Psalms 150, 149
Today I will explore a third method of Hebrew Bible word building. We first used the method of the short books of the Minor Prophets (Obadiah; Jonah 1), using them to branch widely into words. Then, I decided it would be good to make various words the focus of an entire essay (such as haphak or hod). Today I will explore the method of using the Psalms, starting from the end of the Book of Psalms, and marching towards the front. We generally have fewer “they went” or “they camped,” but many more words for praise, in the Psalms!
So, let’s begin with one more mention of hod and then turn to Psalm 150. That mention is in Prov. 5:9, though the sentence begins with 5:8, “Remove your way far (rachaq) from upon (al) her (this is the prostitute, and you wonder if the word “upon” was deliberately chosen. . .) and do not (אַל, al) go near (qarab) to the door (pethach) of her house (beth), lest (pen) you give (nathan) to others (achar) your glory (hod) and your years (shana) to the cruel one (אַכְזָרִי, akzari).” The adjective rendered “cruel/fierce” is אַכְזָר (akzar). One heart-rending example of the use of akzar is in Job 30:21, using a few of our new words: “You have turned/become (haphak) cruel (azkar) to me (li); with the strength (עֹצֶם, otsem; also rendered “bones”) you bear animosity (שָׂטַם, satam) against me.” Interestingly, satam is very similar in both sound and meaning to satan, who is either the adversary of God or, as a verb, the action of opposing something. You wonder if the words are related. Here are the words: שָׂטַן, satan, “to act as an adversary/oppose” (6x, with three of these in Ps. 109) and שָׂטָן, satan, the adversary of God. Ten of the 27 appearances of the latter are in Job 1-2, describing the one who, with God’s permission, messed up Job’s life.
One other brief mention of akzari from that densest of dense books of the Bible: Proverbs. In 11:17 we have: “The one who weans/deals well with (gamal) his soul (nephesh) is merciful (chesed), but the cruel person (akzari) brings trouble (עָכַר, akar) to his own flesh (שְׁאֵר, sheer—whether this is to his family or himself is not clear). That last phrase is richly provocative, but space doesn’t allow a closer treatment.
But now it is time for the Psalms, beginning from the end of the book, which is really at the beginning for most left-to-right readers. Psalm 150 is the culminatory hymn of praise in the Psalm collection. It is full of halal’s, because praise is the final word of the collection. The Psalms begin with “blessedness” in Ps. 1:1 and end with hallelujah in Ps. 150:6, and between those two poles life happens. I also love Ps. 150 because we have seen almost all of the words! I won’t go through to prove it, but one of the new ones is in verse 1: רָקִיעַ, raqia (“firmament”). The firmament is an extended surface or expanse in the heavens, made by God pretty early in the creation process. When you realize raqia is derived from רָקַע, raqa, which means “to hammer out” or “beat out” something, you see that God actually “hammered out” this firmament. Raqa appears 11x in the Bible. One example is Is. 42:5, where we know almost all the words: “Thus (koh) says (amar) God (el) Yahweh, who created (bara) the heavens (shamayim) and stretched them out (natah), who spread out (raqa) the earth (erets) and its produce/offspring (צֶאֱצֶא, tseetsa), who gives (nathan) breath (neshamah) to the people (am) on it (al). . . “ The only word we didn’t know could easily have been deduced from the fact that yatsa, “to go out” stands behind it. Twelve new words so far.
Continuing to verse 2, new is גֹּדֶל, godel (“greatness”), which is something for which God is to be praised. He is to be praised for his “mighty acts” (geburah) but, because we have already seen that word, we rush ahead to godel. Of course we see gadal lurking in the background, and so we don’t need to be told that it means “to grow big” or something that is large or great. It is a wonderful word that can be used to pile up epithets that really mean little or nothing. So, for example, we have “according to the greatness (godel) of your lovingkindness (chesed). . .” (Num 14:19). We have “glory” (kabod) and “greatness” (godel) in Deut. 5:24 or the “greatness (godel) of your power (zeroa, which we have seen and really means “arms” or “shoulders/strength”). One word in Deut. 5:24 does arrest our attention, and that is the request of the author that the “groaning (אֲנָקָה, anaqah) of a prisoner (asir)” come before God. The verb for “groan” is אָנַק, anaq, which only appears 4x, but is easy enough to pronounce and thus to learn. . .
