Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday Sermonette: Obscurantism

Psalm 67 is a mercifully brief, simple song of praise. Psalm 68, however, is both exceedingly long and has been called the "most difficult and obscure of the psalms." The RSV actually covers up some of the difficulty, for example by translating verse 4 as "His name is the Lord," whereas the Hebrew actually says "His name is Yah." That is a specific short form of Yahweh. The KJV spells if Jah, as do Rastafarians who prefer it as the name of god, but the Hebrew pronunciation is closer to English Y than J. The form Yah appears 43 times in the Psalms, but otherwise only once in Exodus and several times in Isaiah. It is part of the name Elijah and Hezekiah, as well as the word hallelujah, which means "praise God." What name to call god by is obviously important to the writer, so it's more than a little odd that the translators of the RSV decided to hide this. 

"Bashan," which is referenced frequently, is today southernmost Syria, i.e. the Golan Heights, which I suppose is why radical Zionists are determined to keep that territory, as it is represented here as a dwelling place of Yahweh, although that does seem to contradict the basic idea of Zionism. Other references are obscure, e.g. verses 12 - 14. What is the dove with silver wings and green gold feathers? What is the snow that fell on Zalmon? (The name of one of David's warriors.) What are the 20,000 chariots in verse 17? What is the incident in which the Lord comes from Sinai and ascends what is apparently some other mountain with captives in train? In verse 30, why should we rebuke the beasts who dwell among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples? It's a lot of weirdness, that's all I can say.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

67 May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us,Selah
that thy way may be known upon earth,
    thy saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
    let all the peoples praise thee!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for thou dost judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth.Selah
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
    let all the peoples praise thee!

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
God has blessed us;
    let all the ends of the earth fear him!


To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. A Song.

68 Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee before him!
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
    as wax melts before fire,
    let the wicked perish before God!
But let the righteous be joyful;
    let them exult before God;
    let them be jubilant with joy!

Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
    lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds;[a]
    his name is the Lord, exult before him!

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to dwell in;
    he leads out the prisoners to prosperity;
    but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

O God, when thou didst go forth before thy people,
    when thou didst march through the wilderness,Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    at the presence of God;
yon Sinai quaked at the presence of God,
    the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, thou didst shed abroad;
    thou didst restore thy heritage as it languished;
10 thy flock found a dwelling in it;
    in thy goodness, O God, thou didst provide for the needy.

11 The Lord gives the command;
    great is the host of those who bore the tidings:
12     “The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!”
The women at home divide the spoil,
13     though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
    its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
    snow fell on Zalmon.

15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
    O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why look you with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
    at the mount which God desired for his abode,
    yea, where the Lord will dwell for ever?

17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
    thousands upon thousands,
    the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.[b]
18 Thou didst ascend the high mount,
    leading captives in thy train,
    and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.

19 Blessed be the Lord,
    who daily bears us up;
    God is our salvation.Selah
20 Our God is a God of salvation;
    and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
    the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
    “I will bring them back from Bashan,
    I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 that you may bathe[c] your feet in blood,
    that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from the foe.”

24 Thy solemn processions are seen,[d] O God,
    the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the minstrels last,
    between them maidens playing timbrels:
26 “Bless God in the great congregation,
    the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
    the princes of Judah in their throng,
    the princes of Zeb′ulun, the princes of Naph′tali.

28 Summon thy might, O God;
    show thy strength, O God, thou who hast wrought for us.
29 Because of thy temple at Jerusalem
    kings bear gifts to thee.
30 Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds,
    the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample[e] under foot those who lust after tribute;
    scatter the peoples who delight in war.[f]
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
    let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out her hands to God.

32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
    sing praises to the Lord,Selah
33 to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
    lo, he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.
34 Ascribe power to God,
    whose majesty is over Israel,
    and his power is in the skies.
35 Terrible is God in his[g] sanctuary,
    the God of Israel,
    he gives power and strength to his people.

Blessed be God!


  1. Psalm 68:4 Or cast up a highway for him who rides through the deserts
  2. Psalm 68:17 Cn: Heb The Lord among them Sinai in the holy place
  3. Psalm 68:23 Gk Syr Tg: Heb shatter
  4. Psalm 68:24 Or have been seen
  5. Psalm 68:30 Cn: Heb trampling
  6. Psalm 68:30 The Hebrew of verse 30 is obscure
  7. Psalm 68:35 Gk: Heb from thy


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