Psalm 20

Notes (NET Translation)

For the music director; a psalm of David.

The psalm is not so much a prayer to God as it is a blessing of the king by the people.

Blessing involves the avowal to someone that God has such intentions toward them. It is thus related to prayer in the sense that God wills that it play a role in the implementing of God’s will in the world, but a blessing is not so much a request addressed to God as a declaration of what the blesser is empowered to say God will do. It is performative language, language that puts into effect what it speaks of. Blessing is God’s means of implementing a purpose in people’s life. The relationship of blessing can be two-way, and there is a relationship of codependence between people and king. King blesses people; people bless king.1

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in trouble; may the God of Jacob make you secure!

The phrase “God of Jacob” recalls the covenant relationship between God and Israel.

2 May he send you help from his temple; from Zion may he give you support!

The word qodesh (“temple”) means “holiness.”

3 May he take notice of your offerings; may he accept your burnt sacrifice! (Selah)

The idea is hardly that Yhwh’s support can be bought: at least Ps. 50 (for instance) would deny that. The gifts are rather a sign of the king’s serious turning to Yhwh in a situation of need. Verse 7 will hint at the possibility that the king might do otherwise, the possibility referred to in passages such as Isa. 30-31.2

4 May he grant your heart’s desire; may he bring all your plans to pass!

5 Then we will shout for joy over your victory; we will rejoice in the name of our God! May the LORD grant all your requests!

6 Now I am sure that the LORD will deliver his chosen king; he will intervene for him from his holy heavenly temple, and display his mighty ability to deliver.

The “I” of this verse could be the king, speaking in the third person about himself, or the words of a priest, prophet, or some other representative of the people.

7 Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we depend on the LORD our God.

The reversion to “we” talk suggests these are the words of the people again.

The words “chariotry” and “horses” should probably be taken as poetically synonymous. Chariots, and the horses which pulled them, represented the most powerful military resources available in the ancient Near Eastern practice of warfare.3

8 They will fall down, but we will stand firm.

9 The LORD will deliver the king; he will answer us when we call to him for help!

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Goldingay 2006, loc. 6232-6236 
  2. Goldingay 2006, loc. 6154 
  3. Craigie 2004, p. 187 

Leviticus 20

Notes (NET Translation)

Chapter 20 contains many of the same laws given in chapter 18 but adds the punishments associated with the crimes.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses:

2 “You are to say to the Israelites, ‘Any man from the Israelites or from the foreigners who reside in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death; the people of the land must pelt him with stones.

Recall that Molech is a false god who may have been associated with the underworld. Devoting a child to Molech was both a case of idolatry and murder. Stones were either thrown or hurled with a slingshot. Ordinary citizens (“the people of the land”) carried out the punishment. Deut. 17:1-7 implies that execution occurred after a trial. “According to tradition, this penalty was discharged by casting the guilty party from a high place; they stoned that person only if the fall was not fatal.”1

3 I myself will set my face against that man and cut him off from the midst of his people, because he has given some of his children to Molech and thereby defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.

The phrase “I myself will set my face against that man” expresses the intent to punish. The form of punishment is cutting off the perpetrator from his people. Pagan worship defiled the sanctuary.

4 If, however, the people of the land shut their eyes to that man when he gives some of his children to Molech so that they do not put him to death, 5 I myself will set my face against that man and his clan. I will cut off from the midst of their people both him and all who follow after him in spiritual prostitution, to commit prostitution by worshiping Molech.

Verse 4 implies that people knew of the violator’s crime but did not execute him.

Hebrew mishpaḥah, “clan” (“kin”), designates the basic sociological unit in ancient Israelite society. It is presumed that the clan tends to act together in matters of worship, following the way of its leaders.2

This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that “all who follow after him” are also to be cut off.

6 “‘The person who turns to the spirits of the dead and familiar spirits to commit prostitution by going after them, I will set my face against that person and cut him off from the midst of his people.

The same root is deliberately used as an exemplification of divine measure-for-measure punishment: a person’s turning (facing) to forbidden practices is matched by God’s turning (facing) against such a person. The death penalty specified in v. 27 is not implied here. The cases are not equivalent: karet is prescribed for turning to a medium; death, for being one.3

7 “‘You must sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God.

8 You must be sure to obey my statutes. I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

Instead of pursuing Molek worship and seances, the people must “sanctify themselves.” They sanctify themselves each time they obey the laws given by God. Sanctification involves affirmative action; it is exercising one’s will to do God’s will. Sanctification is also pursued by consciously avoiding any activity that defiles. Standing at the head of the family laws, this call to holiness also teaches that how one treats one’s parents and how one conducts oneself in sexual relationships directly affect the development of one’s character. Holiness is practiced at home as well as at the sanctuary. Thus every time the people obey God’s word, they activate the sanctifying presence of God in their midst. Yahweh does the sanctifying; he is present among his people as the Holy God.4

9 “‘If anyone curses his father and mother he must be put to death. He has cursed his father and mother; his blood guilt is on himself.

“To curse” means more than uttering the occasional angry word. 2 Sam. 16:5ff.; Job 3:1ff. give some idea of the venom and bitter feelings that cursing could entail. It is the very antithesis of “honoring.” To honor in Hebrew literally means “to make heavy or glorious,” whereas to curse literally means “to make light of, despicable.”5

The formula “his blood guilt is on himself” means that the guilty is deserving of death and that those who execute him are not guilty of breaking the law. “If a man breaks such a law, he does so knowing the consequences, and therefore cannot object to the penalty imposed.”6

10 If a man commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

11 If a man has sexual intercourse with his father’s wife, he has exposed his father’s nakedness. Both of them must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.

12 If a man has sexual intercourse with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. They have committed perversion; their blood guilt is on themselves.

13 If a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman, the two of them have committed an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.

14 If a man has sexual intercourse with both a woman and her mother, it is lewdness. Both he and they must be burned to death, so there is no lewdness in your midst.

The Hebrew is also consistent with the corpses of the offenders being burned (cf. Jos. 7:25). This would deprive the offenders of proper burial.

15 If a man has sexual intercourse with any animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal.

The rabbis offer several rationalizations [for killing the animal]:

  1. The animal now being disposed or trained for bestiality will lead a person into sin (Sipra Qedoshim 11:5; m. Sanh. 7:4).
  2. “So that the animal, when passing through the market, will not prompt the remark: ‘This is the one'” (m. Sanh. 7:4; cf. Sipra Qedoshim 10:8; Lev. Rab. 27:3).
  3. The Torah enjoined the proscription of all the (idolatrous) places and the destruction of its (Asherah) trees (Deut 12:2) because they are reminders of man’s shame(ful acts) (Sipra Qedoshim 11:5).

That is, according to the rabbis, the death of the beast serves as a moral lesson to man.7

16 If a woman approaches any animal to have sexual intercourse with it, you must kill the woman, and the animal must be put to death; their blood guilt is on themselves.

It is not clear whether “their” refers to (a) the man (v. 15) and the woman (v. 16) or (b) the woman (v. 16) and the animal (v. 16). If option (b) is correct it is not clear how the animal is guilty. Perhaps it merely means the executioner is not guilty of killing either the woman or the animal.

17 “‘If a man has sexual intercourse with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or his mother, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace. They must be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has exposed his sister’s nakedness; he will bear his punishment for iniquity.

The punishment in this verse is either banishment or early death. The singular in the phrase “he will bear his punishment for iniquity” is puzzling.

18 If a man has sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her fountain of blood and she has exposed the fountain of her blood, so both of them must be cut off from the midst of their people.

The “fountain of her blood” refers to the female genitalia.

19 You must not expose the nakedness of your mother’s sister and your father’s sister, for such a person has laid bare his own close relative. They must bear their punishment for iniquity.

20 If a man has sexual intercourse with his aunt, he has exposed his uncle’s nakedness; they must bear responsibility for their sin, they will die childless.

The Hebrew phrase “they will be childless” literally means that they will be “stripped” (of rights/honor?). Dying childless was regarded as a tragedy (Gen. 30:1-2; 1 Sam. 1:1-20; Ps. 127:3-5).

21 If a man has sexual intercourse with his brother’s wife, it is indecency. He has exposed his brother’s nakedness; they will be childless.

22 “‘You must be sure to obey all my statutes and regulations, so that the land to which I am about to bring you to take up residence there does not vomit you out.

23 You must not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am about to drive out before you, because they have done all these things and I am filled with disgust against them.

24 So I have said to you: You yourselves will possess their land and I myself will give it to you for a possession, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the LORD your God who has set you apart from the other peoples.

Although the distinctiveness of Israel is a major theme in biblical literature, it is rare to read that God actively “separates” Israel, a notion conveyed by the Hifil verb hivdil, “to divide, separate.” In the following verses, the separateness of Israel, involving their duty to live differently from other nations, is the stated rationale for the requirement to observe the dietary laws, which are the subject of chapter 11.8

25 Therefore you must distinguish between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean, and you must not make yourselves detestable by means of an animal or bird or anything that creeps on the ground – creatures I have distinguished for you as unclean.

26 You must be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine.

27 “‘A man or woman who has in them a spirit of the dead or a familiar spirit must be put to death. They must pelt them with stones; their blood guilt is on themselves.'”

At first glance this verse seems out of place. Yet it forms an inclusio with verses 2-6 which concern chthonic worship, either by devotion to Molech (20:2-5) or communicating with the spirits of the dead (20:6). The NET translation almost makes it sound like the person is possessed by a spirit but this is not the meaning. The NIV translates the verse as: “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death.”

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.


  1. Hartley 1998, p. 333 
  2. Levine 1989, p. 137 
  3. Milgrom 2008, p. 1738-1739 
  4. Hartley 1998, p. 338 
  5. Wenham 1979, loc. 3700-3703 
  6. Wenham 1979, loc. 3706-3707 
  7. Milgrom 2008, p. 1751-1752 
  8. Levine 1989, p. 140 

The Mind, Dualism, and Neuroscience

I’m in a discussion with “The Thinker” concerning the mental, the physical, and causality (among other things). Though a self-described naturalist, The Thinker appears open to the possibility that there is an immaterial mind (he failed to provide an account of how matter can exhibit inherent intentionality). However, he believes that the physical (brain) always causes the mental and that the mental never causes the physical.

As evidence for this belief he linked to a paper entitled Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using Ultra-High Field fMRI by Stefan Bode, Anna Hanxi He, Chun Siong Soon, Robert Trampel, Robert Turner, and John-Dylan Haynes. In short, subjects were in an fMRI machine and told to click a left or right button and record when they were consciously aware of which button they were going to click. The researchers studied the fMRI data and were able to decode the brain activity taken seconds before the subject was consciously aware of what button he was going to click to predict, with up to 57% accuracy, the button that was, in fact, clicked.

Since I’m no neuroscientist, take my comments on the article with a grain of salt. But I don’t think this study warrants the conclusion that the physical always causes the mental and that the mental never causes the physical.

(1) The researchers claim that the subjects “were free to decide, at any time, to press the left or the right button with the corresponding index finger.” In fact, subjects that did not behave in certain ways were excluded from the study. “[I]t should be obvious that moving a finger that one was requested to move is no less voluntary an act than is moving one or another of two fingers on request” (Bennett and Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, p. 231).

“If one asks one’s subjects to move their hand voluntarily within the next minute, but to take care to note when they feel an urge, an intention or a desire to move it, one’s very question subjects them to a tempting (but mistaken) philosophical picture of the nature of action and its causal genesis. Indeed, one of the most interesting (inadvertent) results of these experiments is that people, when asked to report such bizarre things as ‘a feeling of intention to move one’s hand’, will find such a feeling to report, even though it is more than a little doubtful whether there is any such thing as ‘a feeling of intention’. Equally, when asked to note when they feel an urge to move, they come up with such a feeling, even though moving one’s hand voluntarily does not require and does not normally involve any such feeling. The feeling reported is not what makes their movement voluntary, and any absence of feeling would not make it involuntary. The fact that the neurons . . . fire . . . before the feeling is allegedly apprehended does not show that the brain ‘unconsciously decided’ to move before the agent did. It merely shows that the neuronal processes that activate the muscles began before the time at which the agent report a ‘feeling of desire’ or ‘feeling an urge to move’ to have occurred. But, to repeat, a voluntary movement is not a movement caused by a felt urge, any more than to refrain voluntarily from moving is to feel an urge not to move which prevents one from moving” (Bennett and Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, p. 230).

So, such an experiment is not studying free will or voluntary action. It seems to involve a gray area between voluntary action and involuntary action, perhaps called non-voluntary action. It is not the kind of case where we would necessarily expect the mental to cause the physical.

(2) “Chance level for correct prediction was 50%.” The researchers were able to decode the fMRI with an accuracy up to 57%. You claim that the physical always causes the mental and the mental never causes the physical. What do you make of the 43% of cases where prediction was not possible? Could that be when the mental causes the physical?

(3) The researchers state “early predictive activity patterns are attributable to unconscious components of evolving intentions.” How do you rule out the possibility that unconscious mental states caused unconscious physical states which caused conscious mental states?

(4) The researchers say “data from one trial cannot be used to predict the trial preceding or following it.” Your position states that the causality effecting the fMRI is all on the physical level. Thus, whatever caused the subject to click a button in trial 1 should be causally connected to what caused the subject to click a button in trial 2, should it not? Why isn’t this observable?

(5) The researchers note “that our study cannot provide evidence for a causal relationship between the activation in frontopolar cortex and the decision, e.g. because fMRI measures neural decision-related processes only indirectly and prediction is far from perfect.” How are you not guilty of misusing the science in this study?

Psalm 19

Notes (NET Translation)

For the music director; a psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork.

The parallelism indicates that in this verse “the heavens” refer to the physical sky, not God’s dwelling place. Since the sun, moon, and stars are the work of God they declare his glory.

2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness.

Verse 2 continues on from verse 1 in saying that the declaring goes on continually throughout the day and night. Some translations (e.g., NIV) translate the second half of the verse to say that the sky reveals God’s knowledge.

That is, as mankind reflects upon the vast expanse of heaven, with its light by day and its intimation of a greater universe by night, that reflection may open up an awareness and knowledge of God, the Creator, who by his hands created a glory beyond the comprehension of the human mind.1

3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard.

4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun.

There is a subtlety in nature’s praise of God. On the one hand, there is no audible noise. On the other hand, the message is conveyed throughout the earth.

To the sensitive, the heavenly praise of God’s glory may be an overwhelming experience, whereas to the insensitive, sky is simply sky and stars are only stars; they point to nothing beyond. In this hymn of praise, it is not the primary purpose of the psalmist to draw upon nature as a vehicle of revelation, or as a source of the knowledge of God apart from the revelation in law (or Torah, v 8); indeed, there is more than a suggestion that the reflection of God’s praise in the universe is perceptible only to those already sensitive to God’s revelation and purpose.2

5 Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course.

While other ancient Near Eastern cultures might deify the sun, the psalmist personifies it. The sun praises the one true God but is not a deity itself (Gen. 1:3-19).

The sun is metaphorically compared to a “bridegroom” and to a “champion” (v. 5). The joy of the bridegroom, coming from the wedding canopy or the bridal chamber, represents the radiance of the sun. The “champion” (= “warrior” or “valiant man”), rejoicing in his strength as he sets out to run his course, represents the power of the sun as it seems to move through “its circuit” (v. 6).3

6 It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat.

The key clause . . . is in v 7 [6]: “there is none hidden from its (the sun’s) heat.” The clause marks the transition between the two parts of the psalm and at the same time links them intimately together. Just as the sun dominates the daytime sky, so too does Torah dominate human life. And as the sun can be both welcome, in giving warmth, and terrifying in its unrelenting heat, so too the Torah can be both life-imparting, but also scorching, testing, and purifying. But neither are dispensable. There could be no life on this planet without the sun; there can be no true human life without the revealed word of God in the Torah.4

7 The law of the LORD is perfect and preserves one’s life. The rules set down by the LORD are reliable and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.

Etymologically, the untaught (petî) [inexperienced] is the open person, one whose mind has not yet been occupied by insight and is therefore in a vulnerable, dangerous position. Yhwh’s declaration concerning what is true and what Yhwh expects gives shape to their mind. It protects them and other people. It makes them reliable instead of unprincipled and immature.5

8 The LORD’s precepts are fair and make one joyful. The LORD’s commands are pure and give insight for life.

9 The commands to fear the LORD are right and endure forever. The judgments given by the LORD are trustworthy and absolutely just.

10 They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb.

11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there; those who obey them receive a rich reward.

12 Who can know all his errors? Please do not punish me for sins I am unaware of.

Goldingay takes issue with common English translations of verse 12. He says this verse is not about understanding one’s own wrongdoing, rather it is expressing puzzlement over how humans can sin even though we can see that God’s expectations make sense (vv 7-11). He goes on to say the second half of the verse is not about forgiveness but about asking for the strength to be obedient.

13 Moreover, keep me from committing flagrant sins; do not allow such sins to control me. Then I will be blameless, and innocent of blatant rebellion.

14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer.

A restorer (goel) [redeemer] is the next of kin within a family who takes action or spends resources in order to put things right when a family member is in trouble or has been wronged. Used of God, this verb thus puts us in God’s family and implies God’s accepting family obligations toward us when we are in trouble. “Restore me” therefore implies, “Do your duty by me” by making things right for me.

Perhaps a further implication of this closing acknowledgment of Yhwh as rock and restorer is that it constitutes a recognition that the kind of commitment expressed in vv. 7–13 is a necessity if we are to find Yhwh behaving as rock and restorer.6

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Craigie 2004, p. 180 
  2. Craigie 2004, p. 181 
  3. VanGemeren 2008, p. 216 
  4. Craigie 2004, p. 183–184 
  5. Goldingay 2006, loc. 5897-5900 
  6. Goldingay 2006, loc. 6008-6014 

The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels

Introduction

The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels are short prefixes to the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. If there ever was a prefix to the gospel of Matthew it has been lost. The prologues are so named because they were once thought by Donatien de Bruyne to have an anti-Marcion sentiment. In fact, only the prologue to John contains a clear anti-Marcion sentiment.

Manuscripts

The prologues are found together for the first time in the 8th century Latin ms T (Toletanus) and later in the mss FNS. The prologues to Mark and John are found only in Latin while one Greek ms (Athens 91 = A) preserves the prologue to Luke. It is generally agreed that all of these prologues were originally written in Greek.

Unity

It is not clear how these prologues were brought together. Lee Martin McDonald argues that the Lukan prologue probably circulated independently at first since it mentions other writings (John, Revelation), has a different style, and is longer in length.1

Historical Value

The prologues cannot be dated with precision with scholars giving dates between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Most scholars consider the prologue to John to be anachronistic and historically false. They doubt that Papias wrote the gospel for John and that John both opposed and condemned Marcion. The prologues support the widespread tradition regarding the authorship of the gospels.

Translation

Roger Pearse has kindly translated the Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels:

Mark

. . . Mark recorded, who was called Colobodactylus [the nickname means "stumpy finger"], because he had fingers that were too small for the height of the rest of his body. He himself was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, the same man wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy.

Luke

Indeed Luke was an Antiochene Syrian, a doctor by profession, a disciple of the apostles: later however he followed Paul until his martyrdom, serving the Lord blamelessly. He never had a wife, he never fathered children, and died at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit, in Boetia. Therefore — although gospels had already been written — indeed by Matthew in Judaea but by Mark in Italy — moved by the Holy Spirit he wrote down this gospel in the parts of Achaia, signifying in the preface that the others were written before his, but also that it was of the greatest importance for him to expound with the greatest diligence the whole series of events in his narration for the Greek believers, so that they would not be led astray by the lure of Jewish fables, or, seduced by the fables of the heretics and stupid solicitations, fall away from the truth. And so at once at the start he took up the extremely necessary [story] from the birth of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was a companion in the perfecting of the people, likewise in the introducing of baptism and a companion in martyrdom. Of this disposition the prophet Malachi, one of the twelve, certainly makes mention. And indeed afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Later the apostle John wrote the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, and then the Gospel in Asia.

