Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Psalm 113: Verse 1

David Roberts c1830
The Israelites leaving Egpyt
The first verse of Psalm 113 positions the psalm in salvation history:

In éxitu Israël de Ægýpto, * domus Jacob de pópulo bárbaro:

When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people


In (in, at the time of=when) éxitu (coming out of, departure from) Israël (Israel) de (from) Ægýpto (Egypt)

exeo, ivi or li, ltum, ire, to go out or forth, to depart; to come out

domus (the house) Jacob (Jacob) de (from) pópulo (the people) bárbaro (foreign/strange)

barbarus, a, um  foreign, strange.

The Hebrew for 'barbaro' implies speaking indistinctly, or stammering.  Accordingly, some translators make the emphasis of the second phrase on those who speak a strange language.  Mgr Knox for example makes the verse 'When Israel came out of Egypt, and the sons of Jacob heard no more a strange language'.  

The Greek (and the Hebrew) do however use a word for people here (laos in the Greek), so the RSV's attempt 'When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language', is perhaps closer to the sense of the Hebrew at least.  The Fathers, moreover, tend to interpret the word in a way entirely consonant with the English meaning of the word barbarous.

It is worth noting too, that 'the house of Jacob' is just a synonym for Israel, as St Robert Bellarmine points out:

"Before they went to Egypt, they were a family, not a people, but during their sojourn in Egypt they multiplied greatly, but were still mixed up with the Egyptians, to whose king they were subject; but, on their departure from Egypt, they began to assume the form of a state of their own, Moses, as being God's vice-regent and rep­resentative, having supreme authority; and that is what he alludes to when he says, "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob, from a barbarous people." Israel means here the people of Israel, who were descended of him, the house of Jacob being only a repetition of the same."


This first verse of the psalm takes us to a concrete reference point in the history of Israel: when God liberated the people of Israel from slavery and suffering in Egypt.  

For Christians this is an event that foreshadows our liberation from the slavery of the law and the end to the suffering of a people who had been excluded from entry to heaven, through the action of Christ.

And in this verse of the psalm, we should relive again that call to repentance and conversion issued by St John the Baptist as he prepared the way for Our Lord.

Cassiodorus explains:

"We must here interpret departure as the time when we emerge from the chains of sins. We are freed from the mob of the Egyptians—in other words, of the demons—when we no longer en­dure the sovereignty of their barbaric harshness, when the ostentation of this world has begun to be banished from our minds."


How great a gift you give us O Lord in your son, who comes to free us from the slavery of sin.

How great a gift you have given us O Lord, in washing us free of sin in baptism, breaking the fetters of sin that bound us.

How great a gift you have given us O Lord, in making us your people, Israel, one Church to serve so great a God.

How great a gift you give us O Lord, in freeing us from the slavery of the devil, and healing us again and again when we fall.

Lead me always O Lord, out from the dominion of sin to your promised land.


St Augustine reminds us that this verse teaches that we must always be of the world, not in it:

"But Egypt, since it is said to mean affliction, or one who afflicts, or one who oppresses, is often used for an emblem of this world; from which we must spiritually withdraw, that we may not be bearing the yoke with unbelievers.  For thus each one becomes a fit citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, when he has first renounced this world; just as that people could not be led into the land of promise, save first they had departed from Egypt." 

The Psalm (Pt 1)

In éxitu Israël de Ægýpto, * domus Jacob de pópulo bárbaro:
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a barbarous people:
2  Facta est Judæa sanctificátio ejus, * Israël potéstas ejus.
2 Judea was made his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
3  Mare vidit, et fugit: * Jordánis convérsus est retrórsum.
3 The sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned back.
4  Montes exsultavérunt ut aríetes, * et colles sicut agni óvium.
4 The mountains skipped like rams, and the hills like the lambs of the flock.
5  Quid est tibi, mare, quod fugísti: * et tu, Jordánis, quia convérsus es retrórsum?
5 What ailed you, O you sea, that you fled: and you, O Jordan, that you were turned back?
6  Montes, exsultástis sicut aríetes, * et colles, sicut agni óvium.
6 You mountains, that you skipped like rams, and you hills, like lambs of the flock?
7  A fácie Dómini mota est terra, * a fácie Dei Jacob.
7 At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved, at the presence of the God of Jacob:
8  Qui convértit petram in stagna aquárum, * et rupem in fontes aquárum.
8 Who turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of waters.

And you can find notes on the next verse here.

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