Psalm 131

11QPs-a Col VA song of the ascent for David

O Lord, my heart is not proud[i] and my eyes do not show conceit[ii].

I do not delve into things too great or wonderful for me.

Rather I have soothed[iii] and quieted my soul.

My soul is like a toddler[iv] carried[v] by his mother, like a toddler carried by me.

Israel wait expectantly for the Lord now and forever more.

 


[i] Lit. “my heart is not lifted up”

[ii] Lit. “my eyes are not raised”

[iii] שוה is used only 24 times in the OT and with a very wide semantic range of meaning i.e. “to compare, to make level, to smooth, to soothe, to conform.” The broad range of meaning accounts for the many variances in different translations.

[iv] Lit. “as one weaned;” children were weaned in the ANE at around the age of two. John Goldengay suggests that גמל might be better interpreted as not referring “to the actual weaning of a child but to its having come off the breast at the end of a feeding” but such an interpretation itself seems imaginative. Examples we have in Scripture (Ge. 21:8, 1 Sam 1:22, Ho. 1:8, etc…) use this word much as it is used in English thus suggesting a picture of a toddler rather than an infant as suggested by Goldengay.

[v] Lit. “on his mother;” the picture is that of a small child who is content in the arms of his mother. It is more than just being with his mother, but rather being held and comforted by her.

Psalm 129

11QPs-a Col VA song of the ascent

 

“Greatly they have oppressed me since my youth”

Surly Israel will say:

“Greatly they have oppressed me since my youth

but they were not able to prevail over[i] me.”

On my back the wicked[ii] plowed,

they made their furrows long.

 

The Lord is righteous.

He has cut the ropes of the wicked.

They will be shamed and they will retreat,

all those who hate Zion.

They will be like grass on the roof,

which, before it can be pulled, has already withered.

From which the reaper cannot fill his hand with grain[iii]

or the fold of his cloak with sheaves.

Those who pass by do not say,

“a[iv] blessing of the Lord to you,

We will bless you in the name of the Lord.”


[i] The Hebrew is very terse here, lit. “they were not able to me” (לא-יכלו לי)

[ii] The LXX and the 11Qpsa read “wicked” (הרשעים) but the MT reads “the ones plowing”  (חרשים); the difference is minor in Hebrew and could reflect either a misreading or an vorlage. The LXX includes the definite article, but the 11Qpsa does not.

[iii] Lit “cannot fill his hand”

[iv] Some versions read “the blessing” rather than “a blessing”; in Hebrew the “definiteness” of a construct phrase can sometimes be ambiguous because the definite article cannot be attached to a construct noun. In the absence of the particle, determination is made by context alone. Note: it was expected that people would offer a blessing for a good harvest to those they met during the harvest time, to withhold a blessing would have shown contempt or pity.

Psalm 130

11QPs-a Col VA song of the ascent

 

From the depths I call to you Lord.

my Lord[i] hear my voice,

let your ears be attentive to my pleading.

Lord, if you keep a record of iniquity,

who will be able to stand before you[ii], my Lord?

Because with you there is forgiveness,

for this reason you will be feared[iii].

I hope[iv] in the Lord,

My soul hopes in his word.

 

My soul, wait for my Lord[v],

much more than watchmen[vi] wait for the morning!

Israel wait for the Lord,

(because with the Lord there is compassion,

and even more, with him there is redemption[vii]),

and he will redeem Israel from her[viii] iniquity.


[i] ‘my Lord’ is אדוני (Adonai). Will it literally means ‘my Lord(s)’ it is frequently used as representative of יהוה (Yahweh). It is an established Jewish tradition to verbally substitute ‘Adonai’ for ‘Yahweh’ when reading biblical texts that contain the name of God.

[ii] Lit. ‘who will be able to stand’

[iii] We often associate God’s wrath with the fear of God but the psalmist here associates God’s forgiveness as a reason to fear him i.e. there is a sense of awe and wonder that would should feel because of God’s abounding love and forgiveness. Those who have truly begun to understand the magnitude of God’s love for us and the ransom he paid to redeem us, cannot ever again approach God irreverently.

