Thijs Booij, «Psalm 141: a Prayer for Discipline and Protection», Vol. 86 (2005) 97-106
Psalm 141 has national distress as its background. The
speaker of this text prays for discipline, not to be enticed by the ‘delicacies’
of profiteers, ‘workers of mischief’, and thus become involved in their
intrigues. Discipline, such as a righteous person may teach him, will enable him
to seek justice for these people when the present regime is overthrown. At the
end of the psalm the speaker asks his God that he himself be guarded from evil
which the ‘workers of mischief’ may plot against him. In vv. 4-6 all 3rd person
plural suffixes refer to those called Nw)-yl(p;
they are also the subject of w(m#$w (v. 6b). In
v. 4 twll( means ‘fabrications’. In v.
5 w dw( can be understood as ‘in the end’, and
tw(r as ‘troubles’.
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100 Th. Booij
(3) In v. 5a, turning his eye to the future, the speaker makes his prayer a
a. Some authors take dsj and var Ë†mv as nominal clauses following a
conditional or optative element (24). These clauses, however, would be rather
exceptional, since in principle they should have a subject, or resuming subject,
and a predicate (25). There is yet another consideration. The pronominal suffix
in Âµhytw[r, â€˜their evil thingsâ€™ (v. 5b), can only refer to the â€˜gentlemenâ€™
mentioned in v. 4. If dsj and var Ë†mv are taken as clauses, strong interruptions
are effected, blurring the relationship between the suffix and its antecedent.
So there is reason to assume, in accordance with the massoretic accentuation,
that v. 5a has only one major caesura, which is after ynjykwyw. The noun dsj is an
adjunct then (â€˜in kindnessâ€™, â€˜caringlyâ€™) (26), while after ynmlhy, taken as a jussive
(â€˜let him strike meâ€™), ynjykwyw may be read as an â€˜indirectâ€™ jussive: â€˜to discipline
meâ€™, â€˜for disciplineâ€™ (27). In the second stich yvar, â€˜my headâ€™, is logically
subject. By var Ë†mv excellent oil is meant (cf. Exod 30,23 var Âµymcb, â€˜spices,
topâ€™: finest spices) (28). In translation, the characterizing force of var Ë†mv may
be underscored by â€˜soâ€™ or â€˜like thatâ€™ (cf. Ps 95,10 rwd, â€˜a generation like thatâ€™;
Job 15,13 Ë†ylm, â€˜such wordsâ€™) (29). Instead of ayny (awn hi., â€˜oppose, keep off,
refuseâ€™), the â€˜standardâ€™ text has yny, which â€˜incorrectâ€™ form may well be origi-
nal (30). The use of la, not al, makes the statement emotional and emphatic (31).
b. Our text can hardly refer to strokes with the rod as mentioned in
Proverbs, since there â€œa rod is for the backâ€ (Prov 10,13; 26,3). We may think
of a box on the ears, suitable for teaching one (cf. Prov 19,25). The speaker,
as a good student, will gratefully accept that chastisement (cf. Prov 9,8; 27,5-
6; 28,23): â€œoil so excellent my head will not refuseâ€ (cf. e.g. Ps 92,11). The
wordplay var (â€˜topâ€™) - yvar (â€˜my headâ€™) fits in with the imaginative turn of
(4) The third stich of v. 5, especially its beginning, is the core of the
problem in our psalm.
a. To find a solution, we may notice â€” as has been done (32) â€” the
analogy of w dw[ with w f[m dw[ (Exod 17,4; Jer 51,33; Hos 1,4; Ps 37,10). In
f[m dw[ the element dw[ can be taken as â€˜yetâ€™, and f[m as â€˜short timeâ€™ (cf. Hag
2,6; 2 Chr 12,7). However, f[m actually means â€˜a littleâ€™; and since dw[ can
mean â€˜a good whileâ€™ (Gen 46,29) and â€˜continuallyâ€™ (Ps 84,5), its primary
sense appears to be â€˜continuance, durationâ€™. So w f[m dw[ can be understood as
â€˜continuance-of-a-little and...â€™, â€˜(yet) a little while and...â€™, that is: soon. By
analogy, w dw[ can be taken as â€˜continuance and...â€™, â€˜(yet) a while and...â€™, that
is: in the end.
(24) yvar ynyAla is considered either a relative clause then or an independent element.
(25) See GESENIUSâ€“KAUTZSCH, Â§ 140a; JOÃœONâ€“MURAOKA, Â§ 154a-d.
(26) Cf. GESENIUSâ€“KAUTZSCH, Â§ 118q.
(27) See JOÃœONâ€“MURAOKA, Â§ 116d (3).
(28) On account of the LXX (e[laion de; aJmartwlou') many read [v;r: instead of var.
(29) Cf. the translation issued by the Jewish Publication Society of America, rendering
the text as â€œOil so choice let not my head refuseâ€.
(30) See GESENIUSâ€“KAUTZSCH, Â§ 74k.
(31) See S.R. DRIVER, A Treatise on the Use of the Tenses in Hebrew. And Some Other
Syntactical Questions (Oxford 31892) Â§ 58.
(32) See e.g. L.C. ALLEN, Psalms 101â€“150 (WBC 21; Nashville 2002) 340.