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Psalm 6:5–6 (BHS/WHM 4.2)

5 שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה חַלְּצָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י ה֝וֹשִׁיעֵ֗נִי לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ׃ 6 כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין בַּמָּ֣וֶת זִכְרֶ֑ךָ בִּ֝שְׁא֗וֹל מִ֣י יֽוֹדֶה־לָּֽךְ׃

שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה

Turn, Lord

 Turn: Qal, Imperative, third person, masculine singular bwv to turn,return. HALOT comments:

General remarks: The basic meaning of שׁוב is defined by Holladay loc. cit. 53 as a word which is used of someone who has shifted direction in a particular way and then shifted back from it in the opposite way. As long as there is no contrary factor the assumption is that such persons or people will turn back and reach the original point from which they departed.

Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1429.

The munah accent ties the verb to the following vocative, LORD, Yhwh.

The imperative is interesting: First, it demonstrates the absolute desperation of David. Think of this: Under what circumstances would a subject dare address a king in such fashion? Mark 10:46-52. Second, in a fashion, David complains of having too much attention from God: verses 1-3 imply that God is correcting him. Thus, he is asking for a return of God’s mercy and loving kindness.

 

חַלְּצָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י

Rescue my soul!

 חַלְּצָ֣ה  Piel, imperative, third person, masculine, singular: Save, rescue.

 נַפְשִׁ֑י  My soul.

The two lines make an immediate parallelism within the colon. The repetition in similar words and concepts creates an emotional drive in the plea.

ה֝וֹשִׁיעֵ֗נִי

Hiphil, imperative, third person, masculine, singular; with the direct object as a suffix. The verb means to give aid, help, save.

Here is a third plea for help in the second colon.

לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ

For the reason of/because of your loving kindness.

לְמַ֣עַן

Indicates that the reason for the pleas will be stated: Here is the basis upon which I am making this plea.

חַסְדֶּֽךָ    Your loving kindness

כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין בַּמָּ֣וֶת זִכְרֶ֑ךָ

For there is no in death remembrance of you.

This provides a second reason for the plea: Should God continue with the punishment, David will die. This raises an interesting matter concerning David’s understanding of the effect of death.  The OT understanding of the afterlife is a substantial topic which will not be fully addressed here.

  בַּמָּ֣וֶת  Waltke and O’Conner would classify this use of the beth as “Spatial …amid a domain (#4)” (Waltke, 11:2.5.b, 196).  Thus, in the domain of death (or perhaps the place of death, “within an area (#2)”).

זִכְרֶ֑ךָ  This is the predicate nominative, it is the thing which the אֵ֣ין ’eiyn indicates does not exist.

בִּ֝שְׁא֗וֹל מִ֣י יֽוֹדֶה־לָּֽךְ׃

In Sheol, who will praise you?

  The beth here functions spatial to indicate the domain or location: sheol.

   Who, plus munah, which ties it to the following verb.

 יֽוֹדֶה Will praise: The conjunction of this verb is interesting: There are certain verbs which begin with a yod and yet originally began with a waw. There verbs are known as I-WAW verbs and indistinguishable from I-YOD verbs (verbs that originally began with a yod) in the perfect, participle and the infinitive absolute. “The greater number of verbs that begin with y were originally I-WAW verbs” (Ross, 250). Ross gives the paradigm for I-WAW verbs on pages 253 of his textbook.

Thus, in the hiphil imperfect quoted herein, the initial yod marks the imperfect tense and the holem-waw the first letter of the verb stem — even though yod is the first letter of the root and the qal perfect.

 

־לָּֽךְ   Accusative, to you, with lamed.   “Like ta , l is used to mark the definite direct object of a transitive verb” (Waltke, 10.4b, 184). Example #1, Exodus 32:13, gives the imperative remember with the direct objects marked by a prefixed lamed:

Exodus 32:13 (BHS/WHM 4.2)

13 זְכֹ֡ר לְאַבְרָהָם֩ לְיִצְחָ֨ק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל עֲבָדֶ֗יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתָּ לָהֶם֮ בָּךְ֒ וַתְּדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אַרְבֶּה֙ אֶֽת־זַרְעֲכֶ֔ם כְּכוֹכְבֵ֖י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְכָל־הָאָ֨רֶץ הַזֹּ֜את אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֗רְתִּי אֶתֵּן֙ לְזַרְעֲכֶ֔ם וְנָחֲל֖וּ לְעֹלָֽם׃

Commentaries:

Ver. 4.—Return, O Lord. God seemed to have withdrawn himself, to have forsaken the mourner, and gone far away (comp. Ps. 22:1). Hence the cry, “Return” (comp. Pss. 80:14; 90:13). Nothing is so hard to endure as the feeling of being deserted by God. Deliver my soul. “The psalmist feels himself so wretched in soul and body, that he believes himself to be near death” (Hengstenberg). His prayer here is, primarily, for deliverance from this impending danger, as appears clearly from the following verse. Save me for thy mercies’ sake. Either a repetition of the preceding prayer in other words, or an enlargement of it so as to include salvation of every kind.

