Psalm 75 – Arrogance
Several explanations of terms and metaphors in Psalm 75 are included as the first section of the Commentary.
TEXT (Hebrew text at end)
1. For the leader; al tashheth.1 A psalm. Of Asaph. A song.
2. We praise You, O God; we praise, as Your name is near. They2 recount Your wondrous deeds.
3. “Indeed, I will set a time; it is I who will give judgment uprightly.
4. At the tottering of earth and all its inhabitants, it is I who keeps its pillars firm. Selah.
5. To the boastful I say, 'Do not be boastful'; to the wicked, 'Do not raise a horn!'” 3
6. Do not raise your horns on high4, speaking with arrogant neck,
7. for neither from the east nor the west nor the wilderness5 is (one) raised6;
8. indeed, it is God who gives judgment; He brings down, He raises up.
9. Indeed, there is a cup in the LORD’s hand with foaming wine fully mixed; from this He pours; but its dregs, all the wicked of the earth drink to the last drop.
10. As for me, I will forever declare and sing a hymn to the God of Jacob.
11. “All the horns of the wicked ones I will cut off; but the horns of the righteous one shall rise.”
1. Meaning uncertain.
2. That is, people.
3. The metaphor reflects horned beasts (ram or bull), the raised horn indicating threat or dominance and therefore arrogance. See Commentary.
4. Same root as “rise” and “raise” elsewhere in this psalm.
5. Reading “wilderness” as unconnected to the next word, as found in many manuscripts.
6. Literally, "is there raising."
Arrogance is often viewed a by-product of other problems. For the speaker of Psalm 75, it is the core problem itself.
Following clarification of terms and metaphors, I note three verses with possible multiple implications, then comment on integration of themes (arrogance, split society, and judgment) in Psalm 75, and finally discuss biblical interpretation as found within the psalm.
Terms and Images
The dominant phrase of Psalm 75 is “raising horns” (six uses of the root “rise” or "raise," and four uses of “horns”). The phrase appears in a number of biblical contexts, almost always in poetry. Sometimes specifically associated with rams, it indicates power (and by association, grandeur or glory). Rams' horns are prominent and are the animals' weapons in combat. The image is used to express exerting or granting strength.
God’s “name” (v. 2) indicates His presence, sometimes serving to soften what would be more blatantly anthropomorphic statements. However, such a need must only reflect individual authors’ sensitivities, since it is not used consistently, and occasionally it is simply an alternative way to refer to God.
Biblical cosmology understands the world to be standing on “pillars” (v. 4). Through God’s determination to ensure their stability, Psalm 75, like the one that precedes it, reflects the implied connection between God as creator and God as savior. (The term “keep” in v. 4 is in the biblical perfect mode, spanning past and present, and could be understood as “kept” or “set,” implying creation.)
Although the “cup of the LORD” (v. 9) is used as a biblical metaphor for an instrument of punishment (i.e., a cup of poison, as in Jer. 25:15), this is possibly not the implication here. “God’s cup” when used without a description of the contents more often implies a positive portion (as Buttenwieser pointed out long ago–e.g., Ps. 16:5; 23:5) and once is used as the “cup of salvation” (Ps. 116:13). Therefore the first part of verse 9 might be taken as neutral (He judges) or positive (rewards), but the reference to dregs in the second half certainly applies to the wicked, as translated above, and therefore the first half is probably to be reread as also applying to them as a punishment..
Three Multifaceted Verses
Verse 4 – It is unclear whether the mentioned “tottering” is a condition of the world (as a result of evil), which God comes to make firm, or is a result of His appearance, which requires Him to reassure all that the theophany will not undermine the stable existence of the world. Possibly the poet meant to imply both.
Verse 7 – Here the problem is text. The Hebrew vowels were codified more than a millennium after the consonants, and two traditions are reflected in extant manuscripts. As translated, the last Hebrew word in the text is taken as the infinitive, “to raise” (as a gerund, “raising”). An alternative text probably reads that last word as “mountains,” making verse 9 a sentence without a verb (“Neither from the east, nor the west, nor the wilderness [i.e., the south of
, the desert], nor the mountains [i.e., in the north of Israel ]”), nicely covering the four directions. If that is the case, the subsequent verse would be translated, “but indeed…,” and the verb “give judgment” would also refer back to the four rejected sources of judgment. Israel
Verse 11 – As translated, this is said by God, but according to some interpretations this is the speaker of the poem (possibly a king), expressing his determination to carry out God’s plans. The poet could have implied either (or both!).
Three factors are interwoven into the progression of Psalm 75.
