both the majestic king of the heavens and the personal God of Israel. As such, the writer pens a request by the people reasonably founded upon their knowledge of Yhwh as the mighty King of heaven and the personal God of his people.

With their God properly identified, the congregation commits to lift their eyes to Yhwh their God “till he has mercy upon us” (v. 2b). They long for grace, and they are confident that Yhwh has the ability and desire to bring it about. They will not turn their eyes until he does it. They desire mercy so intently that the author uses step parallelism (or anadiplosis) once again to focus the reader’s attention upon it. V. 2 ends with the phrase “he has mercy upon us,” and v. 3 begins with the imperative, “Have mercy upon us.” What is more, the imperative is repeated, “Have mercy upon us.”

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But why do they need the grace (or mercy) of Yhwh? According to v. 3b, because “we have had more than enough of contempt.” The people of Yhwh feel satiated with the sins of those with whom they dwell (see also Psalm 120). Although there is not a specific setting that is described here, it seems that the psalm is intended to fit any situation in which the people of God are the object of contempt.

Moreover, 3 of the 4 (Hebrew) words of v. 3b are repeated in v. 4:[4] “Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” The writer echoes a complaint of Asaph in Psalm 73.

While waiting for worship and satisfaction in a peaceful, New Jerusalem (Psalm 122), the people of God ought to continue to lift up their eyes to the one who dwells in the heavens and to ask for his grace.[5] David will reflect on this, as well, in the Psalm 124.

Notes

[1] As such, Pss 121 and 123 form a kind of parenthesis around the center of this third of the Songs of Ascents, namely, Psalm 122. It should be noted that 121:1 uses the yiqtol; 123:1 the qatal.

[2] A good example of this is also seen in Dan 9:3: “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and please for mercy….” The first phrase is not the same, but note how the face is being turned toward the Lord looking for mercy.

[3] Psalm 122 also spoke of “our God” (122:9). These are the only 2 occurrences of this phrase in the Songs of Ascents. It occurs also in Ps 135:2 in the phrase “house of our God,” which only occurs in Ezra-Nehemiah.

[4] With the other being implied (“for”).

[5] Zenger, 468 believes that Pss 123 and 124 form a unit: “Dass JHWH seiner Fürsorgepflicht nachkommt, wird freilich im folgenden Ps 124 feierlich proklamiert. In dieser Hinsicht bilden Ps 123 and Ps 124 eine kompositionelle Einheit.”

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Songs for the Journey Home: The Purpose of the Songs of Ascents

Psalms is a book. As such, it demands to be read like others, especially taking into account context and structure. Although this is often difficult, collections within the larger Psalter demonstrate the benefit and justify the methodology. I say this, because I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the collection of Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), beginning with the larger picture and then perhaps providing some further reflections on individual psalms in later days. So … today you get my purpose statement (albeit with little explanation).

The collection of Songs of Ascents is an eschatological interpretation/application of the Priestly Blessing based upon the psalmists’ hope in Yahweh’s faithfulness to fulfill the Davidic Covenant at Zion.

Put another way: Through the lens of the Priestly Blessing (Num 6:24-26), the Songs of Ascents encourage the faithful to look forward to the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises to David at Zion. They fill out what it means for the Lord to bless, to keep, to be gracious to, and to give peace to His people. They do this by interpreting their past, present, and future in light of God’s intention to bless them through the Son of David at Zion.

The eschatological fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant provides the basis for understanding the journey to Zion that is painted in these psalms not as a simple, historical pilgrimage theme but as a journey toward an idealized/new Zion in the eschaton.

The Royal Son (Psalm 72)

It should go without saying in the church that our identity as Christians comes from our connection to the one whose name we bear—Christ. If we are truly convinced that a believer has a personal relationship with God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then it would behoove us to cultivate that relationship by investing our time in coming to know the one whom we serve. The way we do that is not through some mystic, sweet communion that is highly esoteric but through a consistent, lifelong commitment to learning about Christ. In other words, growing spiritually is paramount to growing in our knowledge of Christ.

