« Glory and splendour »… to Jesus alone !
- To the choirmaster, on the cithara.
A Psalm to David.
- Yahweh, Our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout all the earth, which celebrates Your Majesty more than the heavens
- Through the mouth of infants and babes at the breast ! You have established a stronghold against Your adversaries, to hold in abeyance him who has hatred and him who wreaks vengeance !
- To see Your Heaven, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which You fixed there,
- What then is Enosh that You should be mindful of him ? and the son of Adam that You should visit him ?
- Indeed, You deprive him for a moment of Elohim. But You crown him with glory and splendour.
- You will establish him over the works of Your hands ; You have put all beneath his feet ;
- All sheep and oxen and even the beasts of the fields.
- The fowls of the air and the fish of the sea that move through the paths of the seas.
- Yahweh, Our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout all the earth !
THE invocation « Yahweh Our Lord » (v. 2 and 10) is found nowhere else in the Bible except one other time, in the Book of Nehemiah. This expression, therefore, dates the work from the Persian period, from the time when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (445 BC).
It is « throughout all the earth », meaning the Holy Land, that the Name of Yahweh is magnified « through the mouth of infants and babes at the breast » (v. 3). That is why the inspired writer has no hesitation in stating that « the earth », through the mouth of these innocents, celebrates the majesty of Yahweh « more than the heavens ». But above all Heaven « is not pure in His eyes » (Jb 15.15) in comparison with the innocence of children. This is an allusion to the fall of the angels (Jb 4.18; Is 24.21), which will be clearly revealed by St. John in the Apocalypse (Ap 12.7-9).
In verse 3, this aboriginal struggle comes down to « earth ». The « stronghold » built by « Yahweh Our Lord » against His « adversaries » is Jerusalem, « the fortress city » (Is 26.1) that was built on « a tested stone, a precious cornerstone that served as a foundation » and placed on Sion by « the Lord Yahweh » Himself (Is 28.16). It is this « cornerstone » that is extolled in another poem, Psalm 30, whose inspiration is similar to that of Psalm 8 : « Yahweh, by Your favour, You have fixed a fortress on my mountain. » (Ps 30.8)
In order to understand the tone of these verses, one must imagine the situation of the Jews in Jerusalem in 445 BC, a hundred years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). An initial attempt to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem met with opposition from the Samaritans, who had gained from the Persian administration an order for the works to be stopped (Esd 4.7-23; Ne 1.3). But Nehemiah, an official at the royal palace of Susa, obtained an official mission from Artaxerxes. Thanks to the personal credit he enjoyed with the Great-King, he was able to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem, despite the intrigues of his « adversaries » who breathed nothing but « hatred » and « vengeance » (cf. Ne 3.33 – 4.17).
From this quarrel that a handful of “ Yahwists ” persisted in maintaining in Judea, a minuscule province of the immense Persian Empire, the Psalmist rises to a consideration of the whole universe. In this cosmic perspective, the « hatred » that motivates the Samaritans against the exiles returned to Jerusalem is but a manifestation of the eternal hatred established by Yahweh God from the beginning between the serpent and his “ brood ” on the one side, and the Woman and Her « lineage », on the other. « I shall put enmity between you and the Woman. » (Gn 3.15)
ENOSH, SON OF SETH, SON OF ADAM.
The exegetes interpret verse 4 as a « nocturnal contemplation » of the starry sky (Jacquet). But the stars here, as were « the Heavens » of verse 2, are an allegory of the fallen angels. The Psalmist’s thinking follows the same course as that of the Book of Job : « If the circling moon is found wanting, and the stars are not innocent in His eyes, much more so is man (ènôsh), who is but a maggot, a son of Adam, a worm ! » (Jb 25.5-6)
At verse 5, we have translated ènôsh as a proper name : Enosh. It is true that the word has passed into the language as the common noun for human beings in general. But here it designates the son of Seth (Gn 4.25), the ancestor of the whole human race, at least of the line destined to inherit the promises of salvation (Gn 3.15), as opposed to the cursed descent of Cain, precisely over whom hangs « vengeance ». (v. 3; cf. Gn 4.24).
The author, therefore, intended to cite Enosh in the midst of a hymn extolling the glory of the Name of Yahweh. Why ? Precisely because, according to the “ Yahwist ” tradition, to which the author belongs, it is after the birth of this antediluvian patriarch that « people began to invoke the Name of Yahweh », (Gn 4.26) whose glory is sung by the Psalmist. It is from Enosh, therefore, that the blessed race was born of those infants and babes at the breast, through whose mouth the whole world celebrates the majesty of Yahweh better than the heavens. It is from this race born of the Woman that He founded a « stronghold » capable of prevailing over the devil’s brood, the cursed Samaritans, the race of Cain, who do not invoke the Name of Yahweh and exude nothing but hatred and vengeance.
PRIVATION OF ELOHIM
The descendants of Enosh themselves, however, fill the earth with wickedness and violence (Gn 6.5) and draw down on themselves the chastisement of the Flood. But they also attract Yahweh’s mildness, Who decides, « never again shall I put the earth under a curse because of mankind (’âdâm), however evil their inclination may be from their youth upwards » (Gn 8.21). Whence comes the Psalmist’s question : « What then is Enosh that You should be mindful of him ? and the son of Adam that You should visit him ? » (v. 5)
The verb « visit » designates an intervention by God in order to save (Ex 3.16; Lk 1.68; 19.44), after an absence or a “ privation, ” as recalled in verse 6.