(A) Bifurcation – As so often in Psalms, society is presented in terms of the wicked and the righteous. The act of having a horn raised is not rejected per se. It is, rather, the wicked undertaking to do so for themselves that is rejected. The sharp distinction is most pronounced in the last verse, the tone of the text supplemented by two subtle differenetiations less apparent in English than in Hebrew. First, the wicked are rejected in the plural, whereas the righteous are given a rosy future in the singular. Second, the term for “horns” is ever so slightly different for the two groups, one evidently derived from a doubling form (two horns), the other a standard plural form. These small changes further separate the two groups.
One is also sensitized to this emphasis on bifurcation by reading I Sam. 2:1–10, the prayer of Hannah, which is a psalm-like poem that Hannah utters when praising God for having given her a child. Psalm 75 takes various phrases from this poem, so much so that a derivation may be presumed (or possibly a common third source). In any case, there the phrase “He brings down, He raises up” is understood to refer to her previous barrenness followed by childbirth. Here it applies to the two different groups in society.
(B) Arrogance – The term “arrogant” (v. 6) seems borrowed from Hannah’s prayer, where it makes its only other appearance in the Bible (I Sam. 2:2). A major contention of Psalm 75 is that this is a basic problem of the wicked, namely (to pun the metaphor) that they are tooting their own horn. “Raising a horn” elsewhere in the Bible does not bear this negative implication.
(C) Judgment – God’s statement is that He will appear in good time, and it is clear that at the time of the poem, the boastful are still in ascendance. What is expected is the appearance of God as judge, as stated in verses 3 and 8. These references, in turn, are reinforced by the last verse, for it includes two words, “righteous” and “wicked,” that are also technical terms for the “innocent” and “convicted” parties in court. The psalm looks forward to justice, as so often in Psalms, a statement of faith.
Interpreting the Word of God
Psalm 75 includes at least one oracle from God, beginning with verse 3. (Some commentators continue the oracle as far as through verse 9, God referring to Himself in the third person, but most understand that it ends after verse 5, as translated above). Given our translation, we see here an early instance of a process that was to accompany religion from biblical time onward, namely, the interpretation of God’s word. Here, the oracle is interpreted immediately after it is cited. “Do not raise a horn” is applied to arrogance. The equitable “judgment” is spelled out in differential verdicts. The fate of the “wicked” is depicted. If verse 11 is spoken by man, not God (it could be either, and therefore quite possibly should be read with both in mind), then one has yet another reaction to God’s oracle―a determination by man to carry it out. The psalm, then, is an early, biblical testimony regarding a religious view that it is the human interpretation of God’s word that ultimately guides action.
The author of these essays is Rabbi Benjamin Segal, former president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in
and author of The Song of Songs: A Woman in Love ( Jerusalem : Gefen, 2009). This material is copyright by the author, and may not be reproduced. If you are interested in using the texts for study groups, please be in direct contact with the author, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerusalem
א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ אַל תַּשְׁחֵת מִזְמוֹר לְאָסָף שִׁיר:
(ב) הוֹדִינוּ לְּךָ אֶלֹהִים הוֹדִינוּ וְקָרוֹב שְׁמֶךָ סִפְּרוּ נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ:
(ג) כִּי אֶקַּח מוֹעֵד אֲנִי מֵישָׁרִים אֶשְׁפֹּט:
(ד) נְמֹגִים אֶרֶץ וְכָל יֹשְׁבֶיהָ אָנֹכִי תִכַּנְתִּי עַמּוּדֶיהָ סֶּלָה:
(ה) אָמַרְתִּי לַהוֹלְלִים אַל תָּהֹלּוּ וְלָרְשָׁעִים אַל תָּרִימוּ קָרֶן:
(ו) אַל תָּרִימוּ לַמָּרוֹם קַרְנְכֶם תְּדַבְּרוּ בְצַוָּאר עָתָק:
(ז) כִּי לֹא מִמּוֹצָא וּמִמַּעֲרָב וְלֹא מִמִּדְבַּר הָרִים:
(ח) כִּי אֱלֹהִים שֹׁפֵט זֶה יַשְׁפִּיל וְזֶה יָרִים:
(ט) כִּי כוֹס בְּיַד יְהֹוָה וְיַיִן חָמַר מָלֵא מֶסֶךְ וַיַּגֵּר מִזֶּה אַךְ שְׁמָרֶיהָ יִמְצוּ יִשְׁתּוּ כֹּל רִשְׁעֵי אָרֶץ:
(י) וַאֲנִי אַגִּיד לְעֹלָם אֲזַמְּרָה לֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב:
(יא) וְכָל קַרְנֵי רְשָׁעִים אֲגַדֵּעַ תְּרוֹמַמְנָה קַרְנוֹת צַדִּיק: