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Psalms 90-92 : Text, Images and Music

Susan Gillingham
p. 255-276

Résumés

Les psaumes 90-92 font partie de la quatrième section du Psautier, où la figure de Moïse a une place importante. L’article étudie l’histoire de la réception juive et chrétienne des trois psaumes, tant dans les textes, commentaires ou poèmes, que dans la liturgie, l’iconographie ou la musique. La figure du Dieu refuge et protecteur du mal traverse les Ps 90-91 dans les lectures juive et chrétienne, alors que le Ps 92, lié à la liturgie du shabbat, est peu commenté par la tradition chrétienne. Au-delà de leur enracinement dans l’histoire biblique, ces psaumes, dans l’épaisseur de leur réception, entrainent leur lecteur dans une conversation multiculturelle.

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Notes de la rédaction

Le lecteur trouvera p. 275-276 une présentation en français de l'article de S. Gillingham.

Texte intégral

Book Four (Psalms 90–106) within the Context of the Psalter

1Much could be said about the purpose of Book Four (Psalms 90-106) within the Psalter as a whole ; the table below gives an overview of its contents and its extent compared with the other books. Book Four comprises three collections of three psalms and one of seven psalms, with an additional psalm (94) breaking up the latter sequence. Its seventeen psalms mirror the seventeen in Book Three, which overall testifies to the downfall of the king ; Psalms 90-106 serves to provide an alternative vision to the covenant with David.

The Psalter as a Collection of Five Books

  • 1 This observation applies only to the Hebrew text. Indeed, the Mosaic emphasis in Book Four is the d (...)
  • 2 See K. J. Mournet, “Moses and the Psalms: The Significance of Psalms 90 and 106 within Book IV of t (...)

2What is of particular relevance for our reading of the first three psalms in Book Four is that throughout this entire book the figure of David is hardly evident, whilst the figure of Moses is clearly prominent. For example, the heading ledāwîd (‘to/for David’) occurs in Book One over all but two psalms; in Books Two and Three the Davidic superscription is over twenty-two of the forty-seven psalms, most of them in Psalms 51-72. Book Five, by contrast, uses this heading ten times. In Book Four, the heading occurs in only two psalms. So in the MT of Book One the figure of David is central, and in Books Two and Three he is also fairly prominent; in Book Four, by contrast, he almost completely disappears, to reappear in a somewhat minor role in Book Five. Book Four overall is more explicitly interested in Moses, who is only mentioned once in the Psalter outside this collection (in Ps. 77:21), but who occurs seven times within it (in the title to Psalm 90 and in Pss. 99:6; 103:7; 105:26 ; 106:16, 23, 32)1. Indeed, Book Four begins and ends with an overt concern for the covenant with Moses and the Exodus rather than for the covenant with David and the choice of Mount Zion2. As we shall shortly see, it is this unexpected emphasis on Moses which has made Psalms 90-92 such a rich and diverse resource in later Jewish and Christian tradition.

  • 3 ‘Return O Lord! How long ? Have pity on thy servants !’ (Ps. 90:3); and ‘He caused them to be pitie (...)
  • 4 Comfort, comfort [pity, pity] my people, says your God.’ (Isa. 40:1). ‘O afflicted one, storm-toss (...)
  • 5 See J. Creach, “The Shape of Book Four of the Psalter and the Shape of Second Isaiah”, JSOT 80 (199 (...)

3Furthermore, and related to this point, all the psalms in Book Four share a common theme: human fragility set alongside the constancy and sovereignty of God. This may well suggest that the experience of the exile influenced the compilation of these psalms into one collection: certainly there are many similarities with second Isaiah, who also addresses the trauma of the people in Babylon. For example, Book Four begins and ends with pleas to God to ‘take pity’ on his people (90:13 and 106:45, using nḥm)3; so too the beginning and ending of Isaiah 40-55 are on exactly the same theme (Isa. 40:1 and 54:11, also using nḥm)4. At the beginning of each book, in Ps. 90:5 and Isa. 40:6‑8, human frailty is compared with grass (ḥāṣîr). And in Pss. 96:1 and 98:1, as well as in Isa. 42:10, we read of the ‘new song’ (šîr ḥādāš) ‘which is to be sung to celebrate what God will later do for his people. Furthermore, the universal reign of God is defiantly declared throughout both works, for example in Ps. 96:4‑5 and Isa. 40:18‑23. Each denounces the worship of all idols, each playing on the Hebrew words for ‘God’ (’ælohîm) and the ‘little gods’ who are ‘nobodies’ (’ælîlîm): see Ps. 96:5 and Isa. 40:17‑18)5. There is just one key difference: whilst Isaiah 40-55 does not refer to Moses in particular but rather to the Exodus tradition in general as a basis for hope, Book Four of the Psalter refers to them both.

Psalms 90-92 in the Context of Book Four

  • 6 Other studies on the shape of Psalms 90-106 include M. D Goulder, “The Fourth Book of the Psalter”, (...)

4As the table above indicates, Book Four may be divided into four parts. Part One (Psalms 90-92) comprises a lament, a divine promise and a thanksgiving with the focus on Moses the Mediator and God as Refuge. Part Two (Psalms 93, 95-100) is mainly of seven psalms of jubilant praise where the focus is on the Kingship of God (as we have noted, Psalm 94 interrupts the sequence, reminding us of Psalms 90-92, with its lament on the judgment of God). Part Three (Psalms 101-103) contains three psalms of a more subdued nature and here, briefly, the focus returns to lessons to be learnt by the community from the piety of a king like David. Part Four, comprising three psalms, brings back into view the Mosaic Torah: Psalm 104, a hymn of creation, reminds us of Genesis 1; Psalm 105, a hymn to God as Redeemer, focuses on Exodus and Numbers; Psalm 106, using many of the same traditions, upturns this mood as it takes on the form of a lament on the peoples’ ingratitude, mirroring in many ways Psalm 966.

5Throughout all four collections in Book Four we also learn about different facets of the character of God when everything is under threat. In the first three psalms God is seen to be the people’s Refuge amidst the vicissitudes of life; in the second collection God is proclaimed as the people’s King, offering a covenant more constant than that with David. In the third part God is viewed as the compassionate Judge who alone executes true justice and righteousness. And in the fourth collection God is proclaimed as both Creator and Redeemer – the one who still has a plan for his people despite the vicissitudes of their history. The God of Creation and Exodus, rather than of David and Zion, thus dominates much of Book Four.

  • 7 See E. Zenger, “Israel und Kirche im gemeinsamen Gottesbund. Beobachtungen zum theologischen Pro­gr (...)
  • 8 “Israel und Kirche stehen von Gott her in einem spannungsreichen Verhältnis, das beide wahr – und a (...)
  • 9 “Israel und Kirche zugleich als “Volk Gottes” zu bezeichnen, müsste entweder den Begriff entleeren (...)

6This paper will now concentrate on Psalms 90-92 as an introduction to Book Four, and so we shall focus on Moses the Mediator and on God as the people’s Refuge amidst the vicissitudes of life. Rather than offering a typical exegesis of these three psalms, I intend to offer an account of their reception history: I shall reflect especially on the ways in which later Jewish and Christian readings interpret the themes of these three psalms, through later commentary tradition, through liturgy, and through poetic imitation; but equally importantly I shall look at examples of their aesthetic representation through music and art. My approach in using both Jewish and Christian reception history follows that of Erich Zenger, who, writing on Book Four from a Christian perspective, saw ‘Israel und Kirche im gemeinsamen Gottesbund7. Zenger made it clear that the two faiths are to be interpreted ‘side by side’, rather than arguing for the superiority of one faith over the other8. As Zenger argues each faith tradition derives its identity not from its own merit but from the mercy (ḥæsæd) of a God who invites ‘all who fear him’ (Ps. 103:11, 17) to participate in his Kingdom9. So in words and music, as well as in poetic imitation or art, these three psalms take us to the heart of what it means to read the figure of Moses and the tradition of Exodus in these psalms with both Jewish and Christian ears and eyes.

Psalms 90-92 : The Fragility of Humanity and God as Refuge

7We may note, firstly, the increasingly hopeful mood in this sequence, from lament (Psalm 90) to divine promise (Psalm 91) to thanksgiving (Psalm 92). The key theme which binds these psalms together is that, rather than depending on any human institution, God is now the refuge of his people (Pss. 90:1 ; 91:1‑2, 9‑10 ; 92:12‑13) : his continuing presence is to be found by ‘night and day’ (90:5‑6 ; 91:5‑6 ; 92:2).

  • 10 Verse 2 uses yld “to be born” and ḥyl “be in labour”, found also in Deut. 32:18.
  • 11 In v. 10 ‘seventy years’ brings together the two themes of human mortality and also the years of ex (...)
  • 12 The verb nḥm “take pity” (v. 13) is also found in Deut. 32:36.

8Psalm 90 takes us back to Psalm 89, concerning the brevity of life (90:3‑6; 89:47‑48) : the context seems to be of a people still living under the judgement of God (90:7‑10 ; 89:46) and the question ‘how long ?’ in Ps. 89:46 is repeated in Ps. 90:13. Verses 1‑6 lament human mortality10; vv. 7‑12 reflect on God’s wrath11. Verses 13‑17 petition God to restore his ‘dwelling place’ with his people12.

  • 13 See W. G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, Vols. 1 & 2 (Yale Judaica Series, XIII) New Haven/London, (...)

9It is immediately clear that the focus in Psalm 90 is no longer David, but Moses. It is not only in the heading (‘A Prayer of Moses, the man of God’: see Exod. 33:14‑19 and Deut. 33:1) but also in the use of parts of Moses’ so-called speeches, from Deuteronomy 32 and 33 and Exodus 32. The Targum heading over Psalm 90 explains this well: ‘A prayer of Moses the prophet, when the people of Israel sinned in the desert’, thus emphasising the mediating role of Moses throughout the psalm. In later Jewish tradition, for example in Midrash Tehillim, not only the first psalm in this collection but the next ten psalms, up to Psalm 100, are given Mosaic authorship, one for eleven of the tribes. (Simeon is excluded on account of that tribe’s disobedience as told in Numbers 25). So Psalm 90 is understood to be by Moses, for Reuben: its stress on the importance of repentance apparently echoes Reuben’s repentance in Gen. 35:2213.

  • 14 R. Abin, cited in Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 89. Mid. Teh. also debates the tradition of Mos (...)

10This should explain why Jewish readings have so much to say about Moses in relation to this psalm. He is ‘the man of God’ because he stood before the people ‘as God’ through the miraculous escape from Egypt and on Sinai : ‘From his middle and above Moses was called “God” ; and from his middle and below he was a man’14.

  • 15 In Orthodox liturgy, Psalm 90, along with Psalms 91-93 and 100, is used more frequently in every mo (...)
  • 16 Many of these details were taken from A. M. Boeckler’s unpublished paper, ‘Moses’ Prophecy or the P (...)

11The most prominent Jewish use of this psalm is liturgical. It is used at funerals along with Psalm 91, and sometimes with Psalm 92. Psalm 90 is particularly prominent in the Shivah service — i. e. the daily service lasting seven days at a mourner’s home after the burial. It is also used regularly, along with Psalms 91, 92, 93 and 100, as ‘Verses of Song’ (Pesukai de Zimra) heralding the ‘reception of Shabbat’ (Kabbalat Shabbat), the opening of the Friday evening service15. Psalm 90 is also used in the Shabbat morning service to frame the ‘Great Hallel’ (Psalms 135 and 136) along with Psalms 19, 24, and 91 (Psalms 33, 92 and 93 were added at the end of it): the whole collection preceded the Daily Hallel (Psalms 145-150) with its emphasis on the Exodus, on Creation and the world to come as preparation for the Shabbat prayers16. Hence in Jewish reception the Shabbat focus through which this psalm is consistently viewed leads us back to the Torah of Moses, not the covenant with David.

  • 17 Athanasius also used this psalm against the Arians in his defence of the ‘eternity’ of the Son: see (...)
  • 18 Unusually for Watts, no explicit Christian reinterpretation is evident. Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lord tho (...)

12In Christian tradition, the main lens is neither Moses nor David; but nor is it especially Jesus Christ, either. Key thinkers, including Basil the Great and Athanasius, have mainly focussed on the theme of ‘refuge in God’ in this psalm17. One of the best-known Christian renderings of this psalm in English similarly emphasises the theme of God as Refuge: this is the hymn by Isaac Watts (1719) which is still prominent at Remembrance Day services in Britain, and also at State Funerals (for example, that of Winston Churchill) because it commemorates the permanency of God over and against the futility of war and the fragility of life18:

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

  • 19 For the 1650 Scottish metrical version of this psalm (‘Lord Thou has been our dwelling place in gen (...)

13This is just one example of the way in which this psalm has been paraphrased and transformed into rhyme and metre many times – in English, French and German, not least. As a result the vehicle of the vernacular has made its universal appeal commonly available19. A metrical adaptation, such as that by Watts, is about the public use of this psalm, whether in the church, or workplace, or home. A very different adaption, also using poetic imitation, reveals how the psalm can also be used more privately: its personal and reflective elements can be seen, for example, in the poetic paraphrases by Robert Burns and Francis Bacon. Burn’s version of Psalm 90, in his ‘The First Six Verses of the Ninetieth Psalm’ runs as follows:

  • 20 See R. Atwan and L. Wieder (eds.), Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible, Vo (...)

O Thou, the first, the greatest friend
Of all the human race!
Whose strong right hand has ever been
Their stay and dwelling-place!
Before the mountains heaved their heads
Beneath thy forming hand,
Before this ponderous globe itself
Arose at thy command
That power which raised and still upholds
This universal frame,
From countless, unbeginning time
Was ever still the same
20

  • 21 For a version of this Psalm by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, see htt (...)

14A third example of the poetic imitation of Psalm 90 is of its use within a dramatic performance. This is again usually made effective through music. A well-known illustration of this is Elgar’s use of the psalm in ‘Dream of Gerontius’, where, following Newman’s original (1865), parts of this psalm are used at the end of the great poem. Elgar takes full advantage of the theme in Psalm 90 of the fragility of life and refuge in God, as parts of it are sung by the souls in Purgatory (‘Lord, Thou hast been our refuge in every generation/ Come back, O Lord ! How long : and be entreated for Thy servants / Bring us not, Lord, very low : for Thou hast said, /Come back again, ye sons of Adam’), to be followed by the famous final chorus of Angels, ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height…’21. Hence in this case the adaptation of the psalms involves taking particular key verses which serve as part of a larger drama.

  • 22 See J. Kirkpatrick and G. Smith (eds.), Charles Ives: Psalm 90, Bryn Mawr, Pa: Merion Music Inc., 1 (...)

