Notes on Psalm 27
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 28 July 2013; Revised 16 October 2013
Grammar: Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Hebrew words is taken from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981). Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Baker Book House, 1991). Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Greek words used in the Septuagint (LXX) is from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich (The University of Chicago Press, 1957).
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the psalm. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. References to the Mishnah and Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Quotations from the Targums are taken from Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation (2001).
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms "Tanakh" (Old Testament) and "Besekh" (New Testament), as well as the terms "Yeshua" (Jesus) and "Messiah" (Christ). This commentary contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
Chapter: 27 in the MT; 26 in the LXX. (Psalms 9 and 10 in the MT are combined in the LXX.) See the Hebrew text and English translation at Biblos Interlinear Bible.
Heb. l'David ("leh-Dah-veed"), translated as "of David" in most Bible versions, verse 1 in the MT. The Targum also has "of David" (Cook). The Syriac has: "For David; on account of an infirmity which fell upon him" (Clarke). The LXX has: "A Psalm by David, before he was anointed," although the ABP translates as "to David." The Grk. David is in the dative case, but owing to the lack of a preposition between "psalm" and "David" the dative case should be treated as a instrumental dative of agency; therefore "by David" is more appropriate. Certainly this was the intention of Jewish translators of the LXX. However, considering the content of the psalm the historical setting claimed by the LXX seems highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, there is scholarly debate over whether the superscription l'David, which heads almost half the psalms, intends authorship by King David for the psalms identified with his name. For liberal scholars the superscription has no relevance since they give a post-exilic date for the whole book. However, Broyles explains that the Hebrew preposition l' (לְ) can have a variety of meanings.
(1) "of" or "(belonging) to" David in the sense of possession, because he authored the psalm;
(2) "(belonging) to" the Davidic collection of psalms (similar phrases are so used in other ancient Near Eastern poetry) - in other words, a royal collection of psalms (as distinct from Levitical collections, such as those of Asaph and Korah), reflecting the royal patronage of the temple;
(3) "(dedicated) to" David or to the Davidic king (like a book dedication);
(4) "for (the use of)" David or the Davidic king, that is, for the king to use either personally or as the leading liturgist in public worship;
(5)"concerning/about" David (27-28).
For Broyles the potential meanings of l'David leaves Davidic authorship uncertain. Yet, the use of l'David as a heading in so many psalms confirmed for the Jewish Sages that l'David indicated Davidic authorship. That is the straightforward meaning. The opinion of the Sages, who lived so much closer to the event than modern scholars, should carry greater weight.
Type: Hymn of Praise and Petition
Usage in the Besekh: None.
The name of God (YHVH) is mentioned 13 times in the 14 verses. The psalm is divided into these sections:
· Verses 1-3 Praise for God's presence and protection in war.
· Verses 4-6 Expression of a desire for God's temple and worship at the tabernacle.
· Verses 7-12 Petition for God's intervention and assistance.
· Verses 13-14 Closing statement of faithfulness and exhortation to the congregation.
Delitzsch suggests that the situation resembles that of David during the time of Absalom, but this holds good only of the first half (verses 1-6). He thinks the second half was composed by someone else, because the two halves are very unlike one another (226). This conclusion seems entirely subjective without any supporting evidence.
(1) of David.
David is one of the most important figures in Israelite history. His name first appears in 1 Samuel 16:13 when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons as the next king. At that time David was only a shepherd. Yet, from that humble beginning he would eventually (after many difficulties) become the King of Israel at the age of 30 and reign 40 years (2 Sam 5:4; 1 Chron 3:4). David made a tremendous impact on the nation of Israel. In the military sphere he broke the power of all the pagan peoples in the land of Canaan and in the civil sphere he made Jerusalem his capitol and solidified central authority.
Perhaps most important is his accomplishments in the religious sphere. He erected the Tabernacle on Mt. Zion, centralized religion in Jerusalem and established Levitical choirs. He wrote many psalms and 73 psalms are specifically ascribed to him. He was known as the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1). Especially important is that he compiled and organized psalms into what we now know as the Book of Psalms (2 Chron 29:30). David was a true worshipper, a man imbued with the Holy Spirit (1 Sam 13:14; 16:13; 2 Sam 23:2). God chose David to be king because He "sought out for Himself a man after His own heart" (1 Sam 13:14). Then, God made a personal and everlasting covenant with him by which God promised that He would establish the throne of David forever, build a house for Himself and send forth a king from the loins of David to rule over his people Israel (2 Sam 7:12-14; 23:5; 2 Chron 7:18; 13:5; Ps 89:3; Isa 55:3; Jer 33:21).
David's family life is the subject of much analysis and not a little criticism among commentators. He was a polygamist with 8 wives and 10 concubines (2 Sam 3:3-5, 13-14; 5:13; 12:7-8, 24; 15:16). The concubines were probably the servants of his wives (2 Sam 6:20-22). He had 19 named sons of his wives, besides the sons of his concubines, and one named daughter, although many other daughters were born to him (1 Chron 3:1-9; 14:3-7). Thus, his adultery with Bathsheba and conspiracy to kill her husband Uriah was especially egregious (2 Sam 12:7-8).
Yet, in spite of his moral failure the Scripture record is highly complimentary of David. During the time of the divided kingdoms there is an oft repeated phrase to describe the good kings of Judah, "He walked before me as David his father walked" (1 Kgs 3:3, 14; 11:4, 6, 33, 38; 14:8; 15:3, 5, 11; 2 Kgs 14:3; 16:2; 18:3; 22:2). Jeremiah left a simple eulogy of David's life: "David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kgs 15:5). The last comment on David's life in the Tanakh is from Ezra who twice refers to David as a "man of God" (2 Chron 8:14; Neh 12:24).
David also has a highly favorable standing in the Besekh. The apostles tell the story of Yeshua as the story of the Son of David from His birth (Matt 1:1; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16). At least twelve times the apostolic narratives refer to Him as “Son of David.” David is cited as a model of behavior (Matt 12:3), identified as a servant of God (Luke 1:69) and regarded as a Spirit-inspired prophet (Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16; 2:34; 4:25; Rom 11:9; Heb 4:7). David thus took his place in the roll call of faithful heroes (Hebrews 11:32). This was “David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will” (Acts 13:22).
Verses 1-3 Praise for God's presence and protection.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?
The LORD: Heb. YHVH (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey), the tetragrammaton of the God of Israel, referred to in Judaism as either Adonai (Lord) or Hashem (the Name). YHVH dominates in the Tanakh, first occurring in Genesis 2:4. While not reflected in Bible translations YHVH is not a title or a word for a deity, but the personal name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:15; 2 Chron 14:11; Isa 42:8). Translating YHVH with "the LORD" is actually strange since there is no definite article associated with the Hebrew name and it would be equivalent to saying "the Jesus." YHVH is translated in the LXX with Kurios, also without the definite article. Kurios generally means one in control through possession and may be rendered as lord, master or owner. See my article The Blessed Name for more discussion on this subject.
David uses three metaphors of God, all in a personal sense. my light: Heb. or, light, often of the morning light of dawn, as well as the light of the heavenly luminaries. The light speaks of God's provision, because life could not exist on the earth without the light of the sun. The dawn is a perpetual sign of God's grace and faithfulness (Lam 3:23). The Targum interprets "light" as the Word of the LORD (Cook). and my salvation: Heb. yesha, deliverance, rescue, salvation, safety, welfare, derived from the root verb yasha, to deliver. The context of this important theological term is the loss of freedom.
"Whenever men by their own fault or through some superior power have come under the control of someone else, and have lost their freedom to implement their will and decisions, and when their own resources are inadequate to deal with that other power, they can regain their freedom only by the intervention of a third party" (DNTT, III, 177).
The LXX translates yesha with Grk. sōtęria, rescue, deliverance or salvation from physical harm, but often from God's wrath. defense: Heb. maoz, a place or means of safety, protection. The word had a literal meaning for David in reference to various strongholds in which David hid from King Saul (1 Sam 22:4; 23:14) and figurative meaning in the sense of protection throughout his career as a warrior. of my life: Heb. chay ("khah-ee"), to be alive or living. Whom shall I dread? The Targum interprets as "who will I be troubled by?" implying a negative answer.
2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
David uses three different words to describe his foes that contrasts with the triplet of divine metaphors in the previous verse. evildoers: Heb. m'ręim, pl. of ra'a, to be evil or wicked in an absolute sense. Those for whom Torah has no authority. adversaries: Heb. tsray, pl. of tsar, adversary or foe. In ancient times adversaries often took up arms against one another. For David an adversary might be another soldier he might face in battle. enemies: Heb. v'oyavay, pl. of oyev, enemy or foe. Those who are hostile or hate.
David describes their intent as to devour (Heb. akal, to eat) my flesh (Heb. basar), a frequent metaphor for the human body. However, basar is also used of the genitals (Gen 2:24; 17:11, 14, 23, 24, 25; Ex 28:42; Lev 12:3; 15:2; Ezek 16:26; 23:20; 44:7, 9). David could have a literal meaning in mind. He had killed two hundred Philistines and cut off their foreskins as a price for marrying Saul's daughter Michal (1 Sam 18:25-27). David's enemies no doubt longed to do the same to him. Yet, when his enemies came after him they stumbled and fell, a word picture of running and tripping over something. The word picture might also be of a divinely caused earthquake (cf. Judg 5:4-5; 1 Sam 14:15; 2 Sam 22:8).
3 Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.
David employs a synonymous parallelism. Though: Heb. im, a hypothetical participle. host: Heb. machaneh, an encampment or camp, here of an armed host. The term is indefinite in terms of numbers, but based on usage in Joshua (8:13; 10:5; 11:4), Judges (4:15, 16; 8:11, 12), and 1 Samuel (17:1, 46) the term could mean thousands. encamp: Heb. chanah, Qal imperfect, to encamp in reference to the goal of day's march. The verb implies an orderly arrangement as customary in military organizations. My heart: Heb. leiv, inner man, mind, will, heart, a circumlocution for "I." will not fear: Heb. yarę, to be afraid. though: Heb. im, a hypothetical participle.
war: Heb. milchamah, a battle or war, of armed conflict to defeat an adversary. David is not necessarily depicting a protracted campaign. arise: Heb. qum, arise, stand up or stand. The verb is a word picture of a military leader standing before his army rousing their passion to fight the enemy or taunting the armies of Israel as Goliath (2 Sam 17:8-10). against me: War in ancient times was often personalized in terms of defeating or overthrowing a monarch. This statement may reflect anticipation of civil war. in spite of this I shall be confident: Heb. batach, Qal active participle, to trust. David's confidence is not in his fighting skills but in the knowledge of God's power and protection. God is bigger and better than any foe.
Verses 4-6 David's Wish.
4 One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
Alter suggests that the petition of this verse may look like a non sequitur since the psalmist has expressed his firm confidence in God in the previous verses (92). Yet the sanctuary is often seen in the Psalms as a refuge. One thing I have asked: Heb. sha'al, Qal perfect, to ask, ask for or inquire. The verb form reflects an actual petition. from the LORD: David affirms that when he has an important desire or need he would take it to the God of Israel, who is the source of all that we need. that I shall seek: Heb. baqash, Piel imperfect, to seek to secure. The verb is first parallel to "ask" but then extends the thought by saying he will continue to ask. The action is in line with the importance of persistence in prayer (cf. Luke 18:1).
that I may dwell: Heb. yashav, Qal perfect, to sit (on a seat or sit down), remain (stay or tarry) or dwell. in the house: Heb. bayith, a dwelling used for habitation. David uses the first of four metaphors to refer to the central place of worship in Jerusalem. Of interest is that David does not use Heb. mishkan, the common Hebrew term for the tabernacle. of the LORD: In the Tanakh the tabernacle and the temple were both considered the "house of YHVH" because of His presence in the Holy of Holies. all the days: pl. of Heb. yom, day or daylight. Yom is generally used in Scripture as a specific division of time denoting the daytime portion of a 24-hour day (Gen 1:5) or a complete solar/lunar cycle of 24 hours (Ex 2:13). The plural form of yom is used frequently in the Tanakh of the extent of a person's life. of my life: Heb. chay ("khah-ee"), to be alive or living, i.e. as long as I live.
