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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104 Th. Booij
In conclusion, a few aspects of the psalm as a whole will be considered.
(1) Understandably, the unity of the text has been called into question (51).
Whereas vv. 2-7 are specific and largely uncommon in their content, vv. 1.8-
10 are markedly traditional. Moreover, in spite of a few common elements
(v. 3 hrmv, â€˜guardâ€™ - v. 9 ynrmv, â€˜keep meâ€™; vv. 4.9 Ë†wa yl[p, â€˜workers of
mischiefâ€™), the inner relationship between vv. 1.8-10 and vv. 2-7 is not really
evident. The prayer â€˜hasten to me!â€™ in v. 1 hardly appears to apply to the
central part of the text (52). The attitude towards the â€˜workers of mischiefâ€™
seems to be different in verses 6 and 10. It is conceivable that, for some
reason, the author himself opened and closed the poem in a traditional
manner. However, the nature of the collection to which the text belongs
(Psalms 138-145, all â€˜from Davidâ€™) seems to point in another direction. Psalm
141 is followed by texts that, some evidently, others possibly, quote verses
from older psalms or make variations on them. In Ps 142,7 the second stich
reminds one of the last stich in Ps 79,8, while the fourth is identical to the
end of Ps 18,18. In Psalm 143 the authorâ€™s familiarity with other biblical
texts is so strong that a line can hardly be drawn between traditional
phraseology and quotation; in vv. 5.7, however, elements of older texts may
be identified (53). Psalm 144 has variations on Psalm 18 in vv. 1.2.5a.6 (54) and
echos from other psalms in vv. 3.4.5b.9.15b (55), while vv. 12-15a seem to
offer the authorâ€™s very own words. Psalm 145 contains a quotation from Ps
48,2 / 96,4 in v. 3 and a variation on Ps 104,27-28 in vv. 15-16. I think in our
psalm the opening and conclusion of an existing prayer were used as a frame
(vv.1.8-10) for the poetâ€™s own text (vv. 2-7).
(2) It is no wonder that vv. 2-7 have caused embarrassment, as their
structure, to a modern reader, is awkward at some points. The relation of the
second ytlpt (â€˜my prayerâ€™, v. 5b) with the first (v. 2) is obscured by the
distance between them and by the syntactically different context. The element
â€˜theirâ€™ in v. 5b (Âµhytw[r, â€˜their troublesâ€™) can only refer, logically, to the
â€˜gentlemenâ€™ mentioned in v. 4; but the scene with the â€˜righteous manâ€™,
essential as it is, may readily make us lose sight of that logic. In v. 6 it is not
immediately clear that the â€˜gentlemenâ€™, not the judges, are the subject of
w[mvw. Moreover, the metaphor in v. 7b, apparently inspired by the scene in
v. 7a, is a bit strange. Yet for all that, vv. 2-7 make an original piece of
poetry. The text is remarkable for its unconventional images. Its play on the
notion Âµym[nm (â€˜pleasant things, delicaciesâ€™) in v. 4 (contrasted with Âµytw[r,
â€˜evil thingsâ€™, in v. 5; echoed by Âµ[n, â€˜be pleasantâ€™, in v. 6) attests to intel-
(51) See H. HUPFELD â€“ W. NOWACK, Die Psalmen. Ãœbersetzt und ausgelegt (Gotha
1888) II, 642; W.O.E. OESTERLEY, The Psalms. Translated with Text-Critical and
Exegetical Notes (London 1939) 562, 563; J.P.M. VAN DER PLOEG, Psalmen. Uit de
grondtekst vertaald en uitgelegd (BOT VII; Roermond 1971-1974) II, 459.
(52) See B. DUHM, Die Psalmen. ErklÃ¤rt (KHC; TÃ¼bingen 21922) 463. Duhm wrongly
infers that vwj has a different meaning here.
(53) For v. 5 see Ps 77,6.13; for v. 7 see Ps 69,18 / 102,3 and Ps 28,1.
(54) In Ps 18 see resp. verses 47, 35, 3, 48, 10, 15, 17.
(55) For v. 3 see Ps 8,5; for v. 4 see Ps 39,6.12 and 102,12; for v. 5b see Ps 104,32; for
v. 9 see Ps 33,2-3; for v. 15b see Ps 33,12.