15A fourth example of the ‘performance’ of this psalm is of it in entirety, where it becomes a self-contained narrative poem. Here the context is more likely to be liturgical (Elgar’s adaptation could be for either sacred or secular purposes), although it is far removed from metrical psalmody, also composed for liturgical purposes. A good example is the version of Psalm 90 by Charles Ives, who set the King James version of Psalm 90 to music in 1923‑24, reflecting that this was the only piece he had ever set which really satisfied him. The darkest parts, concerned with the threat of our destruction (vv. 3‑4) are effectively intoned mainly in unison, whilst the more poignant prayers for God to deflect his anger (vv. 12 and 13) mainly use tenor and soprano solo voices, and the resolution and submission to God at the end of the psalm (14‑17) is sung more as a chorale, with church bells and a gong contrasting with the threatening moods of the earlier verses22.

16So whether as a metrical psalm, a reflective poem, as part of a larger drama, or as a dramatic offering in itself, this psalm evokes one clear significant theme, developed in several different ways : that of the contrast between human mortality and the eternal God as Refuge. This theme is constantly explored, in many different ways, in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Initially it seems to have had a particular resonance for ancient Israel as the people remembered their experience of exile in Babylon, reflecting on their earlier traditions of exile in Egypt ; but this is a theme with universal relevance, and, as the psalm itself testifies, later generations (90:16) have repeatedly applied this psalm to their own life-setting.

  • 23 This image is also found in Exod. 19:4 and Deut. 32:10‑12; it may allude to the wings of cherubim i (...)
  • 24 This may allude to other Mosaic passages such as Exod. 23:20, 23 and 32:34.

17Psalm 91 also emphasises that God is our refuge (91:2, 9) but here the psalmist seems preoccupied with some specific deliverance from evil. The first promise of God as refuge (vv. 1‑8), spoken dramatically in the first then second person, offers an extraordinary image of God as a mother eagle who protects his people from the ‘snare and fowler’ and night-time and noon-day pestilence and destruction23. The second promise of refuge (vv. 9‑13), consistently in the second person, refers instead to God sending his protective angels24. The third promise (vv. 14‑16) consists of eight blessings, using eight verbs of protection: here, unusually in the Psalms, God speaks in the first person – taking on a ‘persona’ more common to the prophetic literature.

  • 25 Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 100‑103.

18Midrash Tehillim attributes this psalm to Moses, written for the tribe of Levi (probably on account of the apparent reference to the sanctuary in vv. 1 and 9, arguing that Moses composed it after finishing the tabernacle)25. By contrast — possibly because of the Davidic title in the LXX — the Targum, attributing these references to the later Temple, arranges this psalm as a dialogue between David and Solomon: in vv. 2‑8 David speaks, in vv. 9‑13 Solomon speaks, and in vv. 14‑16 God speaks. This is one of the very few references in later Jewish tradition to the role of David in these three psalms; Moses is usually recalled instead.

  • 26 See K. Cathcart, “The Phoenician Inscriptions from Arslan Tash and some Old Testament Texts (Exodus (...)

19Although it is difficult to be sure of any direct correspondence, there are some intriguing similarities between this psalm and a much earlier, possibly seventh-century, Phoenician text, in Aramaic, which is an incantation, seeking help from the deities Ashur, Horon and Shamash to keep the night creatures at bay until the sun rises26. Immediately we are reminded of Ps. 91:5‑6 and the promises of protection from the ‘terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday’ (NRSV). The Phoenician inscription, from Arslan Tash, is too large for an amulet, but it may well have been attached to a doorpost, following the ritual described in Exod. 12:22‑27 and Deut. 6:4‑9. Intriguing links with Psalm 91 is the use of similar verbs on v. 13 – ‘You shall tread (root dārak) on the lion and adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample (root rāmas) under foot’ and also to the promise of rescue in v. 3 ‘He will deliver you (using the hiphil of root nāṣal) from the snare of the fowler’).

  • 27 See C. E. Evans, “Jesus and Psalm 91 in Light of the Exorcism Scrolls”, P. W. Flint, J. Duhaime and (...)
  • 28 See Th. J. Kraus, “Septuaginta-Psalm 90 in apotropäischer Verwendung : Vorüberlegungen für eine kri (...)

20The correspondence of parts of Psalm 91 with an ancient incantation text fits also with the later apotropaic use of the psalm, somewhere between the first century BCE and first century CE, at Qumran, where, in 4QPsb, and again in 11Q11 (11QapocrPs), Psalm 91 is included alongside three other non-canonical psalms as the ‘Fourth Exorcism Psalm’27. The Septuagint translation of the difficult phrase ‘the destruction that wastes at noonday’ (miqqæṭęb yāšûd ṣāhārāyîm) as δαιμονίου μεσημβρινοῦ “demon at noon-day” with the rendering of the qal imperfect verb yāšûd “wastes” as a demon, reveals a similar tendency to think of this psalm as having the apotropaic power to drive away personified forces of evil28. This in turn throws some light on the ironic citation by Satan using this ‘anti-demonic psalm’ in Jesus Christ’s temptations : Ps. 91:11‑12 (‘For he will give his angels charge of you… On their hands they will bear you up’) is quoted in Matt. 4:6 and Lk. 4:11, and it is illuminating to see the way Jesus Christ rejects the magical use of this psalm in his response (Matt. 4:7 and Luke 4:12). The magical associations of this psalm are however recognised in the citation of v. 13 (‘you will tread on the lion and the adder…’) in Lk. 10:19.

  • 29 See Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 101 and M. I. Gruber, Rashi’s Commentary on Psalms, Leiden/Bo (...)
  • 30 See B. Breed, “Reception of the Psalms: The Example of Psalm 91”, W. P. Brown (ed.), The Oxford Han (...)

21Later Jewish reception has continued this magical reading. The Talmud entitles Psalm 91 as ‘A Song referring to Evil Demons’ (b Seb. 15b) and Midrash Tehillim explains how Moses composed this psalm while ascending to heaven in order to defend himself against some demonic attack, a point on which Rashi also agrees29. In Shimmush Tehillim Psalms 90 and 91 are to be recited over a person tormented by an evil spirit. In one fragment from the Genizah repository, Ps. 91:1 is interlocked word by word with Deut. 6:4, again suggesting some incantational use. Parts of Psalm 91 are also found on several incantation bowls, in Aramaic — in this instance the bowls were turned upside down, supposedly to trap the evil spirits30.

22It is not surprising that this popular adaptation of Psalm 91 should also result in its use in liturgy. In Jewish tradition it is used with Psalm 90 at funerals. As the coffin is carried to its grave, these two psalms are chanted between three and seven times along the way. Along with Psalm 90 used it is used in the ‘Verses of Song’ (see above) for Kabbalat Shabbat.

  • 31 Wesselschmidt, Psalms 51-150, p. 173‑4. In the Middle Ages this trope was popularised as one of the (...)
  • 32 See Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 301‑2. See also R. Hunziker-Rodewald, “Image et parole ave (...)

23In Christian tradition, receiving the same Greek translation through the mediation of the Latin of Jerome’s Gallican Psalter, Psalm 91 was known in the early church as an ‘exorcism text’, where Satan is described as a hunter, sin is personified as a wild beast, and Christ has power over both31. By the Middle Ages, in the Glossa Ordinaria, the marginal comment reads ‘a hymn against demons’. Parts of this psalm are found on door lintels in Syria, Cyprus and in two Byzantine churches in Ravenna where they reveal some apotropaic quality. Most tellingly, at least twenty-five examples of vv. 4‑5 and v. 11 have been found written on Byzantine amulets and rings, from the sixth to twelfth centuries CE32.

