The joy of sacrifice
- To the choirmaster, with stringed instruments, a psalm to David.
- Give ear to my cry, O God of my victory ! You have kept me away in distress. Be merciful to me, and hear my prayer !
- « O children of men, how long will My glory be outraged ? How long will you love vain words ? How long will you seek a lie ?
- « Know that Yahweh has set apart a holy one for Himself : Yahweh gives ear to my cry to Him.
- « Shudder and do not sin, speak with your own heart on your beds, and be silent.
- « Offer righteous sacrifices, and hope in Yahweh. »
- There are many who say : « Who will show us goodness ? Lift up the light of Your Face upon us, O Yahweh ! »
- You have put more joy in my heart than at the moment when their grain and must abound.
- In mutual peace I lie down and sleep, for You, O Yahweh, have made me dwell apart in safety.
WE sing this psalm at Compline on Sundays and feast days : Cum invocarem…Verse 1 serves as a dedication as in Psalm 3. The first and last word are formed with the same preposition lamed (see the third psalm). We must therefore translate in two ways that are not antithetical : « for the choirmaster », and « from David », as is the case in the Osty Bible, but in parallel, understanding that the psalmist is dedicating this poem « to David » as « choirmaster ». David was in fact a poet, a musician, and an inventor of musical instruments. In the second Book of Samuel, he is described as « cantor of Israel’s hymns » (2 S 23.1)
2. Give ear to my cry, O God of my victory ! You have kept me away in distress. Be merciful to me, and hear my prayer !
In a letter addressed to the Jews exiled to Babylon, the Prophet Jeremiah promised them that after seventy years of captivity, Yahweh would visit them and bring them back to Jerusalem. « Then you will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I shall listen to you. » (Jr 29.12) For a people who had turned away from God, this meant that the Exile would convert them. This is what happened, and Yahweh « kept away » His people as promised, by delivering them from their « distress ». This word characterises the oppressive condition of the Exile. Yahweh said by the mouth of the Prophet Hosea, before Jeremiah : « I will return again to My place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My Face, and in their affliction they seek Me. » (Hos 5.15)
Here the Psalmist invokes Yahweh as « God of my victory », literally : « God of my righteousness ». The word “ righteousness ”, however, is not sufficiently explicit to translate the Hebrew word “ sêdêq ”. This word implies a restoration of not only each individual’s interior justice, but that, as well, which we refer to as the “ orthodromic ” order that Yahweh has desired from the beginning of time, and which is victorious over the opposing forces in revolt against Him and against His Anointed, described in Psalm 2.
Well, despite this « victory », the Psalmist still raises his prayer to his God. He was « kept away », and, therefore, withdrawn from the « distress » of the Exile. And yet, he beseeches : « Be merciful to me, and hear my prayer. » So what does he complain about ?
3. « O children of men, how long will My glory be outraged ? How long will you love vain words ? How long will you seek a lie ?
We explained last month how, in Psalm 3, the Messiah called Yahweh « my glory, and He who exalts my Head » (Ps 3.4). Here He complains about the insults committed by men of no account to this divine « glory » with which He is invested. In this way, He becomes identified with the Suffering Servant « glorified in Yahweh’s eyes » according to the second song (Is 49.5), but insulted by men according to the third song : « I have offered My back to those who struck Me, My cheeks to those who plucked My beard ; I have not turned My Face away from insult and spitting. » (Is 50.6)
Like the kings and the peoples united against Yahweh and against His Anointed (Ps 2.1-2), the « children of men » are fond of the « vain words » of the idols, instead of loving « Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might » (Dt 6.5), in accordance with the commandment that Deuteronomy, contemporary with Jeremiah, attributed to Moses. They seek « the lies » of the false gods, instead of seeking Yahweh.
4. « Know that Yahweh has set apart a holy one for Himself : Yahweh gives ear to my cry to Him.
There is one of the « children of men » who is certain that Yahweh loves Him even when He is insulted and spat upon by men, because He is « a holy (hasîd) one for Himself », even before birth : « Yahweh called Me from the womb ; from the womb of My mother He had pronounced My Name » (Is 49.1)
Therefore He is sure to be heard, according to the promise of the third song of the Servant :
« For Lord Yahweh comes to My help; this is why I have not become disheartened ; this is why I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame » (Is 50.7)
5. « Shudder and do not sin, speak with your own heart on your beds, and be silent.