John

The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while still in the body, just as Papias of Hieropolis, the close disciple of John, related in the exoterics, that is, in the last five books. Indeed he wrote down the gospel, while John was dictating carefully. But the heretic Marcion, after being condemned by him because he was teaching [lit. sentiebat: he was thinking] the opposite to him [John], was expelled by John. But he [Marcion] had brought writings or letters to him [John] from the brothers which were in Pontus.

Bibliography

“Anti-Marcionite (Gospel) Prologues.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1992.

“Anti-Marcionite Prologues.” The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. 2010.


  1. Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.262 

Leviticus 19

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses:

2 “Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites and tell them, ‘You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.

To have a close relationship with God, the Israelites must imitate God. Holiness requires that the Israelites are distinct from other nations. Ex. 19:6 says Israel will be to God “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But holiness also involves drawing closer to God. The laws and commandments of Lev. 19 outline what Israel must do to be a holy people.

The gulf between the sacred and the profane was not meant to be permanent. The command to achieve holiness, to become holy, envisions a time when life would be consecrated in its fullness and when all nations would worship God in holiness. What began as a process of separating the sacred from the profane was to end as the unification of human experience, the harmonizing of man with his universe, and of man with God.1

3 Each of you must respect his mother and his father, and you must keep my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.

The Hebrew word yare (“respect”) literally means “to fear, revere” and is often used in the phrase “fear God” (vv 14, 32).

There have been only two occasions in history, during the French and Russian revolutions, when cultures attempted to organize themselves around a ten-day cycle instead of a seven-day cycle. Both of these attempts were abandoned because workers were not able to function properly working nine consecutive days. The Sabbath law not only recognizes man’s need to have a day of rest after a six-day work week but also to have a day set aside to draw near to God and discover the reason we work in the first place.

No rest leads to social disintegration and chaos. The importance of the Sabbath is also evident in Leviticus 23, where the Sabbath legislation occupies the first position in the discussion of Israel’s worship calendar. The violation of this law also was singled out as the cause for Israel’s exile from the land. The observance of the Sabbath has always been a defining law for the Jewish people. During the intertestamental period the Jews chose death rather than resisting the enemy on the Sabbath (1 Macc 2:31–38). This was because the observance of the Sabbath was viewed as “equal to all other precepts of the Torah” (Exod Rabb 25:12). Among some Jews the Sabbath day was considered a foretaste of the world to come.2

4 Do not turn to idols, and you must not make for yourselves gods of cast metal. I am the LORD your God.

5 “‘When you sacrifice a peace offering sacrifice to the LORD, you must sacrifice it so that it is accepted for you. 6 It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice and on the following day, but what is left over until the third day must be burned up. 7 If, however, it is eaten on the third day, it is spoiled, it will not be accepted, 8 and the one who eats it will bear his punishment for iniquity because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD. That person will be cut off from his people.

Cf. Lev. 3; 7:11-34; 22:21-25.

9 “‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest.

Regarding pe’ah, “the corner, edge” of the field, there is no limit or minimum as to the space or quantity to be left unharvested in the corners of the field. Tradition set the minimum at one-sixtieth of the yield, according to the Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1–2. The Mishnah recommends taking into consideration several factors, such as the abundance of the yield, the overall resources of the owner of the field, and the current needs of the poor.3

In the ancient Near East the reaper cut the stalks of grain with one hand and caught what was reaped with the other. The gleanings (leket) are that which falls to the ground during reaping. Ruth 2 describes gleaning by the poor.

10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.

The vineyard was not to be picked bare, perhaps meaning that grape clusters that were not fully formed were to be left behind. These were to be left to mature and could then only be picked by the poor and the foreigner.

These people rarely had land of their own, and had to rely on selling their labor to buy food. This law entitled them to a small amount of free food each year at the expense of the more affluent members of society.4

These decrees undercut the strong human temptation to greed in the presence of plenty. This standard of generosity is prudently formulated. On the one hand, it does not place an added burden on the landlord, for he does not have to pay for the collection of these gleanings. On the other hand, the poor and the foreigner maintain their dignity, for in place of a handout they are given the privilege to labor for their own needs. They have to expend effort to benefit from God’s grace manifested through the landlord’s generosity.5

11 “‘You must not steal, you must not tell lies, and you must not deal falsely with your fellow citizen.

12 You must not swear falsely in my name, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.

Oaths were sworn in God’s name so a false oath treats God’s name as if it is not holy, thereby profaning it.

13 You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him. You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning.

One example of oppression, the practice of holding back a hired day-laborer’s wage, is mentioned. This practice deprives that laborer of the possibility of purchasing food for his family for the evening meal and for the following day (Deut 24:14–15; cf. Jer 22:13; Matt 20:8). An employer may not use for his own convenience and profit an accounting practice that works a hardship on his laborer’s family. A laborer who has not been quickly paid cries out to God for relief, and God will hold the employer responsible for causing this undue hardship (Deut 24:14–15; cf. Jas 5:4). God judges severely those who mistreat their laborers for personal gain.6

14 You must not curse a deaf person or put a stumbling block in front of a blind person. You must fear your God; I am the LORD.

