Psalm 70 – Hasten
TEXT (Hebrew text at end)
1. For the leader. Of David. Lehazkir.1
2. Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, to aid me.
3. May those who seek my life be disgraced and abashed; may those who wish me harm fall back in shame.
4. May those who say “Aha! Aha!’’ over me retreat in disgrace.
5. May all who seek You be glad and rejoice in You; may those who are eager for Your deliverance always say, “God be exalted!”
6. As for me, I am lowly and needy; O God, hasten to me. You are my aid and my rescuer; O LORD, do not hold back.2
1. Hebrew uncertain. Term may refer to certain sacrifices, or to confession.
2. That is, “delay.” The root is the same as “back” in verse 3.
Psalm 70 is a call for immediate help. It vividly bespeaks desperation and urgency.
This same text also appears, with minor differences, as Psalm 40:14–18. Furthermore, its appearance here as a separate psalm raises some doubt, as there are indications that it should be read together with Psalm 71 (and in fact some interpret that way). There is no decisive indication, however, that it should not (or did not originally!) stand alone, and even if it was once excerpted from a larger work for liturgical use, at least at some point it was evidently found to be an appropriate unit unto itself. In fact, it does form a carefully structured, complete psalm. I therefore interpret it as such here. (See “Additional Notes,” below, for the arguments for and against combining it with Psalm 71.)
Psalm 70 is compact, yet filled with literary indications of structure. Enclosing the poem are the appropriate terms “Lord,” “aid,” and “hasten.” There are many more repetitions. Cleverly, the poet establishes a broad pattern of repetitions, in each case, the two repetitions appearing on either side of the phrase “turn in reverse,” verse 4 (as pointed out by Schaefer). Before and after it one finds repeated: “hasten,” “Lord,” “God,” “aid,” “seek,” “disgrace,” and “back.” Two other repetitions are not so divided (in the Hebrew): “say” and “Aha.”
In verse 6, there is also one echoing pun (“I am lowly,” ani ‘ani – as in Psalm 69:30) which combines with two other elements to build a final sense of desperation. One is the mentioned triple enclosure, ("Lord, aid, hasten") and the other is the final request that God not delay, this last word thus adding a slight accusation and tone of impatience.
Some of the repetitions serve as particularly sharp comparisons. Those who seek his life “say” mocking words, as opposed to those eager for deliverance, who “say” that God should be exalted (vv. 4, 5). The former fall ‘back” in shame, but God should not hold “back” (vv. 3, 6). One group “seeks” to take a life, whereas the other “seeks” God (vv. 3, 5).
Concern for Others
This is an unrelenting, urgent request. Drama is added, however, by the inclusion in verse 5 of a group that seeks God (a clear contrast to the others previously mentioned). The speaker dramatically returns to himself in the last verse, with the double request, “hasten” and “do not hold back” (i.e., do not delay). The very brevity of the psalm seems to reflect its critical nature. In that light, the inclusion of verse 5, which is not inherently connected, is all the more striking. The reader ponders why the speaker, under so much pressure, nevertheless paused to recall those who seek God. Was it an inherent commitment to community, an established protocol, or even a pragmatic consideration that this buttresses his position by being a member of the deserving community?
* * * * * * *
1. There are multiple meanings to the phrase “retreat” ("may they… retreat in disgrace," v. 4.) The root meaning of the term is “heel.” However, the same word has a derivative meaning “because of.” There are three possible understandings: “retrace their steps,” “turn the other way and run” (“turn on one's heels”), or a double emphasis for the motivation of God’s act (“turn away, owing to and because of [their disgrace]”). All three are possibly implied.
2. There is an ongoing disagreement as to whether Psalm 70 should stand alone or be seen as a unit with Psalm 71. Arguing for independence are the following considerations: the psalms appear separately in the Masoretic text as we have it and in most manuscripts and early translations (including the Septuagint); there is a possible inclusio for Psalm 71 standing alone (“disgrace” and “righteousness”); the split between two sections in Psalm 71 (after verse 13) creates two very even halves by word count if that psalm is independent; the strong independent sense of Psalm 70; and the fact that the opening of Psalm 71 is very similar to another opening of a psalm, Psalm 31.
Arguing for unity is the appearance of these two together in some manuscripts; the much stronger inclusio if the two are a single unit (five terms); an interwoven repetition pattern; the fact that the verses of Psalm 70 are already part of another psalm (40); and a proposed logical explanation of how they came to be split (briefly, that because the last verse of Psalm 70 is the last verse of Psalm
40, a scribe “used to” ending a psalm at this verse ended it so there). I have treated Psalm 70 as independent, but I shall comment further on reading the two together as a unit at the end of the commentary on Psalm 71.
The author of these essays is Rabbi Benjamin Segal, former president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in
Jerusalem 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 email@example.com.
(א) לַמְנַצֵּחַ לְדָוִד לְהַזְכִּיר:
(ב) אֱלֹהִים לְהַצִּילֵנִי יְהֹוָה לְעֶזְרָתִי חוּשָׁה:
(ג) יֵבֹשׁוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשִׁי יִסֹּגוּ אָחוֹר וְיִכָּלְמוּ חֲפֵצֵי רָעָתִי:
(ד) יָשׁוּבוּ עַל עֵקֶב בָּשְׁתָּם הָאֹמְרִים הֶאָח הֶאָח:
(ה) יָשִׂישׂוּ וְיִשְׂמְחוּ בְּךָ כָּל מְבַקְשֶׁיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ תָמִיד יִגְדַּל אֱלֹהִים אֹהֲבֵי יְשׁוּעָתֶךָ:
(ו) וַאֲנִי עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן אֱלֹהִים חוּשָׁה לִּי עֶזְרִי וּמְפַלְטִי אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אַל תְּאַחַר: