Sunday, October 13, 2013

The survival of the fittest?

For you who reason by evolution, by time, by cause and effect, you may see that to give one's life for the life of the world is an anti-evolutionary statement. While evolution tweets the survival of the fittest, God in the life of Jesus asks for the protection of the weakest and in such a life given in apparent weakness, more strength than expected arises.

I have been reading Psalm 76. I have now reached the halfway point in my reading through the Psalms in Hebrew. It is becoming easier. Psalm 76 follows the drinking of the cup in Psalm 75.

Psalms 74 and 76 surround this psalm. The enclosure of this frame is highlighted by the repeated use of the second person singular rhetoric about God - You Yourself did this or that. The two psalms share 16 words. Among them are these two also: fear and light. Psalm 76 plays on the letters of these two words. I have highlighted below a reversal of sounds: na'or, light-giving, nora', to be feared. The trio of these three psalms in the middle of the Psalter is worth many close readings. I have underlined a verse that has no recurring words and thereby stands out in the poem.
מִזְמוֹר לְאָסָף
1For the leader
on strings
A psalm of Asaph
A song
נוֹדָע בִּיהוּדָה אֱלֹהִים
בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל גָּדוֹל שְׁמוֹ
2Renowned in Judah is God
in Israel great is his name
וַיְהִי בְשָׁלֵם סוּכּוֹ
וּמְעוֹנָתוֹ בְצִיּוֹן
3and there is in Salem his booth
and his habitation in Zion
שָׁמָּה שִׁבַּר רִשְׁפֵי קָשֶׁת
מָגֵן וְחֶרֶב וּמִלְחָמָה
4there he shatters the fire-brands of bow
shield and sword and battle

נָאוֹר אַתָּה אַדִּיר
מֵהַרְרֵי טָרֶף
5Light-giving you are more excellent
than mountains of prey
אֶשְׁתּוֹלְלוּ אַבִּירֵי לֵב
נָמוּ שְׁנָתָם
וְלֹא מָצְאוּ כָל אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל יְדֵיהֶם
6taken as spoil are the mighty of heart
they have slumbered their sleep
and all forceful mortals fail to find their hands
מִגַּעֲרָתְךָ אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב
נִרְדָּם וְרֶכֶב וָסוּס
7From your rebuke O God of Jacob
stupefied are both chariot and horse

אַתָּה נוֹרָא
וּמִי יַעֲמֹד לְפָנֶיךָ
מֵאָז אַפֶּךָ
8you are to be feared
you yourself
and who can stand in your presence
at the onset of your anger?
מִשָּׁמַיִם הִשְׁמַעְתָּ דִּין
אֶרֶץ יָרְאָה וְשָׁקָטָה
9From heaven you made sentence heard
earth feared and was quiet
בְּקוּם לַמִּשְׁפָּט אֱלֹהִים
לְהוֹשִׁיעַ כָּל עַנְוֵי אֶרֶץ
10when God arose to judgment
to save all the afflicted of the earth

כִּי חֲמַת אָדָם תּוֹדֶךָּ
שְׁאֵרִית חֵמֹת תַּחְגֹּר
11For human heat will thank you
the residue of heat you will wear
נִדְרוּ וְשַׁלְּמוּ לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
כָּל סְבִיבָיו יֹבִילוּ שַׁי לַמּוֹרָא
12Vow and pay to יְהוָה your God
all round about him bring tribute fearfully
יִבְצֹר רוּחַ נְגִידִים
נוֹרָא לְמַלְכֵי אָרֶץ
13he will enclose the spirit of aristocrats
he will be feared by the kings of the earth
Hebrew words: 90. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 28%. Average keywords per verse: 1.9.

Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage12345678VsRoot
שׁמו his name
בשׁלם in Salem
שׁמה there
סלה Selah
אתה you
כל all
אתה you
נורא are to be feared
אתה you yourself
ארץ earth
יראה feared
כל all
ארץ the earth
סלה Selah
חמת heat
חמת heat
ושׁלמו and pay
כל all
למורא fearfully
נורא he will be feared
ארץ the earth
There is much talk these days of God and intervention, of mystical experience, of violence and exploitation - and rather grander chariots and horses than in the days of this poet (from our point of view). What does this ancient promise of cessation of violence do for us? Who is responsible for intervening? How about us - how about our prayers? What if we pray these words? Will our heat give thanks when God wears the residue of our troubles: the exploitation of the poor, the grinding of the refugee, and the random walk of violence in our times? What if we are the kings and aristocrats who will benefit from the intervention of God mediated by us?


  1. A quick note to let you know how much I appreciate the site. I just got your book and am getting quite a lot out of it - thanks for putting it together. I'm trying to read one or two psalms a day - and am also reading Alter's translation as I go. Keep up the great work!

  2. Brad - thank you. It is good to read multiple translations and compare. I am very glad the book is a help to you.