This precedes all other efforts, because it is Christ Jesus Himself who has become to us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1Cor 1:30). In fact, before proceeding to tell us how to put off sin and to put on right actions, Paul says that in contrast to the lost, believers “did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph 4:20). What distinguishes us from unbelievers is that we have “learned” Christ. Even more, the large narrative of Scripture points to this One who was involved in creating the world and redeeming the world, whose name is the Son of God. The overwhelming testimony of Scripture as we have it points to the identity of this One in whom we find our new identity as children of God. He is the Messiah; His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So from beginning to end, it’s all about Him—who He is, why He came, etc.

What this means for us, then, is this: if we want to know Christ, then we find Him on the pages of the Scripture that testifies to Him. Paul put it this way (1Cor 15:1–4):

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

For the most part, I think we would all give a hearty, “Amen,” to that. After all, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Too often, however, I think we miss the full impact of what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that the Gospel as it had been revealed to him as an Apostle was none other than the truth of the Old Testament Scriptures. So let me ask you a question: If I were to cut off the final 27 books of the Bible you have before you, could you still lead someone to Christ? Could you give a Gospel presentation from the Old Testament?

You might answer, “Why bother. We have the NT.” Well, you may never have to. However, those who wrote the NT and those in the early church would have none of that. What they understood was that a comprehensive knowledge of Christ came only when He and His work, as well as the believer’s place in the story of the world, were understood in light of the texts that pointed to our Savior.

Like most books of the Old Testament (or “The Gospel According to the Prophets”), Psalms ultimately points us to the Son, the One who was to come and now has. Psalm 72 turns our attention to this King, teaching us about Him, about His kingdom, and ultimately about a proper response to Him.

What we find in Psalm 72 is another passage that points to the One who was to come, the Messiah. In it, the ideal reign of the king is described.[1] We thus see several aspects of this king and his kingdom and the author’s response to these things. Let me bring some of these to our attention.

Justice, Righteousness, and Peace (vv. 1–7)

Solomon begins his prayer for this king by asking the Lord to give the king his justice and righteousness. A good king would be one who led his people by justice and righteousness that is only truly provided by God Himself. That is, a godly ruler will rule as a reflection of the character of God, who is righteous and just.[2]

In Scripture, most kings aren’t like this. Sure, Solomon is given wisdom from the Lord and exemplifies it with the way he ruled the nation (at least for the most part). However, the overarching point of the story of Solomon is to show that he was not the son of David who would be the object of the promises the Lord made to David. In fact, given that we are reading a prayer written by Solomon for the future king reveals that he himself understood that the ideal king ruling over the ideal kingdom had yet to come. He could only hope and pray that one of his sons would be found worthy to rule as that king.

But as we know from Scripture, Solomon’s kingdom was ripped apart immediately after his death. Turmoil continued to ensue until ultimately David’s/Solomon’s kingdom was in shambles and in fact was overthrown and removed from the land. The “son of David” had yet to come.

The book of Psalms reflects this story as well as it is read as a book (see this post and this one). Two quotes by Hutchinson elucidate this point:

[P]raise in the Psalter arises particularly from a circumstance-defying belief that Yahweh’s covenant promises will come to realization – through the arrival of the Davidic king.[3]

[T]here is an eschatological or teleological thrust to the book of Psalms, as signaled right from the start by the introductory and programmatic Ps. 2. … The Psalter insists that the king of Ps. 2 will appear – an absolute supreme and righteous ruler who will be greater than Solomon (Pss. 45; 72), in whom the Abrahamic promises will find fulfilment (72:17b), a ‘horn … for David’ (132:17) whose coming will prove that Yahweh has not renounced his commitment to the Davidic covenant.[4]

Such a rule as depicted in these verses—one characterized by justice/equity for the oppressed, flourishing righteousness, and peace for all—could only be led by one who had been given divine ability to do so. Isaiah’s prophecy about this king reflects this (Isa 11:1–5):

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make decisions by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

Dominion, Worship, and Compassion (vv. 8–14)

V. 8 joins with other important messianic passages in the OT to point unambiguously to a king who would come and would one day enjoy a universal reign. Consider the following verses:

Numbers 24:17–19
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.