Back to Psalm 150. Now the emphasis turns to musical instruments used to praise God. We have the “sound” (תֵּקַע, teqa) of the “trumpet” (shophar). Though teqa is a hapax, it is derived from the common verb תָּקַע/taqa, “to blow” (usually trumpets). The idea of blowing the trumpet is expressed by using the verb and then the preposition be (“with”). Lots of blowing (raqa) trumpets in Joshua and Judges—certainly a prelude to disaster. If I were a resident of Jericho I would hate that sound.
Then, we come to a listing of musical instruments that are played to bring praise to God. We know a surprisingly large number of them, such as the “lute” (nebel) and “harp” (kinnor), and we have also seen “timbrel/tambourine” (toph) and the “dance” (machol) but we haven’t seen the “stringed instrument” (מֵן, men) or the “flutes” (עוּגָב, uggab). The latter is sometimes translated as “pipes” but the KJV rendering of it as “organ” seems a bit anachronistic. Uggab only appears 4x, but can be used either with men or kinnor. Men only appears elsewhere in Ps. 45:8—no wonder we haven’t seen these words, but now there are about six instruments for us.
More instruments. We can’t leave Ps. 150 without a mention of cymbals. We don’t know what the two varieties of cymbals are in verse 5, but one is connected with “sound” (shema) and one with “noise” (teruah). These must be technical names that made sense to someone at some time, but it is lost now to us in the mists of time. Ah, by the way, cymbal is צְלָצַל, tsaltsal, which Google Translate (usually a source of laughs when it has to do with Biblical Hebrew) renders as “harpoon.” Just cymbals here. But, interestingly, of the six appearances of tsaltsal in the Bible, two of them appear here in Ps. 150, one is “spear/harpoon” (Job 41:7); one is “locust” (Deut. 28:42), and one seems to be a describer of wings (Is. 18:1). The one Biblical instance where there is a list of musical instruments including tsaltsal is in II Sam. 6:5, where David and his family play/amuse (sachaq means “to laugh”) before Yahweh on all kinds (kol) of wooden (ets) “fir/cypress” (בְּרוֹשׁ, berosh) instruments, including harps (kinnor) and lutes (nebel) and tambourines (toph) and on rattles (מְנַעְנַע, menaanea) and tseltsel. Menaanea is a hapax, and we only “think” it is a rattle, but it takes us into a different world, a world we don’t really understand very fully. A good encouragement to humility. Twenty-two words, and we must go for a few more, despite the length of this lesson.
Let’s turn now to Psalm 149. More praise of God. We immediately get some new words in verse 1, because we have singing and songs, which we haven’t seen too much of previously. We are to “sing” (שַׁיר, shir) to the Lord a new “song” (שִׁיר, shiyr). Here the song should be in the “assembly” (קָהָל, qahal). The verb for assembling people is קָהַל (qahal). Let’s conclude this essay with mention of the ways qahal appears. The noun appears more than 120 times, while the verb appears 38x. Normally the latter appears with an array of terms like “Israel” or “the congregation” (edah) of the people or the elders (zaqen). One word we haven’t seen is the little word “then/so” (אָ֣ז, az) that can begin the sentence (I Ki. 8:1). When qahal is a noun it can be used with goy (“nation”) or people (am), but my favorite is in Num 22:4, where the people of Moab are speaking to the elders of Midian, “So now (atah) the company/congregation (qahal) will lick up (לָחַךְ, lachak) all who are round about (sabib) as an ox (shor) licks up (lachak) the grass (יֶרֶק, yereq) of the field (sadeh).”
Enough for one fruitful day. About 29 new and beautiful words.