Posted by: religionthink | July 27, 2007

Psalm 31: My Bones Waste Away

Psalm 31: My Bones Waste Away

By A. D. Wayman

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel. (Psa 31:9-12)

In the Psalm discussed we see that it can be broken into three distinct sections. The first section tells of a life threatening disease that has overcome the writer and we can deduct that he may be near death. The second section tells how he is abandoned by all his friends and his enemies are telling lies about the writer. Lastly we see in verses 20-25 a prayer of thanksgiving which are commonly found when reading the Psalms.1

In comparing this text to other literature of the ancient Near East we come to perhaps the most commonly used, the “Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar”. This fits properly into context with this Psalm and the reader of this essay is encouraged to read this text in full to understand the many similarities to this Psalm and others. Below is possibly the most relevant verses of the prayer in comparison to the discussed Psalm.

See me O my Lady, accept my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and hear my supplication.
Promise my forgiveness and let thy spirit be appeased.
Pity! For my wretched body which is full of confusion and trouble.
Pity! For my sickened heart which is full of tears and suffering.
Pity! For my wretched intestines (which are full of) confusion and trouble.

Pity! For my afflicted house which mourns bitterly.
Pity! For my feelings which are satiated with tears and suffering.
O exalted Irnini, fierce lion, let thy heart be at rest.
O angry wild ox, let thy spirit be appeased.

Let the favor of thine eyes be upon me.
With thy bright features look faithfully upon me.
Drive away the evil spells of my body (and) let me see thy bright light.

How long, O my Lady, shall my adversaries be looking upon me,
In lying and untruth shall they plan evil against me,

Shall my pursuers and those who exult over me rage against me?
How long, O my Lady, shall the crippled and weak seek me out?
One has made for me long sackcloth; thus I have appeared before thee.

The weak have become strong; but I am weak.
I toss about like flood-water, which an evil wind makes violent.
My heart is flying; it keeps fluttering like a bird of heaven.
I mourn like a dove night and day.

I am beaten down, and so I weep bitterly.
With “Oh” and “Alas” my spirit is distressed.
I – what have I done, O my god and my goddess?
Like one who does not fear my god and my goddess I am treated;
While sickness, headache, loss, and destruction are provided for me;
2

Another text that may be relevant to Psalm 31 comes to us from the East in the Rig Veda Book 8Hymn 18 to Aditya.”. Here the writer asks favors from the deity and in this case deities, for some of the same issues.

Now let the mortal offer prayer to win the unexampled grace
Of these Adityas and their aid to cherish life.
For not an enemy molests the paths which these Adityas tread:
Infallible guards, they strengthen us in happiness.
Now soon may Bhaga, Savitar, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman
Give us the shelter widely spread which we implore.
With Gods come thou whose fostering care none checks, O Goddesss Aditi:
Come, dear to many, with the Lords who guard us well.
For well these Sons of Aditi know to keep enmities aloof,
Unrivalled, giving ample room, they save from woe.
Aditi guard our herd by day, Aditi, free from guile, by night,
Aditi, ever strengthening, save us from grief!
And in the day our hymn is this: May Aditi come nigh to help,
With loving-kindness bring us weal and chase our foes.
And may the Asvins, the divine Pair of Physicians, send us health:
May they remove iniquity and chase our foes.
May Agni bless us with his fires, and Surya warm us pleasantly:
May the pure Wind breathe sweet on us, and chase our foes.
Drive ye disease and strife away, drive ye away malignity:

Adityas, keep us ever far from sore distress.
Remove from us the arrow, keep famine, Adityas! far away:
Keep enmities afar from us, Lords of all wealth!
Now, O Adityas, grant to us the shelter that lets man go free,

Yea, even the sinner from his sin, ye Bounteous Gods
Whatever mortal with the powe r of demons fain would injure us,
May he, impetuous, suffer harm by his own deeds.
May sin o’ertake our human foe, the man who speaketh evil thing,
Him who would cause our misery, whose heart is false.
Gods, ye are with the simple ones, ye know each mortal in your hearts;
Ye, Vasus, well discriminate the false and true.
Fain would we have the sheltering aid of mountains and of water-floods:
Keep far from us iniquity, O Heaven and Earth.
So with auspicious sheltering aid do ye, O Vasus, carry us
Beyond all trouble and distress, borne in your ship.
Adityas, ye Most Mighty Ones, grant to our children and their seed
Extended term of life that they may live long days.
Sacrifice, O Adityas, is your inward monitor: be kind,
For in the bond of kindred we are bound to you.
The Maruts’ high protecting aid, the Asvins, and the God who saves,
Mitra and Varuna for weal we supplicate.
Grant us a home with triple guard, Aryaman, Mitra, Varuna!
Unthreatened, Maruts! meet for praise, and filled with men.
And as we human beings, O Adityas, are akin to death,
Graciously lengthen ye our lives that we may live.3

