Bible blog 2242

The third book of psalms (73-89) translated with comment

PSALM 76

(The hebrew text of this psalm has probably been messed up by scribes at a number of points)

To the choirmaster, to stringed instruments, an Asaph psalm, a song.

God has become known in Judah;

In Israel his name is great;

His pavilion is pitched in Salem;

In Zion, his den.

There he broke the bright arrows

The shield, the sword and the battle.

Oh you are resplendent

Majestic among mountains of prey!

Proud-hearted men were deprived of their spoil;

They drowsed in a dwam;

None of the heroes could find his hands.

At your correction, God of Jacob

Rider and horse fell stunned.

Bringer of fear, who can stand up before you

When your anger awakens?

You made judgement heard from the heavens;

Earth quaked and was quiet,

When God arose to impose his rule:

Justice for the gentle people of the land.

So human anger will give you glory;

You will bind its remains on your belt.

Make your promise to Yahweh your God and perform it.

Let all his troop bring gifts to the God of terror

Who cuts off the breath of barons

And cows the kings of the earth.

LION IN DEN

This is a vigorous assertion of God’s judgement, perhaps his ultimate judgement, of the earth and its people. It uses the story of the defeat of Sennacherib 2nd Kings 19 by a devastating plague attributed to God. The use of the word “den” at the start encourages those who chant this psalm to see him as a powerful animal, probably a lion. The dwelling of God in Israel and Judah is where he/ she reveals his/her godhead, through the events of the exodus, the gift of the Torah, the words of prophets, and the “mighty deeds” against more powerful nations.

Nice-minded scholars have been troubled by the image of God in the midst of mountains of prey, but it seems to me perfectly fitted to the psalmist’s bloodthirsty appreciation of God: a whole army has been destroyed by One who now stands amongst the Assyrian corpses.

“None of the heroes could find his hands” is a splendid taunt at the incapacity of the invading army. The mention of “horse and rider” is a reminiscence of the taunt song of Miriam over the Egyptians at the Red Sea, found in Exodus 15. The verses beginning “Bringer of fear” set out the character of God’s judgement as it has been revealed in the past and will be revealed in the future: God is opposed to the big battalions and the powerful of the earth, and on the side of the poor, the oppressed, and the modest. “Earth quaked and was quiet” – God’s invincible judgement shutting the mouths of the “big noises” of the world- and “justice for the gentle people” – these are both very desirable in Brexit Britain

The couplet beginning, “so human anger” has also confused some scholars. In my view it points out that the evil anger of such as the Assyrians only redounds to God’s glory when he effortlessly defeats them. The admittedly strange line about “the remains” either shows God gathering the “scalps” of his dead opponents, or as adding the terrified remnant of them to his own entourage.

The final quatrain calls on Israel to be faithful to the God who is more to be feared than any mortal.

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