Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Arise O Lord - Psalm 131 (Gradual Psalm No 13)

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Psalm 131 (132), the third psalm of Tuesday Vespers in the Benedictine Office, is longest of the gradual psalms, and the climax of the group.

At a literal level it has its historical origins in the dedication of the First Temple. The first half of the psalm is from the people/King’s perspective; the second half is God’s response.

Read Christologically, however, it can be read as prefiguring the Resurrection: now the appointed time has come for Christ to arise and enter the holy of holies to intercede for us.

Psalm 131 (132) – Memento Domine
Canticum graduum.
A gradual canticle.
1 Meménto, Dómine, David, * et omnis mansuetúdinis ejus :
O Lord remember David, and all his meekness.

2  Sicut jurávit Dómino, * votum vovit Deo Jacob
2 How he swore to the Lord, he vowed a vow to the God of Jacob:
3  Si introíero in tabernáculum domus meæ, * si ascéndero in lectum strati mei :
3 If I shall enter into the tabernacle of my house: if I shall go up into the bed wherein I lie: 
4  Si dédero somnum óculis meis, * et pálpebris meis dormitatiónem :
4 If I shall give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids,
5  Et réquiem tempóribus meis : donec invéniam locum Dómino, * tabernáculum Deo Jacob.
5 or rest to my temples: until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
6. Ecce audívimus eam in Ephrata: * invénimus eam in campis silvæ.
6 Behold we have heard of it in Ephrata: we have found it in the fields of the wood.
7  Introíbimus in tabernáculum ejus: * adorábimus in loco, ubi stetérunt pedes ejus.
7 We will go into his tabernacle: we will adore in the place where his feet stood. .
8  Surge, Dómine, in réquiem tuam, * tu et arca sanctificatiónis tuæ.
8 Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified
9  Sacerdótes tui induántur justítiam: * et sancti tui exsúltent.
9 Let your priests be clothed with justice: and let your saints rejoice.
10  Propter David, servum tuum: * non avértas fáciem Christi tui.
10 For your servant David's sake, turn not away the face of your anointed.
11  Jurávit Dóminus David veritátem, et non frustrábitur eam: * de fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam.
11 The Lord has sworn truth to David, and he will not make it void: of the fruit of your womb I will set upon your throne
12  Si custodíerint fílii tui testaméntum meum: * et testimónia mea hæc, quæ docébo eos.
12 If your children will keep my covenant, and these my testimonies which I shall teach them:
13  Et fílii eórum usque in sæculum: * sedébunt super sedem tuam.
Their children also for evermore shall sit upon your throne.
14  Quóniam elégit Dóminus Sion: * elégit eam in habitatiónem sibi.
13 For the Lord has chosen Sion: he has chosen it for his dwelling.
15  Hæc réquies mea in sæculum sæculi: * hic habitábo, quóniam elégi eam.
14 This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.
16  Víduam ejus benedícens benedícam: * páuperes ejus saturábo pánibus.
15 Blessing I will bless her widow: I will satisfy   her poor with bread.
17  Sacerdótes ejus índuam salutári: * et sancti ejus exsultatióne exsultábunt.
16 I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall rejoice with exceeding great joy. 
18  Illuc prodúcam cornu David: * parávi lucérnam Christo meo.
17 There will I bring forth a horn to David: I have prepared a lamp for my anointed
19  Inimícos ejus índuam confusióne: * super ipsum autem efflorébit sanctificátio mea.
18 His enemies I will clothe with confusion: but upon him shall my sanctification flourish.

Historical context

Psalm 131 was probably originally composed for the occasion of King David’s bringing the Arc of the Covenant to Mount Sion.

The psalm is put in the mouths of two different speakers: Solomon, recalling the oath his father swore, and then commenting on the ceremony of the dedication of the Temple (vs 5-10); and finally God himself.

Two separate sections of Scripture provide some context for the psalm.

First, 2 Chronicles chapters 6 to 7, quotes at length from it, and provides an extended description of the ceremonies that accompanied the dedication of the Temple.  Its text provides something of a commentary on the psalm, so do go and read it in full.

In particular, it recounts a speech of Solomon on the occasion, which starts with how God chose the people of Israel as his own, brought them out of slavery, and promised to dwell with them in a cloud; how he chose the city of Jerusalem, David as its King, and recounts David’s plans to build the Temple.  It also notes that while David wanted to build the Temple himself, God instructed him to leave the task to his son, Solomon.  The chapter also contains an extended discussion of the covenant, and behaviour required of the Israelites, as well as of the rationale for having a Temple with God’s Real Presence.

Secondly, chapter 7 of 2 Samuel also records the story of David’s commitment to building God a Temple, and God’s promises in return, this time in the form of a vision to the prophet Nathan.  Here is an extract from that chapter:
“Now when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you." But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, "Go and tell my servant David, `Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"' Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth… Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son….And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.'"
The final part of Psalm 131 records God’s promises to David.  And the promises are these: that his descendants will rule forever, a promise realized in the kingship of Christ (vs 11-12); that God will dwell with them, as he does in the Church and in heaven (vs 13-14); that the people will be blessed abundantly with spiritual food through the sacraments, Sacred Scripture and grace (vs 15-16); that he will send the Messiah, after first preparing the way for him through St John the Baptist (vs 18); his enemies will be defeated and brought to shame at the end (vs 19).

Septuagint vs the Hebrew Masoretic Text

Some of the early Church Fathers such as Tertullian claimed that the Jews were changing Scripture in reaction to Christian interpretations of it.  It was a claim discounted by many, including, most vociferously, St Jerome, but recent evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls provides some support for the claim.  And this psalm provides some possible examples, with competing interpretations of the underlying Hebrew, and clearly differing text traditions contained in the Septuagint Greek compared to the much later Jewish Masoretic Text tradition.

In verse one for example, in the Septuagint/Vulgate the speaker lauds King David’s meekness.  The Masoretic Text reads the same text as ‘labours’ or ‘devotedness’.  Both interpretations of the text are theoretically possible (due to early Hebrew’s lack of vowel indications) - but it may also be that those early Jews reacting to Christian claims preferred not to highlight Christ-like meekness!  In later verses the MT omits some text found in the Septuagint, and is differs significantly in others.

For the first set of notes on the individual verses of this psalm, continue here.

Alternatively, to go to the next part in this Lenten series, go here.

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