In the above hymn, written beautifully by a writer possibly from the same time period as the Psalm, we can see that the writer was concerned with the same themes; concerns about heath, protection from evil doers, death, and verses of thanksgiving. Next we come to an interesting text from the Uargit.

The Epic of Kret, interestingly follows the story of the Iliad and may possibly be the bridge between the Iliad and the early Hebrew stories of Abraham and Sarah. In the epic Kret’s wife, who was to merry him, is taken by another king. Kret, in turn, pleads to the head of the Canaanite pantheon god El for justice. El, in his divine mercy, has compassion and tells Kret that he must follow certain rites and sacrifices and then lay siege to the city. Kret follows the god El’s instructions; the wife is given to him and all the promises that El made to Kret are fulfilled. He has seven sons and one daughter.

Kret however, fails to honor the goddess Asherah, wife of El. The goddess in a fit of rage causes a sickness to fall on Kret. His children weep for him and his daughter tries to cure him without success. It is after much drama, and pleading that El has once again compassion. After all mortal healing attempts are exhausted El; after holding council among the gods, after no god steps forward to help, heals and restores Kert to kingship.4 Below is the lamentation of Kret’s daughter, Octivia, and the reply of El the compassionate.

Will the Kind One’s offspring not live on?
Baal’s mountain, father, will weep for you,
Zaphon, the holy stronghold,
the holy stronghold will lament,
the stronghold wide and broad:

‘Is not Kirta El’s son,
an offspring of the Kind and Holy One?’ ”
Baal’s rain for the earth,
and the rain of the Most High for the fields;
for Baal’s rain benefits the earth,
and the rain of the Most High the fields,
benefits the wheat in the furrow,
the spelt in the tilled ground. . . .
The plowmen lifted their heads,
the sowers of grain their backs:
gone was the food from their bins,
gone was the wine from their skins,
gone was the oil from their vats.

“El has heard your speech:
look-you are wise, like El,

like the Bull, the Kind One;
call to Ilisha, the carpenter god,
Ilisha, the carpenter of Baal’s house,
and his wives, the carpenter goddesses. . . .”

He called to Ilisha, the carpenter god,
Ilisha, the carpenter of Baal’s house,
and his wives, the carpenter goddesses.
And El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied:
“Listen, Ilisha, carpenter god,

Ilisha, the carpenter of Baal’s house,
and your wives, the carpenter goddesses:
go up to the height of the building. . . .”

And El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied:
Who among the gods can expel the sickness,
drive out the disease?”
But none of the gods answered him.

He spoke a second, then a third time:
“Who among the gods can expel the sickness,
drive out the disease?”
But none of the gods answered him. .

He spoke a fourth, then a fifth time:
Who among the gods can expel the sickness,
drive out the disease?”
But none of the gods answered him.

He spoke a sixth, then a seventh time:
“Who among the gods can expel the sickness,
drive out the disease?”
But none of the gods answered him.

Then El the Kind, the Compassionate, replied:
My sons, sit down upon your thrones,
upon your princely seats.
I will work magic,
I will bring relief:
I will expel the sickness,
I will drive out the disease.” 5

The rest of the text tells how Kert is restored to power. In passing the story of Abraham’s promise, taking of Sarah by the kings, heavenly council convening, and Psalm 82 all may be relevant for discussion when researching the above text. However, such topics may be better dealt with at grater length in another essay. focusing again on Psalm 31 we can see the common themes presented here and how the different writes used lamentation to provoke the god to act on their behalf.


1. Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

2. Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. “Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar” Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950. pg. 384. Also online at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/humm/Resources/Ane/lamIshtr.html

3. Griffith, Ralph T.H. The Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 18 http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv08018.htm

4. Gordon, Cyrus H. Ugarit and Minoan Crete: The Bearing of Their Texts on the Origins of Western Culture. New York: Norton, 1966. pg 100-101.

5. Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978. p. 71-72

 

This essay was written by the creator of religionthink.com

 

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