  • 33 Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 303‑07.

24In Christian liturgy, probably by the sixth century, Psalm 91 became one of the most frequently prayed psalms at Compline, along with Psalms 4 and 134. In fact, the association of Christ’s protection over the night-time demons resulted in this psalm becoming, in Benedictine tradition, the first psalm for Compline Psalms, as those performing the Opus Dei sought protection through the night hours. For similar theological reasons it became an important psalm in Good Friday Liturgy in the Western churches, where it was often used with John 3, each with the motif of the serpent: the crucifixion was thus understood as the means whereby Christ trampled under foot (Ps. 91:13) the demonic forces33.

  • 34 See http://objects.library.uu.nl/reader/index.php ?obj=1874‑284427&lan=en#page//12/67/75/1267751469 (...)
  • 35 See http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/commentary/page256. shtml.
  • 36 The Theodore Psalter is preserved in the British Library: see http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacred (...)
  • 37 Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 306‑07, who also cites Chuck Norris’ use of this Psalm (2010) (...)
  • 38 See H. H. Huxley, “The Psalms in Heraldry”, Evangelical Quarterly 21 (1949), p. 297‑305, citing vv. (...)
  • 39 See http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/

25The potential of this psalm for visual expression should be clear. Indeed, representations of Christ treading underfoot the lion and serpent became a trope which typified this psalm in many illuminated Psalters. One example is from the Utrecht Psalter, which shows the psalmist in conflict with all manner of personified evil forces34. A striking example is in the St. Alban’s Psalter, where the illuminated initial to this psalm depicts Christ stamping on the basilisk, asp, lion and dragon, prodding them with his crozier shaped as a ‘tau’ and clasping a jewelled book with verse 13 written on the cover35. A different example is found in the marginal illustrations in the Byzantine Theodore Psalter, where v. 12 is selected to illustrate Jesus undergoing the three temptations: here he stands, resolute, on a basilica replicating the roof of the Temple36. In these cases this ‘trampling’ refers to the spiritual forces of evil; sometimes, for examples in Carolingian illuminations, it actually refers to trampling enemy forces, in military terms37. The imagery of God as ‘Shield and Buckler’ (v. 4) further contributes to this more military and physical reading: it is a theme also used in heraldry38 and is similarly developed also in the circle of Andries Cornelis Lens (1739‑1822) of an angel and cherub with sword and shield, with the title ‘Scuto circumdabit te veritas eius’ — ‘Truth will protect you with his shield’, taken from Psalm 91:4 (Vulgate v. 5)39.

  • 40 One example is Moshe Levi’s artistic representations of Psalm 91 at the Museum of Psalms in Jerusal (...)
  • 41 Irv Davies assigns this psalm for use in January. See http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/jmjoncas/Liturg (...)

26More spiritual artistic depictions of this psalm are to be found in the Kabbalistic tradition40. One contemporary Jewish Psalms illustrator has given the psalm both literal and spiritual meanings. Irv Davis (2000) has depicted vv. 5‑6 of this psalm in both these ways: in the upper right of his picture, symbolising daytime, the literal reading of warfare is depicted, with archers firing arrows into a burning castle, whilst in the upper right, symbolising night time, a bird of prey hovers watching pestilence attack a group of people in a ruined landscape. The spiritual reading arises out of the centre of the psalm: the obedient believer, is lifted high by six angels, forming a star of David, thus protected from the carnal sins of power (represented by the lion) and lust (depicted by the snake)41.

  • 42 For English metrical versions of this psalms, see http://www.hymnary.org/browse/scripture/Psalms/91 (...)
  • 43 For A You Tube version of this psalm, by the Century Singers, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4 (...)
  • 44 See http://www.frankfurt-evangelisch.de/der-komplette-beitrag/items/das-tehillim-psalmen-chorprojek (...)
  • 45 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_and_the_Cobra.
  • 46 Enya can be heard at http://www.last.fm/music/Sin%C3%A9ad+O%27Connor/_/Never+Get+Old ?autostart.
  • 47 O’Connor’s lyrics also reflect on the magical qualities of the psalm: Whomsoever dwells/In the shel (...)

27Like Psalm 90, this psalm has also had a rich musical history, not least for congregational singing42. There are also several examples of the performative use of just a few verses of the psalm, where, like the use Elgar made of parts of Psalm 90 in his Dream of Gerontius, the verses are used to highlight a larger drama, with the focus being the motif of God protecting the individual from the (spiritual) forces of evil. One well known example is Mendelssohn’s rendering of ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee’ in Elijah, Movement 7 (1846/47) as a double quartet sung by angels43. A different adaptation of the entire psalm as a performance, rather like the composition by Charles Ives of Psalm 90, is a recent Jewish rendering by Alon Wallach (b. 1980) for the Frankfurt “Tehillim Project”: it uses 5/4 time to indicate the vicissitudes and instabilities found within this psalm44. Similarly Sinead O’Connor chose “The Lion and the Cobra” as the title of her debut album (1987), based on Ps. 91:1345. One of the tracks, “Never Get Old”, begins with a recital by Enya, in Gaelic, of Psalm 91, and is taken up by O’Connor on the theme of the fragility of life46. Sinead O’Connor later produced a very different version of this psalm on her album ‘Theology’: it was called “Whomsoever dwells”47.

  • 48 Perhaps it is aptly summed up in the Haiku “Song for Travellers”: Fear no night’s terror/pestilence (...)

28Hence through the reception history of this psalm, whether expressed through popular use, liturgical adaptation, or in poetry, art and music, we find again the theme which is closely linked to the psalm before it and the psalm after it: life is fragile but God is indeed a refuge. In the case of Psalm 91 the protection offered is not as general as in Psalm 90, but is more concerned with protection from specific forms of evil. Nevertheless, as was seen for Psalm 90, this is a universal theme, appropriate not only for a people in exile in the sixth century BCE, but also for all those similarly afflicted by encounters with evil and a sense of the vicissitudes of life. This more universal theme again results in the minimal recall of the Davidic covenant48.

29And so we turn to Psalm 92, ‘A Song for the Sabbath’. It is linked to Ps. 91 by its reference to God as ‘Most High’ (92:1 ; see 91:1, 9) and to its witness of the downfall of the enemy (92:11 ; see 91:8) as well as by the ongoing theme of God as Refuge. There are also links back to Psalm 90, showing how all three psalms are closely related. For example, references to God as ’eternal’ (we’attāh mārôm le‘ōlām YHWH “but you, o Lord, are on high forever) in v. 8 (Heb v. 9) remind us of Ps. 90:2 (ûmē‘ōlām ‘ad ‘ōlām ’attāh ’ēl “from everlasting to everlasting you are God”). Similarly the reference to “flourishing” in v. 7 reminds us of the image of the grass flourishing in Ps. 90:6 (also using root ṣûṣ “flourish”); whilst the evildoers ‘flourishing’ (root ṣûṣ and the reference to God’s ‘steadfast love’ (ḥæsæd) in v. 2 is also found in Ps. 90:14, as also the verbs ‘rejoice’ and ‘be glad’ root śāmaḥ and root rānan) in v. 4 which are in Ps. 90:14.

  • 49 It is interesting to see the way that the verb nāgad, in the hiphil infinitive construct, “declare, (...)

