Psalm 132 – “Prayer for Zion and the Davidic King”

temple_2_birdseye_galleryHebrew-English Text

I. Summary
Psalm 132 is unique in that it quotes – word for word – both sides of a pact made between David and God. Its message is, “God, David kept his promise of finding You a resting place, please uphold Your promise and sustain Zion and the Davidic dynasty.”

II. Photo

Vv. 3-5 mentions how David couldn’t sleep until he found “a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
III. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b-5. Remembrance: David
     1b-2. Petition
     3-5. David’s vow
6. Communal recollection
7. Description of procession
8. Petition/Processional
9. Descriptive praise
10. Petition for the “annointed”
11-12. Divine oracle
     11ab. Introduction
     11c-12. Oracle: guarantee of kingship, condition
13-18. Divine oracle
     13. Introduction
     14-18. Oracle: commitment to Zion and David


IV. Comment

Psalm 132 contains the literary features of multiple psalm genres. While some have labeled it a “Zion Hymn” or a “Royal Psalm,” it might also be labeled a “Petition” or the more mild “Prayer.” The psalm has three protagonists: God (vv. 11-18), David (vv. 1-5), and the community reciting it (vv. 6-7). Due to the facts that (a) the psalm is found within the shir hama’alot section of the Psalter (Ps. 120-134), and (b) it mentions traveling to to the holy place (v. 7), it is possible that Psalm 132 was recited by the pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem. Yet, it is also possible that it is in the shir hama’alot section because of its focus on Zion.

The psalm presents the promises made by David and God side by side: v. 2 mentions how David “swore (nishba’) to the LORD, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob” and v. 11 mentions how “The LORD swore (nishba’) to David a firm oath that He will not renounce.” This parallel structure seems to be an attempt to persuade God: “God, David has kept the promise he made, please keep Yours.”

The psalm opens with a plea to God to remember david’s ‘unnot “affliction” or “self-denial” in his attempt to find a “place for the LORD.” The term ‘unnot implies a pain and misery that is especially pitied by God (cf. Ps. 22:25, 119:71, Isa. 53:4, Lev 23:29). While the historical books of Tanakh make no mention of David’s “oath,” they do reference his concern with finding God a dwelling place: “the king said to the prophet Nathan: ‘Here I am dwelling in a house of cedar, while the Ark of the LORD abides in a tent!’” (2 Sam. 7:2).

David makes his promise to ‘avir ya’aqov “the Mighty One of Jacob.” This appellation only appears 5 times in Tanakh, twice in our psalm and once in Gen 49:24, Isa. 49:26, and 60:16. It isn’t clear why it appears here, especially because it is absent from all other passages associated with David or the construction of the Temple.

Starting with vv. 6-7 the text indicates that it was recited by worshipers on their way to the holy place. In regards to “Let us enter His abode, bow at His footstool” Gerstenberger writes, “we are witnessing parts of a ‘live’ worship, not simply historical remembrances.” Bowing was apparently part of the worship service.

The community mentions the places of ‘efrata and sede-ya’ar (v. 6), both of which are in the Judean hills surrounding Jerusalem. The ark was housed in sede-ya’ar for twenty years after it was returned by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:1-2, there called qiryat ye’arim), and was removed by David and taken to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-2, 1 Chronicles 13:5-6; 2 Chronicles 1:4). It is noteworthy that ark is explicitly mentioned in our psalm (v. 8), the only time the word appears in the Psalter.

After a petition for the “annointed one” in v. 10 (possibly made before a king standing in the temple), the psalm introduces two divine oracles. An oracle is one of God’s speeches quoted verbatim (i.e. in the 1st person singular), and it is not clear who would recite it. While oracles are standard in the historical books (e.g. “And God said to Moses saying….” or “God said to Abraham….”) it is less common in the Psalter (for another clear example see Ps. 95:8-11).

The first oracle (vv. 11-12) contains two parts: (a) a guarantee that the kings of Israel will be of Davidic descent, and (b) the stipulation that the Israelites keep God’s covenant. The second oracle (vv. 14-18) also contains two parts: (a) a commitment to dwell in and bless zion’s inhabitants, and (b) a commitment to uphold and protect the Davidic king. It speaks of God’s choosing zion, using the same formulation bachar “to choose” as in Deut. 12:5,11,14, “the place that the LORD will choose (yivchar).” The climax of the psalm, “there I will make a horn sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one” (v. 17) also has many parallels in Tanakh (cf. a similar message in Jer. 33:15,17, Exek. 29:21, Isa. 11:1).

Psalm 132 has strong parallels to other areas of scripture. For instance, the ark procession, which here is attributed to David, is also found in the midst of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in 2 Chronicles (but is conspicuously absent from the parallel 1 Kings 8):

Advance, O LORD, to Your resting-place, You and Your mighty Ark! Your priests are clothed in triumph; Your loyal ones sing for joy. For the sake of Your servant David do not reject Your anointed one. (Ps. 132:8-10)

Advance, O LORD God, to your resting-place, You and Your mighty Ark. Your priests, O LORD God, are clothed in triumph; Your loyal ones will rejoice in [Your] goodness. O LORD God, do not reject Your anointed one; remember the loyalty of Your servant David.” (2 Chr. 6:41-42)

Another key parallel is Psalm 89: the oracles of our psalm are related in terms of message, vocabulary, and structure to Ps. 89:4-5,29-38.

In terms of literary structure, Psalm 132 has many repetitions. Besides for the parallel terms nishba’ (mentioned above), words like lekhisse’ lakh, ‘ade-’ad, kohaneha ‘albish, etc. are repeated. While scholars dispute the psalm’s date of composition, most agree that certain parts go back to the preexilic era.

V. Important Verses

vv. 3-5: “I will not enter my house, nor will I mount my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids until I find a place for the LORD, an abode for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
v. 14: “This is my resting-place for all time; here I will dwell, for I desire it.”
v. 17: “There I will make a horn sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one.”

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