This verse is constantly being quoted to the glory of man, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC no 2566), for example. This use in favour of a “ cult of man ” that Pope Paul VI proclaimed at the Second Vatican Council is made possible by a faulty translation : « Yet You have made him little less than a god, You have crowned him with glory and beauty. » (Jerusalem Bible)
Exegetes such as Louis Jacquet, one of the best commentators on the Psalms, conclude « the almost divine grandeur of man » as a result. And so, the cry of admiration with which the poem opens (v. 2) seems to him to yield its true meaning at the end (v. 10). Repeated as a refrain, it « becomes an act of thanksgiving to Yahweh for all the great things He has done in Man and for Man ».
In fact the text translated from the Hebrew says just the opposite : « Indeed, You deprive him for a moment of Elohim », wa-tehaseréhû me’at mé-’èlohîm (v. 6). Assuredly, this is the meaning here of the verb hasér, as it is in the Book of Ecclesiastes : « For whom do I toil and deprive (mehasér) myself of good things ? » (Qo 4.8) This « privation » is the great chastisement of the times of apostasy : « Yes, I will go back to My place until they admit their guilt and seek My presence. » (Hos 5.15), announced Yahweh, shortly before the ruin of Samaria (721 BC).
As for the adverb me’at, « little », its meaning here is a short lapse of time, as Saint Paul understood it : « You made Him for a short while subordinate to the angels » (Hb 2.7). As the trial is prolonged amid the disappointments that followed the return from Exile, this « little » expresses the Yahwist psalmist’s faith in the prophecy. After having announced the “ privation ” of God’s presence, Hosea in fact continues : « In their distress they will search diligently for Me. “ Come, let us return to Yahweh. He has torn us, but He will heal us, He has struck us, but He will bind up our wounds. After two days He will revive us, on the third day He will raise us to live in His presence ”. » (Hos 5.15 – 6.1-2; cf. Ps 30.5-6; Is 54.7-9; 64.6-7) Elohim’s return in favour of Enosh is therefore certain : « You will crown him » in the future and not in the perfect. « With glory and splendour », which are the royal and divine attributes (Is 2.10; 19.21) of the Messiah Who is to come, of Whom Enosh is the ancestor and the figure.
THE TRIUMPH OF THE MESSIAH
« The works of Your hands » (v. 7) is not the first creation, over which man was made king on the sixth day (Gn 1.26), as those theologians concerned for the « theology of man’s kingship over creation » never cease repeating (Jacquet). Rather, it is the Messianic community of the restoration to come « a work of My hands, made to be beautiful », says Yahweh (Is 60.21; cf. 64.7; 45.11; 29.23). Over it shall reign « Enosh » in the person of the Messiah, who is prefigured by this patriarch and ancestor of His. Yahweh has promised to make of His enemies « a footstool for His feet » (Ps 110.1), in fulfilment of the ancient oracle : « He shall crush your head » (Gn 3.15). « You have placed all things under His feet » : the prophetic perfect expresses it as though this victory over the Serpent had already been won, this victory that was promised to the Woman’s lineage from the beginning.
Verses 8 and 9 list the subjects of the Messianic Kingdom. The « sheep » are ourselves : « we, the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand », at last made docile (Ps 95.7; cf. Ez 34; Ps 23.1-4; 80.2). The « oxen », are Ephraim, the kingdom of the schismatic North and adorers of the « calf » (Hos 8.5-6; 10.5). Elsewhere they are compared to a stubborn heifer (Hos 4.16) or to a young untrained bull (Jr 31.18), but here to « oxen ».
« All sheep and oxen together »; there is a play on words in this second term. In Hebrew, it designates the « oxen », but also the « families » or « clans » of Israel (Nb 1.16 et passim). This mixed flock of cattle and small livestock is an allegory of the longed for reunion between Samaria and Judea under the staff of one single shepherd.
« And even the beasts of the fields », literally : « even the behemoth of the fields », which represent the other nations, who also come under the dominion of the Messiah (Is 11.6-8). But in the Book of Job, Behemoth is a monster that symbolises the power of evil that only God can master (Jb 40.15-24). There is a necessary comparison here to be made with the original Serpent, the enemy of God and of man, who is placed beneath the feet of the Messiah in virtue of the ancient promise (Gn 3.15).
Again, it is he whom the Psalmist has in mind in verse 9 : « bird », in the singular, designates the « fleeing Serpent » (Jb 26.13), the « flying dragon » (Is 14.29), that haunts the skies and dwells in the sea (Is 27.1).
A psalm to the glory of man ? Yes, provided it is made clear that it is to the glory of the man Jesus « son of Enosh, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God » (Lk 3.38).
Jesus applied this psalm to Himself in response to the recriminations of the scribes and the chief priests who were hypocritically scandalised at the shouts of the children crying out to His honour in the Temple : « Hosanna to the Son of David ! » (Mt 21.15-16). This exegesis is taken up by St. Paul and not only in the Epistle to the Hebrews : « He has put all things in subjection under His feet. » (1 Co 15.27) Not for an instant does the Apostle think of the kingship of Man !
It is the cry of victory of Christ’s disciple that today dictates our serene, peaceful and invincible hope when faced with the formidable armies of the Antichrist that are ready for war on earth, in the sea and in the air. « He has put all things in subjection beneath His feet, and given Him as Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills the universe in all its parts. » (Ep 1.22)
Brother Bruno de Jesus
He is risen ! n° 27, November 2004