The verb killel (“curse”) literally means “to treat lightly”. It is the opposite of to honor or to treat with respect. Although the deaf and blind may be ignorant of who mistreats them, God is not and therefore should be feared.

15 “‘You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.

16 You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

The interpretation of this verse is difficult. The second sentence can be interpreted as: (1) do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is in danger, (2) do not be silent in a legal case against your neighbor, or (3) do not make your livelihood in a manner that endangers another.

17 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him.

People should be open with each other in giving and receiving advice (cf. Mt. 18:15-22; Gal. 6:1). It is not obvious how rebuke prevents the rebuker from incurring sin.

The most probable suggestion is that whoever rebukes a man and stops him from sinning is freed from the guilt of that man’s sin (cf. Ezek. 33). At the same time, by open rebuke the aggrieved party may save his own feelings from overflowing into a sinful action as Cain’s did (Gen. 4).7

18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Love is expressed through action. Cf. Mt. 5:43; 19:19; 22:39-40; Mk. 12:31, 33; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8.

19 You must keep my statutes. You must not allow two different kinds of your animals to breed, you must not sow your field with two different kinds of seed, and you must not wear a garment made of two different kinds of fabric.

Milgrom notes that the sacred sphere, the sanctuary and its officiants, included mixtures of various kinds. The priests were allowed to wear some clothing made of two different kinds of fabric. The curtain closing off the Holy of Holies was a mixture of linen and wool. The cherubim on the curtains and in the Holy of Holies look like hybrid animals. This verse indicates that the Israelites were to achieve holiness by practicing the proper ritual and ethical behavior, not by crossing into the sacred sphere.8 Lay Israelites were allowed to wear tassels made of linen and wool (Num. 15:38-39).

20 “‘When a man has sexual intercourse with a woman, although she is a slave woman designated for another man and she has not yet been ransomed, or freedom has not been granted to her, there will be an obligation to pay compensation. They must not be put to death, because she was not free. 21 He must bring his guilt offering to the LORD at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, a guilt offering ram, 22 and the priest is to make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin that he has committed, and he will be forgiven of his sin that he has committed.

Some legal background is required by way of explanation. The law of Exodus 21:7–11 allows a father to sell his preadolescent daughter as a slave to another Israelite. This was usually done out of extreme deprivation or indebtedness. When the slave girl reached marriageable age, her master was required to do one of three things: marry her himself, designate her as his son’s wife, or allow her to be redeemed. . . .

The situation projected in our passage is as follows: An Israelite slave girl, here called shifhah, was pledged by her master to another Israelite man. The designation had already been made, but had not been finalized by payment to the girl’s master or, possibly, the man had not yet claimed his bride. Legally, the girl was still a slave and unmarried. If at this point, an outsider had carnal relations with her, he would have caused a loss to her master because, no longer a virgin, she would be less desirable as a wife, and the prospective husband would undoubtedly cancel the proposed marriage.

In parallel circumstances, Exodus 22:15–17 stipulates that one who seduced a free maiden who was not yet pledged as a wife had either to marry her himself or pay her father the equivalent of the marriage price (mohar). In our case, the option of marriage was ruled out because the girl had been pledged to another man — leaving only one way to deal with the situation. The man who had had carnal relations with the girl had to pay an indemnity to her master to compensate him for his loss. Presumably, since the marriage was called off, and the young woman rendered undesirable, the owner would have to continue maintaining her in his household.9

It is worth noting that only the man was considered blameworthy, not the female slave. Being a slave, the woman may have felt she had little recourse in resisting a male who was a free man and thus more powerful both in the social and economic spheres.10

23 “‘When you enter the land and plant any fruit tree, you must consider its fruit to be forbidden. Three years it will be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, praise offerings to the LORD. 25 Then in the fifth year you may eat its fruit to add its produce to your harvest. I am the LORD your God.

The Hebrew phrase translated “you must consider its fruit to be forbidden” literally means “you shall treat as foreskin its foreskin with its fruit.” Its meaning is debated. Levine thinks it may refer to trimming the trees but notes the rabbis taught that all fruit from the first three years had to be destroyed by burning. Milgrom thinks the foreskin is the fruit while it is enclosed in its bud:

The closed bud, then, is the foreskin that should be plucked before the fruit (i.e., the penis) emerges. I checked with the Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, and this is precisely what is done. The juvenile tree is not pruned — the branches are not thinned or trimmed — but its buds are removed (alternatively, the buds are allowed to flower, and only those that are pollinated and bearing fruit are removed).11

26 “‘You must not eat anything with the blood still in it. You must not practice either divination or soothsaying.

The Hebrew literally says you must not eat over the blood. In light of Saul and his warriors eating over the blood and inquiring of the dead in 1 Sam. 14, many commentators think verse 26 is alluding to some form of idolatry.