30The reference to God being ‘exalted on high for ever’ in v. 8, the longest verse at the very heart of the psalm, also points ahead to the following Psalm, 93:4, with its theme of God as King. The whole mood of Psalm 92 is one of optimistic trust on the part of a believer who feels secure in the promises of God. Verses 1‑5 are a thanksgiving song ; vv. 6‑11 are a testimony to God’s righteous judgement ; and vv. 12‑15 testify to God’s blessings (using the same simile of the ‘tree’ in the Temple forecourts as in Pss. 1:3 and 52:8)49.

  • 50 See N. H. Sarna, “Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Ps 92)”, JBL 81 (1962), p. 155‑68. The more unusual tr (...)
  • 51 On the use of this psalm as preparation for Sabbath prayer along with the Great Hallel and Daily Ha (...)
  • 52 See Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 108‑114. The Exodus/Egypt and Exile/Babylon typology are part (...)
  • 53 This is based on Talmud bRH 31a: “Psalm. Song for the Day of Shabbat: that they [the Levites] sang (...)

31Although there is no reference to the Sabbath in the text, the sevenfold use of the name of God may have contributed to its title as ‘A Song for the Sabbath’. The Sabbath associations may also have arisen on account of the theme of divine order in creation, as well as the emphasis on the righteousness of God at the end of the psalm50. These associations are early – the Mishnah Tamid 7:4, for example, refers to the Levitical singers using a special psalm each day and Psalm 92 is assigned the Sabbath day. Psalm 92 is distinctive in the Hebrew Psalter in that it is the only one to be given a title for a specific day of the week: the other six psalms, 24, 48, 82, 94, 81, 93 have these titles in the Greek51. Because of its Sabbath associations, the ascription of authorship in Jewish interpretation is interesting: it is frequently ascribed to Adam, who, created on the sixth day, kept the Sabbath on the seventh, and so was saved from death in this act of obedience to Torah. The Targum superscription thus reads ‘A Psalm and Song which Adam offered on the Sabbath Day’. However, because the Torah and Sabbath command were not actually given until the time of Moses, he is viewed as the actual author, dedicating this psalm to the tribe of Judah, with the purpose of consoling those brethren who were enslaved in Egypt52. Rashi takes this idea of consolation even further: the psalm speaks of the world to come, at the seventh millennium, when there will an unending Sabbath53.

  • 54 A Genizah manuscript fragment, probably dating from the Crusader period, testifies to the use of Ps (...)

32In Jewish liturgical practice, especially in the Reformed tradition, Psalm 92 is the Sabbath Psalm par excellence, used in ‘Verses of Song’ (along with Psalm 90, discussed above) and, with Psalm 93, is often part of the introduction to evening prayer on Friday54. In Western tradition the chant is usually in a major key, creating a majestic dialogue between the cantor and choir, often with the organ, in order to give the impression that this psalm heralds in the “Queen of Days”. In Eastern tradition the mode is more often a minor key – making the psalm more poignant and meditative. In both ways this psalm nevertheless enriches our sense of rest and peace and refuge in God. In Kabbalistic tradition Psalm 29 (which is understood to have ten voices symbolising the ten words of creation and so was linked to the Kingship psalms [95-99]) is added to Psalm 92, creating seven psalms in all: these are the seven psalms representing the seven stages of ascent towards God’s mystical presence.

  • 55 Ps. 92:10 (Homily 21) is cited by D. L. Balás and D. J. Bingham in “Patristic Exegesis of the Books (...)

33To remember the Sabbath is to remember, from Genesis 1, that we are all, like Adam and later like Moses, created in God’s image: this therefore opens up the psalm for Christian as well as Jewish use, again because of its universal themes of creation, redemption and God’s returning to his people in the future. It is interesting that in early Christian tradition there are actually very few examples of ‘Christianising’ Psalm 92 – a phenomenon which we saw was also evident in Psalms 90 and 91, again because of the way they speak typically of more universal concerns. However, one notable exception is in Jerome’s commentary on this psalm, where, for v. 10, Jerome reads “but you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox” as an allusion to the cross of Christ “through which he both triumphed over the devil and exalted the faithful”55.

  • 56 See http://objects.library.uu.nl/reader/index.php ?obj=1874‑284427&lan=en#page//13/52/52/1352521640 (...)
  • 57 See http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/commentary/page258.shtml
  • 58 See http://www.biblical-art.com/artwork.asp?id_artwork=3631&showmode=Full
  • 59 This is again depicted by Moshe Levi, at the Museum of Psalms, Jerusalem.

34Because of its central place in liturgy, it is not surprising that Psalm 92 is another rich resource for artistic and musical representation. For example, one much explored motif in both Jewish and Christian tradition is of the believer firmly rooted, like a palm tree (v. 12, [Heb v. 13]). The Utrecht Psalter places this in a broader context : the psalmist stands to the left on the steps of the Temple, with the walls of the city below him, safe against his assailants. Four musicians stand to his right, two playing the lyre and harp; across the heavens seven angelic beings cry out, and to the far right is the palm tree, standing firm56. The St. Alban’s Psalter, by contrast, depicts in its first initial the just man, standing in a paradisial garden, bearing a palm frond57. In a much later interpretation (1896‑1900) James Tissot depicts Ps. 92:12 by way of the believer standing against a veritable forest of palm trees58. A Kabbalistic interpretation is to set the psalmist against a tree depicted as a Menorah59.

35The depiction of the psalmist offering thanksgiving within a paradise garden is further captured in poetic imagery by Mary Sidney Herbert’s version of Psalm 92 (c. 1592). Verses three and four (of five) take up so vividly in sound and sense many of the fertility images of the psalm :

The wicked grow
Like frail though flowery grass;
And, fallen, to wrack past help do pass.
But thou not so,
But high thou still dost stay:
And lo thy haters fall away.
Thy haters lo,
Decay and perish all;
All wicked hands to ruin fall.

  • 60 Taken from Wieder, The Poets’ Book of Psalms, p. 139‑140.

Fresh oiled I
Will lively lift my horn
And match the matchless unicorn:
Mine eye will spy
My spies in spiteful case:
Mine ear shall hear my foes’ disgrace.
Like cedar high
And like date-bearing tree,
For green, and growth the just shall be
60.

  • 61 See Salamone de’ Rossi, “Mizmor Shir (A Psalm, a Song)” (eight voices, double choir) from The Songs (...)
  • 62 For the background to this psalm and to hear a sample of Schubert’s composition, see http://www.hyp (...)
  • 63 See http://www.allmusic.com/album/franz-waxman-the-song-of-terezin-eric-zeisl-requiem-ebraico-mw000 (...)
  • 64 See http://genevanpsalter.redeemer.ca/psalm_texts.html#psalm92.
  • 65 See Daniel Richardson and Angel Napieralski, “Though the Wicked Spring up Like Grass” Jazz Psalms, (...)

36The associations of this psalm with Sabbath liturgy have also resulted in several significant musical renderings. The performance of the psalm as a whole – akin to Charles Ives’ use of Psalm 90 and Wallach’s use of Psalm 91 – is exemplified by Salamone de’ Rossi’s composition which was first performed in Vienna in 162361. Similarly some two hundred years later Franz Schubert was commissioned by Salomon Sulzer to write a polyphonic choral arrangement, with organ accompaniment, for his collection ‘Schir Zion’ (1840‑65) – also for the synagogue in Vienna, where Sulzer served as cantor. Schubert’s piece is mainly based on Psalm 92:1‑8 and is called “Tow l’hodos l’Adonai” – another work evoking the name of Adonai and the theme of restfulness in the Most High God62. A haunting and poignant version is by Eric Zeisl, entitled “The Requiem Ebraico” (1945) in memory of his father and indeed of all Holocaust vicitms63. In Christian reception, from the Reformation onwards, renderings of this psalm usually emphasise more the thanksgiving aspect of this psalm, including metrical versions by Louis Bourgeois64, Hans Prince, Jean Berger, Paul Schwartz, and, in English, more recent renderings by Maurice Greene, Michael Hurd and Martin Joseph. Other liturgical interpretations designed to accompany Anglican plainsong using Coverdale’s Psalms include works by William Cratch (1775‑1847) and the contemporary composer Terence Allbright. Perhaps the most notable is a more provocative and lively Jazz version, aimed at taunting the wicked65.

