Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 13: The Battle Against Mot.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalms 13:1-6 NRSV)

The text above is a lament by one who is near death. There is a parallel text from the Near East where the writer asks his god; How Long? In “The Lament for Sumer and Urin.” we find Suen, thinking he has been forgotten by his god Enlil. Below we read:

In his grief Suen approached his father. He went down on his knee in front of Enlil, the father who begot him: “O father who begot me, how long will the enemy eye be cast upon my account, how long ……? The lordship and the kingship that you bestowed ……, father Enlil, the one who advises with just words, the wise words of the Land ……, your inimical judgment ……, look into your darkened heart, terrifying like waves. O father Enlil, the fate that you have decreed cannot be explained, the …… of lordship, my ornament.” …… he put on a garment of mourning.

However, there seems to be another important theme in Psalms 13, and that is the writers fight with death. In the text the writer seems to be on the brink of death and feels that Yahweh has forgotten him. It is not until the end that confidence is regained and trust is renewed through steadfast love. The Canaanite god Mot may have some relevance here. With the words: “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” we are taken back to the battle between Baal and Mot. Here, there are three players in the Psalm; the writer, Yahweh, and Mot or death. Below we will discuss the god Mot and see him boast that he has prevailed and rejoice because Baal is shaken.

The god Mot, in the Canaanite mythology, was a fierce god that ate everything. He was as ugly as he was fierce. Mot was upset with Baal because Ball refused to pay tribute to him after Baal built his heavenly temple and was enthroned. The Baal boasts:

“No other king or non-king
shall set his power over the earth.
I will send no tribute to Ers son Death,
no homage to El’s Darling, the Hero.
Let Death cry to himself,
let the Darling grumble in his heart;
for I alone will rule over the gods;
I alone will fatten gods and men;
I alone will satisfy earth’s masses.”

Mot embodies all the characteristics that people perceive death to be if they were to put a face on him. In part of the writing of Baal’s battle with Mot we have a description.

‘My appetite is like that of a lioness,
or the desire of a dolphin in the sea;
my pool seizes the wild oxen,
my well grabs the deer;
when I have the appetite for an ass,
then I eat with both my hands, , . ,”
“One lip to the earth, one lip to the heavens;
he will stretch his tongue to the stars,

So here we have death, always hungry, mouth wide open, from the earth to the heavens and his tongue to the stars, ready to consume all that is in his path. Also, in the text below, we see that muck and phlegm is added to the list. Baal is terrified and shaken, he submits to Mot. He tells death’s messengers to leave and give Mot the news of his submission.

“Baal the Conqueror became afraid;
the Rider on the Clouds was terrified:
“Leave me; speak to Ers son Death,
repeat to Ers Darling, the Hero:
‘Message of Baal the Conqueror,
the word of the Conqueror of Warriors:
Hail, Ers son Death!
I am your servant, I am yours forever.’ “
They left; they did not turn back;
then they headed toward Ers son Death,
to the midst of his city, the Swamp,
Muck, his royal house,
Phlegm, the land of his inheritance,…”

Baal descends into the underworld with all his children. The rain stops, famine takes hold on the earth, and the gods lament. Anat, Baal’s wife pleads for his release. We read Mot boasting of his victory while speaking to the goddess.

“She seized Death by the edge of his clothes,
she grabbed him by the hem of his garments;
she raised her voice and shouted:
“Come, Death, give me my brother!”
And El’s son Death replied:
“What do you want, Virgin Anat?
I was taking a walk and wandering
on every mountain in the heart of the earth,
on every hill in the heart of the fields;
I felt a desire for human beings,
a desire for earth’s masses.
I arrived at my pleasant place, the desert pasture,
the lovely fields on Death’s shore.
I approached Baal the Conqueror;
I put him in my mouth like a lamb,
he was crushed like a kid in my jaws.”
Sun, the gods’ torch, burned;
the heavens shimmered under the sway of Ers son

Baal later conquers death, returns with the rain, and ends the drought, and we can see the relevance of the battle as compared to Psalms 13. Baal was shaken with fear, death boasted that he prevailed, and El, god of the pantheon, did little to stop Mot from consuming Baal. This lament could be spoken by anyone dealing with deaths open mouth, and wagging tongue. Psalms 13 could have been Baal’s lament from death’s grip, and it would have fit the context. This battle from Canaanite mythology has the underlying thought that we all must pay tribute to death at some point. Even Baal could not escape it.

Black, J. A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E. and Zólyomu, G. “ Lament for Sumer and Urin.” The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature , Oxford University, 1998.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

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

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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