Sunday, 16 October 2011

Food - Eating in the Psalms

Food and eating (אכל) is a frequent topic in the Psalter. The first instance is metaphorical - the eating of people. This is repeated in psalm 53, the Elohist double of Psalm 14.

הֲלֹא יָדְעוּ
כָּל פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן
אֹכְלֵי עַמִּי
אָכְלוּ לֶחֶם
יְהוָה לֹא קָרָאוּ
14.4Did they not know
all these working mischief -
eating my people
as they eat bread?
יְהוָה they do not call

Psalm 18 brings us the image of the fire devouring from the mouth of יְהוָה. Consumption is here of the consuming fire that eats (devours) its enemies.
עָלָה עָשָׁן בְּאַפּוֹ
וְאֵשׁ מִפִּיו תֹּאכֵל
גֶּחָלִים בָּעֲרוּ מִמֶּנּוּ
18.9A smoke ascends from his nostril
and fire from his mouth devours
coals were kindled from it

Psalm 21, the answer to the prayer of Psalm 20, continues the metaphor of fire as the eater.
תְּשִׁיתֵמוֹ כְּתַנּוּר אֵשׁ
לְעֵת פָּנֶיךָ
יְהוָה בְּאַפּוֹ יְבַלְּעֵם
וְתֹאכְלֵם אֵשׁ
21.10you will set them as a fiery oven
in the time of your presence
יְהוָה in his anger will swallow them
and fire will devour them

Psalm 22 associates eating with worship. Those who cannot buy food will also eat and be satisfied. The hart of the dawn is in three rings of animals, lions, bulls, and dogs, all looking in the wrong way for that right sort of food.
יֹאכְלוּ עֲנָוִים וְיִשְׂבָּעוּ
יְהַלְלוּ יְהוָה דֹּרְשָׁיו
יְחִי לְבַבְכֶם לָעַד
22.27The abused will eat and be satisfied
Those who search for יְהוָה will praise him
May your heart live for ever
אָכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ כָּל דִּשְׁנֵי אֶרֶץ לְפָנָיו
יִכְרְעוּ כָּל יוֹרְדֵי עָפָר
וְנַפְשׁוֹ לֹא חִיָּה
22.30All the sleek of the earth will eat and worship in his presence
All who go down to the dust will bow
but his being he could not keep alive
sleek, דשׁן (dshn), fat, feels like a misprint for sleep, ישׁן

Psalm 27 uses eat as Psalm 14 as a metaphor for being injured by others.
בִּקְרֹב עָלַי
לֶאֱכֹל אֶת בְּשָׂרִי
צָרַי וְאֹיְבַי
לִי הֵמָּה
כָשְׁלוּ וְנָפָלוּ
27.2in drawing near to me
to injure
to eat even my flesh
my foes and my enemies
they to me
they stumbled and fell

Psalm 41 notes the community of those who eat together, who share food, yet who may still be betrayed in that trust.
גַּם אִישׁ שְׁלוֹמִי
אֲשֶׁר בָּטַחְתִּי בוֹ
אוֹכֵל לַחְמִי
הִגְדִּיל עָלַי עָקֵב
41.10Even a person with whom I was at peace
in whom I trusted
eating my bread
has planted an exaggerated footstep against me
[John 13:18]

Psalm 44, the communal lament, again uses the food image metaphorically as one of exile.
תִּתְּנֵנוּ כְּצֹאן מַאֲכָל
וּבַגּוֹיִם זֵרִיתָנוּ
44.12You have given us like sheep for food
and among the nations you have sifted us

Psalm 50 continues the metaphor of the devouring fire. And God asks rhetorically - do you really think I eat goats?
יָבֹא אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְאַל יֶחֱרַשׁ
אֵשׁ לְפָנָיו תֹּאכֵל
וּסְבִיבָיו נִשְׂעֲרָה מְאֹד
50.3our God comes and and will not keep silence
Fire from his presence will devour
and surrounding him a great sweeping
sweeping, שׂער (s`r) reads like a misprint for tempest or storm, also in psalm 58.10, but there's nothing quite like his broom
הַאוֹכַל בְּשַׂר אַבִּירִים
וְדַם עַתּוּדִים אֶשְׁתֶּה
50.13Will I eat the flesh of the mighty
or the blood of goats imbibe?
the mighty, not bulls necessarily.
imbibe שׁתה (shth)
contrast שׁקה (shqh) drink

Psalm 53 extends with variation the earlier psalm 14.
הֲלֹא יָדְעוּ
פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן
אֹכְלֵי עַמִּי
אָכְלוּ לֶחֶם
אֱלֹהִים לֹא קָרָאוּ
53.5Did they not know
these working mischief
eating my people
as they eat bread?
God they do not call

The enemies of Psalm 59 are like dogs in the evening.
הֵמָּה יְנִיעוּן לֶאֱכֹל
אִם לֹא יִשְׂבְּעוּ וַיָּלִינוּ
59.16they will totter off for food
if not satisfied then they will hang around

Psalm 69 has another metaphorical use for eating - the devouring zeal of the one who works hard.
כִּי קִנְאַת בֵּיתְךָ אֲכָלָתְנִי
וְחֶרְפּוֹת חוֹרְפֶיךָ נָפְלוּ עָלָי
69.10For jealousy for your house has eaten me up
and the reproaches of those reproaching you have fallen on me
[Romans 15:3, John 2:17]

Leviathan whose sneeze features in Job is subject as food in the tohu and bohu of creation. Job is framed by Leviathan. He raises the creature in his anti-creation speech in chapter 3, only to find himself satirized by the speech of יְהוָה in the final chapters.
אַתָּה רִצַּצְתָּ רָאשֵׁי לִוְיָתָן
תִּתְּנֶנּוּ מַאֲכָל לְעָם לְצִיִּים
74.14you yourself fragmented the heads of Leviathan
you gave him as food to a people of wild places

Seven times in the epic poem of Psalm 78 food is an issue from the taunting of the people to their over-satiation, in the memory of the plagues of Egypt, and in the terror of the exile.
וַיְנַסּוּ אֵל בִּלְבָבָם
לִשְׁאָל אֹכֶל לְנַפְשָׁם
78.18and they tempted God in their heart
by asking edibles for themselves
וַיַּמְטֵר עֲלֵיהֶם מָן לֶאֱכֹל
וּדְגַן שָׁמַיִם נָתַן לָמוֹ
78.24and he rained on them manna to eat
and the grain of heaven he gave to them
[John 6:31]
לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים אָכַל אִישׁ
צֵידָה שָׁלַח לָהֶם לָשֹׂבַע
78.25the bread of the mighty each ate
victuals he sent among them to satiation
וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׂבְּעוּ מְאֹד
וְתַאֲוָתָם יָבִא לָהֶם
78.29and they ate and were sated much
and let their desires come to them
לֹא זָרוּ מִתַּאֲוָתָם
עוֹד אָכְלָם בְּפִיהֶם
78.30and they were not a stranger to their desires
while their food was in their mouths
יְשַׁלַּח בָּהֶם עָרֹב וַיֹּאכְלֵם
וּצְפַרְדֵּעַ וַתַּשְׁחִיתֵם
78.45he sent a swarm of flies to them and it ate them
and frogs and he destroyed them
בַּחוּרָיו אָכְלָה אֵשׁ
וּבְתוּלֹתָיו לֹא הוּלָּלוּ
78.63his young men fire devoured
and his maidens were not praiseworthy

Psalm 79 like the Lamentations of Jeremiah remembers the exile.
נָתְנוּ אֶת נִבְלַת עֲבָדֶיךָ
מַאֲכָל לְעוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם
בְּשַׂר חֲסִידֶיךָ
לְחַיְתוֹ אָרֶץ
79.2they have given the corpses of your servants
as food to the creatures of the heavens
the flesh of your mercied ones
to the animals of earth
animals, the Hebrew for life or living things, compare 74.19, 68.31
כִּי אָכַל אֶת יַעֲקֹב
וְאֶת נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ
79.7for he devoured Jacob
and his home they have desolated

