PSALM FOURTEEN (13)
“ Jesus ” of Israel
PSALM 14 is familiar to us, doubtless because we have the impression that we recite it twice in the course of a week. In fact, we shall see to what extent Psalm 53 is a re-edited version of it.
This psalm is dedicated « To David, the choirmaster ». This places it in the same context as the preceding Psalms, namely the persecutions and divisions following the return from the Exile. It is an act of hope in the coming of the Messiah, who is to be born from Sion and restore Israel.
- To the choirmaster, to David. Nabal has said in his heart, « There is no God ! » They fall away, they are darkened by their “ lofty deed ”. Not one does good.
- From the height of Heaven Yahweh inclines over the sons of Adam to see if there one who is intelligent, one who seeks Elohim.
- All have become corrupt by turning away from Him; not one does good, not even one.
- Do they not know, all the evildoers, that when they eat up my people, they eat the bread of Yahweh ? Have they not read it ?
- There they trembled in fear, for Elohim was with the holy generation.
- You mock the plans of the humbled one, for Yahweh is his refuge.
- Who will make the salvation of Israel come from Sion ? When Yahweh changes the lot of His people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be joyful !
VERSE 1. Nabal is ordinarily translated with a common noun : « the fool ». But in Hebrew the word does not have an article. As the subject of the verb, Nabal is, then, a proper noun, the name of the man who is the archetype of all the “ impious ”, “ fools ”, and “ half-wits ” who say in their heart that the good God does not exist ! The Book of Samuel recounts how this man acted towards David : he acted as though God did not exist, abused the anointed of Yahweh, and refused to give provisions to him and to his men when he was wandering as the head of a band for which Nabal showed contempt. David was angered and was proceeding to punish Nabal as he deserved when Abigail intervened. Abigail was the inspired prophetess of the living God and of His promises; she was the wife of « this ill-natured fellow..., for he is well named : he is called Nabal, and the vile name clings to him » (1 S 25.25).
The prophet Isaiah wrote of him : « He speaks nonsense, and his heart is devoted to evil. He practices impiety, he holds erroneous notions about Yahweh, he lets the hungry man go without food, and refuses drink to a man who is thirsty. » (Is 32.6) Nabal is the personification of sinful humanity. This is why the Psalmist suddenly passes from the singular to the plural : « They fall away, they are darkened by their “ lofty deed ” », which is opposed to the “ lofty deeds ” of Yahweh (Ps 9.12). Who are “ they ” ? The next verse is going to tell us : the sons of Adam, i.e., everyone... St. Paul will say in the Epistle to the Romans that all are guilty before God.
VERSE 2. The Hebrew verb “ šâkal ” means to have understanding of things divine. The Unknown of the Exile announces that this gift was promised to the Messiah : « Behold, my Servant will have understanding. He will rise up, increase, and be exalted prodigiously. » (Is 52.14) The « understanding » of the Messiah to come contrasts with Israel’s deafness and infidelity; this was already completely encapsulated in the contrast between Nabal and Abagail. Abigail definitely was « full of understanding [šèkhèl] and beautiful to behold » (1 S 25.3). When she learned of the affront that her husband had made to David, she made haste to meet the Lord’s anointed who had been outraged and interceded on behalf of her house. In this way she prefigured the Virgin Mary, the Mediatrix of all graces, in the midst of a world that is entirely corrupt.
VERSE 3. The psalmist looked round about himself, or rather he saw Yahweh incline from the heights of heaven and declare, as He had in the days of the Flood and the tower of Babel and in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, that there was not to be found a single righteous man who could draw down the divine mercy. And today in our days of apostasy it is the same situation...
Before the Exile the prophet Jeremiah gave notice to Jerusalem as follows : « Run through the streets of Jerusalem, look around you, then, inform yourselves, seek out in its squares whether you can find a man who keeps the Law, who searches for the truth : then I shall spare this city. » (Jr 5.1) One was not found in Jeremiah’s day, less yet at the return from the Exile. The psalmist declares it with bitterness : « All have become corrupt ». Would Jerusalem become like Sodom in the days of Genesis, when Abraham interceded in vain on its behalf with Yahweh ?
Between verses 3 and 4 of the Hebrew version, the Septuagint and the Vulgate have an addition that takes on great importance from the fact that St. Paul inserted it in the Epistle to the Romans (Rm 3.13-18).
« Their throat is an open sepulchre;
their tongue weaves deceit.
Venom of an asp is on their lips,
cursing and bitterness fill their mouth.
Their feet are quick to shed blood;
ruin and misery are their ways.
The way of peace they know not;
no fear of God is before their eyes. »
In the Epistle to the Romans these verses are presented as the continuation from verses 1 to 3 of Psalm 14. They furnished St. Paul with his grand theme, « Everything that the Law says, it says for those who are under the Law in order that every mouth be closed and the whole world be recognised as guilty before God » (Rm .19). In the Apostle’s thinking these verses are, then, a summary of « the Law »; this word designates the whole of the Old Testament, as we explained (Ps 1.2). In fact, these few verses summarise history from its very beginnings, from the original sin that was committed at the instigation of the poisonous Serpent, the wiliest of animals. In the wake of this original sin there followed Cain’s murdering Abel, which is evoked in these psalm verses, and universal corruption.
