Let Me Reiterate

Save me from the mire, that I not drown.  Let me be saved from my foes and from the watery depths.  Let the waters’ current not sweep me away and let not the deep swallow me.  Psalm 69:15-16a [Hebrew Bible]  Robert Alter

Save me – Back to the beginning.  The metaphor of drowning is still there.  Asking for an answer, pleading on the basis of God’s character, recalling the permanent commitment of ḥesed helps, but it hasn’t removed the primal fear.  Talk all you want.  Pray harder.  In the end, something has to happen if you’re going to stay alive.

Notice that David conflates several threats into one image.  His enemies, the power of events he can’t control, the terrifying specter of death—all wrapped into one and all with connections of past catastrophes.  Let’s look at his descriptions.

Mire– ṭîṭ–mud, clay.  “The figure of one sinking into the ‘mire’ at the bottom of a cistern is used to depict the instability, loneliness, and helplessness of one in distress.” [1]  Alexander’s comment reminds us that we’re in a desert context.  This isn’t mud in a river or on the shore of a lake.  This is in the bottom of a well.  Does someone come to mind?  It’s one thing to be stuck in mud at the river bank.  It’s quite another to be trapped in the bottom of a cistern.

Foes– śānēʾ–not really just enemies but those who hate me.  The word recalls intense emotional aversion since it is also used to describe God’s hatred of idols.  These aren’t protesters or legal combatants.  These are people whose only objective is to see you dead.

Waters—mayim—clearly metaphorical, David uses this term as any desert Semite might.  Since Genesis 1:2, waters and the deep express the fear of uncontrollable chaos.  Egyptian cosmology taught that the habitable world floated on a sea of chaos, and at any time life could be erased by powers beyond human control.  For a man of the desert, that vast sea to the West was nothing but a constant reminder of powerlessness.  Water is life—and death, and it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Deep– maʿămaqqîm—from the root ʿāmōq, connected to ṣûlâ “abyss,” and tĕhôm “deep.”[2]  Isaiah uses the word to describe severe judgment, but we shouldn’t forget the initial occurrence of tĕhôm in Genesis 1:2.  “The deep” links us to the Egyptian terror of a world of chaos.  Only God can bring order to this primal realm and for people of the desert, death in watery chaos was not only a reminder of God’s punishment in the deluge but a terrifying end to everything.  David’s word connects us to God’s punishment for apostacy.

But we’re not quite finished with the list.  One more to go.

Topical Index: drowning, mire, deep, water, chaos, Psalm 69:15-16

[1] Alexander, R. H. (1999). 796 טוט. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 347). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Allen, R. B. (1999). 1644 עָמֹק. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 678). Chicago: Moody Press.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments