Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 11: Coals Of Fire And Sulfur.

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to the mountains; for look, the wicked bend the bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind. The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalms 11:1-7 NRSV)

Psalms eleven could be labeled a psalm of trust. In verses 1-3 there are descriptions of hardship and accounts of the wicked prevailing. The writer uses the divine warrior theme and relates how Yahweh will destroy the wicked using coals of fire and sulfur. The theme of divine kingship of the temple and heavenly throne is also used. Within this particular essay we will discuss two important elements. The first theme is the use of fire and other elements raining on the enemies. One such text that bears this relevance is the Akkadian text which scholars date to 2320 B.C. called the Hymnal Prayer of Enheduanna. Also, Ezekiel 38:17-23 may have some relevance here. Also, one could argue the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 may be also worth noting. Another theme is the turning of the deities face. In Mesopotamia it was thought that if a god looked towards the believer then the god was pleased. If however; the deity turned away, then it would represent displeasure. This theme is found throughout the biblical texts. One example of this is found in Psalms 27:9 “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” Outside the Biblical texts we find one, of many examples, in the Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar.

In the Hymnal Prayer of Enheduanna, from Volume II of the book; The Ancient Near East, we find the writer giving adoration to the goddess Inanna. We see written here, in the text to Inanna, the goddess using the elements to take revenge on her enemies. Thunder, fire, drought, floods and winds, according to the writer of this hymn, are at her disposal.

You have filled the land with venom, like a dragon.
Vegetation ceases, when You thunder like Ishkur,
You who bring down the Flood from the mountain,
Supreme One, who are the Inanna of Heaven (and) Earth,
Who rain flaming fire over the land,
Who have been given the me by An,
Queen Who Rides the Beasts,
Who at the holy command of An, utters the (divine) words,
Who can fathom Your great rites!
Destroyer of the Foreign Lands,
You have given wings to the storm,
Beloved of Enlil – You made it (the storm) blow over the land,
You carried out the instructions of An.
My Queen,
the foreign lands cower at Your cry,
In dread (and) fear of the South Wind, mankind
Brought You their anguished clamor,
Took before You their anguished outcry
Opened before You wailing and weeping,
Brought before You the “great” lamentations in the city streets.

In comparison to other places in the biblical texts, we also see the oracle of Yahweh prophesying the harsh vengeance that will be dealt out on the land. Like the above we read almost the same themes used to detail the impending destruction.

“Thus says the Lord God: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the Lord God, my wrath shall be aroused. For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare: On that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all human beings that are on the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall shall tumble to the ground. I will summon the sword against Gog in all my mountains, says the Lord God; the swords of all will be against their comrades. With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him. So I will display my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 38:17-23 NRSV).

Lastly, we turn to the last topic; of the turning of the deities face. In the Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar, we come upon a writer in great distress. The prayer is also used in comparison to the Job complex. In the passage the writer begs for repentance and relief from suffering. It is towards the end of the lamentation we read the following:

Accept the abasement of my countenance; hear my prayers.
Faithfully look upon me and accept my supplication.
How long, O my Lady, wilt thou be angered so that thy face is turned away?
How long, O my Lady, wilt thou be infuriated so that thy spirit is enraged?
Turn thy neck which thou hast set against me; set thy face toward good favor.
Like the water of the opening of a canal, let thy emotions be released.
My foes like the ground let me trample;
Subdue my hater and cause them to crouch down under me.
Let my prayers and my supplications come to thee.
Let thy great mercy be upon me (Pritchard p.385)

The writer, in the text above, requests the goddess to turn her face so that he may be looked upon in favor and that the evil and afflictions may pass. In passing, the use of the question “How long?” must be taken note of. This phrase is also used in the following passages of the Old Testament: Psalms 4:2; 13:1; 89:46; Proverbs 1:22; and Isaiah 6:11.

The lamentations written to the gods and goddesses can be compared to those to biblical texts other than the Psalms. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos and many others lamented over their land, people, and spiritual conditions. It appears they were not alone, for others, long before the prophets mentioned above, apparently had the same concerns and have written them down to be used in the time of stressful situations.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

The Ancient Near East, Volume II, Princeton University Press, Chichester, USA. 1975

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

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