Middleton on Psalm 51

Over on his blog, Richard Middleton abstracts his essay “A Psalm against David? A Canonical Reading of Psalm 51 as a Critique of David’s Inadequate Repentance in 2 Samuel 12” from Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-historical Perspectives (Pickwick, 2017).

For additional discussion of the volume, see Castleman, Lockett, and Presley, eds., “Explorations in interdisciplinary reading” and “Explorations in interdisciplinary reading” is out.

My Glory

David between Wisdom and Prophecy
David between Wisdom and Prophecy (Paris Psalter [BnF MS Grec 139], folio 7v; photo credit: Wikipedia)
Psalm 7 is an individual lament,1 and the superscript situates it as “concerning the words of Cush, the Benjaminite” (Ps 7:1 HB; על־דברי־כושׁ בן־ימיני‎).2 This situation is rather difficult to pinpoint precisely in the biblical narratives of David’s life.3 The OG reading Χουσί is reflected in Augustine’s text and leads him to relate Ps 7 to 2 Sam 15:32–37.4 Yet, this rendering seems as though it may suggest a different Vorlage than is available in the MT.5

In connection with the Ps 7’s individual perspective and taking ל roughly as “by” (Ps 7:1 HB), the psalm is ostensibly “by David.” Within Ps 7’s larger lament, vv. 3–5, 8 (Eng) particularly profess David’s innocence concerning the accusations (cf. דברים; Ps 7:1 HB) leveled against him.6 As a unit, the contribution that vv. 3–5 (Eng) makes toward this profession entails some textual difficulties.7 To demonstrate his innocence, however, one of the appeals David makes is that, if his profession should prove false, his “glory” should be set in the dust (Ps 7:5 HB; כבודי לעפר ישׁכן‎; 7:6 Eng).

Within the life of David, the setting of David’s glory “in the dust” doubtless refers to the denigration of his “personal and official dignity.”8 Even so, Yahweh’s own dignity is, to some extent, at stake in David’s experience of oppression despite his innocence.9 Yahweh is righteous, and in his righteousness, he saves the upright (Ps 7:11–12, 18 HB; 7:10–11, 17 Eng). Indeed, in delivering David, Yahweh himself becomes David’s glory (Ps 3:4 HB; 3:3 Eng),10 and failing to deliver David would lay in the dust also Yahweh’s promise to David of a perpetual kingdom (e.g., 2 Sam 7:16). Yet, in faithfulness to his servant, Yahweh is he who lifts David’s head (Ps 3:4 HB; מרים ראשׁי‎; 3:3 Eng). In so doing, he has raised David’s countenance to be sure, but still more has he raised from the dust he who is both David’s son and the perpetual head of the house from which he comes (e.g., Matt 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44; Acts 2:22–36).

1. Jeffrey H. Tigay, “Psalm 7:5 and Ancient Near Eastern Treaties,” JBL 89, no. 2 (1970): 178; see also David G. Firth and Philip Johnston, Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005), 295–300, for a survey of form-critical categorizations for the traditional Psalter.

2. The Psalms targum reads this portion of the superscript as “concerning the slaughter of Saul, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin” (Tg. Ket. Ps 7:1; על תברא דשאול בר קיש דמן שבט בנימן).

3. Franz Delitzsch, Psalms (Commentary on the Old Testament 5; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2006), 84; see also S. E. Gillingham, “The Messiah in the Psalms: A Question of Reception History and the Psalter,” in King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. John Day; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement 270; Sheffield: Sheffield, 1998), 226–27.

4. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 7.1 (NPNF 1, 8:20).

5. Cf. Delitzsch, Psalms, 84.

6. Tigay, “Psalm 7:5,” 178.

7. For a discussion, see Jacob Leveen, “Textual Problems of Psalm 7,” VT 16, no. 4 (1966): 440; Tigay, “Psalm 7:5.”

8. Delitzsch, Psalms, 86.

9. Augustine, Enarrat. Ps., 7.4 (NPNF 1, 8:21–22).

10. On reading the Psalter as a unified collection, see Jamie A. Grant, The King as Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (Academica Biblica; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 11–19.

David, the Man of God

In contemporary English parlance, to call someone a “man” or “woman of God” substantially means that individual is “godly” or “pious.” As such, the phrase is a descriptor of a person’s moral or religious standing in relation to some perceived measure.

In the Hebrew Bible, however, אישׁ (ה)אלהים ([the] man of God) regularly designates a “prophet.” To be sure, these prophets were often “godly” or “pious,” but even here, there were occasional exceptions to this behavior (e.g., 1 Kgs 13). Rather, when the Hebrew Bible applies this same phrase to David, it fits him into the framework of the broader tradition of the prophet as Yahweh’s representative (Neh 12:24, 36; 2 Chron 8:14). In these particular texts, David’s status as an אישׁ אלהים (man of God) revolves around his plans for the temple’s administration. Even so, scarcely can at least the Davidic psalms be separated from vocation as a royal אישׁ אלהים (man of God).1

1. Cf. 11QPsalmsa 27; Augustine, Civ., 17.14 (NPNF1, 2:352–53).