To « shudder » from the fear that is owed to Yahweh and to sin no more is the beginning of wisdom ; it is to cease to offend God and corresponds to the « trembling » of the rebellious nations (Ps 2.1)
« Speak with your own heart », according to the recommendation of Deuteronomy : « And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart. You shall tell them to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. » (Dt 6.6-7)
Since the return from Exile, the « children of men » have received the grace of taking their delight in the Law of Yahweh, of murmuring it day and night (Ps 1.2), no longer reciting it like prayer wheels, but with their heart, according to the promise of Jeremiah :
« But this is the covenant which I will make with the House of Israel after those days, Yahweh declares : I will put My Law on their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people. » (Jr 31.33)
« On your beds », a symbol of the humiliated position of Jerusalem at the return from Exile, moaning like the Beloved of the Song of Songs :
« Upon my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loves ; I sought Him, but found Him not ! » (Sg 3.1)
« And be silent », like the Messiah in the first song of the Servant : « He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street. » (Is 42.2) And « like a lamb led to the slaughter, so He opened not His mouth » (Is 53.7)
6. « Offer righteous sacrifices, and hope in Yahweh. »
The thousands of lambs and bulls sacrificed in the Temple over the centuries announced the sacrifice of the silent Servant, who would justify the many by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
« And hope in Yahweh. » Here the object of hope is the « righteousness », that the sacrifice of the innocent Lamb will procure, and that the Mosaic liturgy was powerless to obtain.
7. There are many who say : « Who will show us goodness ? Lift up the light of Your Face upon us, O Yahweh ! »
In Psalm 3, the Psalmist was exposed to the contradiction of a sceptical and ironical multitude : « Numerous are they who tell my soul about Elohim : There is no salvation in Him ! » (Ps 3.3) The « numerous » of Psalm 4 responds to this apostasy by a supplication to Yahweh.
The Prophet Isaiah had promised « a great light » brought by the Messiah « to the people who walked in the darkness » (Is 9.1). Centuries had passed in expectation of this King-Messiah and, far from losing hope, the inspired author demanded that this light be that of the very Face of God. This was something inconceivable until His advent, for no one can see the Face of God without dying (Ex 33.20).
8. You have put more joy in my heart than at the moment when their grain and must abound.
In fact, this light of the Face of God will bring more joy than what the same prophesy of Isaiah promised : « You have enlarged the nation, you have increased its joy ; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as they exult when they are dividing the spoils. » So what is the source of a joy greater than that of the harvest ?
9. In mutual peace I lie down and sleep, for You, O Yahweh, have made me dwell apart in safety.
« In mutual peace », with Yahweh « I lie down and sleep », a figure of the death of the Servant, which will be followed by a mysterious resurrection (cf. Ps 3.6). At the time when the Psalmist writes, it is the situation of the Hebrew people, set « apart » by Yahweh (Nb 23.9), « in safety » (Dt 33.28), after the return from the Exile to a poor, devastated territory, limited to the district of Jerusalem, « alone in a forest in the midst of orchards » (Mi 7.14). But here, a man – is it the Psalmist himself ? is it the Messiah to come for whom he is the figure ? the one sent by God, the Servant of Yahweh ? – a man finds joy in his humiliated condition.
This is an extraordinary advance in Revelation, compared to the three preceding psalms, and in the very interpretation of the poems of the Servant.
This psalm can only be understood if we apply it to Jesus. He immolated Himself in a sacrifice of justice « for the many », without opening His mouth, without a complaint – except to utter it in a sigh to God His Father with His Heart –and going to sleep « in peace » with God, but also with the children of men. « Peace I leave you, My own peace I give you » (Jn 14.27), He says, since He assumed the chastisement that gives this peace back to us.
However, He knows that He will rise on the third day in order to live « apart », out of reach, in the glory of the Face of His Father, whose light He will one day make shine on us as well.
Brother Bruno de Jesus
He is risen ! n° 22, June 2004