[iv] The words קוה and יחל both have a sense of waiting with hopeful expectation. The meaning is so similar that some translations translate the first word as ‘hope’ and the latter as ‘wait’ while others reverse this. In English we often do not associate ‘waiting’ with ‘hopeful expectation’ but in Hebrew both of these words are inextricably tied to the idea of ‘hopeful expectation.’

[v] The text here follows 11Qpsa. There are some slight differences in this text that suggest different phrasing when compared to the MT. The MT reads ‘קותה נפשי ולדברו הוחלתי נפשי לאדני’ (My soul hopes, and for his word [is] my waiting, my soul for my Lord); the reading is a little difficult and seems to be much smoother in 11Qpswhich reads ‘קותה נפשי לדברו הוחילי נפשי לאדני’ (My soul hopes for his word, wait my soul for my Lord). The lack of the conjunction allows ‘for his word’ to be attach to the prior subject/verb and the change to the imperative allows the following verb to be begin the next phrase, giving each of the three phrases the same verb/subject/object structure.

[vi] The phrase ‘שומרים לבקר’ (watchmen [wait] for the morning] is repeated twice. In Hebrew, repetition is a common way to demonstrate emphasis, much like we use an exclamation point in English. While many translations include the repeated phrase here, repetition is a frequent feature of Hebrew that is commonly not translated into English.

[vii] והרבה עמו פדות, lit. ‘and more with him [is] redemption’

[viii] The pronoun is masculine because nations are typically masculine in Hebrew; however, in English we use feminine pronouns when referring to nations.

Psalm 128

11QPs-a Col VA song of the ascent

 

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,

who walks according to his ways.

It is by the work of your hands that you eat,

and are happy and prosper.[i]

Your wife is like a vine,

producing her fruit[ii] in the privacy[iii] of your home.

Your children are like shoots around an olive tree,

they will gather around your table.

Certainly he will bless the man who fears the Lord

 

The Lord[iv] has blessed[v] you from Zion,

See how Jerusalem has prospered all of the days of your life.

Look at your grandchildren[vi].

Peace on Israel.

 

 


[i] Psalm 127 drives home the point that prosperity and security come from God alone and now the psalmist reminds us that we are to enjoy the fruit of our labor while never forgetting that it is ultimately God who provides.  Knowing that it is God who ultimately provides does not excuse us from our obligation to work for our reward.

[ii] Psalm 127 declares that “the fruit of the belly is his reward” and this imagery is continued here in this verse where the reference to fruit is meant to invoke the image of children.

[iii] The phrase “בירכתי בביתך”   lit. “in the innermost places of your house” carries subtle sexual overtones that are lost in most English translations. The word ‘ירכה’ refers to the innermost recesses when in reference to places and to the loins (or groin) when referring to people. In Ex. 1:5 this is the word used for ‘loins’ in the phrase “these are all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob.”

[iv] The MT reads ‘YHWH’ (יהוה) but 11QPsa reads ‘Adonai’ (אדוני). The MT is likely the original reading and 11QPsa likely reflects the Jewish practice of verbally substituting ‘Adonai’ when reading ‘YHWH.’

[v] The tense is imperfect, but there is a sense of past blessing that continues into the future. This is punctuated by the command that follows “to see” God’s blessing that is already taken place.

[vi] Lit. ‘children of your children’

Psalms 127

11QPSa-col-IVA song of ascent[i] for Solomon

 

If the Lord does not build the house,

those who build it toil in vain.

If the Lord does not protect the city,

its guards watch over it in vain.

In vanity you rise up early and do not rest until it is late,

eating the bread of great toil.

Certainly the Lord gives his beloved sleep[ii].

 

Behold sons[iii] are an inheritance from the Lord;

the fruit of the belly is his reward.

Like arrows in the hand of the mighty warrior

are sons born in one’s youth.

Happy is the man with a full quiver

His sons will not be ashamed when, at the gate[iv], they speak[v] with his enemies.

 


[i] This Psalm is unique in that it is titled as a song of ascent but it doesn’t speak of a pilgrimage. The sense of the ascent in this Psalm may be in reference to ascending the steps of God’s house i.e. the temple built by Solomon. If so the progression of the Psalm begins with the building of God’s house and the protecting of the city and then moves to the building of a man’s house and the protection of his home.

[ii] Some of suggested that this might be better translated as the Lord provides while we sleep but that reading is difficult and it seems the sense being communicated is that we need not be anxious because the Lord will provide for our needs.

