Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 17: Rise Up, O Yahweh, Confront Them.

Psalm 17: Rise up, O Yahweh, Confront Them.

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit. From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right. If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress. As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground. They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush. Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked, from mortalsby your hand, O Lord from mortals whose portion in life is in this world. May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them; may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness. (Psalms 17:1-15 NRSV)

Here, some scholars believe that the writer above was accused of idol worship, slander, wrongly accused by the king, or under political pressure from a rebel army. The lamenter here would be possibly praying all night in the temple. The person above asks Yahweh himself to investigate the accusations. The writer is sure of his innocence and looks to be vindicated, if not in this life time, in the afterlife. Vindication for the above is important, for if found guilty of idol worship the accused would be banned from the temple. This would be most devastating spiritually, socially, and politically.

This lament is often called a Psalm of Vigil. The structure of the Psalm can be outlined as follows; verses 1-5 prays for Gods help, 6-12 asks for deliverance from enemies, and 13-15 a petition for the destruction of enemies. Another Psalm in comparison could be Psalm 18 which has almost the same theme. Below we will see the similarities between two pieces of literature from the Near East dealing with the wrongly accused and vindication, and also the idea of destroying enemies and rebels.

The first text, and possibly one of the best comparisons, is the Egyptian prayer for help in court. In the text properly called A Prayer for Help in the Court of Law This particular text comes from the Papyrus of Anastais II from about 1230 B.C. We read the following:

O Amon, give thy ear to one who is alone in the law court, who is poor; he is not rich. The court cheats him of silver and gold for the scribes of the mat and clothing for the attendants. May it be found that Amon assumes his form as the vizier, in order to permit the poor man to get off. May it be found that the poor man is vindicated. May the poor man surpass the rich. (Pritchard p.308)
In comparison to destroying rebels or those who disrespect, We find in the Ancient Near East the Myth of Inanna and Ebih, a request for the permission to destroy rebels. We read,

65-69 (Inana announced:) “An, my father, I greet you! Lend your ear to my words. You have made me terrifying among the deities in heaven. Owing to you my word has no rival in heaven or on earth. You have given me the …… and the cilig weapon, the antibal and mansium emblems.

70-79 “To set the socle in position and make the throne and foundation firm, to carry the might of the cita weapon which bends like a mubum tree, to hold the ground with the sixfold yoke, to extend the thighs with the fourfold yoke, to pursue murderous raids and widespread miltary campaigns, to appear to those kings in the …… of heaven like moonlight, to shoot the arrow from the arm and fall on fields, orchards and forests like the tooth of the locust, to take the harrow to rebel lands, to remove the locks from their city gates so the doors stand open — King An, you have indeed given me all this, and …….

80-82 “You have placed me at the right hand of the king in order to destroy rebel lands: may he, with my aid, smash heads like a falcon in the foothills of the mountain, King An, and may I …… your name throughout the land like a thread.

83-88 “May he destroy the lands as a snake in a crevice. May he make them slither around like a sajkal snake coming down from a mountain. May he establish control over the mountain, examine it and know its length. May he go out on the holy campaign of An and know its depth. The gods ……, since the Anuna deities have …….

89-95 “How can it be that the mountain did not fear me in heaven and on earth, that the mountain did not fear me, Inana, in heaven and on earth, that the mountain range of Ebih, the mountain, did not fear me in heaven and on earth? Because it showed me no respect, because it did not put its nose to the ground, because it did not rub its lips in the dust, may I fill my hand with the soaring mountain range and hand it over to my terror.

96-99 “Against its magnificent sides let me place magnificent battering rams, against its small sides let me place small battering rams. Let me storm it and start the ‘game’ of holy Inana. In the mountain range let me set up battle and prepare conflicts.

100-103 “Let me prepare arrows in the quiver. Let me …… slingstones with the rope. Let me begin the polishing of my lance. Let me prepare the throwstick and the shield.

104-107 “Let me set fire to its thick forests. Let me take an axe to its evil-doing. Let me make Gibil, the purifier, bare his holy teeth at its watercourses. Let me spread this terror through the inaccessible mountain range Aratta.

108-111 “Like a city which An has cursed, may it never be restored. Like a city at which Enlil has frowned, may it never again lift its neck up. May the mountain tremble when I approach. May Ebih give me honour and praise me.” ( Black)
Psalms 17 in some ways displays the anguish of being wrongly accuse and also gives us a view of the ancient of reaction to the issue. It seems to be consistent that those cheated or wrongly accused, even in modern times, would want to be vindicated and have their enemies destroyed. An appeal to the gods was in order. It is interesting to think about this subject in light of the New Testament teachings. Today we would turn the other cheek and at times appear meek. It seems in the texts above that it was handled differently.

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E., and Zolyomi, G., Inanna and Ebih The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998

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

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

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

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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