Joseph divined with his cup according to Gen. 44:5, 15. Apart from this reference we do not know exactly what magical devices are covered by this ban on divination and soothsaying. The surrounding nations made abundant use of magic in attempts to predict the future (cf. Isa. 2:6; Ezek. 21:26ff. [Eng. 21ff.]). Israel was forbidden to employ such devices, because she was in a special relationship with God and he made his will known through the prophets, or indirectly through the priestly Urim and Thummim (Exod. 28:30; Lev. 8:8). When God was silent, the people were expected to walk by faith and live in accordance with God’s general will declared in the law.12

27 You must not round off the corners of the hair on your head or ruin the corners of your beard.

This law is to ensure that Israelites avoid pagan mourning rites.

28 You must not slash your body for a dead person or incise a tattoo on yourself. I am the LORD.

Slashing the body was a common mourning rite in the ANE (Deut. 14:1; 1 Kings 18:28; Jer. 16:6; 41:5; 47:5; 48:37). The tattoo in this verse appears to be an incised brand. As an example, a slave could be branded with his owner’s name. It is debatable whether this prohibition is associated with idolatry or not.

29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land does not practice prostitution and become full of lewdness.

A person in heavy debt might be tempted to make his daughter a prostitute.

30 “‘You must keep my Sabbaths and fear my sanctuary. I am the LORD.

Holiness has both a temporal and a spatial aspect to it.

31 Do not turn to the spirits of the dead and do not seek familiar spirits to become unclean by them. I am the LORD your God.

A “familiar spirit” is the spirit of a deceased relative, friend, or acquaintance. Cf. 1 Sam. 28. Necromancy was associated with ancestor worship.

32 You must stand up in the presence of the aged, honor the presence of an elder, and fear your God. I am the LORD.

Standing up was a sign of respect.

33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. 34 The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

35 You must not do injustice in the regulation of measures, whether of length, weight, or volume. 36 You must have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt.

An easy way to practice deception in commercial transactions is to use false measures (cf. Deut 25:13–16; Ezek 45:10–12). A corrupt merchant would have two sets of weights and measures, using a bigger measure for receiving and a smaller one for distribution (cf. Amos 8:5; Mic 6:10–11). Such a double standard increases profits greatly. Weak members of society are struck a double blow, getting fewer goods and paying more.13

37 You must be sure to obey all my statutes and regulations. I am the LORD.'”

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.


  1. Levine 1989, p. 257 
  2. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 7167-7177 
  3. Levine 1989, p. 127 
  4. Wenham 1979, loc. 3540-3541 
  5. Hartley 1998, p. 314 
  6. Hartley 1998, p. 315 
  7. Wenham 1979, loc. 3572-3573 
  8. Milgrom 2008, p. 1660-1662 
  9. Levine 1989, p. 131 
  10. Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 7304-7306 
  11. Milgrom 2008, p. 1679 
  12. Wenham 1979, loc. 3610-3614 
  13. Hartley 1998, p. 322 

Psalm 18

Notes (NET Translation)

For the music director; by the LORD’s servant David, who sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD rescued him from the power of all his enemies, including Saul.

A variant of this psalm appears in 2 Sam. 22. This heading says David sang the psalm after he had been delivered from all his enemies. The psalm itself refers to “my enemy” (singular) and “my enemies” (plural).

[The psalm] testifies to Yhwh’s involvement in David’s life as a whole and reflects the awareness that Yhwh acted in extraordinary and decisive ways in his life, granting him escapes and achievements that are hard to parallel, not for his own sake but also for the sake of Israel, in whose story his reign has a decisive place. But the last verse also indicates that the psalm was open to being claimed by subsequent kings and implies a permanent commitment to David’s line on Yhwh’s part, justifying both a use by subsequent kings and an eschatological reading.1

1 He said: “I love you, LORD, my source of strength!

A unique verb expressive of love for God opens the psalm. Hebrew has various ways to express devotion and love for God, but usually the verb translated here as “love” (from raham, GK 8163, “to have mercy”) is used to affirm God’s compassion for people. The verb implies the need of the one who receives the compassion and is associated with a mother’s care for her children. David thus expresses his commitment to the Lord, who is his source of strength, comfort, and sustenance. The phrase “I love you” communicates the intimacy of his relationship with the Lord based on experience.2

2 The LORD is my high ridge, my stronghold, my deliverer. My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, and my refuge.

The psalmist continues by piling up a series of words and epithets, in a kind of staccato style, which express pungently the nature of God as he has been experienced. The names reflect two themes, though each is closely related to the other; one theme is military (God is deliverer, shield, and safe retreat) and the other evokes the rocky wilderness which was for so long a part of David’s experience (God is cliff, stronghold, and rock); it was in the wilderness that David in his military campaigns experienced God’s intimate presence.3

3 I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies.

4 The waves of death engulfed me, the currents of chaos overwhelmed me.

5 The ropes of Sheol tightened around me, the snares of death trapped me.

6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried out to my God. From his heavenly temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.

7 The earth heaved and shook; the roots of the mountains trembled; they heaved because he was angry.

Verses 7-15 are probably symbolic ways of speaking of God’s act of deliverance. Consider that in Judges 4-5 the prose account of Deborah and Barak’s victory speaks of God working by human means whereas the poetic account contains more figurative language.

