Friday, November 18, 2011

Psalm 114/9: The land of the living

Today I want to conclude this verse by verse look at Psalm 114 verse with a quick look at the last two verses:

Quia erípuit ánimam meam de morte: óculos meos a lácrimis, pedes meos a lapsu.
For he has delivered my soul from death: my eyes from tears, my feet from falling.

Placébo Dómino in regióne vivórum.
I will please the Lord in the land of the living.

In fact these two verses are almost identical in sentiment to Psalm 55:13, which says:

Quóniam eripuísti ánimam meam de morte, et pedes meos de lapsu: ut pláceam coram Deo in lúmine vivéntium
Because you have delivered my soul from death, my feet from falling: that I may please in the sight of God, in the light of the living.

Looking at the Latin

Quia erípuit =for he has freed/rescued

In Psalm 114 the verb is in the third person; in Psalm 55, the second - Quóniam eripuísti = For you have freed

ánimam meam de morte = my soul from death

óculos meos a lácrimis = my eyes from tears [omitted in Ps 55]

One can perhaps see an allusion to this phrase in Revelation 21:4, where the description of heaven includes “ he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

pedes meos a lapsu = my feet from falling

Psalm 55 changes the preposition to de, but not meaning

Placébo Dómino = I will be pleasing to the Lord

The Masoretic Hebrew Text , followed by the neo-Vulgate here has ‘I will walk in the presence of the Lord’ – but the two expressions are equivalent. The idea of walking in God’s ways is used fairly frequently this way (see Psalm 1 for example). In Psalm 55, a third structure is used, a purpose clause (ut +subjunctive), to suggest that God freed him in order that he can please him: ut pláceam coram Deo, or ‘that I may please in the sight/presence of God’

in regióne vivórum=in the land of the living

The land of the living stands in contrast to Sheol/hell, the kingdom of the dead. In this context it can mean either earth or heaven. Psalm 55 changes this to ‘in the light of the living’.

Key words:

eripio, ripui, reptum, ere 3 to snatch away, to rescue, deliver
mors, mortis, f, death
oculus, i, the eye..
lacryma, ae, f, a tear.
pes, pedis, m. the foot
lapsus, us, m. slipping, a fall; a moral fall.
placeo, ui, itum, ere 2, to please, be well pleasing to
regio, onis, f, land, country.
vivus, a, um alive, living.

Death of the body and death of the soul

St Robert Bellarmine’s commentary on Psalm 55 provides a nice summation of the multiple levels of meaning of these verses: ‘you have delivered my soul from death’, he explains, refers firstly to God saving the psalmist from the death of the body in this world on many occasions; ‘my feet from falling’, he sees as preserving him from falling into sin in the face of temptations, that is from death of the soul.

He concludes:

"That I may please in the sight of God, in the light of the living;" in the light of this life, which those who are dead enjoy not; and in the light of grace, which infidels and sinners have not; that I may, at length, come to the light of eternal glory enjoyed by those who alone, and properly speaking, can be classed among the living. These words are applicable to Christ, who, by his Resurrection, was delivered from the death of the body, without any possibility of his ever again being subject to it, or to any suffering, and lives and reigns on the right hand of the Father, "in the light of the living." Amen.

In this light, we can understand St John Chrysostom’s explanation that the verse means that death is something to be welcomed if we are in a state of grace, not feared:

“…What to others seems deserving of tears merits prayer in his view, and what to others is deserving of joy and satisfaction merits groaning in his view. Is it not deserving of groaning to be in a foreign country and dispatched far from our homeland? Is it not deserving of joy to put in at a tranquil haven and be admitted to the city on high whence pain, distress and groaning have fled? And how does this affect me, a sinner, you say? Do you see that it is not death that is the cause of grief, but a bad conscience? So stop being a sinner, and death will be something desirable for you.”

Psalm 114

Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.

2 Quia inclinávit aurem suam mihi: et in diébus meis invocábo.
3 Circumdedérunt me dolóres mortis:  et perícula inférni invenérunt me.
4 Tribulatiónem et dolórem invéni: et nomen Dómini invocávi.
5O Dómine, líbera ánimam meam:  miséricors Dóminus, et justus, et Deus noster miserétur.
6 Custódiens párvulos Dóminus: humiliátus sum, et liberávit me.
7 Convértere, ánima mea, in réquiem tuam: quia Dóminus benefécit tibi.
8 Quia erípuit ánimam meam de morte: óculos meos a lácrimis, pedes meos a lapsu.
9 Placébo Dómino in regióne vivórum.

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