Psalms Vol. I, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 37-38.

Close to death as a result of his sickness, the psalmist prays for deliverance from that ultimate enemy, death itself. The conception of death and the afterlife implicit here is that of the OT in general (with the exception of some of the later writings, which reflect the beginning of eschatological thought). The state of the dead is not differentiated with respect to good and evil persons; there is no clear distinction here between heaven and hell. Sheol was conceived as a kind of underworld; the word is translated in G as hades (ᾄδῃ). In Sheol, persons were believed to exist in a form of semi-life, at rest, yet not in joy, for they had not the fullness of life which made possible the richness of relationship with the living God. Death was thus to be dreaded. The psalmist feared death, for in the state of Sheol there would be neither memory of God, nor the praise and worship of God. The word “memory” does not refer to the abstract possibility of remembering God in Sheol, but rather to the role of memory in the worship and praise of God. It was memory which evoked the praise of God, for the memory of what God had done for the living was a basis for the living to both praise God and to go on living within the perspective of a good memory (see further Deut 8 and Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 184–89).

Peter C. Craigie, vol. 19, Psalms 1–50, 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004), 93.

4 Turn thee, O LORD, and deliver my soul: O save me for thy mercy’s sake.

Turn Thee. For the LORD turned and looked upon Peter, before he went out and wept bitterly. He that has turned from us for our sins, must turn to us that we may repent. For it is written: “Turn ye unto Me, and I will turn unto you.” “How long,”* cries S. Peter Chrysologus, “wilt Thou endure, how long wilt Thou not assist, where is Thy CHRIST so often promised? Let Him come, let Him come, before the world shall have perished altogether, and nothing be found in it that He can preserve.” Turn Thee, O Lord, From what? From GOD into man, from the LORD into the servant, from the Judge into the Father.

5 For in death no man remembereth thee: and who will give thee thanks in the pit?

In death. It may be understood either of temporal or eternal death. For how can we remember Him to Whom we are dead in trespasses and sins?* They are solemn words of Salvian’s, in which he describes—commenting on the Vulgate, “And who shall confess to Thee in the grave?”—the utter uselessness of a too late repentance; the limit beyond which the keys of Absolution have no power.

J. M. Neale, A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers, Volume 1: Psalm 1 to Psalm 38, Second Edition (London; New York: Joseph Masters; Pott and Amery, 1869), 126.

5. For in death there is no remembrance of thee. After God has bestowed all things freely upon us, he requires nothing in return but a grateful remembrance of his benefits. To this gratitude reference is made when David says, that there will be no remembrance of God in death, nor any celebration of his praise in the grave. His meaning is, that if, by the grace of God, he shall be delivered from death, he will be grateful for it, and keep it in remembrance. And he laments, that if he should be removed out of the world, he would be deprived of the power and opportunity of manifesting his gratitude, since in that case he would no longer mingle in the society of men, there to commend or celebrate the name of God. From this passage some conclude, that the dead have no feeling, and that it is wholly extinct in them; but this is a rash and unwarranted inference, for nothing is here treated of but the mutual celebration of the grace of God, in which men engage while they continue in the land of the living. We know that we are placed on the earth to praise God with one mind and one mouth, and that this is the end of our life. Death, it is true, puts an end to such praises; but it does not follow from this, that the souls of the faithful, when divested of their bodies, are deprived of understanding, or touched with no affection towards God. It is also to be considered, that, on the present occasion, David dreaded the judgment of God if death should befall him, and this made him dumb as to singing the praises of God. It is only the goodness of God sensibly experienced by us which opens our mouth to celebrate his praise; and whenever, therefore, joy and gladness are taken away, praises also must cease. It is not then wonderful if the wrath of God, which overwhelms us with the fear of eternal destruction, is said to extinguish in us the praises of God.

John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), Ps 6:5.