Psalm 60

For my write-up today on Psalm 60 and its interpreters, I will post the Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.

To the chief Musician upon Shushaneduth, Michtam of David, to teach; when he strove with Aramnaharaim and with Aramzobah, when Joab returned, and smote of Edom in the valley of salt twelve thousand.

“Shushaneduth” may simply refer to a musical tune, but some have asserted that the meaning of the term is significant in regards to the Psalm.  “Shushan-eduth” means “lily of testimony”.  For Sigmund Mowinckel, the term concerns looking to the lilies for divine testimony about what is going to happen, the same way that the budding of Aaron’s rod revealed God’s will in Numbers 17:21-25.  E.W. Bullinger relates this superscription to Psalm 59, but I think that some of the issues in Psalm 59 are also in Psalm 60, and so I’ll share his interpretation of the superscription when I discuss Psalm 60.  For Bullinger, the lily of the testimony concerns Israelites keeping the Passover in the second month after they have missed the Passover in the first month, due to uncleanness or being on a journey (Numbers 9:10-11).  For Bullinger, the lily is associated with the spring, which is when the Passover takes place, and the testimony concerns the law in Numbers 9:10-11.  According to Bullinger, Israel has missed the Passover because she has been overrun with enemies and thus has been preoccupied, and so she has to keep the Passover in the second month.

The Targum, the Midrash on the Psalms, and Rashi maintain that a topic in the superscription is the covenant that Jacob made with Laban not to transgress Laban’s boundary of Aram, or Syria (Genesis 31).  According to the Midrash and Rashi, the lily is the Sanhedrin, and the testimony relates to the agreement that Laban and Jacob made.  The question is this: Did David break Jacob’s agreement with Laban when David took over Syria?  The Midrash and Rashi answer in the negative, for Syria broke the agreement first.  Balaam was from Syria (Numbers 23:7), and he came to Israel to curse Israel on behalf of Moab.  And Judges 3:8 indicates that Syria ruled Israel at some point.  Because the lily, the Sanhedrin, pointed this out to David, David did not feel that he was violating Jacob’s agreement with Laban in taking over Syria.

The Septuagint translates the term to mean the ones who shall be changed.  According to Marvin Tate, it is understanding the phrase as “al-sh-shanim od”, which means “concerning one who yet changes”, and he refers to a view that this superscription signals that Psalm 60 is about experiencing a change for the worse.

1O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again.

What puzzles interpreters who relate the Psalm to the superscription is this: The superscription states that this Psalm concerns David’s defeat of Syria and Edom.  If David is the winner, then why is he complaining in Psalm 60 that God has scattered Israel?  Different explanations have been proposed.  Augustine avers that Psalm 60:1 reflects the sentiments of David’s defeated enemies, not David himself.  Many contend that the issue in Psalm 60 is that David’s army is fighting Syria in the north, but that Edom has attacked Israel from the south, and so Israel is in dire straits.  Another view is that David’s battle against Syria is taking a while and is having disastrous consequences for Israel.  Some believe that David is reflecting back on Israel’s predicaments up to the point that the superscription mentions—-the dire experiences of David and Israel throughout history.  And then many maintain that the Psalm actually has nothing to do with the events of the superscription, but that Psalm 60 concerns pre-exilic Judah after the time of David, or Judah’s fall in 587 B.C.E., or the time of the Maccabees.

 2Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh.

According to Marvin Tate, this verse indicates that Judah’s straits are really dire, and he does not seem to believe that Edom attacking Israel from the south while David is fighting Syria is dire enough to be described in terms of an earthquake.  For Tate, the earthquake is figurative for the fall of Judah to Babylon in 587 B.C.E., for that indeed did entail the collapse of the nation (though some scholars would observe that many Jews stayed behind in Judah during the time of the exile).  Interestingly, the Midrash on the Psalms contains the view that the earthquake was literal: that the earthquake was disrupting Joab’s battle against Israel’s enemies, and so David asked God to heal the breaches of the earth.

 3Thou hast shewed thy people hard things: thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.

God is being blamed for Israel’s predicament.

 4Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.

The Hebrew word translated as “truth” in the KJV is “qeshet”, with the final letter being a tet.  There are two understandings of this word.  One view is that the word means “truth” or “certainty”, on the basis of such passages as Proverbs 22:21, Daniel 2:47, and Daniel 4:37.  The idea here may be that God is rallying Israel to victory against her enemies so that she can fulfill her mission as the people of God (which accords with truth), or that God is helping Israel to succeed out of his faithfulness (which pertains to truth, or certainty).  Another view is that the word means the same thing as the “qeshet” that ends with the letter tav, and that particular word means “bow”.  In that case, the verse could mean that God is rallying Israelites to battle under a banner so that they might escape the bow of their enemies, or that a banner on the walls of Jerusalem is summoning the Judahites into the safe city so that they can be safe from the enemy bows.

 5That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

 6God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth.

 7Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine; Ephraim also is the strength of mine head; Judah is my lawgiver;

With the exception of Judah, these are areas that belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Some contend that David is anticipating ruling these areas, or is thinking back to the time when he did not possess them and God gave them to him.  Advocates of this view note that, in II Samuel 2, many of these areas followed Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, rather than David—-until David possessed them.  Or vv 5-6 could reflect Judah’s hope that she will one day possess the North, which is overrun by foreigners after 722 B.C.E., or exiled Jews’ desire that God will defeat her captors and give her back the entire land of Israel.  Some have related these verses to the time of the Maccabees, when post-exilic Jews had an army and made incursions into the north.

 8Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.

The idea here is that Israel or God will possess Moab and Edom.  According to the Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary, Moab may be Israel’s washpot in the sense that she will wash Israel’s feet as a servant.  The “shoe” could refer to walking the land as an indication of possessing it (Genesis 13:17), Israel’s feet being on the neck of their defeated enemies (Joshua 10:24), or the transfer of possession of Edom from Edomites to Israel, for, in Ruth 4:7, the transfer of a shoe meant the transfer of a kinsman’s right to Ruth and pieces of property from one of Naomi’s kinsmen to Boaz.

Why is Philistia told to triumph, or to rejoice?  One view is that Philistia is told that it will be treated well under David’s rule, and that this foreshadows the benefits that the Gentiles will experience under Christ.  Another view is that Philistia is being told sarcastically to triumph: Are you rejoicing, oh proud Philistia?  And Tate refers to possible ways to emend the text.  There is significant overlap between Psalm 60 and Psalm 108, and the equivalent to Psalm 60:8, Psalm 108:9, says “over Philistia I will rejoice”.  And the Septuagint for Psalm 60:8 says that the Philistines were subjected to the speaker (as if “hitroai” is from resh-ayin-ayin, which relates to subjection).

 9Who will bring me into the strong city? who will lead me into Edom?

This could refer to a wish by David or a pre-exilic Israelite king to subjugate Edom.  Or it could concern a desire by Jews in 587 to flee to Edom for refuge when the Babylonians were destroying Judah and Jerusalem.  But, as many post-exilic biblical writings indicate, Edom was no friend to Judah during this time.  Obadiah, for instance, lambasts Edom for plundering Judah and for hindering Judahites attempts to escape.  People who argue that v 9 is about an attempt to escape to Edom think that v 11 is talking about this issue when it despairs in the help of man, for the Judahites sought refuge in Edom, but Edom let them down, and so the Judahites felt that God was the only one they could trust.

 10Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies?

 11Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.

 12Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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