The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for January 16th, 2012

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 89 (88)

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 16, 2012


This psalm is, for the most part, a complaint over the apparent failure of the House of David. The poem was composed in a time of political disaster. The House of David seems to be, for the moment, overthrown. The walls and fortifications of Jerusalem have been reduced to ruins. Everywhere is disgrace and shame. The precise period of Jewish history which is reflected in the psalm cannot be determined, but there is less reason for ascribing the poem to the Maccabean, than to the pre-Restoration, post-Exilic period. The Messianic outlook of the psalm is not that of the Maccabean period.

In the misery of the time the psalmist seeks to comfort his people with the thought of Yahweh’s power and His fidelity to His promises. He begins in hymn- like style with the praise of God’s kindness and truth. Sad as the time is, there is still ground for hope. The Lord has promised great things to David, and the things which He has promised must come to pass, for the graciousness and truth of Yahweh are as firm as the heavens (vv. 2-5).

In verses 6-18 the heavens burst forth into a hymn of praise in which the might and the fidelity of Yahweh are extolled. Yahweh is greater than all the angels. There is none like Him in the heavens. By His might He subdued the powers of Chaos, and built up the heavens and the earth. The mountains rejoice at His strength, for His arm only is strong. Yet not by force does He rule: kindness and truth are the stay of His throne. In spite of all, then, Israel must be happy and hopeful, for Yahweh is Israel’s God and King, and the shout of joy at Yahweh’s great festivals is yet known in the land. Once again will the horn of Israel be upraised. ‘Yea,’ answer the people in verse 19, ‘our King whom we look for, our Shield, is the possession of the mighty and faithful God, Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel.’

In verses 20-38 the psalmist reflects at length on the ancient Messianic oracles, and, above all, on the promise of Nathan to David (2 Sam 7). This section of the poem is a poetic paraphrase of the oracle of Nathan. The Davidic Dynasty is depicted as the dynasty to which the Messianic Kingdom is to be entrusted, and that Kingdom is represented chiefly as an external world-power. Its King is the ‘first-born’ and the mightiest of the kings of earth (cf. Ps 2:7; 72:11). So firmly is the Messianic hope attached to the House of David that even the transgression of Davidic kings will not make void the promise made through Nathan to David. Transgressing kings will be punished, but the pact with David will stand firm. What God has once sworn He will not repent of. The Throne of David will be firm as long as sun and moon endure. He that has
sworn is God, and God—’the Witness in heaven’—is true.

In verses 39-46 the psalmist utters his complaint. The present bitterly contrasts with all the glorious fortune that God had promised through Nathan. The King of Israel has been overthrown: Jerusalem is in ruins: the hostile peoples round about show their contempt for the city and the people, and are not rebuked. God has raised the enemies of the House of David aloft, and has gladdened all its foes. The sharp sword of the Davidic king God has turned aside in battle, and the throne of David, which was to stand firm as heaven, God has cast down. The days of Israel’s glory have been shortened, and she is covered with shame.

In verses 47-52 the psalmist prays almost peremptorily for a change in the attitude of God. The life of men is short, and if God does not make haste, the end of Israel will come speedily. Yahweh is reminded urgently, and indeed, as it were, threateningly, of His promises. Surely God will not forget His words—the words which He swore to David! Surely He will not permit the enemies of His people to mock Israel and Israel’s God. Surely He will requite the scorn with which the Gentiles have scorned the Davidic Dynasty !

Verse 53 is the Doxology marking the close of the third book of the Psalms.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, liturgy, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

My Notes on Psalm 89:20, 21-22, 25-26, 27-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 16, 2012

I am here using the Revised Standard Version of the Psalm according to its copyright restrictions: The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

PLEASE NOTE: The RSV does not count Psalm titles as verses, unlike the NAB, for this reason the verse numbering of this and many other Psalms differ between the translations. I’ll be following the verse numbering of the the RSV but include the numbering of the NAB in brackets [].

19 [20]Of old thou didst speak in a vision to thy faithful one, and say: “I have set the crown upon one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.

Verses 1-4 [2-5] of this Psalm are often seen as paralleling verses 19b-27 [20b-28]. Those earlier verses read: I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD, for ever; with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations. For thy steadfast love was established  for ever, thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens. Thou hast said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: `I will establish your descendants  for ever, and build your throne for all generations.'”   Note that the underlined words emphasize the durative aspect of God and his promises. This sets the stage for the rest of the Psalm and connects nicely with the opening words of today’s Responsorial: “Of old thou didst speak…”

Of old thou didst speak in a vision to thy faithful one. The RSV adopts the reading of the minority of Hebrew manuscripts by translating the singular faithful one (לחסידֶך). In most Hebrew manuscripts, and the Greek Septuagint, it is plural faithful ones (Heb. לחסידֶיך.see the NAB translation). Taken in the singular it is usually interpreted as a reference to Nathan (2 Sam 7), to Samuel (1 Sam 21), or to David himself. Taken in the plural it is often said to be referring to Nathan, Samuel, and, sometimes, to Gad. This last prophet is perhaps named because the Chronicler mentions his writings as being one of the sources for his book (1 Chron 29:29). The plural is, however, almost certainly a reference to God’s holy angels (see the reference to “the assembly of the holy ones’ in verses 5 and 7 [6 and 8]). God’s speaking of old is not, then, a reference to the time period of these individuals or to any oracle delivered to them by God, but, rather, to time immemorial; we are being taken back to creation. Recall that this Psalm opened with a celebration of the Mighty Creator God whose faithfulness is firm as the heavens (verse 2 [3]). “In verses 1-4 [2-5], the psalmist points to the never-failing cycle of the heavens-the result of a creation decree-and associates it with the promise to David-also the result of a creation decree” (PSALMS 73-150, by Richard J Clifford S.J., pgs 91-92). Clifford goes on to note that the association will appear again in verses 36-37 [37-38].It is the God of the angelic hosts, the heavenly warriors who is here speaking concerning David.