Psalm 110:2
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Zechariah 9:9–10
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.

According to vv. 9–11, the response to this king’s rule should be marked by (1) compulsory submission (v. 9), (2) tribute from other kings (v. 10), and (3) worship by kings and all nations (v. 11). Interestingly, though, the reason for this response is given in vv. 12–14: the king’s disposition and beneficent actions toward those in need.[5]

Blessing and A Name (vv. 15–17)

Solomon concludes his prayer by focusing our minds around an important biblical theme—blessing. These verses tie the rule of the king to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Genesis 12:1–3, God called upon Abraham to leave his father’s land and to become the recipient of divine favor and blessing as the Lord made these promises to him:

I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Thus, the following connections between Genesis 12 and Psalm 72 can be made:

  • Abraham’s name would be great, just as the king’s name would be.
  • Abraham would be blessed, just as the psalmist calls upon all to bless the king.
  • All nations would find their blessing in Abraham’s seed, just as all nations would find their blessing in the king.

The Response: Blessing, Name and Glory (vv. 18–19)

Vv. 18–19, while capping off the second book of psalms, plays an important role in bringing this prayer for the king directly into the reader’s life. The proper response, as given by the author, is to bless the Lord.

What I find interesting is how this doxology, which plays an important role in the larger context of the Psalter, also connects to the psalm we just read.

  • Just as the king was to be blessed by all nations, so the psalmist gives a two-fold “blessing” to the Lord.
  • Just as the king’s name would endure forever, so the psalmist proclaim: “Blessed be His glorious name forever.”
  • Just as the king’s kingdom would stretch from sea to sea, so the psalmist prays: “May the whole earth be filled with His glory.”

I believe it’s quite likely that the object of this last request is none other than the king that is described in the psalm. Consider these two passages from Isaiah

6:1–3 – “In the year of King’s Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. … And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’”

11:9 – “They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.”

In this light, this also agrees with the NT conclusion about Christ. The earth will be filled with the glory of God by means of the Son, who bears the name Lord. Consider what Paul says (Phil 2:9–11): “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Without a doubt, these last verses bring the psalm to its rightful end: The son of Solomon, the son of David, the One who was to come, deserves and will receive worship, fear, praise, glory that only God deserves. The conclusion: He is divine, the son of God; He is our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How then do we respond?

  1. By repenting of our rebellion to this king. In Acts 17:30–31, Paul said to a group of unbelieving Gentiles: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
  2. By embracing the Lordship of this king, who came and who is yet to come. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).
  3. By singing the blessing of the psalm to the Lord.

In 1719, Isaac Watts published his Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, which included hymns based on 138 of the 150 psalms. His purpose was to “accommodate the book of Psalms to Christian worship.” Among these hymns was a paraphrase or imitation of the second half of Psalm 72 named “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun.” It’s readily apparent from reading the words of Watts’ hymn that he saw in Psalm 72 a call for the Gospel to extend to the nations. Note how his words reflect this psalm:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!

Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.

With power He vindicates the just,
And treads th’oppressor in the dust:
His worship and His fear shall last
Till hours, and years, and time be past.

The saints shall flourish in His days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from His throne
Shall flow to nations yet unknown.


[1] Although it appears I am just assuming this psalm is messianic, the messianic character will become more apparent throughout these comments.

[2] This is borne out on the seams of the Psalter, as well. Cf. Pss 41:1–2; 89:14; 106:3; 146:3ff.

[3] James Hely Hutchinson, “The Psalm and Praise,” in Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, ed. David Firth and Philip S. Johnston (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 97.

[4] Hutchinson, 97–98.

[5] “The king of Psalm 72 is to exercise it [power] in a direction contrary to the politics of power. He acts on behalf of the powerless, not so as to ingratiate the nobles and the powerful. By ignoring the politics of power, he—remarkably—in turn gains a powerful empire.” Craig C. Broyles, Psalms, 297.

