Psalm of Solomon 4 is labeled a dialogue (Διαλογὴ) although not in the sense of a conversation between Solomon and the hypocrite. The Psalm stands in the “two ways” tradition. It begins with a stunning condemnation of those who sit in the council but are “far from the Lord” and ends with a blessing on “those who fear the Lord in their innocence” (4:23).

hypocrite wearing a maskThe target of the psalmist are the profane “who sit in the council of the devout” (v. 1). The writer uses the word βέβηλος to describe these people, a word used in the Pastoral Epistles for the “pointless and empty talk” of elderly women (1 Tim 4:7, Titus 1:9). Paul warns Timothy to avoid this kind of frivolous talk (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 2:16). The psalmist says these people are “excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone else.” They are harsh in their “condemnation of sinners at judgment” (v. 2) and they destroy with “agitating words” (4:12). The psalmist thinks these profane people are trying to impress people with “deeds of ridicule and contempt” (4:7, 19).

The council (συνέδριον) may refer to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Jerusalem. R. B. Wright considers this a strong possibility (OTP 2:655, note c), although the word can refer to any gathered council (a local synagogue, for example). At the very least, the psalmist has in mind aristocratic leadership who abuse their position to enrich themselves by oppression the poor and needy. In this condemnation, the writer stands on the foundation of the Deuteronomy and the Hebrew prophets. For example, this person is eager to take the home of the poor person and to scatter the orphans (4:9-10), reminiscent of Micah 2:1-2. These hypocrites “deceitfully quote the Law” (4:8) and condemn people for the very same sins they practice (4:3).

Verses 3-5 and 9-13 list out the offenses of these profane council members. Some of these refer to their judgments in the assembly. In 4:3 their hand is the first against a condemned man, they are zealous to render a harsh judgment. This cruelty is mentioned by Josephus. He described the high priest Ananus as “a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews” (with reference to the execution of James, Ant, 20.9.1, cited by Wright). This zeal is also clear from the New Testament both in the execution of Jesus and Paul’s zealous activity on behalf of the Sanhedrin (Acts 8:1-3, Gal 1:13-14).  Other offense may be standard attacks on one’s enemies. For example, eying women indiscriminately (4:4, 5b) and swearing falsely when signing contracts (4:4).

The psalmist calls upon God to judge the hypocrites (4:6-8, 14-22). He calls on God to expose their hidden deeds to ridicule and contempt (4:7-8) and to drive these profane men out of the “presence of the righteous” (4:8).

Like the canonical Psalms, the writer of this psalm calls on God to destroy the hypocrite (employing a series verbs in the optative). Like Psalm 109:6-15, this profane man is to have no legacy: “May his old age be in lonely childlessness until his removal” (4:18). Like a criminal the psalmist calls on God to judge the hypocrite like a criminal, “May the flesh of those who try to impress people be scattered by wild animals, and the bones of the criminals (lie) dishonored out in the sun. Let crows peck out the eyes of the hypocrites, for they disgracefully empty many people’s houses and greedily scatter (them).” That an enemy of God would become “food for the birds” appears in Psalm 79:2, but also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

Ultimately, this psalm calls on God to separate the hypocrite from the devout. The verb used in 4:24 (ἐξαίρω) has the sense of driving someone away from a group. Paul used the verb in 1 Cor 5:13 when he demands the Corinthians drive out the incestuous young man. This theme of separating the righteous from the unrighteous is common in the teaching of Jesus, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds the righteous and unrighteous (Matt 13:24-30). At the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse, the sheep are separated from the goats (Matt 25:31-46).

The final three verses are a confession in faith in a beatitude form: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord in their innocence, the Lord will save them” (4:23-25). The form of the saying in 4:24 is identical to the beatitudes in Matthew 5 (using μακάριος in a verbless clause), but the form appears in the Hebrew Bible as well.

Once again the Psalms of Solomon resonate with the New Testament, especially with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew. Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt 23) and warns his followers they will need to deal with these hypocrites until the end of the age when God will separate them from the righteous.