Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 7: The Divine Warrior.

O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me, or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue. O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands, if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause, then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground, and lay my soul in the dust. (Selah) Rise up, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous, you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God. God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends. I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (Psalms 7:1-17 NRSV)

Here the psalmist is writing about his enemies and possibly is asking to be delivered from those who betrayed him. Here the text is rich in language of Yahweh being the divine warrior. There are many images of this in the biblical text and here we will discuss the aspects of the divine warrior and then look at some other texts outside the Old Testament to understand this aspect of Yahweh more fully. We will look at some holy war songs with in the Old Testament two are thought to be some of the oldest written pieces of literature in the bible: the “Song of Miriam” in Deuteronomy 15, the “Yahweh the Warrior” in Psalms 24, and the “Prayer of Habakkuk” in Habakkuk 3. Then we will compare these with the similarities of the “The Baal Epic”, The Sumerian Epic of Creation known better as “Enuma Elish” and the texts from the Epic of Babylon; Ishtar and Izdubar. Here gods will slay dragons, shoot lightning from the sky, move mountains, divide the seas, and cause storms against their enemies.

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power— your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble. At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:3-11NRSV)

Above is a well known holy war song found in Deuteronomy 15. The Song of Miriam is routinely compared to the Baal Epic. The text is broken down into three themes. Yahweh defeats the sea, Yahweh defeats his enemies, and Yahweh should be king. Below the text sounds more powerful if the word Lord is changed to Yahweh. As we read the biblical texts we at times filter it through the New Testament. To appreciate the Biblical texts as literature one must discard all the prophetic ideas and especially the perceived theology, and come to understand the text from the view point as literature created for the gods. Although a whole book could be written about this comparison with the Baal Epic we will discuss; the fight with the sea combined with the exodus account, and the fight Baal had with the sea as a god.

Many would balk at the notion of the “Song of Miriam” being composed as the “battle of creation” account. Dated between the late twelfth and early eleventh century, the text comes during the early tribal league. It is hypothesized that the account was later combined with the account of the biblical exodus during the monarchy period. There is evidence that the motif of Yahweh fighting the sea is much older. There are two examples in the bible that speak of Yahweh’s battle with the sea with hints of the battle of creation. The first text is Psalms 114:1-8:

“When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s [236] sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.” (Psalms 114:1-8 NRSV)

Another text with this combination is in the text of Isaiah 51:9-11:

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:9-11 NRSV)

Now we come to the Baal Epic and the fight between Yamm (god of the sea), and Baal. In the text we hear the prophecy concerning Baal from Korthar, the craftsman of the gods, being proclaimed:

“The mighty will fall to the ground,
the powerful into the Slime.”
These words had just come from her mouth,
this speech from her lips, she had just spoken,
when he groaned from under Prince Sea’s throne.
And Kothar-wa-Hasis replied:
“Let me tell you, Prince Baal,
let me repeat , Rider on the Clouds:
behold, your enemy, Baal,
behold, you will kill your enemy,
behold, you will annihilate your foes.
You will take your eternal kingship,
your dominion forever and ever.” (Coogan88)

The victory is proclaimed in the text when Baal over comes the Sea with the two clubs with magical names, Yagarris (driver) and Ay-yamarri (chaser), Korthar has fashioned for him.

And the club danced in Baal’s hands,
like a vulture from his fingers.
It struck Prince Sea on the skull,
judge river between the eyes.
Sea stumbled;
he fell to the ground;
his joints shook;
his frame collapsed.
Baal captured and drank Sea;
he finished off Judge river. (Coogan89)

Another text where the Sea is destroyed is in the Sumerian Epic of Creation, “Enuma Elish”. Below we read the detailed battle between them and of the weapons used. It is also interesting to note the use of the elements of nature in the text below when comparing it to the biblical texts and that of the Baal Epic.