Reading, Interpreting, and Preaching the Psalms – Step 1

Please see this post for the origin and purpose of the process I’m beginning today. Breaking the 10-fold procedure into bite-size chunks, I start with the first one:

1. Read the Hebrew Text

Essentially, become acquainted with the text, specifically its vocabulary and grammar. Since the Psalter was written in Hebrew, it only makes sense that the one who desires to read it competently and faithfully will spend time reading it in its original language, especially if you have gone through the difficult process of learning biblical Hebrew. Why be satisfied with reading poetry in translation when so many nuggets lie clearly before the one who will crack open that Biblia Hebraica purchased with such high hopes of devouring the OT? [Sorry . . . I’m now getting off my soapbox.]

In this early stage of reading, all that was learned in basic Hebrew will feed this step as your knowledge of Hebrew is stretched to learn (1) new forms, (2) vocabulary, and (3) grammatical tendencies of Hebrew poetry. The goal in this step is simply to saturate one’s mind with the text, ideally to the point where you can read through the text with no helps. A mind saturated with the text will more readily be prepared to make the observations on many of the later steps in this exegetical process.

I have recently begun to listen to the Psalter being read in the Hebrew, following along in the text. Although I was somewhat hesitant to do this at first, reasoning that I didn’t want to confuse the written with the oral, I have somewhat changed my mind on this with regard to the Psalter. In the psalms, I believe it provides help in recognizing the phonetic tendencies, i.e. consonance, assonance, other repetitions, etc. I will talk more about this in a later post on parallelism. If you’re interested, here is a resource.

Most students and preachers have a tendency to run quickly through the text by basically reading it along with the English versions. This is certainly not bad, but it surely is not the best. Granted, when one first gets out of basic Hebrew classes in school, he/she is probably not ready to break open the Psalter and read every line with just BDB in hand. This is probably the reason why many well-meaning students become disillusioned with using practically their Hebrew knowledge. However, increased exposure to the text will procure increased competence and decreased discomfort in the language.

So…try it. Psalm 117 would be a great place to start developing your “vocabulary of praise.”

הַֽלְל֣וּ אֶת־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־גּוֹיִ֑ם שַׁ֜בְּח֗וּהוּ כָּל־הָאֻמִּֽים׃
כִּ֥י גָ֨בַ֤ר עָלֵ֙ינוּ׀ חַסְדּ֗וֹ וֶֽאֱמֶת־יְהוָ֥ה לְעוֹלָ֗ם הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

Here are the other steps I will be discussing in later posts:

2. EVALUATE THE VARIANTS

3. DIAGRAM THE TEXT

4. ANALYZE THE PARALLELISM

5. EXAMINE THE PSALM’S COHERENCE

6. COMPARE THE PSALM TO ITS CONTEXT

7. READ THE TEXT CANONICALLY

8. FOLLOW THE TEXT INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT

9. APPLY THE PSALM RESPONSIBLY

10. PRAY THE PSALM

Reading, Interpreting, and Preaching the Psalms – Introduction

In preparation for an exegetical course I recently taught on the Psalter, I decided to present specifically the process I generally follow when approaching a psalm. As it happened, my thoughts ultimately developed into the following 10-step process.

But before presenting these suggestions, I have a couple qualifiers. On the one hand, this procedure assumes that the student has a working knowledge of Hebrew, with the skills to determine forms, to look up words in a standard lexicon, and to employ standard grammars.[1] On the other hand, the basis of this procedure is a text-centered approach that depends less on genre identification and more on the textual clues the author has left for the reader intent on discovering the significance of the psalm.

Today’s post will simply list the steps; later posts will flesh out some of the details with examples.

1. Read the Hebrew Text

2. Evaluate the Variants

3. Diagram the Text

4. Analyze the Parallelism

5. Examine the Psalm’s Coherence

6. Compare the Psalm to Its Context

7. Read the Text Canonically

8. Follow the Text into the New Testament

9. Apply the Psalm Responsibly

10. Pray the Psalm


[1] Many of these specifics are not necessarily covered in these steps, but rather assumed to be the outworking of a basic reading of Hebrew. That is, I don’t add a separate step to analyze the basic grammar (such as parsing of verbs), because I’m assuming that happens as one reads the text. These observations are vital, but I wanted to go beyond a simple rehashing of a basic Hebrew grammar class.

Diethelm Michel: Section 6 – The Perfect in Description of Trouble

This post is a continuation of a series that is working through Diethelm Michel’s Tempora und Satzstellung in den Psalmen [Tenses and Clause Position in the Psalms]. Section 6 of this work, which begins a new section of the book treating the use of the perfect (qatal) in the Psalter, shows how the qatal is used to describe the trouble of the speaker(s) in lament and thanksgiving psalms.

As we transition to this new segment of the book, some of the big questions asked by Michel are concerning (1) how the perfect reports action, (2) the relationship between actions reported in the perfect, (3) how the perfect interacts with the other tenses, and (4) typical translations of the perfect. Michel’s methodology, as in earlier sections, is simply to walk through example passages and make passing, summary statements.

Psalm 79

Michel begins with vv. 1–4:

1 אֱֽלֹהִ֡ים
בָּ֤אוּ
גוֹיִ֙ם׀ בְּֽנַחֲלָתֶ֗ךָ
טִ֭מְּאוּ
אֶת־הֵיכַ֣ל קָדְשֶׁ֑ךָ
שָׂ֖מוּ
אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלִַ֣ם לְעִיִּֽים׃
2 נָֽתְנ֡וּ אֶת־נִבְלַ֬ת עֲבָדֶ֗יךָ
מַ֭אֲכָל לְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם
בְּשַׂ֥ר חֲ֜סִידֶ֗יךָ
לְחַיְתוֹ־אָֽרֶץ׃
3 שָׁפְכ֬וּ דָמָ֙ם׀ כַּמַּ֗יִם
סְֽבִ֨יב֤וֹת יְֽרוּשָׁלִָ֗ם
וְאֵ֣ין קוֹבֵֽר׃
4הָיִ֣ינוּ חֶ֭רְפָּה לִשְׁכֵנֵ֑ינוּ
לַ֥עַג וָ֜קֶ֗לֶס לִסְבִיבוֹתֵֽינוּ׃

One English translation.

In vv. 1–3, five verbal clauses report actions of the enemies, which in v. 4, a verbal clause describes the condition of the ones praying. Structurally of note is that each of these has perfects in first position with no connecting ו. As such, Michel makes the point that these qatal clauses do not report continuous actions. “The enemies have not first devastated the temple [v. 1], then dishonored the corpses [v. 2] and only then spilled their blood [v. 3]. Rather, here events are listed that should persuade Yhwh to intervene, and each of them has its own inherent weight.” The conclusion is that these perfects list definite facts, yet not in the same way that a wayyiqtol chain would.

Regarding translation, Michel states that generally all of these should be translated in the past, except perhaps v. 4. Throughout the section, Michel translates according to context, wrestling with the time element in relationship to the other verbs/action surrounding the perfects. As such, he presents no definite rule for when to translate with past or present.

The description of the trouble is again picked up in v. 7:

כִּ֭י אָכַ֣ל אֶֽת־יַעֲקֹ֑ב
וְֽאֶת־נָוֵ֥הוּ הֵשַֽׁמּוּ׃

For they[1] have devoured Jacob
and laid waste his habitation. (NRSV)

However, here the second half of the verse contains an inversion that is easily explained by the use of chiasm.

Michel’s demonstrates from a number of others passages the same observations as from Psalm 79. Differences arise when accompanied by other tenses (esp. wayyiqtol and yiqtol), but his conclusions seem mostly consistent. One question that he raises is the issue of inversion, which will be treated in a later section/post. However, it would be beneficial to show an example here that is not part of a chiasm:

Psalm 54:5

כִּ֤י זָרִ֙ים׀ קָ֤מוּ עָלַ֗י
וְֽ֭עָרִיצִים בִּקְשׁ֣וּ נַפְשִׁ֑י
לֹ֤א שָׂ֙מוּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים לְנֶגְדָּ֣ם סֶֽלָה׃

For strangers—they have risen up against me;
and tyrants—they have sought my life.
They have not set God before their eyes. Selah.

