Psalm 144 Translation and comment

For David

Blessings on Yahweh my rock

Who hones my hands for battle

And my fingers for the fray-

My lover and my fastness

My fort and my liberator

My shield in whom I shelter,

Who leaves peoples prostrate before me.


What is a man that he should matter to you, Yahweh

Or a mortal child that you should cherish her?

A man is like a vapour

His life like a shadow that vanishes.


Tilt the dome of the sky and come down Yahweh!

Touch the mountains and make them smolder

Loose your lightning and scatter the enemy,

Send out your arrows and rout them!

Stretch your hand from above and snatch me up,

Rescue me from the rushing waters,

From the grasp of foreigners

Whose mouths speak lies

And whose strength is the strength of deceit!


I will sing a new song to you, my God,

Upon the ten-stringed lyre I will play to you,

Giver of victory to kings

Who saved your servant David from an evil sword.


Snatch me and rescue me from the hand of foreigners

Whose mouths speak lies

And whose strength is the strength of deceit.

May our sons in their youth be like plants full-grown

Our daughters like pillars moulded for a palace.

May our barns be primed with varied produce

And our flocks thrive by thousands and ten thousands in our fields.

May our cattle be heavy with calves.


And may there be nobody breaking in

And nobody forced to flee

And no screams for help in our public squares.

How happy the people with such sanctuary!

How happy the people whose God is Yahweh!

This is a strong composition in spite of, or maybe because its frequent sampling of Psalms 8 and 18. I imagine that the phrases it borrows were so well known that there was no attempt to deceive. The speaker is a leader of some sort. There is no evidence to date the psalm but I imagine it belongs to the post -exilic period, perhaps when the neighbouring nations had designs on the fragile state of the returnees.

Yahweh’s wisdom is given for the skills needed in war, as well as for peace. God gives victory but only through human valour. The psalmist nevertheless wonders why the great God bothers with mortals, using a famous quotation to make this point. The supremely great God is then encouraged to get down into the strife and to make a difference. The original Yahweh was probably a mountain God with a gift for spectacular manifestations. The psalmist wants some of that.

The nature of the enemy is characterised by lies and deceit, which may indicate that the battle is not wholly military but also judicial.

The prayer for fruitfulness, prosperity and peace, includes freedom from enemy raids. The blessings of peace are attributed to God. It might be a suitable prayer for a Ukrainian officer at present.

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