Do Not Neglect Us, O God! – Psalm of Solomon 8

This psalm is a description of the invasion of Jerusalem by Pompey. The invading army is foreshadowed by “the blast of the trumpet sounding slaughter and destruction.” Since the sound of destruction is in the holy city of Jerusalem, the writer is crushed by what he heard and becomes physically ill (8:5). The writer sees himself as one of the innocent (8:23) who are devout (8:34).

The writer knows the judgment of God are righteous, so Jerusalem must be worthy of punishment. He lists a series of crimes which provoked the Lord to anger. They sinned in secret underground places provoking the Lord to anger (8:9a), they committed incest (8:9b) and adultery (8:10a). They stole from the sanctuary (8:11, cf. Romans 2:21) and “walked on the place of sacrifice” by entering the Temple with all kinds of uncleanliness (menstrual blood) and defiling sacrifices as common meat (8:12). The writer says they “left no sin undone” and surpassed the Gentiles by profaning the holy places.

Pompey in the Psalms of SolomonAlthough the writer does not explicitly blame the aristocratic priests for these crimes, it is likely only the priesthood could profane the Temple courts in this way. “Secret underground places” could refer to alternative worship, as it did in Ezekiel 8:7-18. In a vision, Ezekiel digs into the secret places in the Temple to witness the elders of Israel engaged in idolatry. There is little evidence the priesthood permitted idolatry in the Second Temple, so it may be the case the writer is covering the standard sins against God found in the prophets of the Old Testament.

Because of this the Lord sent a “wavering spirit” on the people so that when the Gentiles came to the city they were unable to fight back (8:14-17). Like Isaiah 51:17-23, Israel once again will drink the wine of God’s wrath.

The Lord brought someone “from the end of the earth” to attack Jerusalem. The leaders of Jerusalem met Pompey as if he were the coming messiah. Like Psalm 118:25-26, the leaders welcomed him with joy and blessed him with peace (8:16). Like the coming one in Isaiah 40:3, the leaders made the paths smooth before him (8:17a) and threw open their gates when he arrived (8:17b). This could refer to the machinations of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, rival Hasmoneans who thought Pompey might grant them control of Judah. Although some of Aristobulus’s party wanted to keep Pompey out, “others admitted Pompey’s army in, and delivered up both the city and the king’s palace to him” (Ant. 14.4). Pompey “captured the fortified towers and the wall of Jerusalem” (8:19). According to Josephus:

But there was nothing that affected the nation so much in the calamities they were then under, as that their holy place, which had been hitherto seen by none, should be laid open to strangers; for Pompey, and those that were about him, went into the temple itself, whither it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein, the candlestick with its lamps, and the table, and the pouring vessels, and the censers, all made entirely of gold, as also a great quantity of spices heaped together, with two thousand talents of sacred money. (Jewish War, 1.7.6).

The writer of Psalm of Solomon 8 believed this judgment was just (8:23-32). God is always right in his judgments, so if he allowed the Gentiles to overrun the Temple, then it must be a just judgment. The people had “stiffened their neck” and have therefore drank the cup of God’s wrath 8:14) just as they had when Babylon took the Temple five hundred years before (Isa 51:17-23). Despite the physical distress this invasion caused (8:1-5), the writer praises the Lord for his justice (8:33-34).

There are two things the writer asks from the Lord. First, to turn in mercy and be compassionate on Israel once again (8:27) by bringing together the dispersed of Israel. The Lexham LXX makes this more explicit: “Gather the diaspora of Israel with mercy and goodness.” Second, the writer asks God to no longer neglect (or better, despise) them lest the Gentiles devour the nation “as if there were no redeemer.” Here the writer declares his faith in God as the redeemer of Israel (8:30-31). The same verb is used in Psalms of Solomon 9:1, looking back to the Lord who redeemed Israel out of their slavery, in Isaiah 44:22-24 to describe a coming messianic figure and in Luke 24:21 disciples on the road to Emmaus thought Jesus might “be the one to redeem Israel.” This is another hint of a messianic figure in the Psalms of Solomon.

A Restoration of Israel – Psalm of Solomon 7

The title of this short psalm is significant. R. B. Wright translates the Greek title ἐπιστροφῆς as “about restoring” since verses 1-3 call on the Lord to restore his people after a time of discipline. Likewise, Atkinson renders the phrase “of returning” in the NET Septuagint. The Lexham LXX renders the word “on conversion.” In the New Testament the word is rare, only appearing in Acts 15:3 for the “conversion of the Gentiles.”

But the cognate verb appears in the LXX more than 400 times translating שׁוב, the common word for turning and often used in the sense of turning away from wickedness and back to the Lord. For example, in Jeremiah 2:27 Israel has “have turned their back” on the Lord, but in their times of troubles they will call upon the Lord. In Jeremiah 11:10, Israel has “turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words.” The word also has a positive connotation, the nation can turn back to the Lord. Psalm 126:1 looks forward to a time when the Lord has “restored the fortunes of Israel” (a temporal articular infinitive, Ἐν τῷ ἐπιστρέψαι translating the noun שִׁיבָה, restoration). As a title for this Psalm, ἐπιστροφῆς refers to a future restoration of the “holy inheritance.”