The perfects describe the actions of the enemies, reporting facts. Yet, in the first half of the verse, a nominal is set before the verb, creating an inversion. Michel’s conclusion is helpful in this regard, namely that in this case, the focus of the sentence lies less on the action then on the characterization of the enemies (hence my translation above to help focus on that). The significance of inversions will be discussed later, especially as they relate to chiastic structures.

Two Observations

  1. What makes me slightly uncomfortable throughout this section (and perhaps through much of Michel’s work) is his reliance upon isolating the use of the tenses in particular genres. Though perhaps completely necessary, I wish his treatment was based more strictly on structural identifiers, such as the placement of the verb. He approaches this in his observations concerning the connection between perfects with the waw or lack thereof. This is a topic taken up in a later section, but I wish it were one addressed from the beginning of the book as foundational for his discussion of the tenses.
  2. Throughout section 6, the reader must recognize that translation of perfect strictly with the English past tense is by no means followed by modern translations and is probably difficult to hold strictly. This highlights an important point that reading the Psalms in translation does not allow the reader to fully appreciate what is being done by the writers.

[1] Michel believes this should be read as a plural along with not a few Hebrew manuscripts as well as Jer 10:25. Cf. the apparatus in BHS.

Tenses and Clause Position in the Psalms: Excursus on Psalm 18 (part 2)

This is a continuation of this post.

Psalm 18:8–16 [Eng 7–15]

8 וַתִּגְעַ֬שׁ וַתִּרְעַ֙שׁ׀ הָאָ֗רֶץ
וּמוֹסְדֵ֣י הָרִ֣ים יִרְגָּ֑זוּ
וַ֜יִּתְגָּֽעֲשׁ֗וּ כִּי־חָ֥רָה לֽוֹ׃
9 עָ֨לָ֤ה עָשָׁ֙ן׀ בְּאַפּ֗וֹ
וְאֵשׁ־מִפִּ֥יו תֹּאכֵ֑ל
גֶּ֜חָלִ֗ים בָּעֲר֥וּ מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
10 וַיֵּ֣ט שָׁ֭מַיִם וַיֵּרַ֑ד
וַ֜עֲרָפֶ֗ל תַּ֣חַת רַגְלָֽיו׃
11 וַיִּרְכַּ֣ב עַל־כְּ֭רוּב וַיָּעֹ֑ף
וַ֜יֵּ֗דֶא
עַל־כַּנְפֵי־רֽוּחַ׃
12 יָ֤שֶׁת חֹ֙שֶׁךְ׀ סִתְר֗וֹ סְבִֽיבוֹתָ֥יו סֻכָּת֑וֹ
חֶשְׁכַת־מַ֗֜יִם עָבֵ֥י שְׁחָקִֽים׃
13 מִנֹּ֗גַהּ נֶ֫גְדּ֥וֹ עָבָ֥יו עָבְר֑וּ
בָּ֜רָ֗ד וְגַֽחֲלֵי־אֵֽשׁ׃
14 וַיַּרְעֵ֬ם בַּשָּׁמַ֙יִם׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה
וְ֭עֶלְיוֹן יִתֵּ֣ן קֹל֑וֹ בָּ֜רָ֗ד וְגַֽחֲלֵי־אֵֽשׁ׃
15 וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח חִ֭צָּיו וַיְפִיצֵ֑ם
וּבְרָקִ֥ים רָ֜ב וַיְהֻמֵּֽם׃
16 וַיֵּ֤רָא֙וּ׀ אֲפִ֥יקֵי מַ֗יִם
וַֽיִּגָּלוּ֘
מוֹסְד֪וֹת תֵּ֫בֵ֥ל
מִגַּעֲרָ֣תְךָ֣ יְהוָ֑ה
מִ֜נִּשְׁמַ֗ת ר֣וּחַ אַפֶּֽךָ׃

For a possible English translation, consider the ESV. But note that the English versions are 1 verse behind the Hebrew.