The image of the « open sepulchre » recalls Core’s revolt against the authority of Moses and Aaron at the time of the Exodus. The expression was already applied to the floor of a schismatic temple (Ps 5.10); the image here evokes the « throat » of those who say that God does not exist.
4. Do they not know, all the evildoers, that when they eat up my people, they eat the bread of Yahweh ? Have they not read it ?
This verse repeats an oracle of the prophet Micah against the wicked leaders of the people who do not govern in accord with Yahweh’s design and oppress His people : « They eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off of them, and break their bones. They carve them like meat in the pot, like flesh in a full cauldron. » (Mi 3.3)
One recognises the false Samaritan brethren who dominated the ruins of Jerusalem at the return from the Exile. With all their power they hindered the restoration of the Temple and of the nation, which they were pillaging. Nevertheless, « have they not read » how « the ground split open beneath their feet, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, them and their families, as well as all the men of Core and all their possessions » (Nb 16.31-32).
5. There they trembled in fear, for Elohim was with the holy generation.
« At their cries all the Israelites who were around them fled. For they said to themselves : “ Let not the earth swallow us up ! ” » (Nb 16.33-34) So it went with the Samaritans who broke the Covenant with Yahweh, who erected a temple against the Temple, like Core when he contested Moses’ and Aaron’s authority in the past in the desert. The Samaritans do not belong to the « holy generation », since their population had mixed with colonists who at the time of the Assyrian invasion had been transferred there from different countries and had brought along with them their gods and customs.
6. You mock the plans of the humbled one, for Yahweh is his refuge.
The definition of the humbled one (’anî) is that he finds his refuge in God, according to the prophecy of Zephaniah, which dates to 612 b.c. : « I shall only leave a humble and modest people in your midst; the remnant of Israel will seek refuge in the name of Yahweh. » (Zp 3.12)
7. Who will make the salvation of Israel come from Sion ? When Yahweh changes the lot of His people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be joyful !
« Sion » is Jerusalem’s name, the capital of the kingdom of Judah; « Israel » here designates the northern kingdom, the capital of which was Samaria. The psalmist begins by addressing the latter. The « salvation of Israel », which translates just as well « Jesus of Israel » (yeshû’at yisra’el ), is destined to come from Sion, i.e., from Jerusalem, in accord with Scripture : « From Sion comes the Law, and from Jerusalem the word of Yahweh. » (Is 2.3) Jesus will repeat it to the Samaritan woman : « You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation comes from the Jews » (Jn 4.22), those who dwell in Judah.
But the salvation of all is certain according to the promise of the prophet Jeremiah : « For, behold, days will come, it is the oracle of Yahweh, when I shall lead the captives of my people Israel and Judah back, says Yahweh; I shall have them return to the country that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it. » (Jr 30.3) Jeremiah, then, was addressing Israel, the northern kingdom, which had been taken into exile one hundred years before when Josiah tried to retake Samaria and Galilee. Hope then arose to have those taken into exile in 721 b.c. return to the kingdom of David, now fully restored. The following announcement of a return was then heard in the kingdom of Judah when it was in its turn conquered and taken into exile :
« So speaks Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel. This word will be said again in the country of Judah and in its cities when I shall have their captives return : “ May Yahweh bless you, O dwelling of righteousness, O holy mountain ! ” » (Jr 31.23)
So, the oracles of Jeremiah, which were pronounced in the time of Josiah, i.e., between 622 and 609 b.c., retain all their dramatic significance and timeliness in the centuries that follow the return from the Exile. Salvation will extend from Sion, now restored, to Jacob, i.e., to the rest of Palestine, which was still under the control of the Samaritans, whom Nabal personifies.
« Who will make the Jesus of Israel come from Sion ? » The Virgin who is to give birth (Is 7.14) is the personification of Sion. It is from the Virgin Mary that « the Jesus of Israel is to come »... The Psalms are a protoevangelium. The last word of the psalm, the verb yagèl, evokes the name of Abigail, that other woman who came before David as the Samaritan woman was to come before Jesus : « Jacob will rejoice », yagèl ya’akob. This is how chapter 4 of St. John’s Gospel corresponds to the expectation of this psalm : the rivalry between Jerusalem and Samaria is obvious initially in the Samaritan woman’s words but then her longing for the Messiah who will restore the unity of the Chosen People.
« The woman said to Him : “ I know that the Messiah is to come, He whom they call Christ. When He comes, He will reveal everything to us. ” Jesus said to her : “ I am, I, the one who speaks to you. ” » (Jn 4.25-26)
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary
He is risen ! n° 54, March 2007