Psalm 108 – Past Glory as Reassurance and Prayer
TEXT (Hebrew text at end)
1. A song. A psalm. Of David.
2. My heart is firm, O God; I will sing, I will chant with all my glory.1
3. Awake, O harp and lyre! I will wake the dawn.
4. I will praise You among the peoples, O LORD, I will chant of You among the nations;
5. for Your faithfulness is higher than heaven; Your steadfastness, than the sky.
6. Be exalted over heaven, O God, Your glory over all the earth!
7. So that Your loved ones might be rescued, deliver with Your right hand and answer me.
8. God promised in His sanctuary2: 3- “I shall exultingly divide up Shechem, and portion out the
; Valley of Sukkoth
9. Mine is
Gilead and Mine is Manasheh; Ephraim My leading stronghold, My scepter; Judah
is My washbasin; on Moab I throw My shoe. Over Edom Philistia I shout in joy.”-3
11. Who will take me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to
12. For God, You have rejected us. You do not march, God, with our armies.
13. Grant us aid against the foe, for deliverance through man is hopeless.
14. With God we shall do valiantly, and He will trample our foes.
1. This term, kavod, refers to inner being, a term often used when “soul,” nefesh, might have been appropriate; same Hebrew as God’s “glory” in verse 6.
2. Or, “in His holiness.”
3. All of verses 8–10 can also be read as an indirect quote, a promise to the king, with all first-person references to him: “God promised in His sanctuary that I shall, etc.”
, it was considered legitimate for a psalmist to use a word, phrase, metaphor, sentence, or section from elsewhere to create a new psalm. (See Psalm 14, which is reworked in Psalm 53, and Psalms 96 and 105, which together are reworked in I Chronicles 16:23–33.) Psalm 108 is the outstanding example of this phenomenon, combining Psalms 57:6–12 and 60:7–14 into a new unit. Changes in the first section, appropriate to the new context, testify to a purposeful amalgamation. I review here the new psalm by order of its composite sections and then in terms of its new meaning. In the course of my discussion I review some comments I made in interpreting the two original psalms. Israel
First Section (1–6): A New Unity (from Psalm 57:6–12)
Psalm 57 is a very carefully structured psalm, including a refrain, a secondary refrain, and a rhythmic format. In taking only selected verses from that psalm, the poet of Psalm 108 changes several literary signposts that would be irrelevant without the rest of Psalm 57. Hence, for example, “Awake my glory” (57:9), part of the rhythmic format important in the original, is changed to “with all my glory” and appended to the previous verse, thus creating an inclusio of “glory” for the first section of Psalm 108. Similarly, the greater international emphasis of Psalm 108 leads to the revision “higher than heaven” in place of “as high as heaven.” (See below for details.) The new selection (108:1-6) is tightly unified, not only by the inclusio, but also by three repetitions: “chant,” “awake,” and “heaven.” The added title, ‘A song. A psalm,” evidently reflects the new first line, “I will sing, I will chant” (“chant” is the same root as “psalm”).
In terms of the literature of this first section, I recall my earlier comments. (a) Verse 3 is particularly striking. The speaker “wakes” not only his inner self, but also the harp and lyre, giving them lives of their own. This speaker exults in his acts of God-like animation, even using the same term (“glory”) for himself that he later applies to God. The end of the verse can be read in two ways—either “I will wake the dawn” (an incredibly strong metaphor, so translated) or, complementarily, “I will wake at dawn.” (b) Verse 5 splits a well-known phrase, “steadfast faithfulness” (technically two consecutive nouns, a hendiadys). The biblical ear might have understood these two qualities as personified attendants, for gods and dignitaries in pagan literature often had two accompanying assistants. (c) Verses 5 and 6 represent a transition from individual concern to an international realm.
This last point may explain the choice of Psalm 57. Assuming that the new psalmist sought a section of praise to God for his psalm’s opening, this selection has the advantage of a dramatic shift from the individual to the universal scale which serves Psalm 108 well for its overriding purpose (see below).
Second Section (7–14): Terminology and Background (from Psalm 60:7–14)
The second section is quoted almost verbatim from its predecessor. (The one change may also be the result of the time of writing: “Over
Philistia I shout in joy,” in 108 in place of “Shout to Me in joy, O Philistia,” in Psalm 60. Formerly the words related to a living entity called Philistia, whereas Psalm 108 simply recalls an oracle that God once gave.) The selection appropriately leaves a new inclusio for the section, “deliver.” I now review interpretations noted with Psalm 60.
The first three place references – Shechem is a major pre-Israelite city north of
that is associated with various biblical stories. Sukkot is in Jerusalem Transjordan (east of the Jordan River). Gilead is the area further north in Transjordan. All three are noted on Jacob’s return to from Israel Mesopotamia (Gen. 31:21; 33:17, 18). The three are listed here from the center of outward, in the reverse order of Jacob’s trip. Israel
The three tribes – Manasseh and Ephraim (sons of Joseph) are the two tribes that formed the core of the northern part of the
. (Half the tribe of Manasseh, however, settled in Land of Israel Transjordan, and hence it is a geographic parallel to the preceding term, Gilead.) was the leading tribe in the south. After King Solomon, Judah was split between north and south, the descendants of David and Solomon ruling only over the south. Together these tribes, then, symbolically “cover” all of Israel . Israel
The enemies – There are references to three of
’s enemies, Israel to the southeast of Moab to its south, and Jerusalem, Edom Philistia on the southwest coast, in David’s time and before.
Note that the first three references lead from inside
out; the second three, all within Israel , lead toward Israel ; and the third three surround the southern part of Jerusalem . These are all early historical references. All of these territories were under Israelite control only in the time of David and Solomon; David did defeat Israel , and Philistia, Moab (II Sam. 8:1, 2, 13f.). The northern tribes were part of the Davidic kingdom only at that time, so the oracle from God could only refer to the days of the Edom . United Kingdom
In terms of difficult phrases in this section, the “fortified city” (v. 11) is probably a major settlement in
, identified by many with modern Edom . “Washbasin” (v. 10) is a derogatory term, possibly with a physical reference, since the Petra descends into the territory of Moab Dead Sea. “Throw my shoe” (v. 10), also derogatory, is less clear, possibly indicating a place one would throw filthy items or picturing a servant cleaning up after a master.
The New Combined Psalm
The thrust of Psalm 108 might first be appreciated by noting those aspects of the other psalms that it did not borrow. Neither the overwhelming emphasis of Psalm 57 on the individual nor Psalm 60’s bitterness at God for abandoning His people is included.
The request of Psalm 60 was entirely military, that tone set by the opening verses. In seeking to understand how Psalm 108 differs, Radak suggests that Psalm 60 is immediate, but Psalm 108 deals with the future (perhaps messianic). It seems to me that indeed he identified the basic difference, that is, a difference in time reference, although I differ on what the timing of Psalm 108 is. Psalm 108 is not a contemplation on the end of time, but a reflection of the situation faced by the Jews in exile or first returning from exile―the exact time reference of the preceding psalm, 107. It is also of note that the one enemy who is noted outside the oracle,
(v. 11), was still a living enemy and a severely threatening one to the returnees after the first exile. (The other nations in the oracle, like the tribes, had long since ceased to exist.) Edom
Whereas Psalm 107 is reassurance, Psalm 108 is a prayer. Citing God’s long-term commitment and His oracle, noting his temporary abandonment (the exile, reflected in verse 12), but depending on His transcendent power, the speaker prays for the people’s return with God’s help. Such a circumstance is inappropriate to the radical individualism of the start of Psalm 57 and to the recent military debacle cited in Psalm 60. The reused sections become a new psalm.
It seems evident, however, that the psalmist needed not only a prayer, but the reassurance implicit in use of ancient psalms, perhaps known to his audience. In his reuse of texts, the poet presents the reader with sounds that resonate past glory and are therefore, in the end, both reassurance and prayer.
* * * * * *
As reluctant as I am to add a word of comparison, it nevertheless seems to be called for. Both Psalms 57 and 60 are complex and challenging literarily. In choosing to combine these two sections and in deciding not to revise them in light of one another (there are no literary usages that span the two sections), the psalmist may have gained new relevance, but he lost a certain degree of the outstanding poetic quality of his two sources.
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 : 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.
(א) שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד:
(ב) נָכוֹן לִבִּי אֱלֹהִים אָשִׁירָה וַאֲזַמְּרָה אַף כְּבוֹדִי:
(ג) עוּרָה הַנֵּבֶל וְכִנּוֹר אָעִירָה שָּׁחַר:
(ד) אוֹדְךָ בָעַמִּים יְהֹוָה וַאֲזַמֶּרְךָ בַּלְאֻמִּים:
(ה) כִּי גָדוֹל מֵעַל שָׁמַיִם חַסְדֶּךָ וְעַד שְׁחָקִים אֲמִתֶּךָ:
(ו) רוּמָה עַל שָׁמַיִם אֱלֹהִים וְעַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדֶךָ:
(ז) לְמַעַן יֵחָלְצוּן יְדִידֶיךָ הוֹשִׁיעָה יְמִינְךָ וַעֲנֵנִי:
(ח) אֱלֹהִים דִּבֶּר בְּקָדְשׁוֹ אֶעֱלֹזָה אֲחַלְּקָה שְׁכֶם וְעֵמֶק סֻכּוֹת אֲמַדֵּד:
(ט) לִי גִלְעָד לִי מְנַשֶּׁה וְאֶפְרַיִם מָעוֹז רֹאשִׁי יְהוּדָה מְחֹקְקִי:
(י) מוֹאָב סִיר רַחְצִי עַל אֱדוֹם אַשְׁלִיךְ נַעֲלִי עֲלֵי פְלֶשֶׁת אֶתְרוֹעָע:
(יא) מִי יֹבִלֵנִי עִיר מִבְצָר מִי נָחַנִי עַד אֱדוֹם:
(יב) הֲלֹא אֱלֹהִים זְנַחְתָּנוּ וְלֹא תֵצֵא אֱלֹהִים בְּצִבְאֹתֵינוּ:
(יג) הָבָה לָּנוּ עֶזְרָת מִצָּר וְשָׁוְא תְּשׁוּעַת אָדָם:
(יד) בֵּאלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה חָיִל וְהוּא יָבוּס צָרֵינוּ: