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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Psalm 141: a Prayer for Discipline and Protection
Psalm 141 is an uncommon text, embarrassing to the commentators. Verses
5b-7 in particular are considered problematic; they are said to be obscure,
unintelligible. Some authors have drastically emended the passage (1); some
have left it untranslated (2). It has rightly been argued that the purport of the
text is dubious as long as this central part is not properly understood (3).
There is a close connection between vv. 5b-6 and vv. 4-5a. In the
following discussion the whole of vv. 4-7 will be given special attention.
In its wording, the opening verse is characteristic of the individual prayer
(cf. e.g. Ps 17,6; 22,20; 38,23; 86,6). After the traditional v. 1, the second
verse, original and graphic, comes as a surprise. The speakerâ€™s prayer is
pictured here as an offering to YHWH, carefully prepared. It is hard to decide
whether in this verse br[Atjnm is a grain offering (2 Kgs 16,15) or not rather
the evening sacrifice as described in Pentateuchal texts (Exod 29,38-42; Num
28,3-8) (4). In view of the parallelism, trfq is likely to refer to the odour of
burning sacrifices (Isa 1,13; Ps 66,15), not specifically to an incense offering.
Verses 3-6 are the heart of the psalm. As part of an individual prayer, the
passage is unusual in regard to content.
(1) The theme of vv. 3-6 is formulated in v. 3: the speaker asks YHWH to
keep him from â€˜sinning with the tongueâ€™ (Ps 39,2; cf. Ps 34,14; Prov 4,24;
18,21; 21,23). The language usage in this verse is remarkable, which is no
reason, however, to doubt its originality (5).
(2) The discipline for which the speaker prays is needed, first of all,
because of the temptation indicated in v. 4. Those called Ë†waAyl[p, â€˜workers of
(1) See e.g. H. GUNKEL, Die Psalmen. Ãœbersetzt und erklÃ¤rt (HK II/2; GÃ¶ttingen 1926)
598-599; H. HERKENNE, Das Buch der Psalmen. Ãœbersetzt und erklÃ¤rt (HS V/2; Bonn
(2) Thus W. STAERK, Lyrik (Psalmen, Hoheslied und Verwandtes). Ãœbersetzt, erklÃ¤rt
und mit Einleitungen versehen (SAT III/1; GÃ¶ttingen 21920) 178; R. KITTEL, Die Psalmen.
Ãœbersetzt und erklÃ¤rt (KAT XIII; Leipzig etc. 3.41922) 424; A. BERTHOLET, Das Buch der
Psalmen (HSATK II; TÃ¼bingen 41923) 269; A. WEISER, Die Psalmen (ATD 14; GÃ¶ttingen
1963) II, 560; E. BEAUCAMP, Le Psautier (Paris 1976-1979) vol. II.
(3) A. MAILLOT â€“ A. LELIÃˆVRE, Les Psaumes (Paris 1961-1969) III, 229-230.
(4) Cf. W. RUDOLPH, Esra und Nehemia samt 3. Esra (HAT I/20; TÃ¼bingen 1949)
(5) hrmv, â€˜guardâ€™, and ld (instead of tld), â€˜doorâ€™, are found only here in Biblical
Hebrew. The notion of protection is underscored by l[; see F. BROWN â€“ S.R. DRIVER â€“
C.A. BRIGGS, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford 21951) s.v., II,
1, a (b) (p. 753).