[iii] In Hebrew all nouns are masculine or feminine and masculine plural nouns are often used inclusively to refer to groups of mixed gender. In this example, the word בנים (sons) can refer to “sons” or it can refer to “children” i.e. a group of sons and daughters. It is the context alone that allows us to determine the intended meaning of the author. For example, if we read “You are to circumcise your sons on the eighth day,” it would be clear that the meaning referred only to male children. In this case, the meaning of the word is determined based on the context of the last verse. In ancient Israel, women had no legal rights to conduct official business nor were they permitted to fight in war. Because the last verse of this Psalm specifically addresses these roles, it makes it difficult to suggest that this instance had an original gender inclusive understanding. This is why versions like the 1984 NIV, NRSV, NET which almost always translate בנים (sons) as “children” have translated it as “sons” in this verse. It is important to note that lack of a reference to daughters in this verse does not suggest that daughters are any less valuable or any less of an inheritance or reward from God, it is simply not a topic that was addressed in this Psalm.

[iv] The city gate was the place were business and legal matters were conducted.

 
[v] This may be an instance of the rare verb (דבר ii)  meaning “destroy, drive away” rather than the common verb (דבר i) meaning “to speak”

 

Psalm 125

11QPSa-col-IVA song of the ascent

 

Those who trust in the Lord are like the mountain of Zion,

It is not shaken, forever it stands[i].

As[ii] the mountains surround Jerusalem,

the Lord surrounds his people now and forevermore.

The rod[iii] of the wicked will not touch[iv] the inheritance of the righteous

Otherwise the righteous might reach towards iniquity.

The Lord will do good for those who do good and whose hearts’ are upright

But the Lord will lead away those turning[v] to their perversion with all[vi] who act wickedly.

Peace be on Israel.

 


[i] The word picture in Hebrew is of a mountain that sits forever but in English we think of something that endures as standing not sitting.

[ii] The word “as” is not in the Hebrew text but the comparison is implied.

[iii] Or scepter

[iv] Or “rest on”

[v] 11Qpsa   reads “crookedly YHWH will lead away all who act wickedly” (את כל פעלי און עקלקולות יוליכם יהוה).

[vi] 11Qpsa “with all acting wicked” (את כל פעלי און), MT (את פעלי האון).

Psalm 124

11QPSa-col-IVA song of the assent for David

 

If the Lord had not been for us ….

Let Israel say, if the Lord had had not been for us when men rose up against us

our lives would have been swallowed in their burning anger for us.

the flood waters would have overtaken us,

torrents of water would have passed over us.

raging waters would have passed over us

Bless the Lord who did not make us prey for their teeth.

Our souls were like a bird that escaped from the hunters net

The trap was broken and we escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Maker of heaven and earth

Psalm 123

Ps123-11QPSa

a song of David for the accent[i]

 

It is to you that I carry my gaze[ii],

to the one who dwells[iii] in heaven.

As surely the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters,

or the eyes of a servant girl look to the hand of the Lady of the house[iv],

We will direct our eyes to the Lord our God

in anticipation of his favor[v].

Lord be gracious to us, be gracious to us

because we have had our fill of contempt

Our souls cannot bear[vi] any more mockery from the arrogant,

or contempt from the prideful.

 


[i] 11QPSa attributes this Psalm to David “דויד למעלות[שיר ]”

[ii] Lit. “I carry my eyes”

[iii] The construct form of ישבי is grammatically difficult and, while treated as a singular in parallel to “you” from the first part of this verse, is plural in form. It likely reflects a copyist error because the form (היושב) in 11QPSa is grammatically correct.

[iv] Lit. “her Lady,” this is most frequently translated as “her mistress” but “mistress” has become increasingly understood in English as “the other woman” in an adulterous affair which is almost completely opposite in meaning to the word used here.

[v] Lit. “Thus our eyes to the Lord our God until he will show is favor on us.” This is a continuation of the thought begun in the prior verse i.e. as a servant or a maid looks to their employer as the source of their provision, we should eagerly expect that our God will provide for us.

[vi] Lit. “our souls have been greatly filled with it.”

Psalm 122

A song of the Ascent for David

 

Ps122-11Qpsa

11QPSa Col. III. Psalms 121:1-8, 122:1-9, 123-1-2

I was happy when they said to me

“we will go to the house of the Lord.”

