Psalm 151   1 comment

Above:  David and Goliath, by Ilya Repin

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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1 I was small among my brothers,

and the youngest in my father’s house;

I tended my father’s sheep.

2 My hands made a harp;

my fingers fashioned a lyre.

3 And who will tell my Lord?

The Lord himself; it is he who hears.

4 It was he who sent his messenger

and took me from my father’s sheep,

and anointed me with his anointing oil.

5 My brothers were handsome and tall,

but the Lord was not pleased with them.

6 I went out to meet the Philistine,

and he cursed me by his idols.

7 But I drew his own sword;

I beheaded him, and took away

disgrace from the people of Israel.

–Psalm 151, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Psalm 151, allegedly by David, is the combination of two texts, which Geza Vermes labels Psalm 151A and Psalm 151B in The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Third Edition, 1987).  Psalm 151A (translated by Vermes), slightly longer than its counterpart in the final Greek text, follows:

1  I was smaller than my brothers,

and younger than the sons of my father.

He made me a shepherd of his flock,

and a ruler of over his kids.

2  My hands have made a pipe and my fingers a lyre.

I have rendered glory to the Lord;

I have said so in my soul.

3  The mountains do not testify to him,

and the hills do not tell (of him).

The trees praise my words and the flocks my deeds.

4  For who can tell and speak of,

and recount the works of the Lord?

God has seen all, he has heard all, and he listens to all.

5  He sent his prophet to anoint me,

Samuel to magnify me.

My brothers went out to meet him,

beautiful of figure, beautiful of appearance.

6  They were tall of stature with beautiful hair,

yet the Lord did not choose them.

7  He sent and took me from behind the flock,

and anointed me with holy oil

as a prince of his people,

and as a ruler among the sons of his Covenant.

Psalm 151B, according the Vermes translation from Cave 11 at Qumran, follows:

1Then I saw the Philistine taunting [from the enemy lines]….

Variations of Psalm 151 exist in Old Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic psalters.  One version of Psalm 151 continues:

And I slung three stones at him in the middle of his forehead,

and laid him low by the might of the Lord.

In Psalm 151, as we have it in composite form, we read of the anointing of David, of his arrival in the court of King Saul, and of the slaying of Goliath.  Psalm 151A draws from 1 Samuel 16 and Psalm 151B from 1 Samuel 17.  In 1 Samuel 16 and 17 an observant reader might notice that, although Saul knows David in the last half of chapter 16, the monarch is not familiar with him in chapter 17.  The Sources Hypothesis explains this discrepancy.

A Bible nerd or geek might also know of Elhanan, a warrior under King David.  2 Samuel 21:19 states that

Elhanan son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

To complicate matters, 1 Chronicles 20:5 informs us that

Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite; his spear had a shaft like a weaver’s beam.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One attempt to reconcile these discrepancies is arguing that David and Elhanan were the same person in 2 Samuel 21:19.  This ignores the fact they are indisputably separate in 1 Chronicles 20:5, the text of which is corrupt.  In that verse, miscopying the letters that spell Bethlehem gives rise to “Lahmi, the brother of.”  Scripture does contain conflicting accounts of many events.  Why should the slaying of Goliath be different?

Regardless of the truth of the identity of the slayer of Goliath and the reality of certain events in the life of David, one can draw spiritual lessons from those stories and from Psalm 151.  God chooses those He will; human standards to not apply.  Also, when God calls us, we might be among those most surprised by the vocation.  We need not worry, though; God qualifies the called.  Also, as a note in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) offers,

Goliath stands for the sinful passions of arrogance and vainglory (see also Ps. 143 [144 in the Hebrew psalter]).  Thus, with the Lord’s help, we slay these giants with humility.

–Page 778

Aside:  I added the brackets and the contents thereof.

According to 1 Samuel 17, Goliath was an imposing figure.  He stood about nine feet tall.  His bronze breastplate weighed about 130 pounds.  The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s bar.  The iron head of that spear weighed about 15 pounds.  He was indeed intimidating.  Yet he had a weak spot and God was on the side of David and Elhanan, depending on the text one prefers.

Even the mightiest foes have weaknesses, this story reminds us.  And, if one trusts in God, one can exploit that fact, to the benefit of one’s group, the narrative teaches.  But who will allow God to work through us, or will we shrink back in fear?  Will we, by the help of God, slay proverbial giants or will they slay us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARTIN DE PORRES AND JUAN MACIAS, HUMANITARIANS AND DOMINICAN LAY BROTHERS; SAINT ROSE OF LIMA, HUMANITARIAN AND DOMINICAN SISTER; AND SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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  1. Pingback: Guide Post to the Septuagint Psalter Project | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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