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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98 Th. Booij
mischiefâ€™, are prominent here, as well as in vv. 5-6. The 3rd person plural
suffixes refer to them, while they are also the subject of w[mvw in v. 6b.
a. In v. 4, [r rbd is sometimes understood as â€˜evil wordâ€™. Elsewhere,
however, it always means â€˜evil thingâ€™, â€˜something evilâ€™ (6). That meaning fits
b. The second stich in v. 4 is generally translated as â€˜to practise wicked
worksâ€™, â€˜to busy myself with wicked deedsâ€™, or the like. With this rendering,
however, the relationship between verses 3 and 4 is not quite clear. Moreover,
it may be asked why the text, instead of [v'r, twOlli[} or tw[v;r @[, has [v'r,B] twOlli[}.
I think hll[ (hlyl[) as used in our text, along with a few other forms, is
wrongly derived from I ll[ (7). In Deut 22,14 it is said of a man who wants to
separate from the woman he just married, Âµyrbd tlyl[ hl Âµcw (see also v. 17).
In that text Âµyc with l] stands for â€˜direct at, bring over (someone)â€™ (cf. Exod
8,8) (8), and Âµyrbd tloyl[ must mean â€˜fabrications of thingsâ€™ (9). Hitpaâ€˜el ll[th
with B] is used as â€˜divert oneself withâ€™, â€˜make sport ofâ€™ (10). The noun ÂµyliWl[}T',
which in Isa 3,4 may be taken in the abstract sense of â€˜frivolityâ€™ (11), has been
translated as â€˜mockeriesâ€™ (ejmpaivgmata) by the Septuagint in Isa 66,4.
â€˜Mockeriesâ€™ fits in there if Âµhyll[t is understood by analogy with the parallel
term Âµtrwgm (â€˜their fearsâ€™): the text then successively mentions â€˜the things they
mockâ€™ and â€˜the things they fearâ€™ (12). The ll[ from which hlyl[ in Deut 22,14,
Âµylwl[t in Isa 3,4; 66,4, and hitpaâ€˜el ll[th may be derived seems to be a
denominative of ll;w[ or llew[ (â€˜childâ€™), indicating notions such as play, fiction,
fun, mockery. If in Ps 141,4 twll[ is taken as â€˜fabrications, pretextsâ€™, then
llw[th can scarcely mean other than â€˜think up (frivolously), deviseâ€™ (13). The
reflexive form suggests the notion â€˜for oneselfâ€™, â€˜in oneselfâ€™ (14), which agrees
with ybl, â€˜my heartâ€™, in the first stich; for it is in the heart that malicious plots
are cunningly thought out (see e.g. Ps 64,7; 140,3; Prov 6,14; 24,2).
c. In the third stich the manner of expression is remarkable. Outside our
text Ë†waAyl[p, â€˜workers of mischiefâ€™, does not occur as attribute of a preceding
noun. The broader form seems to have been chosen deliberately. It is
generally assumed that Âµyvya is a synonym of Âµyvna, â€˜menâ€™. I think it rather
agrees with vyaAynb (15), a term which in Ps 49,3 apparently, in view of the
(6) Deut 23,10; Ps 64,6; Qoh 8,3.5. See also 1 Sam 2,23; 2 Kgs 17,11.
(7) BROWNâ€“DRIVERâ€“BRIGGS, 759-760; HALAT, 788, 789, 1628.
(8) In v. 17 Âµyv (without hl) can be understood as â€˜put forwardâ€™; cf. Gen 43,31.
(9) In Mishnaic Hebrew hlyl[ is used in a similar meaning (â€˜fabrication, schemeâ€™). See
J. LEVY, NeuhebrÃ¤isches und chaldÃ¤isches WÃ¶rterbuch Ã¼ber die Talmudim und
Midraschim (Leipzig 1876-1889) III, 654.
(10) Exod 10,2; Num 22,29; Judg 19,25; 1 Sam 6,6; 31,4; Jer 38,19; 1 Chr 10,4.
(11) Cf. W. GESENIUS â€“ E. KAUTZSCH, HebrÃ¤ische Grammatik (Leipzig 281909) Â§ 124d;
P. JOÃœON â€“ T. MURAOKA, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma 1991) Â§ 136g.
(12) Cf. also e.g. wjfbm (â€˜his trustâ€™ = â€˜the one in whom he trustsâ€™) in Ps 40,5; g[l (â€˜a
derisionâ€™ = â€˜a people to derideâ€™) in Ps 44,14. In Isa 66,4 â€˜theyâ€™ are the unfaithful (see vv.
5.24), committing abominations (vv. 3.17); â€˜the things they mockâ€™ are the signs of YHWHâ€™s
glory (vv. 5.19); â€˜the things they fearâ€™ are the works by which he will repay his enemies
(see vv. 6.14-17.24).
(13) For the transitive use of the reflexive form see GESENIUS-KAUTZSCH, Â§ 117w;
JOÃœON-MURAOKA, Â§ 125c.
(14) Cf. the reflexive forms in Exod 32,3; 33,6; Num 6,19; Josh 9,12; 1 Sam 18,4; Isa
14,2; 52,2. See GESENIUSâ€“KAUTZSCH, Â§ 54f.
(15) So F. DELITZSCH, Die Psalmen (BC; Leipzig 41883) 847.