Like several of the canonical Psalms, the writer of Psalm of Solomon 7 thinks the Lord has abandoned his people and allowed Gentile feet to trample his “holy inheritance,” the Temple. This likely refers to the capture of the Temple by Pompey, although the Temple had been desecrated by Gentiles before the Maccabean Revolt. There is not enough in this short Psalm to indicate a date before or after Pompey. In either case, the writer is concerned the Temple will be desecrated by the Gentiles.

While God’s discipline is expected, the writer does not wish to “be turned over to the Gentiles,” something the Lord will not allow (v. 6). Verses 8-9 are critical: the Lord “will have compassion on the people Israel forever and we are under your yoke forever, and under of the whip of your discipline.” This line expresses two important facts. First, the writer believes that God will continue to keep Israel as his people forever. There is no complete rejection of Israel nor will Israel be replaced with some other people (i.e., the church). Like Paul in Romans 9-11 (“has God rejected his people, by no means!”), this writer looks forward to a restoration (or conversion) of Israel in the future. The psalmist makes a confession of faith in verse 8: “the Lord will have compassion on the people of Israel forever”

Ancient yoke from Roman Empire

Second, the writer describes a relationship with God as a yoke (ζυγός) and a whip (μάστιξ). Although this seems quite different than the rather tender metaphor of Israel as God’s sheep, the image of Israel as an unruly animal which needs to be disciplined is found occasionally in the prophets (Hosea 10:11, for example). In the New Testament Peter calls the Law a yoke Israel bears (Acts 15:10) and Paul calls it a “yoke of slavery Gal 5:1), both using the same word (ζυγός).

The image of a yoke is used by Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30. His teaching is like an easy yoke and his burden is light, in contrast to the yoke of the Pharisees. Following command to his followers to take up his yoke, Jesus comes into conflict with the Pharisees over their interpretation of the Sabbath commands (Matt 12:1-14), leading the Pharisees to declare Jesus is empowered by Beelzebub (12:22-37). Jesus then refuses to give the Pharisees any messianic sign other than the sign of Jonah (12:38-45). Jesus declares the Pharisees as wicked as the adulterous generations of their ancestors and in Matthew 13 begins to teach his disciples in parables for the first time.

Although writer of this psalm considers himself and his people living in a time of divine discipline, he still looks forward to restoration of the nation of Israel to a time of divine compassion.

Moderate Wealth with Righteousness – Psalm of Solomon 5

There is nothing in Psalms of Solomon 5 to hint at a date or historical circumstance. The psalm begins with praise to God for his gracious provision during a time of affliction (v. 5). Several times the author describes himself as hungry (v. 8, 10, 11) or in need of kindness (v. 13), but there is no specific historical situation in mind. Most Jews living in the Diaspora would hear their own experience in this Psalm.

Jesus and the MoneylendersIn verse 5, Wright translates θλίβω as “persecution in OTP, but the verb does not necessarily connote a religious or political persecution. For example, Paul used the verb in 2 Corinthians 4:8 to describe his own troubles. Sometimes he was persecuted by the Jews or the Romans, but the verb refers to all sorts of troubles he faced. It is tempting hear an echo of the troubles faced by Pharisees under Alexander Jannaeus. Jannaeus arrested 800 of his enemies, many of whom were Pharisees. He crucified these men while he banqueted with his wife and concubines, viewing the executions (Antiq. 13.410-15). Unfortunately there is nothing in the psalm which clearly echoes this event.

Verse 7 is a possible echo of Daniel 3:16-18. In that passage Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced by Nebuchadnezzar to be thrown into the fiery furnace. When the king offers them one last chance to worship the image of the king, they reply “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” After describing his afflictions, the writer says “Even if you do not restore us, we will not stay away, but will come to you” (5:7). Like the three young men in Daniel, the writer of this Psalm is willing to suffer affliction and hardship. He knows the Lord may save him, but even if he does not, he will persist in his commitment to his God.

Finally, verses 16-19 are a wisdom saying encouraging moderate living and contentment. Verse 16 begins with a makarism, a “blessed are” saying like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In this case, the blessed (or “happy”) person is the one God remembers with “moderate sufficiency.” The noun (αὐτάρκεια) refers to contentment with one’s circumstances. BDAG comments the word refers to a “favorite virtue of the Cynics and Stoics.” Paul uses a cognate word (αὐτάρκης) in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul calls his readers to live a quiet life, similar to the Jewish philosopher Philo who said the quiet life was the goal of the righteous: “…while those who pay due honor to excellence cultivate a tranquil, and quiet, and stable, and peaceful life” (Philo, On Abraham, 27). The Testament of Issachar 7 also encourages readers to live a simple life, to work hard and mind your own business.

This Psalm does not argue that the righteous person should live in a state of voluntary poverty. Jesus called his disciples to leave everything behind and follow him (Mark 10:17-31 and parallels). After Pentecost, Jesus’s disciples lived in voluntary poverty (Acts 2:42-47) and the Jerusalem community seemed to have continued to be voluntarily poor for some time. Paul is encouraged to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10), possibly a reference to the Jerusalem community. The letter of James certainly has stern warnings for the rich who overlook the poor.

In contrast to this Christian virtue of poverty, Psalm of Solomon 5:17 says moderate wealth is a good thing if it is accompanied by righteousness since moderate wealth is a gift of the Lord. Those who fear the Lord are happy (εὐφραίνω, the Lexham LXX translates this as “make merry”) with the good things the Lord has given them.

One final note on this Psalm: the final verse refers to the kingdom of God. The “good things” in the first part of the verse are expanded to all Israel. Wright translates the phrase “in your kingdom your goodness (is) upon Israel,” suggesting the implied verb as present tense. The Lexham LXX takes the implied verb as past tense, “your goodness was upon Israel your kingdom.” This translation also ignores the dative phrase “in your kingdom” (ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου). Kenneth Atkinson’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon in the NET understands the optative verb (εὐφρανθείησαν) at the beginning of the sentence is linked to this phrase as well, translating “and your kindness be upon Israel in your kingdom.” The NET puts the phrase into the context of a blessing.

This is not technically a reference to a future kingdom, but the writer of the Psalm is looking forward to a time when those who fear the Lord and are celebrate the good gifts of the Lord share in God’s kindness in his kingdom. There is a hint of eschatological hope in Psalms of Solomon 5:19

A Dialogue Concerning The Hypocrite – Psalm of Solomon 4

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.

The Lord Will Cleanse the Devout – Psalm of Solomon 3

This psalm reflects a “two ways” ethic found in Second Temple wisdom literature. Building on the covenant renewal in Deuteronomy 30:11-20, there are only two ways the people can go, either toward life or toward death. If Israel follows the Law, they will be blessed and have peace and material prosperity. However, if they do not follow the Law, they will be cursed and not experience peace and prosperity. Psalm 1 contrasts two kinds of people, the righteous person and the sinner. The righteous is like a tree planted beside water (prosperous and bearing fruit), but the sinner is like a bush growing in the desert, barely surviving and never bearing fruit.

The Psalmist contrasts the righteous (3.3-8) with the sinner (3.9-12). The righteous man has confidence in God and constantly searches his house to remove unintentional sin. He atones for ignorant sin by fasting and humbling his soul.

Psalms of Solomon 3.5-8  The righteous stumbles and proves the Lord right; he falls and watches for what God will do about him; he looks to where his salvation comes from. 6 The confidence of the righteous (comes) from God their savior; sin after sin does not visit the house of the righteous. 7 The righteous constantly searches his house, to remove his unintentional sins. 8 He atones for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and humbling his soul, and the Lord will cleanse every devout person and his house.

In verse 8, the Lord cleanses “every devout person” (ὅσιος). R. B. Wright comments this noun is related to the Hasidim (οἱ Ασιδαῖοι), the righteous ones who supported the Maccabean revolt (1 Macc 2:24, 7:13) but broke with the Hasmoneans and likely developed into the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. Perhaps this is a hint of the origin of the Psalm. Early studies of the Psalms of Solomon identified the author(s) as either Pharisees or Essene and Wright’s introduction in OTP leans that direction.

But Charlesworth adds a paragraph to the introduction warning against labeling the Psalms as either Pharisaic or Essene because so little is known about the Pharisees prior to A.D. 70 (OTP 2:642, see note 8). Since some scholars have claimed the Psalms of Solomon were written by Pharisees, a paragraph like PsSol 3.5-8 is used to develop the views of the Pharisees. But as Charlesworth comments, this is a kind of circular reasoning. Neither Anthony J. J. Saldarini (Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, Eerdmans 2001) and the collection of essays edited by Jacob Neusner  Bruce D. Chilton (In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, Baker, 2007) make little or no reference to the Psalms of Solomon.

the tax collector and the pharisee, Greek iconBut the description of the devout in this section does resonate with the New Testament. The author of this Psalm says the righteous person (δίκαιος) is not sinless. They stumble, but they know their salvation comes from the Lord. They are constantly looking for unintentional sins and fast in order to “atone for sins of ignorance.” Here the verb ἐξιλάσκομαι is used.

The word does not appear in the New Testament, but the cognate ἱλάσκομαι is used in Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The tax collector is devastated by his own guilt and cries out to the Lord, “have mercy (ἱλάσκομαι) on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In the Parable, the Pharisee boasts in his fasting and careful tithing, but the tax collector “having been made righteous” (a participle from δικαιόω). Someone who had Psalm of Solomon 3:5-8 in mind would have expected the Pharisee to have received mercy since he was carefully examining his life in order to “remove unintentional sins.” Yet Jesus reverses that expectation and the sinner receives mercy and went away from the Temple having been made righteous (δεδικαιωμένος).

Although it is impossible to state dogmatically this Psalm reflects the attitude of the Pharisee in the early first century, it does resonate with the Pharisee of Luke 18.