And unto Marduk their first-born they spake:
“May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods,
“To destroy and to create; speak thou the word, and (thy command) shall be fulfilled.
“Command now and let the garment vanish;
“And speak the word again and let the garment reappear!”
Then he spake with his mouth, and the garment vanished;
Again he commanded it, and the garment reappeared.
When the gods, his fathers, beheld (the fulfilment of) his word,
They rejoiced, and they did homage (unto him, saying), ” Marduk is king! “
They bestowed upon him the sceptre, and the throne, and the ring,
They give him an invincible weapon, which overwhelmeth the foe.
“Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat,
“And let the wind carry her blood into secret places.”
After the gods his fathers had decreed for the lord his fate,
They caused him to set out on a path of prosperity and success.
He made ready the bow, he chose his weapon,
He slung a spear upon him and fastened it . . .
He raised the club, in his right hand he grasped (it),
The bow and the quiver he hung at his side.
He set the lightning in front of him,
With burning flame he filled his body.
He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat,
The four winds he stationed so that nothing of her might escape;
The South wind and the North wind and the East wind and the West wind
He brought near to the net, the gift of his father Anu.
He created the evil wind, and the tempest, and the hurricane,
And the fourfold wind, and the sevenfold wind, and the whirlwind, and the wind which had no equal; ( King p.61-65)

Below the “sea-serpent-death” Tiamat, in great detail, is defeated:

Now after the hero Marduk had conquered and cast down his enemies,
And had made the arrogant foe even like …,
And had fully established Anshar’s triumph over the enemy,
And had attained the purpose of Nudimmud,
Over the captive gods he strengthened his durance,
And unto Tiamat, whom he had conquered, he returned.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat’s hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the …, and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions (thereof),
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-shara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-shara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bêl, and Ea in their districts to inhabit. (King p.71-77)

So clearly there are comparisons with in these texts that are important to take note of as holy war theams. Both Yahweh and Baal and Marduk conquer the sea and the river all using the elements of nature. It is also interesting to note that both texts have mention of both sea and river. Next we will move on to explore the war hymn in Psalms 24. Both Deuteronomy 15 and Psalms 24 are among the oldest hymns in the biblical texts.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (Selah) Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Selah) (Psalms 24:1-10 NRSV)

The above text Yahweh destroys his enemies also it is important to not references to the seas and rivers above. This text plainly states Yahweh will have victory over his enemies and will personally establish himself entering the heavenly holy temple and sitting on the throne as king. So also dose Baal and Marduk, after defeating their enemies. Now we will turn to one last War hymn in Habakkuk

God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. (Selah) His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed close behind. He stopped and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble. The eternal mountains were shattered; along his ancient pathways the everlasting hills sank low. I saw the tents of Cushan under affliction; the tent-curtains of the land of Midian trembled. Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Or your anger against the rivers, or your rage against the sea, when you drove your horses, your chariots to victory? You brandished your naked bow, sated were the arrows at your command. (Selah) You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you, and writhed; a torrent of water swept by; the deep gave forth its voice. The sun raised high its hands; the moon stood still in its exalted place, at the light of your arrows speeding by, at the gleam of your flashing spear. In fury you trod the earth, in anger you trampled nations. You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed. You crushed the head of the wicked house, laying it bare from foundation to roof. Selah) You pierced with their own arrows the head of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter us, gloating as if ready to devour the poor who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the mighty waters. I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us. (Habakkuk 3:3-16 NRSV)

Now we come to the text from the Epic of Babylon; Ishtar and Izdubar.
The text below can be compared more to the Psalms especially in chapters 6:3; 13:1, 2; 74:9; 80:4; 82:2; 89:46; 90:13; 94:3. Below we see the same words and themes used once again. The warrior Izdubar makes a plea to the goddess Ishtar for help in defeating enemies. It reads:

“How long, O Ishtar, will thy face be turned,
While Erech desolate doth cry to thee?
Thy towers magnificent, oh, hast thou spurned?
Her blood like water in Ul-bar, oh, see!
The seat of thine own oracle behold!
The fire hath ravaged all thy cities grand,
And like the showers of Heaven them all doth fold.
O Ishtar! broken-hearted do I stand!
Oh, crush our enemies as yonder reed!
For hopeless, lifeless, kneels thy bard to thee,
And, oh! I would exalt thee in my need,
From thy resentment, anger, oh, us free! (Hamilton p.13-14)

The text above also has many of the themes we have discussed. In short, it appears through this analyst, that the motif and mythological themes of the divine warrior had many similarities in the Ancient Near East. The gods, conquering enemies with the elements of nature, disease, pestilence and weapons of war; taking the throne in his divine temple, and being praised as lord of lords and as the god king, ran deep in the stories of old. It is true that old gods never die but are just reformed and out done by the new; and their heroic deeds retold by the writings and voices of their pious believers.

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

Cross, Frank. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997.

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

Hamilton, Leonidas Le Cenci. Ishtar and Izdubar: The Epic of Babylon. W.H. Allen & Co. New York 1884.

King, Leonard William. The Seven Tablets of Creation. Luzac and Co. London 1902.

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