This blog brings to an end my project of translating with a brief commentary, the second book of The Psalms, numbers 42-72.
God, give your good judgement to the king,
and your justice to a king’s son!
May he rule your people with justice
and your poor with good judgement;
May the mountains lift up good living for the people
the hills also, as is right.
May he give judgement for the poor of the people,
rescue the children of the needy
and smash their oppressor.
In the light of the sun and the moon
may he continue for all generations;
He will fall like rain on the mown grass
As sweet showers that water the ground.
Justice will spring up in his days
and peace flourish, till the moon wears out.
He will impose his rule from sea to sea
from the River to the margins of the land.
Desert tribes will cower before him
and his enemies lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and the coastlands
will offer tribute to him;
The kings of Sheba and Seba
will approach with gifts.
Yes, all kings will prostrate themselves to him
all nations will be his slaves.
For he rescues the needy when they cry out
the destitute and those who have no helper:
he has compassion for the weak and the needy,
saving the souls of the needy.
From oppression and violence he ransoms them
for their blood is precious in his eyes.
Long life to him!
May Sheban gold be given to him
May ceaseless prayer for him be made
and blessings all the day.
May grain grow lavishly in the land
Waving on the brows of the hills.
May its crop be like Lebanon
and flourish like the grass of the land.
His name shall be for ever;
it shall last as long as the sun.
All nations shall be blessed in him
and call him blessed.
Blessed be Yahweh, Israel’s God
who alone does wonders!
And blessed be his splendid name forever,
May the whole earth be filled with his splendour!
Amen and Amen!
This psalm may, according to the scholars, be one of the most ancient, perhaps composed as early as 1000BCE, expressing the hopes of the people in the Davidic dynasty. We know from the book of Kings that later teachers saw that hope as illusory, because succeeding kings failed to be committed to the Torah of Israel.
Still the enthusiasm expressed here, even alowing for the hyperbole expected in celebrations of royalty, is very distinctive. It’s not unusual in the royal cults of the ancient middle east to find promises of national justice and universal conquest. The unique thing here is that all these glories rest on the king’s ability to give justice to the poor, the needy and the oppressed.
“All nations will be his slaves
FOR he rescues the needy when they cry out….”
The hegemony of this king is based on his bias towards the poor and oppressed.
So yes, this is the government I want, this is the justice for which I will vote; for if a state is determined to rule for the neediest of its citizens, all the others will find their true place. The implication is that anyone who is prepared to rule by God’s equality will attract support across national boundaries.
Unhappily, at present it appears that politicians who support inequality, command such support from so-called populists, across Europe and the Americas. This kind of politics is dear to the news agencies that depend on engaging ignorance and prejudice, which are always in ready supply. The hysteria generated by this journalism can be seen in today’s news of a white man on Ryanair plane telling a black woman to “fuck off because you’re black and ugly.” This is the definitive image of populist politics in Europe.
The psalm hints that true justice is in cahoots with the ecosystem:
“he will fall like rain in the mown grass
as sweet showers that nourish the ground.”
The just government works with the grain of the universe, which is also the bias of God. Those who go against it will fail, bringing catastrophe to the whole earth. The psalm suggests that our “shalom” = peace/ prosperity begins with the humility that makes us allies of the needy.