To behold: Heb. chazah, Qal infinitive, to see or to behold. Alter suggests the word means to take in with the eyes, to enjoy the sight of (92). the beauty: Heb. no'am, delightfulness, pleasantness. of the LORD: To be in the presence of YHVH is to experience to glory of heaven. And to meditate: Heb. baqar, Piel infinitive, to inquire, to seek. The verb speaks not simply of contemplation but pursuing the purpose of the sanctuary as a place to inquire of God.
in His temple: Heb. hekal, palace or temple. This word does not refer to the Holy Place, but the entire structure, the palace of God. The psalm does not assert the actual existence of the temple later built by King Solomon or the restored temple after the exile. Since the word "temple" hints at a hard structure and the tabernacle was a tent, why would David speak of a temple? Since the petition in this verse does not assume an answer then David may be referring to his desire to build a temple that he would then go to for worship (2 Sam 7:1-2). On the other hand David could be using hekal to refer to the tabernacle.
Edersheim in his commentary on 1 Samuel 3 provides historical information that would explain how the tabernacle could be called a temple:
"The sanctuary in Shiloh had become permanent, and we are warranted in inferring that "the dwelling," which formerly was adapted to Israel's wanderings, had lost somewhat of its temporary character. The "curtains" which in the wilderness had formed its enclosure, had no doubt been exchanged for buildings for the use of the priesthood in their ministry and for the many requirements of their services. Instead of the "veil" at the entrance to the outer court there would be doors, closed at even and opened to the worshippers in the morning." (Edersheim 416)
The same analysis and information is provided by Keil in his commentary on 1 Samuel 3:12:
"Originally, when the tabernacle was simply a tent, traveling with the people from place to place, it had only curtains at the entrance to the holy place and court. But when Israel had become possessed of fixed houses in the land of Canaan, and the dwelling-place of God was permanently erected at Shiloh, instead of the tents that were pitched for the priests and Levites, who encamped round about during the journey through the desert, there were erected fixed houses, which were built against or inside the court, and not only served as dwelling-places for the priests and Levites who were officiating, but were also used for the reception and custody of the gifts that were brought as offerings to the sanctuary. These buildings in all probability supplanted entirely the original tent-like enclosure around the court; so that instead of the curtains at the entrance, there were folding doors, which were shut in the evening and opened again in the morning. It is true that nothing is said about the erection of these buildings in our historical books, but the fact itself is not to be denied on that account. In the case of Solomon’s temple, notwithstanding the elaborate description that has been given of it, there is nothing said about the arrangement or erection of the buildings in the court; and yet here and there, principally in Jeremiah, the existence of such buildings is evidently assumed." (Keil 395)
5 For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.
His tabernacle: Heb. sōk, a thicket, covert, lair. The word occurs only six times in the Tanakh (Ps 10:9; 31:21; 76:3; Jer 4:7; 25:38). Owens translates as "shelter." Several versions concur with the same term or similar words depicting safety (CJB, ESV, HCSB, Lamsa, MSG, NCV, NIV, NRSV, RSV). A few versions have "pavilion" (ASV, ERV, HNV, KJV, NKJV), a word that can mean a wide variety of structures, including a tent. English versions predating the KJV used "tabernacle." In the secret place: Heb. cether, a hiding place; also used of the womb (Ps 139:15). of His tent: Heb. ohel, a tent, typically used for nomadic habitation, but here a reference to the tabernacle. He will hide me: David takes comfort in God's concealment and protection. He will lift me up on a rock: to be on a rock is to be outside the reach of enemies (Anderson).
6 And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.
And now my head will be lifted up: The word picture may be a sign of triumph or indicate the reversal of fortunes (Anderson). above my enemies: Heb. oyeiv, enemy or foe. around me, And I will offer in His tent: Heb. ohel, a tent, typically used for nomadic habitation, but here a reference to the tabernacle. sacrifices: Heb. with shouts of joy: Heb. teruah, a shout of joy typically a part of sacrificial ceremonies; also can denote a war cry.
Verses 7-12 Petition for God's help.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice, And be gracious to me and answer me.
8 When You said, "Seek My face," my heart said to You, "Your face, O LORD, I shall seek."
9 Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation !
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up.
For: Heb. ki, a conjunction that can mean 'for,' 'then,' or 'when.' The choice of translation makes a significant difference in interpretation. The LXX has Grk. hoti, a conjunction that may mean 'that,' 'because,' 'since' or 'inasmuch as.' my father: Heb. av, father, normally of a male biological parent or ancestor, but also head of a household, family or clan. and my mother: Heb. im ("eem"), mother, normally of a female biological parent or ancestor. While both words have figurative uses in Scripture the mention of both together argues for the writer's immediate biological parents.
have forsaken: Heb. atzav, Qal perf., to leave, depart, forsake or loose. The verb is a contrast to the petition in the previous verse. Owens and a few other versions also render the verb as "have forsaken" (DRA, ESV, RSV). The Targum has "have abandoned" (Cook). The LXX translates atzav with Grk. egkataleipo (aor. mid.), which may mean 'to leave, leave behind or forsake,' as determined by the context. Delitzsch takes the perfect tense (completed action) and root meaning of "forsake" to interpret that the psalmist laments being abandoned or rejected by his parents. For that reason Delitzsch cannot believe that David wrote the words, since Scripture records David's concern for his parents' welfare while having to flee from King Saul (1 Sam 22:3-4) (228).
David had already been parted from his parents when King Saul called for his service for an indefinite period prior to the battle with Goliath (1 Sam 16:19-22). Anderson concurs with Delitzsch saying that "Even his own kith and Kgs had given him up, because the writer is regarded as a guilty man under divine wrath manifesting itself in the particular misfortune or trouble" (225). Clarke also agrees with the completed action of abandonment. Of interest is that Broyles and Kidner offer no comment on this subject.
On the assumption of David's authorship there are four possible solutions. First, some believe that David treats abandonment as a future possibility. Several versions give a future interpretation with "when … forsake me" (ASV, HNV, KJV, NKJV, OJB, WEB). Gill writes on this viewpoint:
"When my father and my mother forsake me,.... Which is not to be understood strictly and literally of his parents, that were in that near relation to him according to the flesh, … this is to be understood of something supposed yet to come; and it seems best to interpret it of his nearest and dearest friends, his closest adherents, best counselors, and most firm allies; that when they should fail and drop him, his God would not leave him: the design of it is to set forth the love and care of God, as superior to that of the most affectionate friends."
Second, the verb may be hypothetical: "Though my father and my mother forsook me" (Alter 93). Kohlenberger concurs with this translation. Henry Morris suggests that the "when" of the KJV should be taken as "if" (DSB 611). David is not saying such conduct by his parents is actually expected. He is only saying that if they did abandon him, God would not. Most Bible versions employ this interpretation (CEB, CEV, ERV, EXB, GNV, HCSB, LEB, NOG, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV).
Third, taking the verb as a completed action David could be saying that they have cast their loyalties to Absalom. David clearly had sharp disagreements with his three older brothers who followed Saul (1 Sam 17:14, 28; Ps 69:8). The parents could have been deeply disappointed that their oldest son did not receive the honor of royal anointing. Then there was the matter of David's adultery with Bathsheba and killing of Uriah that from the parents perspective brought shame to the family.
Fourth, while the verb has a root meaning of "forsake" it's still hard to imagine that David intends a pejorative complaint against his parents. With other interpretive options (see the full list in BDB), its mystifying that scholars assume disloyalty and rejection. This is faulty reasoning at work: "The verb means to forsake, David's parents didn't forsake him, therefore David didn't write this psalm, the superscription notwithstanding." David may well be saying in an idiomatic manner that they have died. Samuel records that when David went to face Goliath the father of David "was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men" (1 Sam 17:12). It's hardly likely that David's parents would still be alive at the time of writing this psalm, at least twenty years later. If he had lost both his parents then emotionally he could have felt forsaken.
But the LORD will take me up: Heb. asaph, to gather, as in gather an individual into the company of others, to take up or to care for. The verb has the sense of a child being gathered into a parent's arms. God will be both father and mother to him in their absence.
11 Teach me Your way, O LORD, And lead me in a level path Because of my foes.
12 Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries, For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence.
Verses 13-14 Closing exhortation
13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
The LORD: Heb. YHVH, the personal name of the God of Israel. See the note on verse 1 above.
Copyright © 2013 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.