Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 5: Baal Verses Death

Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing. Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you. The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction; their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, so that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover them with favor as with a shield. (Psalms 5:1-12 NRSV)

In the above text, the Psalmist possibly is being accused of idolatry. If found accused, the guilty may not be allowed in the temple. The enemies create lies and accusations. The Psalmist prays that the wicked will have poor council and there by proving his innocents by their mistakes. However, one verse jumps out in particular and that is the text, “their throats are open graves”. Below we will discuss what this could possibly mean and the Ugric mythology that may be behind this text so we can better understand just how terrible these enemies mentioned in Psalms five are.

In the Ugaritic texts there is what some scholars call the “Baal Cycle”. In short, it is the story of the Canaanite god Baal and his fight with the Lord of the Underworld, Death. Baal dies for seven years while doing Battle with the god Death. During that time there is no rain. After some battles as king, Baal refused to pay due tribute to Death in a message that he sent in announcing his new temple. After Baal’s defeat of the Sea or the “serpent”, which caused cosmic collapse, he is punished by being made to go down into the throat of Death. Baal gets bad news from his messengers and becomes scared of death; he submits. After he sleeps with the goddess Anat, he and his sons and daughters descend into the underworld. In doing so, they bring the full fury of the storm with them, Rain, wind, lightning and clouds. It is while Baal is battling in the underworld and dies that the earth receives no rain and drought is upon the land.

“Message of El’s son, Death,
the word of El’s Darling, the Hero:
‘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 forth his tongue to the stars.
Baal must enter inside him;
he must go down into his mouth,
like an olive cake,
the earth’s produce,
the fruit of the trees.”
Baal the conqueror became afraid;
the Rider of the Clouds was terrified:
“ Leave me; speak to El’s son Death,
repeat to El’s Darling, the Hero:
‘Message from Baal the Conqueror,
the word of the Conqueror of Warriors:
Hail, El’s son Death!
I am your servant, I am your forever. (Coogan p. 106-107)

It is also interesting to note the mourning process that was carried out by El and Anat. It explains in detail why the believers of Baal cut themselves while on Mount Carmel. The worshipers were grieving Baal’s death. Below we read the account of the believers cutting themselves:

Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. (1 Kings 18:28-29 NRSV)

Now compare the story of El, Baal’s grandfather, grieving the death of his grandson:

Then El the Kind, the Compassionate,
came down from his throne,
sat on his stool,
and coming down from his stool he sat on the ground.
he poured earth o his head as a sign of morning,
on his skull the dust in which he rolled;
he covered his loins with sackcloth.
He cut his skin with a knife,
he made incisions with a razor;
he cut his cheeks and chin,
he raked his arms with a reed,
he plowed his chest like a garden,
he raked his back like a valley.
He raised his voice and shouted:
“Baal is dead: what will happen to the peoples? (Coogan p.109)

The verse in Psalms 5:9 shows that the enemies of the writer are all consuming with their false accusations. Their appetites are that of a lioness. They will consume the accused with lies at any cost and eat anything in their path as they wish. The Psalmist asks Yahweh for protection from these terrible enemies. He asks Yahweh to do battle; to guard with a shield. The points brought out from such a small text shows the severity of the problem mention in the above Psalm. It also shows that with such fierce enemies making accusations, ones faith in Yahweh’s protection and guidance is almost demanded.

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.

* All biblical references were quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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