Psalm 80 has tears for food.
הֶאֱכַלְתָּם לֶחֶם דִּמְעָה
וַתַּשְׁקֵמוֹ בִּדְמָעוֹת שָׁלִישׁ
80.6you make them eat the bread of tears
and you make them drink a bucket of tears
a bucket, שׁלשׁ (shlsh) a measure, used only here in the Psalter, elsewhere perhaps also a third part, or a triangle (percussion instrument), perhaps here the sense is in great measure

But it could be otherwise.
וַיַּאֲכִילֵהוּ מֵחֵלֶב חִטָּה
וּמִצּוּר דְּבַשׁ אַשְׂבִּיעֶךָ
81.17I would feed them from the best wheat
and from the honeyed rock I would satisfy you
satisfy you, singular, though Israel is referred to and 'their' enemies uses a plural suffix, this one is a singular suffix.

In Psalm 102, the disabled prays and knows ashes for bread.
הוּכָּה כָעֵשֶׂב וַיִּבַשׁ לִבִּי
כִּי שָׁכַחְתִּי מֵאֲכֹל לַחְמִי
102.5stricken like dried up herbage is my heart
for I forget to eat my bread

כִּי אֵפֶר כַּלֶּחֶם אָכָלְתִּי
וְשִׁקֻּוַי בִּבְכִי מָסָכְתִּי
102.10for I eat ashes as bread
and I mix my drink with my weeping

Psalm 104 celebrates in line with other ancient hymns the reliance of all on God for food.
הַכְּפִירִים שֹׁאֲגִים לַטָּרֶף
וּלְבַקֵּשׁ מֵאֵל אָכְלָם
104.21the young lions roar at their prey
and seek from God their food
כֻּלָּם אֵלֶיךָ יְשַׂבֵּרוּן
לָתֵת אָכְלָם בְּעִתּוֹ
104.27all of them rely on you
to give their food in its time

Psalm 105 celebrates the promised land.
וַיֹּאכַל כָּל עֵשֶׂב בְּאַרְצָם
וַיֹּאכַל פְּרִי אַדְמָתָם
105.35and they ate all the herbs in their land
and they ate the fruit of their ground

Psalm 106 remembers how eating can be idolatry.
וַיָּמִירוּ אֶת כְּבוֹדָם
בְּתַבְנִית שׁוֹר אֹכֵל עֵשֶׂב
106.20and they exchanged their glory
into the shape of an ox eating herbage
shape, from בנה (bnh) build
וַיִּצָּמְדוּ לְבַעַל פְּעוֹר
וַיֹּאכְלוּ זִבְחֵי מֵתִים
106.28and they joined themselves to Baal-peor
and they ate the offerings of the dead

Psalm 107, a psalm that applies to all humanity, notes how food can be abhorrent in illness
כָּל אֹכֶל תְּתַעֵב נַפְשָׁם
וַיַּגִּיעוּ עַד שַׁעֲרֵי מָוֶת
107.18their beings will abhor all food
and they will touch even to the gates of death

Psalm 127, a Song of the Ascents, the only psalm associated with Solomon, promises that food could be dissociated from hardship.
שָׁוְא לָכֶם מַשְׁכִּימֵי קוּם מְאַחֲרֵי שֶׁבֶת
אֹכְלֵי לֶחֶם הָעֲצָבִים
כֵּן יִתֵּן לִידִידוֹ שֵׁנָא
127.2in vain for you to rise in urgent and sit late
to eat the bread of hardship
so he gives his beloved sleep
in urgent שׁכם, (shkm) the root of back or shoulder, so figuratively, put your shoulder to the work

Psalm 128, also part of the Songs of Ascent, with Psalm 127 promises adequacy of food as reward for labour.
יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל
אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ
128.2for you will eat the labour of your palms
your happiness and good for you

Psalm 145, the last acrostic, reminds us of our dependency on God reflecting Psalm 104 at the end of Book 4.
עֵינֵי-כֹל אֵלֶיךָ יְשַׂבֵּרוּ
וְאַתָּה נוֹתֵן-לָהֶם אֶת-אָכְלָם בְּעִתּוֹ
145.15Eyes all rely on you
and you yourself give them their food in its season
For links to my translations (complete and as concordant as possible within my rules and whims) click here.

This post is in response to blog action day.

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