*
* *

Concluding Observations on the Reception History of Psalms 90-92

37We noted at the beginning of this paper that in Book Four the focus of attention moves from David to the figure of Moses and the ancient Exodus traditions associated with him. We also noted how the first three psalms of Book Four, with their focus on the fragility of life and the importance God as refuge, suggest a time during or after the exile, when the figure of Moses and the paradigm of the Exodus were important inspirations for faith. Psalm 90 focusses especially on the fragility of life; Psalm 91 expresses some hope in a deity who can deliver from the forces of evil; and Psalm 92 is essentially a thanksgiving psalm because of its fervent belief in the downfall of the wicked. The three psalms seem to be arranged as a gradual progression towards an increasingly confident expression of the theme of Refuge in God, with Psalm 92 as the climax with its particular affirmation of the importance of the Sabbath rest.

  • 66 Although too much can be made of these psalms as “wisdom psalms”, there are clear wisdom concerns w (...)

38However, the account of the subsequent reception history of these three psalms also demonstrated that their relevance takes them beyond the exodus, beyond the exile, and into a more universal context: life is constantly fragile, and to know God as refuge is as important now as then66. This more universal appropriation is apparent in both Jewish and Christian reception, and is especially evident in the poetic imitations of these psalms, as well as in their representation in images and music.

39This does not mean that in Jewish reception the figure of Moses disappears altogether: in Jewish exegesis and liturgy Moses is still quite prominent. The dominant impression is of a community being shaped by different traditions from the royal covenant traditions of David, which were the focus of Book Three. At the very beginning of Book Four we are introduced to a people who, without a king, are a community in which the individual can play his or her part: this is how the concept of the democratising of these psalms for ‘everyone’ comes about in other modes of reception. In Christian reception of these three psalms, the interest in the figure of Moses is replaced by a focus primarily on the metaphor of ‘God as Refuge’ for the individual and the community: here such ‘democratisation’ results, somewhat unusually, in any specific “Christianising” being kept to the minimum.

  • 67 See Hunziker-Rodewald, “Image et parole avec Dieu”, p. 91.

40Although this paper has focussed on just three psalms, there are at least three significant themes which enlighten our understanding of the reception history of the Psalter as a whole. Firstly, Psalms 90-92 play their own part in developing the greater story of the Psalter – a story which is developed in a particular way throughout Book Four. Each psalm bears witness to the importance of repentance and trust in God which will bring about a restoration whose manifestation will be both physical and spiritual. Second, against the backdrop of this larger story of the Psalter, Psalms 90-92 illustrate how this small part of the greater whole can be interpreted by both Jews and Christians in different yet complementary ways: each faith tradition has to wrestle with the broken covenants of the past, the constancy of God’s promises in the present, and the hope for some vindication of faith in the future, where the experience of human failure encounters the persistence of divine grace. The reception of these three psalms, whether in poetic imitation or in music or in art bears ample testimony to this. And third, the reception history of Psalms 90-92 reveals how the message of many parts of the Psalter has a resonance beyond a particular place and time. The story of the Psalter is not only about ancient Israel, whether focussed on Moses or on David; nor is it required that every psalm becomes explicitly a witness to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Psalms 90-92 are part of a more universal story about human frailty before the eternal God, a story which is developed further in the rest of Book Four. This story moves from the particular to the general: its universal appeal means that it is not confined to the remit of one faith tradition or another. As Régine Hunziker-Rodewald has argued, “Chaque texte est un produit et en même temps un moyen, un outil de communication67”. Whether through new readings of the text, through visual exegesis or through music, Psalms 90-92 illustrate well how psalmody can often contribute to a multicultural conversation : their rich reception history is part of an ongoing process of communication and interpretation, not only within the separate faith traditions, but also between and even beyond them.

S. Gillingham : Psaumes 90-92 : texte, images et musique

41Le psautier est traditionnellement compris comme un ensemble de 5 livres ; les psaumes (Ps) 90-106 constituent la 4partie et se caractérisent par la mise en avant de la figure de Moïse. Un thème commun à ce groupe de psaumes est la fragilité humaine, face à la souveraineté du Dieu de l’alliance perçu comme un refuge sûr. Cette affirmation dans les Ps 90-92 va de pair avec l’expression de la plainte du psalmiste.

42L’article étudie l’histoire de la réception juive et chrétienne des trois psaumes, réception dans les textes, commentaires ou poèmes, mais aussi dans la liturgie, l’iconographie et la musique.

43Dans le Ps 90, on trouve plusieurs références à Moïse et son histoire, ce que souligne clairement le Targum ; la tradition juive postérieure donne Moïse comme auteur des Ps 90-100, en lien avec chacune des tribus d’Israël (Ps 90 pour Ruben, selon le midrash). Dans le judaïsme encore, ce psaume est utilisé lors des funérailles (comme d’ailleurs les Ps 91-92). Les commentateurs chrétiens anciens du Psautier comme Basile ou Athanase mettent plutôt en valeur l’image du Dieu refuge. Pour l’époque moderne, l’auteur cite l’hymne d’Isaac Watts (1719), qui amplifie cette célébration du Dieu refuge, et cet hymne est encore utilisé officiellement au Jour du Souvenir ou lors de funérailles nationales en Angleterre. Mais il y a aussi des versions poétiques « privées », comme celles de Robert Burns et Francis Bacon. Deux interprétations musicales sont signalées, celle d’Elgar et celle de Charles Ives à partir de la Bible King James.

44Dans le Ps 91, Dieu délivre du mal. Le Tg lit dans ce Ps un dialogue entre David (v. 2-8) et Salomon (9-13), les derniers versets donnant la parole à Dieu. On a découvert une proximité notable de ce Ps avec un texte phénicien du 7e s. avant notre ère (prière pour demander l’aide des divinités), un texte dont il était fait un usage apotropaïque ; or à Qumran, le Ps 91 est donné comme le 4e psaume d’exorcisme. Cet usage apotropaïque est confirmé par plusieurs points de la traduction de la LXX – ce qui apporte un éclairage sur la manière dont le Ps 91 est cité dans le récit des tentations de Jésus. Dès les premiers siècles chrétiens, ce Ps est repéré comme un texte d’exorcisme, il est par exemple utilisé sur des linteaux de porte en Syrie, Chypre et dans deux églises byzantines de Ravenne. Les v. 4-5 et 11 se trouvent sur des amulettes (datées des 6e-12e s.). On peut comprendre alors que depuis le 6e s., le Ps 91 avec les Ps 4 et 134 soit au cœur de la liturgie de complies (protection du Christ contre les démons de la nuit). Dans les enluminures (Psautier d’Utrecht), le Ps 91 est illustré par des représentations du Christ foulant des démons de forme animale (cf. les images du texte). Au plan de la création musicale, plusieurs versets sont repris dans l’Elijah de Mendelssohn, ou encore par un compositeur juif contemporain, Allon Wallach, ainsi que dans l’album Theology de Sinead O’Connor.

