Thursday, October 17, 2013

Psalm 113 verses 3&5

Psalm 113 next provides us with two sets of paired verses, interwoven with each other.  Here is the first of them:

3  Mare vidit, et fugit: * Jordánis convérsus est retrórsum.
5  Quid est tibi, mare, quod fugísti: * et tu, Jordánis, quia convérsus es retrórsum?


The sea is the Red Sea, cf Exodus 15:17; for the Jordan (an event that took place forty years later, when the Israelites finally entered the promised land) see Jos 3.  The sea 'saw' Israel being led out of Egypt, as the previous verse makes clear.

Mare (the sea) vidit (it saw), et (and) fugit (it fled)  = the sea saw and fled 

mare, is, n., the sea, the ocean.
video, vidi, vlsum, ere 2,  to see, behold; consider; experience, undergo, suffer, realize; keep watch, look for, meditate on
fugio, fugi, fugitum, ere 3  to flee, take to flight, run away; With  a facie,  from, from before, from the presence of.

Jordánis (the Jordan) convérsus est (it was turned) retrórsum (backwards) = the Jordan was turned back

converto, verti, versum, ere 3, to turn, change, alter, bring back; quicken, refresh; bring back; convert, turn from sin;

retrorsum, adv. back, backwards. behind

 Quid (what) est (is it) tibi (to you), mare (sea), quod (that) fugísti (you have fled)  

Most translations make this, what ails you, or 'is wrong with you'?

et (and) tu (you), Jordánis (the Jordan), quia (that) convérsus es (you have been turned) retrórsum (backwards)? 

The verse can either be read as poetic hyperbole, personifying the elements, or symbolically, as 
Cassiodorus suggests:

"We have often said that the sea must be interpreted as the sinners of this world, who like waves swell with bombastic thoughts. Jordan we must regard as each and every river which sweeps men away on various desires, and sacrilegiously bears them headlong into the mighty sea. These two, sea and river, which had borne the human race away on diverse pleasures, then witnessed the Lord's coming, and abandoning their practices they made their way back with frantic haste. Though this is recounted in the Old Testament, it is alluded to here in different words and similes, so we can clearly realise that those events of old announced with spiritual understanding the signs of our salvation."


It is sometimes suggested that these events were less than miraculous, mere happy coincidences of nature that aided the fleeing Jews.  Poetry or not, this psalm, I think, asserts something quite different, namely that the Exodus was one of those mighty events of God's providential guidance of the world that affected all creation.

As St John Chrysostom explains:

"...he wanted by flight to emphasize the speed of the yielding, the degree of astonishment, the ease of God's beneficent action. In case you think this happened at a certain period of time and by chance, it has not happened since then, but once only, when God so directed, and in different fashion with different people. That is to say, the flood of water was out of the ordinary, like some rational and living person, at God's command saving some people and destroying others in this way, proving a tomb for some and a chariot for others... Do you see the wonders happening at different moments and in different places? I mean, for us to learn that God's power reaches everywhere and is not confined by place, it was occurring in its wonderworking role in the wilderness, in the country of the savages and everywhere, at one time in the sea, at another time in rivers, previously in the case of Moses, later in the case of Jesus. Everywhere they were accompanied by signs so that their unappreciative attitude and unyielding mind, softened by the wonders, might be rendered more pliant and susceptible to welcoming the knowledge of God."


Open our minds O Lord to the appreciation of your guidance of man and all creation.  You made all out of nothing; you direct all through your love for us.  In that great flight O Lord, your baptised your people; wash away our iniquities too that we may live with you forever.

Help us, O Lord always to do your will and so help affect your great plan for all mankind.  Help us O Lord to make the salvation you have offered to us through our baptism our own.


St Augustine sees the verses as a call to repentance:

"...our sins, which are overwhelmed and extinguished in Baptism, just as the Egyptians were drowned in the sea, saying, since He retains not His anger for ever, because He is of good will and merciful, He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us, He will drown our iniquities: and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea….But I would not that you should seek without yourselves, how the Jordan was turned back, I would not ye should augur anything evil. For the Lord chides those who have turned their back unto Him, and not their face. Jeremiah 2:27 And whoever forsakes the source of his being, and turns away from his Creator; as a river into the sea, he glides into the bitter wickedness of this world. It is therefore good for him that he turn back, and that God whom he had set behind his back, may be before his face as he returns; and that the sea of this world, which he had set before his face, when he was gliding on towards it, may become behind him; and that he may so forget what is behind him, that he may reach forward to what is before him; Philippians 3:13 which is profitable for him when once converted...."

The psalm so far...

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.
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.
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 the next part in this series on Psalm 113 here.

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