I have set the crown upon one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. God here begins to speak of what he has done for David. Crown (הנזר = nezer) is an unnecessary emendation of the actual text (עזר = ezer).  The basic meaning of ezer is “to help or aid”, but it was used in several ancient Semitic dialects as a designation for a ruler or leaders, thus the NAB correctly reads: “I have set a leader over the warriors…” (the RNAB reverts back to “crown”).

The term translated here as mighty is גבור, mighty-men.  The word in both its singular and plural forms often designates a warrior or warriors, and since we are in a martial context here, I think the NAB’s warriors is preferable to the more generic the mighty (see verses 18, 21-23 [19, 22-24]) .

I have exalted one chosen from the people. Instead of one chosen the NAB has hero, and the RNAB has youth. This last translation is not impossible since the Hebrew (בחור) can refer to a youth.

Instead of people the NAB has army, keeping with the martial theme. The Greek has people (λαου), but the Hebrew has the much more generic מעם, people, tribe, or troops.As David is head of the armies of Israel

20 [21] I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 [22] so that my hand shall ever abide with him, my arm also shall strengthen him.

I have found David, my servant. The word found (מצאתי) is sometimes used as an equivalent to chosen or elect (e.g., Hosea 9:10; Deut 32:10). Having been chosen (elected) from time immemorial David was in point of time anointed by God with holy oil through his prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16).

God’s hand will abide with David, and His arm shall also strengthen him. God the heavenly ruler/warrior will exercise his strength through David upon the earth. The same mighty hand and strong arm that defeated cosmic enemies (verses 9-13 [10-14]) will be behind the victories of David.

24 [25] My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted.

My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him. See the comments on verse 19 [20] above.

In my name his horn will be exalted. The horn (Heb., קרן. Gr. κέρας) of a bull or other large animal conveys the idea of power and strength, hence its often metaphorical use throughout the Old Testament, e.g., But thou hast exalted my horn like that of the wild ox (Ps 92:10 [11]).

His horn will be exalted. Israel was described earlier in the Psalm as blessed because it exalted in the name of the Lord For thou art the glory of their strength; by thy favor our horn is exalted (see Psalm 89:15-17 [16-18]).  In verse 18 [19] it became clear that these blessings by God upon the people were intimately bound up with what He has done for the king: For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.  In the present verse the focus is squarely upon the king, or, to be more exact, the kingly line.

25 [26] I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.

Builds upon the previous verse by indicating how the king’s horn will be exalted. At the historical level the sea is a reference to the Mediterranean, and the rivers a reference to the Euphrates and Tigris. Broadly speaking, these were the traditional boundaries of David’s empire. He will have control over his enemies. The verse alludes to verses 9-11 [10-12]Thou dost rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, thou stillest them. Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass, thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm.The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine; the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.  The parallel may be taken as hinting at a future, world-wide and, indeed, cosmic rule on the part of the line of David (see Matt 28:18-20; Col 1:15-20).

26 [27] He shall cry to me, `Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 [28] And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.

Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation. Traditional covenant terminology (see verses  28, 34 [29, 35]). For my Father see Psalm 2:7 (also 110:2-3; Isa 49:1).

Rock of my salvation. The title of Rock for God is quite ancient, and is almost certainly based upon military imagery (see especially Ps 144:1-2; also Ps 62:1-8 [2-9]; Ps 94:19-22 [20-23] ). “If one could establish a position on one of the precipitous crags which are so numerous in the mountains of Palestine, one could resist almost any attack” (McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible, art. “Rock”, by John L. McKenzie).  To forget God the Rock is to become subject to enemies (Isa 17:7-11).

I will make him the firstborn. Connects with thou art my Father in the previous verse. Firstborn is a title of inheritance. What David has inherited from God is a lasting dynasty which will endure and be maintained in spite of the sins of his lineage. This is brought out nicely in the parallel structure of the themes of verses 27-37 [28-38}:

A1. God will maintain his love, covenant, and dynasty with the line of David forever (27-29 [28-30]).

B1. God indicates the possibility that the line of David will sin against his commands (30-31 [31-32]).

C. God will punish them if/when this happens (32 [33]).

B2. God will not betray his covenant, love, or promises; he will not lie to David (33-35 [34-36]).

A2. God will maintain the dynasty forever (36-37 [37-38]).

The lamentation with which the Psalm ends indicates that many of the favors bestowed upon the line of David have been taken away (38-45 [39-46]), but the psalmist indicates his confidence that the promises to David endure and will be enjoyed again by the line (46-51 [47-52])

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, liturgy, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Quotes, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

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