45Le Ps 92 a pour titre « Chant pour le shabbat », ce que confirme la Mishnah. Le verset central (v. 8) établit un lien avec le thème de la royauté de Dieu dans le Ps 93. Dans la tradition juive, plus largement, ce Ps est associé à Adam : ainsi pour le Tg, c’est « un Ps qu’Adam offrit le jour du shabbat ». Rachi en donne une interprétation eschatologique. Dans la liturgie juive, il est utilisé pour l’entrée dans le shabbat le vendredi soir ; et pour la Kabbale, les Ps 29, 95-99 figurent les sept étapes de la montée vers l’union mystique avec Dieu. – À l’inverse peu de références au Ps 92 dans le christianisme ancien. Le Psautier d’Utrecht et celui de Saint-Alban illustrent le Ps avec une figure du psalmiste dans un jardin paradisiaque. En musique, on peut signaler l’arrangement musical commandé à Schubert pour ce Ps par Salomon Sulzer, ainsi que le Requiem juif composé par Eric Zeisl en 1945.

46La réception de ces psaumes, au-delà de l’histoire biblique, montre l’universalité de leurs thèmes, tout en maintenant leur lien fondamental avec le judaïsme et le christianisme. Leur réception multiple illustre comment la psalmodie peut contribuer à une « conversation multiculturelle ».

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Notes

1 This observation applies only to the Hebrew text. Indeed, the Mosaic emphasis in Book Four is the distinctive hallmark of the Massoretic text, and this is developed very clearly in later Jewish reception. The LXX translators, for example, emphasize the figure of David far more than the MT: eight of the thirteen additional Davidic headings in the LXX are found in these seventeen psalms. Additions are made to 91 (90); 93 (92); 94 (93); 95 (94); 96 (95); 97 (96); 98 (97); 99 (98); and 104 (103); however, the Davidic headings in Psalms 96 (95) and 97 (96) are somewhat anachronistic because of the additional superscription concerning the rebuilding of the Temple (96 [95]) and the restoration of the land (97 [96]). The fact that almost all the Kingship Psalms have these titles certainly suggests the link between the Kingship of God and a coming Davidic Messiah.
The various
psalms scrolls from Qumran offer no single view of Book Four. 1QPsa, for example, dating from about 50 B. C. E., includes Pss. 86:5 to 119:80, and although its evidence is fragmentary it follows the MT order (hence, we might argue, with the emphasis on Moses in Book Four); 11QPsa, by contrast, probably dating around 50 C. E., includes Pss. 93:1 to 150:6, but has a very different order (Psalm 93, for example, is found in the middle of the scroll, which starts with Psalms 101-103, the few Davidic psalms within Book Four), and includes eleven additional compositions, including ‘David’s Last Words’ and ‘David’s Compositions’ and Psalm 151 – thus revealing the Davidic emphasis in this ‘Great Psalms Scroll’. See P. W. Flint, “The Contribution of Gerald Wilson toward understanding the Book of Psalms in Light of the Psalms Scrolls”, N. de Claissé-Walford (ed.), The Shape and Shaping of the Book of Psalms. The Current State of Scholarship, Atlanta, SBL Press, 2014, p. 209‑30.

2 See K. J. Mournet, “Moses and the Psalms: The Significance of Psalms 90 and 106 within Book IV of the Masoretic Psalter”, Conversations with the Biblical World XXXI (2011), p. 6‑79. Each psalm, utilising the lament form, looks back wistfully to the time of God’s redemption of his people through Moses.

3 ‘Return O Lord! How long ? Have pity on thy servants !’ (Ps. 90:3); and ‘He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive’ (Ps. 106:45 [Heb 47]).

4 Comfort, comfort [pity, pity] my people, says your God.’ (Isa. 40:1). ‘O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted [= ‘not pitied’] …’ (Isa. 54:11).

5 See J. Creach, “The Shape of Book Four of the Psalter and the Shape of Second Isaiah”, JSOT 80 (1998), pp. 63‑76.

6 Other studies on the shape of Psalms 90-106 include M. D Goulder, “The Fourth Book of the Psalter”, JTS 26 (1975), p. 269‑89; E. Zenger, ‘Israel und Kirche im gemeinsamen Gottesbund. Beobachtungen zum theo­logi­schen Programm des 4. Psalmenbuchs’, M. Marcus, E. W. Stegemann and E. Zenger (eds.), Israel und Kirche heute. Beiträge zum christlich-jüdischen Dialog. FS E. L. Ehrlich, Freiburg/Basel/Wien, Herder, 1991, p. 238‑57; R. A. Wallace, The Narrative Effect of Book IV of the Hebrew Psalter (Studies in Biblical Literature, 122), New York, Peter Lang, 2007; J. Kim, “The Strategic Arrangement of Royal Psalms in Books IV-V’, Westminster Theological Journal, 70 (2008), p. 143‑158 ; A. Gelston, “Editorial Arrangement in Book IV of the Psalter”, K. J. Dell, G. Davies and Y. Von Koh (eds.), Genesis, Isaiah, and Psalms: A Festschrift to Honour Professor John Emerton for His Eightieth Birthday, Leiden, Brill, 2010, p. 163‑76; Mournet, “Moses and the Psalms…”, p. 66‑79 ; and S. S. Ngoda, “Revisiting the Theocratic Agenda of Book 4 of the Psalter for Interpretive Premise”, de Claissé-Wal­ford (ed.), The Shape and Shaping of the Book of Psalms. The Current State of Scholarship, Atlanta, SBL Press, 2014, p. 147‑159.

7 See E. Zenger, “Israel und Kirche im gemeinsamen Gottesbund. Beobachtungen zum theologischen Pro­gramm des 4. Psalmenbuchs”, M. Marcus, E. W. Stegemann and E. Zenger (eds.), Israel und Kirche heute. Beiträge zum christlich-jüdischen Dialog. FS E. L. Ehrlich, Freiburg/Basel/Wien, Herder, 1991, p. 238‑57.

8 “Israel und Kirche stehen von Gott her in einem spannungsreichen Verhältnis, das beide wahr – und annehmen müssen, damit sie – in messianscher Weggemeinsschaft – ihrer gemeinsamen Aufgabe gerecht werden können, nämlich “Gottes Reich bei uns einzulassen”, oder wenigstens ihm den Weg zu bahnen”, – beide in ihrer spezifischen Sendung !” : Zenger, “Israel und Kirche…”, p. 236.

9 “Israel und Kirche zugleich als “Volk Gottes” zu bezeichnen, müsste entweder den Begriff entleeren … oder würde die Israel und die Kirche spezifisch zukommende Berufung nivellieren… Wenn Israel sich diese Mitte des Bundes durch die Tora und durch die sich um die Tora als “Zäune” herumlegenden “Propheten” und “Schriften” von der rabbinischen Tradition auslegen lässt, und wenn sich die Christen diese Bundesmitte von Jesus Christus auslegen lassen, werden beid  – auf je verschiedene Weise – Zeugen und Eiferer jenes Gottes­bundes, der ihnen geschenkt ist – damit SEIN Reich komme”, Zenger “Israel und Kirche…”, p. 254.

10 Verse 2 uses yld “to be born” and ḥyl “be in labour”, found also in Deut. 32:18.

11 In v. 10 ‘seventy years’ brings together the two themes of human mortality and also the years of exile (see for example Jer. 25:11, 12 and 29:10).

