Concluding my translation with comment of the third book of Psalms (73-89)
A Maskil for Ethan the Ezrahite
Your lovingkindness Yahweh, will be my song forever;
My mouth will mention your faithfulness to all generations.
For you have said, “Lovingkindness is built to last,”
You have fixed your faithfulness firm in the heavens.
“I have concluded a covenant with my Chosen One,
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
I will set your seed in place forever,
I will rebuild your rule from age to age.”
May the heavens praise your marvels, Yahweh
And the assembly of angels exalt your faithfulness.
For who in the clouds can be compared with Yahweh?
Who in the lineage of the gods is like him?
A God feared in the assembly of angels,
Great and terrible for all gathered round him.
Yahweh God of armies, who is like you?
Mighty Yah, your faithfulness surrounds you!
You rule the swelling of the sea:
When its waves are stormy you still them.
Sea monster Rahab you ripped up like a corpse;
You scattered your enemies with your strong arm.
Yours are the heavens, yours also the earth,
The world and its fulness, you founded them.
The North and the South, you created them;
Tabor and Hermon cry out your name in praise.
Powerful your arm, strong your hand, pre-eminent your right hand!
Justice and right judgement are the basis of your rule;
Lovingkindness and faithfulness go before you.
Blest is the people that knows the joyful shout of worship:
They live, Yahweh, in the light of your face.
They dance in your name all day;
By your justice they are lifted up.
For you are the loveliness of their strength;
In your good pleasure our pride is upheld.
Yes, our Protector belongs to Yahweh
Our King to the Holy One of Israel.
Once you revealed your plan in a vision
To your faithful people you said:
“I have given worth to a warrior;
I have promoted one chosen from the people;
I have discovered David, my slave;
With my holy oil I have anointed him;
Upon him my hand will halt
And my arm will harden him also.
The enemy will not outwit him;
Wicked people will not oppress him.
I will beat down his adversaries before him
And strike dead those who hate him.
My faithful lovingkindness will be with him;
His honour shall be upheld in my name.
I shall set his hand upon the sea
And his right hand upon rivers.
He will cry to me, ‘You are my father
My God and my rescuing rock.’
I will fashion him as my first-born
Supreme among kings of the earth
I will keep my lovingkindness for him forever
And my covenant with him will continue firm.
I will establish his seed for ever
And his dynasty as the days of the heavens.
If his children abandon my Teaching
And do not live by my good laws
If they destroy my statutes
And do not keep my commandments,
Then I will punish their rebellions with the rod
And their loose behaviour with lashes,
But I will not cut off from him my lovingkindness
Or play false with my faithfulness.
I will not break my covenant;
Nor withdraw the words of my lips.
Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness –
How can I lie to David?
His dynasty shall endure for ever
His rule before me like the sun;
Like the moon, it will be fixed forever,
Like the witness in the skies, it stays firm.
But now, yes, you have roughly rejected him
Emptying your anger on your anointed.
You have spurned the covenant with your slave
Defiling his crown in the dust.
You have breached all his bulwarks
You have reduced his strongholds to rubble.
All who pass by, they plunder him,
A figure of fun for his neighbours.
You have raised the right hand of his enemies
Giving them cause to be glad.
Yes, you have turned backwards his sword-blade
And not helped him stand to the battle.
You have put an end to his splendour
And delivered his throne to the dust.
You have cut short the days of his vigour
Enveloping him in shame.
How long, Yahweh? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your fury smoulder like fire?
Remember me! How short the length of my life!
For what futility have you fashioned the family of Adam?
Who can live and not look upon death?
Who can prize his soul from the grip of the grave?
Where Lord is your former lovingkindness
Which you faithfully promised to David?
Remember Lord how they laugh at your slave,
How I hold in my heart all the taunts of the nations
Which your enemies have aimed, Yahweh,
Which they have aimed at the back of your anointed!
Blessed be Yahweh forever! Amen and Amen.
Ethan is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2:6, and seems to be a brother of Heman the Ezrahite of Psalm 88. This Psalm celebrates the Davidic Dynasty and mourns its defeat. It could come from any tricky time in the history of the monarchy, but perhaps the best guess is that it is from the time of the exile in Babylon or after. Unlike most post-exilic writings its focus is the monarchy and not the temple.
The kingship of God’s anointed is derived from the kingship of God which is celebrated in the first section of the psalm: He is almighty and able to determine the obedience of the heavenly court. His power over the sea,which represents chaos, is depicted as the effortless destruction of the sea monster Rahab. It is this ordering power which is transmitted to David, his anointed king.
In Yahweh’s relationship to David the psalmist highlights again and again God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. (If as is fashionable we translate Hebrew chesed as “faithful love” what room is there for mentioning “faithfulness”? I prefer my version)
The monarchy is an expression of God’s love and faithfulness, so much so that the psalmist cannot accept that it has ceased, and upbraids God accordingly: if He is thinking of a restoration in the future, he is urged to remember the shortness of human life. Many may die before they see the Davidic dynasty back in action.
The facts of history as laid out by the psalmist contradict the long speech of God, who celebrates his own faithfulness to David and his descendants. There is no resolution of this contradiction in the psalm; the reader is left with the gap between the promises attributed to Yahweh and the facts of history. As the psalm is very carefully constructed, we can assume that its ambiguity is deliberate. The last lines suggest a scandal: that the taunts of the heathen are aimed at the back of the “anointed”, who is in retreat.