PSALM SEVENTEEN (16)
Prayer against foreign invasion
- Prayer to David.
Hearken, Yahweh-Sedeq, be attentive to My cry, give ear to My prayer, there is no deceit on My lips.
- From Your Face will come My judgement. Your eyes see clearly.
- You have probed My Heart, you have visited at night, You have purified Me ; You will not find that I have thought what did not pass from My mouth.
- On account of the labours of Adam, following a word from Your lips, I have kept the robber’s paths.
- Keep My steps on Your ways ; My feet have not stumbled.
- I have called on You because You will hear Me, My God ; turn Your ear to Me, and hear what I have to say :
- Perform wonders of Your mercy ; save those who find refuge in Your right hand against the rebels.
- Keep Me like the apple of Your eye ; hide Me in the shadow of Your wings
- from the eyes of the impious who ravage Me. In the soul My enemies encircle Me.
- They have closed their fat ; their mouth has spoken with pride.
- Now our Assyrians have encircled Me : their eyes are watchful to throw down to the ground.
- Like a lion eager to tear into pieces and a lion cub crouching in its lair,
- rise up Yahweh ! Confront him, bring him to his knees ! Your sword will deliver My soul from the impious one ;
- Your hand, Yahweh, from mortals ! They are mortals as a result of their share with the living. And from what You hold in reserve, You will make their womb fruitful, they will have children in abundance, and they will leave their treasure to their children.
- With justice, I shall contemplate Your Face, and I shall be satisfied at the awakening of Your form.
VERSE 1. “ Yahweh-Sedeq ”, « He is Justice », a name that Jeremiah gave to the « wise king » who « will execute justice and judgement in the country. In his days, Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell in security. Here is the name with which He will be called : “ Yahweh our justice ”. » (Jr 23 :5-6)
The Messiah’s prayer is unfeigned, in accord with what the Unknown of the Exile wrote about Him : « He has never done wrong, nor has He uttered deceit from His mouth. » (Is 53 :9)
VERSE 2. In accord with the promise made to the Servant of Yahweh, « I have set My Spirit upon Him for Him to bring forth justice among the nations. » (Is 42 :1) From where will He « bring it forth » ? From the Face of Yahweh, who appears terrible to the wicked and kindly on account of the Messiah.
VERSE 3. Yahweh tested the Messiah’s « Heart » in the crucible as one refines metal, and He discovered no dross. Our Lord will fulfil this prophecy : « Who among you will convict Me of sin ? » (Jn 8 :46) God can visit and instruct Him even in the night (Ps 16 :7).
Yahweh, who probes His Heart, will find not one thought other than His word. His mouth is pure, like Isaiah’s, which a Seraph touched with a burning coal and purified (Is 6 :7). He is pure of heart, of speech, but also of deed :
4. On account of the labours of Adam, following a word from your lips, I have kept the robber’s paths.
Unlike other men (cf. Ps 12 and 14), the Messiah did not deviate from God’s law at all. He is innocent. And yet, on the basis of « a word » of Yahweh, behold him entering onto the « paths » of sinful mankind. As had Yahweh Himself of old : « Is this Temple that bears My name a robber’s den in your sight ? In any case, I see clearly, oracle of Yahweh ! » (Jr 7 :11; cf. Jn 2 :15-16)
5. Keep my steps on your ways ; my feet have not stumbled.
In accord with the promise : « Here is My Servant, whom I support. » (Is 42 :1) This is why He proceeds with a firm gait : « He neither wavers nor runs. » (Is 42 :4)
6. I have called on You because You will hear Me, My God ; turn Your ear to Me, and hear what I have to say :
There is a mystical intimacy, a familiarity between the Messiah and God, whom the former invokes by means of the common noun ’el (cf. Ps 16 :1). What does He ask of Him ?
7. Perform wonders of Your mercy ; save those who find refuge in Your right hand against the rebels.
God revealed His mercy to Moses : « I have compassion on whom I will, and I have pity on who seems good to Me. » (Ex 33 :19) At that time the « rebels », literally “ those who rise up ” (Ps 3 :2), were the worshipers of the Golden Calf, a sin the Samaritan schismatics renew. But the Messiah, the new Moses, has a refuge, Yahweh’s « right hand », as His « hand » of old sheltered Moses (Ex 33 :22; Is 49 :2).
8. Keep Me like the apple of Your eye ; hide Me in the shadow of Your wings
9. from the eyes of the impious who ravage Me. In the soul My enemies encircle Me.
We chant Verse 8 at the end of the short responsory of Compline ; it is, as it were, a resume of the Covenant that Yahweh concluded with Israel, in virtue of which « He led him about and taught him ; he kept him as the apple of his eye. As the eagle watching over its nest, and hovering over its young, he spreads his wings, takes him, and holds him up on his wings. »
Jesus will repeat the image in dramatic circumstances : « Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times have I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…, and you did not want it ! »
Does Verse 9 evoke the invasion of some « enemies in the soul », i.e., enemies who are definitively irreconcilable and who ravage the Holy Land ?
10. They have closed their fat ; their mouth has spoken with pride.
In the time of the Judges Yahweh « raised up a liberator » on behalf of Israel named Ehud. He met the king of Moab, and, when they were alone, « Ehud extended his right hand, drew the dagger atop his right thigh, and drove it into the king’s belly. Even the handle entered along with the blade, and the fat closed round the blade. » (Jg 3 :21-22)
Such is the lot promised to the proud adversaries of Yahweh and His Messiah. Who are they ?
The Samaritans’ sin is « pride » (Is 28 :1). All the more so is it the sin of Antiochus Epiphanes, whose mouth was full of arrogance and « spoke great things » (Dn 7 :8).
11. Now our Assyrians have encircled me : their eyes are watchful to throw down to the ground.
’ashureinû is the designation that has not been understood by translators but that allows one to specify the historical context of the psalm. It is the same as the Book of Judith, second century B.C.
In fact, the latter work presents Nabuchodonosor, king of the Babylonians as « king of the Assyrians » (Jdt 2 :1). But Cyrus the Persian destroyed Babylon and allowed the exiles to return (538 B.C.). And now the Seleucid rulers (305-64 B.C.), Alexander’s successors and new « Assyrians », encircle Israel.
12. Like a lion eager to tear into pieces and a lion cub crouching in its lair,
The shift from the plural to the singular marks a change of subject. Literally, « His appearance is that of a lion » (cf. Os 11 :10). But the metaphor is applied also to Judah (Gn 49 :9) in the person of Judas Maccabeus (166-160 B.C.) and his brothers as they resisted the victorious Hellenism.
13. rise up Yahweh ! Confront him, bring him to his knees ! Your sword will deliver My soul from the impious one ;
According to our interpretation, « the impious one » is Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.)
14. Your hand, Yahweh, from mortals ! They are mortals as a result of their separation from the living. And from what You hold in reserve, You will make their bosom fruitful, they will have children in abundance, and they will leave their treasure to their children.
This verse is an appeal to immortality (cf. Ps 4 :9). Along with toil (supra, v. 4), death is the lot of the sons of Adam, and motherhood that of the daughters of Eve. But everyone comes from the hand of God. What He « holds in reserve » is the seed of the Messiah to come, the Saviour of mortals, a « treasure » that will be born of their lineage (Gn 3 :15).
15. With justice, I shall contemplate Your Face, and I shall be satisfied at the awakening of Your form.
« With justice », be-sedeq, like Yahweh in the psalm’s first verse ; the Messiah reflects His Face like Moses, to whom Yahweh « spoke face to face plainly and not in riddles, and he saw the form of Yahweh » (Nb 12 :8).
By means of this last verse we are already very close to the « master of Justice », the founder of the Essenian community at Qumrân who awaited the coming of Jesus, a new Moses, the brilliance of the Face of His Father.
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary
He is risen ! n° 75, December 2008