Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalms 18: Smoke Went Up From His Nostrils

Psalms 18: Smoke Went Up From His Nostrils

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. With the loyal you show yourself loyal; with the blameless you show yourself blameless; with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse. For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?— the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great. You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed. I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was no one to save them; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine, like dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets. You delivered me from strife with the peoples; you made me head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me. As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me. Foreigners lost heart, and came trembling out of their strongholds. The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation, the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me; who delivered me from my enemies; indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries; you delivered me from the violent. For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great triumphs he gives to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever. (Psalms 18:1-50 NRSV)

Here is one of the best examples of how one who asked for help and vindication, was in fact vindicated by Yahweh. We see here Yahweh the warrior coming down to help the devoted believer with battle. This could possibly be the result of Psalm 17, when the lamenter asked for help. Here Yahweh delivers not only from enemies, but from the depths of sheol its self.

There is no evidence that this was written by David but the above psalm is attributed to him. Psalm 18 is divided into two parts and may be outlined as follows: verses 2-4 are praise to Yahweh, 5-7 the poet describes his mortal issues, 8-10 the writer depicts Yahweh’s intervention 21-31 Yahweh’s justice is acknowledged. The second part of Psalm 18 verses 32-51 may be broken down using verses 32-35, where the writer praises Yahweh for training and a Bow, 36-44 victory over enemies, 44-46 victory over foreign people, and finally the hymn of praise and thanksgiving in verses 47-51.

Within this text there is a treasure chest full of imagery and motifs that could be presented. The writers boasting of the works of his god, the modes of warfare the god uses, the types of interments and devices of war. Much within this Psalm recalls to memory the description in Canaanite mythology, angry gods slaughtering the masses, rulers, gods using Nature and magical tools to wage war, and finally and ironically, the boasting of the Egyptian king on how the god help him destroy Israel. Below we will discuss some of these motifs and explore some comparisons in other works that may prove to be relevant.

One example that comes to mind is the account of the goddess Anat, in the Baal Epic, from Canaanite Mythology. The text portrays vivid imagery of a gory battle between the goddess and men. Reading below we get a glimpse of the battle:

The gates of Anat’s house were shut,

and the lads met the lady of the mountain.

And then Anat went to battle in the valley,

she fought between the two cities:

she killed the people of the coast,

she annihilated the men of the east.

Heads rolled under her like balls,

hands flew over her like locusts,

the warriors’ hands like swarms of grasshoppers.

She fastened the heads to her back,

she tied the hands to her belt.

She plunged knee-deep into the soldiers’ blood,

up to her thighs in the warriors’ gore;

with a staff she drove off her enemies,

with the string of her bow her opponents.

And then Anat arrived at her house,

the goddess reached her palace;

there, not satisfied with her battling in the valley,

her fighting between the two cities,

she made the chairs into warriors,( Coogan p. 90-91)

Anat is not satisfied with the gore and her rage was still not appeased. This can be compare to the above text in Psalms 18:8-15:

“ Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him there broke through his clouds hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.”

Next we find that the writer gives thanks for being trained in war and it is implied that through Yahweh he was granted superhuman powers. In verses 29-37we read:

“ By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?— the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. He made my feet like the feet of a deer, and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand has supported me; your help has made me great. You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.”


In the Baal Epic we find that tools of war we created to help Baal fight the god of the Sea by the craftsmen Kothar-wa-Hasis, and with these tools he was able to conquer the Sea:


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.”

Kothar brought down two clubs,

and he pronounced their names:

“As for you, your name is Driver;

Driver, drive Sea,

drive Sea from his throne,

River from the seat of his dominion.

Dance in Baal’s hands,

like a vulture from his fingers.

Strike Prince Sea on the shoulder,

Judge River between the arms.”

The club danced in Baal’s hands,

like a vulture from his fingers.

It struck Prince Sea on the shoulder,

Judge River between the arms.

Sea was strong; he did not sink;

his joints did not shake;

his frame did not collapse.

Kothar brought down two clubs,

and he pronounced their names: (Coogan p.88)
Lastly is the text that was found on what is labeled the “Israel Stela” and relates the victory of Mer-ne Ptah over the Libyans. The text is not a historical account as compare to other texts describing the same battle but is an overview of the universally victorious pharaoh in the conquering of foreign peoples. Here the Hymn brags to the god of his deeds. It is here that the only mention of the name “Israel” is found in Egyptian literature.
“The princes are prostrate, saying: “Mercy!”
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows.
Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Isiral is laid waste, his seed is not;

Hurru is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified; (
Pitchard p. 376-378)

These three texts are just a few examples of the topics and themes written in Psalm 18. Volumes more could be written in grater detail comparing such literature styles and topics. Many times such themes are overlooked because the text is taken at face value and applied to our current day situations. While the Psalm above can be used in this way and any piece of biblical literature it is at time proper to also bring to light the writing styles and historical backgrounds and environment in which the texts were written.

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.

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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