History Untold

Because for You I have borne reproach, disgrace has covered my face.  Psalm 69:8 [Hebrew Bible]  Robert Alter

Because for You – David makes an astounding claim, a claim that hardly seems accurate.  He says that the damage to his reputation is due to his upholding God’s name.  Has he forgotten his sins?  How can the man who killed his lover’s husband suggest that he was faithfully upholding God’s reputation?

The next verse might provide an answer.

Estranged I  have been from my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s sons (Psalm 69:9 H).

We should note Alter’s explanation:

Some interpreters have argued that this verse refers to a specific historical context—the early period of the Return to Zion after the Babylonian exile, when there were divisions within the Judahite community as to whether to rebuild the Temple.  In this reading, the speaker would be one of the advocates of rebuilding.  Some support for this interpretation may be offered by the last two verses of the psalm, which seem to address a situation in which the towns of Judah have been destroyed and its inhabitants are in the process of returning from exile.[1]

Of course, this makes the psalm pseudepigraphical, written by someone after the exile but given status by ascribing it to David.  This interpretation solves our problem with the moral implications, but it creates another textual issue.  Who is the real author?  I would prefer to think that this is a David original, particularly because it is so personal and emotional, but that leaves me with the problem of Bathsheba.  Unless . . .

Unless this is an early poem written before David’s affair.  If it is set in the context of his early rise to power, then the verse about his brothers makes sense, and the absence of fall with Bathsheba is explained.  From biblical history we know that God’s choice of David was not well received by the family.  There’s little doubt about sibling animosity.  If David is reflecting on that situation, then it is easy to see why he thinks that his reproach is a direct result of faithfulness to God. The two Hebrew words used to describe his social rejection are ḥerpâ and kĕlimmâ.  Both have social contexts.  ḥerpâ “means ‘to reproach,’ with the specific connotation of casting blame or scorn on someone. . . In most instances the word is used in the sense of casting scorn.” [2]  kĕlimmâ “denotes the sense of disgrace which attends public humiliation. In thirty cases the root is used in parallel with bôš ‘to be ashamed.’”[3]  David’s employment of these terms gives us some insight into the family dynamics.  We already know that the family did not even consider him an eligible candidate when Samuel arrived.  After their shock that this youngest and least important son was the anointed one, there must have been a great deal of friction with his brothers.  Perhaps David felt something akin to Joseph.  At any rate, if these are David’s words, and if they reflect the early part of his career, then the young man whose heart was set on God (as Samuel says) felt ostracized because of his faithfulness.  I will take this approach to the psalm for now.  It helps me identify with those times I have experienced implicit or explicit derision for my religious stand.  Like David, sometimes my early passion for God engendered criticism; once to the point that I literally fainted from the public rebuke.  Perhaps this has also happened to you.  Poems like this help me see the sway of David’s relationship with God, something I also find familiar.  And maybe that’s the lesson here.  We’ll see what happens next.

Topical Index:  ḥerpâ, kĕlimmâ, scorn, disgrace, blame, derision, Psalm 69:8-9

[1] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Volume 3 Writings, p. 167, fn. 10.

[2] Mccomiskey, T. E. (1999). 749 חָרַף. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 325). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Oswalt, J. N. (1999). 987 כָלַם. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 443). Chicago: Moody Press.

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Richard Bridgan

Such “psychological projection” is the the “smoke and mirrors” blockbuster that is cast and shown on the “big screen” of our lives by a skilled, talented, and cunning director who also “just happens to be” the enemy of our souls. Yet despite his casting of multiple talents, all well-prepared to play their parts, it doesn’t play well and and is ultimately a dismal “flop.” (Thanks be to God!)
On the other hand, reality is manifest by that which demonstrates that life— true life— burgeons and proliferates from the Seed that both holds and sustains life made possible… yet only by means of that Seed’s sacrificial death. This is a death that comes by zeal— that is to say, by pure jealousy for God’s household.
It is by such death whereby our fleshly life is also consumed, and ultimately overcome by his appearing in the victory that is already Christ’s… both LORD and Conqueror.