Here we stand[i] at the gates of Jerusalem

(Jerusalem, a city built for fellowship[ii])

It was there that the tribes go up

the tribes of the Lord

As a testimony for Israel

they confess the Name of the Lord

There sits the seat of judgment,

the throne of the house of David[iii]

Ask for the peace of Jerusalem

those who love you will be at rest[iv]

There will be peace within your walls[v],

tranquility within your towers

For the sake of my brothers and my friends

I will declare peace in you

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God

I will seek what is good for you

 


[i] Lit. “our feet are standing…”

[ii] The phrase “יְרוּשָׁלִַ֥ם הַבְּנוּיָ֑ה כְּ֜עִ֗יר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה־לָּ֥הּ יַחְדָּֽו” is difficult to interpret. A literal translation would be “Jerusalem was built as a city united to it[self], together.” While a number of translations have understood this to be a physical description of Jerusalem, this does not seem to fit well with the context of this Psalm which seems much more focused on the intangible qualities of this city i.e. as a place that brings joy (vs.1), a place where the tribes of the Lord come and worship (vs. 4), a place of justice and of David’s throne (vs. 5), a place of peace and tranquility (vs. 6-8), a place of goodness (vs. 9). The verb חבר (joined/united) can refer to both people and things and the noun form of חבר means friend. There is a word play in the Psalms Misdrash draws out this relationship, it says this verse is describing a time “when all Israel will be friends” (עוד שהיא עושה כל ישראל חברים).  The LXX translation reads “Jerusalem is built as a city whose fellowship is complete.” Both of these sources suggest that the focus of this verse was much more upon the uniting of the people within Jerusalem’s walls than it was on the physical aspects of the city itself.  The NET translation notes suggest that this is “a reference to Jerusalem’s role as a city where people congregated for religious festivals and other civic occasions” or in other words a place of “fellowship” which seems far more fitting to the context of this Psalm.

[iii] In the MT “seat” is plural but it is singular in the 11Qpsa; unfortunately the singular or plural designation of the seat(s) of judgment cannot be determined in 11Qpsa because the text in near the margin was lost. In its singular form there is a strong picture of Jerusalem as the place where our final king, judge, and Messiah sits on his throne.

[iv] To be at rest (שלה) is used here synonymously with being at peace (שלום). This parallelism is again repeated in the following verse.

[v] The Hebrew word חיל can refer to a stronghold, like a walled city, the army that defends the city, or even the wealth of the city. In this usage, it refers to a place of strength paralleling the reference to the towers which are also a reference to a physical stronghold.

Psalm 121

A song for[i] the assent

 

I gaze towards the hills[ii]

Where does my help come from?

My help is from the Lord

The maker of heaven and earth.

The one who guards you will not let your foot slip,

He never sleeps.

He never sleeps nor slumbers,

The one who guards Israel

The Lord is your guard[iii],

The Lord is your protection at your right hand[iv].

The sun will not harm you by day,

Nor the moon at night.

The Lord will keep you from every evil,

He will guard your soul.

The Lord[v] will watch over you when you come and when you go,

From this moment until forever more.


[i] In the MT, this Psalms stands alone with the title “song for the assent (שיר למעלות)”; the other Psalms in this group all have the title “song of the assent (שיר המעלות).” This variant is not found in the DSS (11QPSa), the LXX, or the Aramaic Targums and so may not be original; however, it is far more likely that an ancient scribe would have corrected this to harmonize it with the remaining Psalms in the group than to change it in a way that makes it makes it different from the others in this group. Because this kind of textual error would be so easily identified, it is much more likely that the MT reading is original and the other texts reflect an emended text.

[ii] lit. “I carry my eyes to the hill”.

[iii] 11QPSa reads “the one who guards Israel will not sleep in the night” or “In the night the Lord is your Guard.” Flint and Ulrich prefer the latter division of the text but the text itself seems to favor the former. The text reads “ולא יישן שומר ישראל בלילה יהוה שמרכה”

Ref: 11QPSa in the DSS digital library (left column, 4th line)

[iv] 11QPSa reads “Your protection (or shade) is over your right hand”

[v] 11QPSa reads “He will watch over you”