Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 3: Yahweh As Suzerain

O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” (Selah) But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill. (Selah) I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people! (Selah)
(Psalms 3:1-8 NRSV)

The above possibly is spoken by a king who is surrounded by his enemies. Some think that this text was written by David while he was fleeing from Absalom. Such headings are under debate, even though some aspects of the lament may possibly correspond in content to the events in David’s life. Such introductions also exist in Ugric poetry and laments, with headings that read “Concerning Baal”, and the like. With the opening verses we see that the many whom are rising and say, “There is no help for you in Yahweh.”, pay later by having their cheek struck and their teeth broken by Yahweh.

Another interesting point to elaborate on is the word “shield” in verse four. Some scholars such as Dahood believe the word here should be “suzerain” or “overlord”. It is defined by the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, as:

“Shield, buckler, defense, ruler, armed, scales, now also suzerain is suggested. The noun magen refers to an object which provides covering and protection to the body during warfare. Of the six Hebrew words rendered in KJV as “shield” or “buckler” only magen, sinna, and possibly shelet refer to what may properly be called shields. It is obvious that magen and sinna refer to different types of shields, but English versions have not consistently maintained the distinction, rendering both words indiscriminately as “shield” or “buckler.”

In Luke 22:25 we find the definition: But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. Another example is in Psalms 84:11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly. So Yahweh is just that, he gives to his vassals.

Lastly, in contrast to the introduction, where the enemies of the lamenting King were saying there was no help in Yahweh, we read in contrast “Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!” Or, Salvation belongs to Yahweh. In the end the jaws and teeth, or the instruments of the sin, were marked and destroyed by Yahweh.

In the following Hittite prayer, called the Daily Prayer of the King, the writer also calls for help against sinful enemies and asks the god acting as the “suzerain” for protection and blessings.

And as for the enemy countries that are in revolt and turmoil- some refuse the due respect to thee, Telepinus, and to the Hattian gods; others are out to burn your temples; others seek to obtain the rhyta, the cups and the utensils of silver and gold; others seek to lay waste your plowland and pasture, vineyards ,gardens, and groves; others seek to capture your plowmen, vinedressers, gardeners and millwomen- give evil fever, plague, famine and misery to these country enemies.
But to the king and the queen, to the princesses and to the Hatti land grant life , health, strength, long and enduring years of joy! Grant everlasting fertility to their crops, vines, fruit-bearing trees, cattle, sheep, goats pigs, mules and asses together with the beasts of the fields, and to their people! Let them florish! Let the rains come! Let the winds of prosperity pass over! Let all thrive and prosper in the Hatti land! And the congregation shouts: “Let it be so!” (Pritchard p. 397)

Archer. Gleason L. Jr. , Bruse K. Waltke. & R. Laird Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Electronic Edition, Moody Press. Chicago, Illinois 1980.

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.

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