8 Smoke ascended from his nose; fire devoured as it came from his mouth; he hurled down fiery coals.

9 He made the sky sink as he descended; a thick cloud was under his feet.

10 He mounted a winged angel and flew; he glided on the wings of the wind.

A winged angel is a cherub. The picture is of God’s throne being carried by a cherub (Ezek. 1-3).

11 He shrouded himself in darkness, in thick rain clouds.

12 From the brightness in front of him came hail and fiery coals.

13 The LORD thundered in the sky; the sovereign One shouted.

14 He shot his arrows and scattered them, many lightning bolts and routed them.

15 The depths of the sea were exposed; the inner regions of the world were uncovered by your battle cry, LORD, by the powerful breath from your nose.

The idea is that the seas parted and what is normally under the water is exposed.

16 He reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me from the surging water.

17 He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hate me, for they were too strong for me.

18 They confronted me in my day of calamity, but the LORD helped me.

19 He brought me out into a wide open place; he delivered me because he was pleased with me.

20 The LORD repaid me for my godly deeds; he rewarded my blameless behavior.

21 For I have obeyed the LORD’s commands; I have not rebelled against my God.

22 For I am aware of all his regulations, and I do not reject his rules.

23 I was innocent before him, and kept myself from sinning.

24 The LORD rewarded me for my godly deeds; he took notice of my blameless behavior.

25 You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful; you prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent.

26 You prove to be reliable to one who is blameless, but you prove to be deceptive to one who is perverse.

A perverse (iqqesh) person twists the way of integrity. The Hebrew states that God responds in kind with a twist (pathal) of his own. The NET dangerously translates this as “to be deceptive.” “The idea is that Yhwh can match the faithless in the capacity to throw a curve ball or bend a free kick.”4 “The principle is illustrated by God’s use of Laban to educate Jacob, and perhaps supremely by his unsettling treatment of the devious Balaam.”5

The psalmist does not say that God shows himself “shrewd” (v. 26) in the sense that he deals wisely with the wicked but that he “acts corruptly” (“crooked”) with those who are “crooked.” Even as God deals lovingly with those who love him, he lets the crooked acts of the wicked boomerang on their own heads. They receive their just deserts.6

27 For you deliver oppressed people, but you bring down those who have a proud look.

28 Indeed, you are my lamp, LORD. My God illuminates the darkness around me.

29 Indeed, with your help I can charge against an army; by my God’s power I can jump over a wall.

30 The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD’s promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.

31 Indeed, who is God besides the LORD? Who is a protector besides our God?

32 The one true God gives me strength; he removes the obstacles in my way.

33 He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.

34 He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend even the strongest bow.

35 You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail.

The last clause of this verse is translated by the KJV as: “thy gentleness hath made me great.”

For the remarkable expression in the Hebrew text, ‘they gentleness made (or will make) me great’ (cf. AV, RV, RSV mg.), various commonplace substitutes have been suggested since ancient times. But the truth it expresses is profound, and the only question is whether David had the perception to see it. On so subjective a matter the text should have the benefit of the doubt. The Hebrew noun is akin to the adjective anaw, humble, meek, the second word discussed at verse 27 above; and while it was the gentleness God exercised that allowed David his success, it was the gentleness God taught him that was his true greatness.7

36 You widen my path; my feet do not slip.

37 I chase my enemies and catch them; I do not turn back until I wipe them out.

38 I beat them to death; they fall at my feet.

39 You give me strength for battle; you make my foes kneel before me.

40 You make my enemies retreat; I destroy those who hate me.

41 They cry out, but there is no one to help them; they cry out to the LORD, but he does not answer them.

The second colon is commonly understood to suggest that they were crying to Yhwh, but this would be an unparalleled use of al. That regularly denotes the subject of a cry, not its object (e.g., Exod. 8:12); one might even translate “against Yhwh” (cf. Job 31:38). The enemies are crying out about the way Yhwh is a threat to them, presumably crying to their gods. But there is no one to defeat Yhwh.8

42 I grind them as fine windblown dust; I beat them underfoot like clay in the streets.

43 You rescue me from a hostile army; you make me a leader of nations; people over whom I had no authority are now my subjects.

Cf. 2 Sam. 8:3-12; 10:19.

44 When they hear of my exploits, they submit to me. Foreigners are powerless before me; 45 foreigners lose their courage; they shake with fear as they leave their strongholds.

46 The LORD is alive! My protector is praiseworthy! The God who delivers me is exalted as king!

47 The one true God completely vindicates me; he makes nations submit to me.

48 He delivers me from my enemies; you snatch me away from those who attack me; you rescue me from violent men.

49 So I will give you thanks before the nations, O LORD! I will sing praises to you!

50 He gives his chosen king magnificent victories; he is faithful to his chosen ruler, to David and his descendants forever.”

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Goldingay 2006, loc. 5142-5147 
  2. VanGemeren 2008, p. 202 
  3. Craigie 2004, p. 173 
  4. Goldingay 2006, loc. 5440 
  5. Kidner 2008, p. 111 
  6. VanGemeren 2008, p. 208 
  7. Kidner 2008, p. 113 
  8. Goldingay 2006, loc. 5557-5560 

A layman's views on biblical scholarship, religion, philosophy and more

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