The Rest of Psalm 149 and Psalm 148
We left off at 149:8, just after hearing the songs of praise to God as the Israelites eviscerate the foes with their two-faced/headed (piphiyyoth) swords. It is a great place to leave off, imagining vengeance, imagining further the mingled cries of “Praise Yahweh,” and “Oh, my head!”
But we have new words immediately upon joining up at 149:8. Let’s translate: “To bind (asar) their kings (melek) with chains (זִיקָה, ziqah) and their honored ones/nobles with fetters (כֶּבֶל, kebel) of iron (barzel).” After slicing and dicing your opponents, you might as well tie up the rest—at least it gives us new words. We have seen ‘prisoner” as asir, and often both the verb and noun appear together (e.g., Gen 39:20). The “chains” or ziqah are really a bit more complicated (surprise!) than simply “chains.” The word appears 7x and is rendered “chains” in Nah. 3:10, Job 36:8 and Is. 45:14, but it is the brand of a fire in Is. 50:11 and Prov. 26:18. Job is particularly eloquent, “If they are bound (asar) with chains (ziqah), held/captured/seized (lakad) in the cords (chebel) of affliction (עֱנִי, oniy)…” These are words spoken by Elihu before he gives his interpretation of Job’s distress. Just have to quote Prov. 26:18f. because of the richness of its content. “Like a madman (לָהַהּ, lahah) who throws (yarah) a ziqah, arrows (chets) and death (maveth), so (ken) is the man (ish) who deceives (רָמָה, ramah) his neighbor (rea) and says (amar), ‘Is it not (lo) that I (ani) was joking (sachaq)?’” Two beautiful and memorable lines. We don’t really know what lahah means here. Lahah only appears one other time, and seems to mean “languish” there (Gen. 47:13). So, we really don’t have to see it as “madman,” but we have the word, something like an object ill-formed that we think must be worth a lot but no one can value it. One of the reasons ziqah must mean “chains” here is that it is in parallel construction with kebel, which must mean “fetters.” It only appears one other place (Ps. 105:18).
The rest of Psalm 149 has no new words, but it might be nice to transliterate verse 9, just to bolster our linguistic confidence: “to make/do (asah) judgment (mishpat) in them (hem), written (kathab)— honor (hadar) to all (kol) his saints (chasid). Hallelujah!”
Moving then to Psalm 148. The hymn of praise begins, as we praise God (halal) both from the heavens (shamayim) and from the heights (מָרוֹם, marom). I’m not sure what the difference between the two locations is, or whether they are occupied by different beings. The word marom is derived from rum, which means “to elevate” or “raise on high.” A neat and eloquent parallelism uses the word in Job 5:11, “He sets (sum) the lowly (שָׁפָל, shaphal) on high (merom), those in the dark/who mourn (קָדַר, qadar) are lifted high (sagab) to safety (yesha).” We have seen other words related to shaphal previously, with the most visible being Shephelah, the “lowlands” of Israel. Joel 2:10 uses qadar in its usual way of “becoming dark,” and the verse is too precious not to mention: “Before them the earth (erets) quakes (רָגַז, ragaz) the heavens (shemayim) tremble (רָעַשׁ, raash); the sun (shemesh) and the moon (yareach) grow dark (qadar) and the stars (kokab) take away/remove (asaph) their brightness (נֹגַהּ, nogah).” Just as we are learning nearly all the verbs for praise, so if we hang around long enough, we have the verbs for “trembling” and “quaking.” By the way, the verb for “to be bright” or “shine” is נָגַהּ, nagah.
Returning again to Psalm 148. Verse 2 has nothing new as just the angels (malak) and hosts (tsaba) are praising (halal) God. Verse 3 uses words we know with exhortations to the sun (shemesh), moon (yareach) and all stars (kokab) to praise (halal) God. Verse 4 has heavens and waters and waters above heavens praising God. Seems like most things are now implicated in the divine praise. Verse 5 also uses words that we know, for God is described as the one who “commands” (tsavah) and then “creates” (bara). These bodies “stand” (amad) forever (ad/olam); God gave (nathan) a command (choq) and it won’t (lo) pass away (abar). What is this language? Do we know it now?
Not on your life. In verse 7 we have praise from the great sea creatures (tannin) and all the depths (תְּהוֹם, tehom). Finally, in verse 9 we have a few new words (we already quoted verse 8, rich with words, earlier in these essays): “Mountains (har) and all hills (גִּבְעָה, gibah), fruit trees (ets and peri) and all cedars (אֶרֶז, erez).” It is a pretty dramatic array of natural phenomena that have been brought together. And it continues in verse 10 with “beasts” (chay) and “cattle” (behemah) before giving us a few new words: “creeping things” (רֶמֶשׂ, remes; the verb for “creep” or “crawl” is רָמַשׂ, ramas; indeed, it might be time to spend a whole day on a verb or two. . .) and “winged (kanaph) fowl (tsippor).”