For the first time in the psalm, the tense switches to the wayyiqtol [marked in red throughout], which is the dominate tense in these verses. Other tenses are interspersed within, but clearly these verses consist of a wayyiqtol chain narrating a complex of continuous actions which Michel describes as a defeat of the Chaos flood by means of creation. His point is that the author describes his salvation in terms of figurative language. Since there are no personal references, the point could be made that the author describes past actions of Yhwh—namely, his subduing of His enemies—in terms of a theophany, language used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Only after describing these past events, does the author apply these to his own situation (see below on vv. 17ff.)

One verb that causes difficulty is the imperfect at the start of v. 12. Michel uses this instance to bolster his thesis that there is virtually no difference between the imperfect and imperfect consecutive. Since 2 Samuel 22:12 as well as two Hebrew manuscripts (according to the apparatus in BHS), one might suppose that it should be taken as the wayyiqtol. This would certainly make sense in the passage, as it does in 2 Samuel. If the text is allowed to remain as in MT, it causes issues for the way I’m viewing the imperfect. Structurally, being at the head of the clause, it might be considered volitional. However, we must admit that there are a variety of uses of the imperfect (as Nicacci points out in his helpful article: “An Integrated Verb System for Biblical Hebrew Prose and Poetry,” pp. 114-119). Left as the imperfect, I think a conditional use would be most appropriate for vv. 12-13: “Though he makes [or would make] darkness his covering . . . out of the brightness broke . . . hailstones and coals of fire.”

Psalm 18:17–21 [Eng 16–19]

17 יִשְׁלַ֣ח מִ֭מָּרוֹם יִקָּחֵ֑נִי
יַֽ֜מְשֵׁ֗נִי
מִמַּ֥יִם רַבִּֽים׃
18 יַצִּילֵ֗נִי מֵאֹיְבִ֥י עָ֑ז
וּ֜מִשֹּׂנְאַ֗י כִּֽי־אָמְצ֥וּ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃
19 יְקַדְּמ֥וּנִי בְיוֹם־אֵידִ֑י
וַֽיְהִי
־יְהוָ֖ה לְמִשְׁעָ֣ן לִֽי׃
20 וַיּוֹצִיאֵ֥נִי לַמֶּרְחָ֑ב
יְ֜חַלְּצֵ֗נִי
כִּ֨י חָ֥פֵֽץ בִּֽי׃
21 יִגְמְלֵ֣נִי יְהוָ֣ה כְּצִדְקִ֑י
כְּבֹ֥ר יָ֜דַ֗י יָשִׁ֥יב לִֽי׃

English Translation: Psalm 18:16-20.

What I find intriguing about these five verses is how the author moves almost exclusively to the imperfect. Eight of the nine yiqtols here are found in first position, and the ninth is set in a chiasm parallel to the eighth. So I would conclude that here again (in probably all of these uses), the author has used the imperfect volitionally. He continues the request of v. 7, yet now makes this series of requests based on the past work of God narrated in vv. 8–16. Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why there would be a need to shift so heavily to the imperfect.

An alternate way of understanding v. 19, which I think is helpful, would be to set this verse in the framework of Michel’s section 2. In this sense, the wayyiqtols in vv. 19b, 20a may be seen as results of the imperfect at the head of v. 19 with the translation: “Every time they would confront me . . . Yhwh was my support and brought me out ….”

In favor of accepting most of these yiqtols as volition (in my opinion) is the connection between vv. 21 and 25. In v. 21, the speaker uses the imperfect to ask Yhwh to reward and recompense him according to his righteousness and clean hands, respectively.[1] In v. 25, on the other hand, the speaker uses the wayyiqtol to state that Yhwh has recompensed him, again because of righteousness and clean hands. If Michel is correct and v. 21 simply states facts of the past, like the wayyiqtol, then the psalmist claims a two-fold recompense from Yhwh. In answering this difficulty, Michel states, “V. 25 is by no means a mere repetition of v. 21, rather it places the statements, which v. 21 has merely reported, in a definite context.” Rather, I would explain this as a request (v. 21) answered by Yhwh (v. 25).

The two perfects that occur (vv. 18b, 20b) are found in כי clauses and present no difficulty.


[1] This assumes a volitional reading and that both are intended as volitional because of the chiasm.