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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102 Th. Booij
thrown down beside the rock (cf. 2 Chr 25,12) (37) will be a day of celebration
for the people (cf. Isa 1,26; Ps 94,15). It will be a bad day for those who used
to profit by their corruption. The time of their pleasant things, their
â€˜delicaciesâ€™ (Âµhym[nm), is over then; mockery and hostility fall to their share.
The revengeful feelings of the crowd will not, however, affect the speaker of
our text. As a disciple of the righteous (v. 5), he will seek the restoration of
law and justice (cf. Deut 16,18.20); and he will pray. At present his words are
not as the â€˜workers of mischiefâ€™ would like; in their troubles they will hear
them as â€˜pleasantâ€™ (wm[n, v. 6b). They will find some comfort in his words.
c. The close connection between verses 5b and 6 is confirmed by the
chiastic structure in this passage: the relation between â€˜my wordsâ€™ and â€˜being
thrown downâ€™ (v. 6) is the same as that between â€˜my prayerâ€™ and â€˜their
troublesâ€™ (v. 5).
The final part of the psalm shows the distress of the community, as well
as the speakerâ€™s solidarity with his people and his sense of being in danger.
(1) In v. 7, using the 1st person plural, the speaker presents himself as a
member of the national community (38). The statement made in this verse is of
a. In the second stich the imagery is superabundant. The scattered bones
symbolize the peopleâ€™s lamentable condition (cf. Ps 53,6; Ezek 37,1-2.11).
The mention of their position redoubles the imagery: â€˜at the mouth of Sheolâ€™
they are ready to be swallowed by Death (see e.g. Num 16,30.32; Isa
b. The simile in the first stich prepares and supports the imagery in the
second (cf. Ps 83,15-16; 102,10a). For a clear understanding it is important to
note that wmk, â€˜asâ€™, does not relate to the subject, but to the situation
indicated (40). The verb jlp occurs in qal only here in Biblical Hebrew. In
other Semitic languages plhâ‰¥ is mainly used as â€˜split; till, work; serveâ€™ (41).
Because of the mention of Sheol in the second stich, jlp and [qb are likely to
be activities in the earth (cf. â‰ˆra in e.g. 1 Sam 26,7; Isa 40,24) (42). Since in
(37) Some understand [ls (â€˜rockâ€™) as a designation of YHWH; see TOURNAY, â€œLe
Psaume cxliâ€, 60; â€œPsaume cxli: nouvelle interprÃ©tationâ€, 324; A. DEISSLER, Die Psalmen
(WB.KK; DÃ¼sseldorf 1963-1965) III,198; M. DAHOOD, Psalms III, 101â€“150. Introduction,
translation, and notes (AB 17A; Garden City, NY 1970) 313; L.C. ALLEN, Psalms
101â€“150, 340. HARTMANN, Studie, 29, takes [ls as â€˜moneyâ€™ (ransom) in this text.
(38) Cf. e.g. Ps 20,6.8.10; 79,4.8-13; 115,1.3.18. It has been supposed that the 1st
person plural refers to a grouping related to the speaker; see e.g. A.F. KIRKPATRICK, The
Book of Psalms (Cambridge 1902) 799; J.C. MCCANN, The New Interpreterâ€™s Bible IV
(Nashville 1996) 1244. The usage in the psalms does not favour that view.
(39) Cf. J.B. BURNS, An Interpretation of Psalm cxli 7b, VT 22 (1972) 245-246,
mentioning texts in which Mot (Death) is described as â€œa monster devouring all who
approached his jawsâ€.
(40) A similar case in Ps 74,5; see also e.g. Mark 4,26-27. For the use of the participle
see GESENIUSâ€“KAUTZSCH, Â§ 116t; JOÃœONâ€“MURAOKA, Â§ 155f.
(41) See HALAT s.v., 878b.
(42) So splitting wood â€˜on the groundâ€™ is less likely to be meant. With that reading,
actually, â‰ˆrab does not seem a very meaningful addition.