12 The verb nḥm “take pity” (v. 13) is also found in Deut. 32:36.

13 See W. G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, Vols. 1 & 2 (Yale Judaica Series, XIII) New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1959, p. 87‑88. Kimchi, wishing to maintain more of the Davidic tradition, argues that these eleven psalms were hidden, and were later discovered by David and incorporated into his book.

14 R. Abin, cited in Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 89. Mid. Teh. also debates the tradition of Moses being called the “spouse of God”, acting like a husband who has authority over his wife to ratify or make void a vow: see The Midrash on Psalms, p. 89‑90, citing R. Simeon ben Lakish.

15 In Orthodox liturgy, Psalm 90, along with Psalms 91-93 and 100, is used more frequently in every morning service.

16 Many of these details were taken from A. M. Boeckler’s unpublished paper, ‘Moses’ Prophecy or the Primordial Song of Humanity ? Psalm 92 and the Liturgical Reading of Psalms in Judaism’ given at Bibel Forum, August 2014.

17 Athanasius also used this psalm against the Arians in his defence of the ‘eternity’ of the Son: see Q. F. Wesselschmidt (ed.), Psalms 51-150 (Ancient Commentary on Scripture Old Testament, 8) Downers Grove, Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, p. 166‑9.

18 Unusually for Watts, no explicit Christian reinterpretation is evident. Vaughan Williams’ ‘Lord thou has been our refuge’ (1921) combines both Watts’ lyrics and words from the Book of Common Prayer (set to the tune of ‘St Anne’); it too has no specific Christian emphasis.

19 For the 1650 Scottish metrical version of this psalm (‘Lord Thou has been our dwelling place in generations all’) see http://www.psalm-singing.org/psalms/scottish-1650_1/psalm_90/. Bishop Edward Bickersteth’s hymn ‘O God the Rock of Ages’ (1860) follows a similar theme (usually set to the tune ‘Miriam’ with 7. 6. metre). For the setting of Psalm 90 by Claude Goudimel in the Genevan Psalter see http://www.genevanpsalter.com/music-a-lyrics/1-individual-psalms/131-psalm-90; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BWkSY8Upcw&index=90&list=PL15DF46D76CA72F5E; for the Eng­lish version, see http://www.spindleworks.com/BOP/mobile/PSALM_090.html

20 See R. Atwan and L. Wieder (eds.), Chapters into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible, Vol. 1, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 11‑12. See also Francis Bacon’s ‘O Lord, thou art our home, to whom we fly’ in L. Wieder (ed.), The Poets’ Book of Psalms: The Complete Psalter as Rendered by Twenty-Five Poets from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries, New York/Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995 p. 137‑8.

21 For a version of this Psalm by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Colin Davis, see http://lso.co.uk/elgar-the-dream-of-gerontius.

22 See J. Kirkpatrick and G. Smith (eds.), Charles Ives: Psalm 90, Bryn Mawr, Pa: Merion Music Inc., 1970, on Ives’ composition of Psalm 90. For a sample of this recording by King’s College Choir, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, see http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=167024. Other similar examples include William Boyce’s ‘Lord thou has been our refuge’ which was first composed for the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy in 1755 and used every succeeding year until 1843; the phrases ‘Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children’ and ‘Remember O Lord what is come upon us’, sung by three trebles doubled by oboes, are particularly striking.

23 This image is also found in Exod. 19:4 and Deut. 32:10‑12; it may allude to the wings of cherubim in Temple (1 Kgs 6:23‑28) suggesting God’s everlasting care for his people despite its destruction.

24 This may allude to other Mosaic passages such as Exod. 23:20, 23 and 32:34.

25 Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 100‑103.

26 See K. Cathcart, “The Phoenician Inscriptions from Arslan Tash and some Old Testament Texts (Exodus 12 ; Micah 5:4‑5 [5‑6] ; Psalm 91)”, J. A. Aitken, K. J. Dell and B. A. Martin (eds.), On Stone and Scroll: Essays in Honour of Graham Ivor Davies, Berlin/Boston, de Gruyter, 2011, p. 87‑100.

27 See C. E. Evans, “Jesus and Psalm 91 in Light of the Exorcism Scrolls”, P. W. Flint, J. Duhaime and K. S. Back (eds.), Celebrating the Dead Sea Scrolls : A Canadian Collection (SBL, 30 ; Atlanta, GA : SBL Press, 2011, p. 541‑55, also citing Josephus, Ant 8:45‑47. See also C. Körting, “Text and Context : Ps. 91 and 11QPsAp” in The Composition of the Book of Psalms (ed. E. Zenger), BEThL 238, Leuven : Peeters, 2010, p. 567‑77. The Targum also incorporates a call to the angels Michael and Gabriel alongside the fourfold names of God in the first verse.

28 See Th. J. Kraus, “Septuaginta-Psalm 90 in apotropäischer Verwendung : Vorüberlegungen für eine kritische Edition und (bisheriges) Datenmaterial”, Biblische Notizen 125 (2005), p. 39‑73.

29 See Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 101 and M. I. Gruber, Rashi’s Commentary on Psalms, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004, p. 583.

30 See B. Breed, “Reception of the Psalms: The Example of Psalm 91”, W. P. Brown (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, New York/Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 297‑310 (here, p. 298‑303).

31 Wesselschmidt, Psalms 51-150, p. 173‑4. In the Middle Ages this trope was popularised as one of the four vexations of the church, assigned to a specific devil: the midday demon, disguised as an angel of light, plagued the monks with lethargy at noon-time. See E. N. Kaulbach, “Noonday Demon”, D. L. Jeffrey (ed.), A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, Grand Rapids/Cambridge: W. B. Eerdmans, p. 553‑4.

32 See Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 301‑2. See also R. Hunziker-Rodewald, “Image et parole avec Dieu. Le dynamisme communicatif du Psaume 91”, J. Cottin, W. Gräb and B. Schaller (eds.), Spiritualité contemporaine de l’art, Paris, Labor et Fides, 2012, p. 79‑100, who illustrates how images from this psalm also appear on Egyptian and Palestinian amulets, and even an Egyptian stele representing Horus; its apotropaic uses continue in images found on a Christian oil lamp, dating from the fifth century in Tunisia, where Christ, surrounded by angels, tramples on lions and serpents.

33 Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 303‑07.

34 See http://objects.library.uu.nl/reader/index.php ?obj=1874‑284427&lan=en#page//12/67/75/126775146990777775330446549371149065141.jpg/mode/1up

35 See http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/commentary/page256. shtml.

36 The Theodore Psalter is preserved in the British Library: see http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/theopsalter.html The marginal image to Psalm 91 is found on Folio 123v : see http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx ?ref=add_ms_19352_f001r. For an online version of this image in the closely related Khludov Psalter, see http://ica.princeton.edu/millet/display.php ?country=Russia&site=236&view=site&page=9&image=3783

37 Breed, “Reception of the Psalms”, p. 306‑07, who also cites Chuck Norris’ use of this Psalm (2010) against Islamic Fascism in terms of “God of 911, Psalm 91:1”.

38 See H. H. Huxley, “The Psalms in Heraldry”, Evangelical Quarterly 21 (1949), p. 297‑305, citing vv. 4 and 11 of Psalm 91 as popular mottoes.

39 See http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/

40 One example is Moshe Levi’s artistic representations of Psalm 91 at the Museum of Psalms in Jerusalem. Two interwined letter ‘yods’, symbolising the name of God, emerge out of a sea of blue waves merging into a fire of red flames. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXLr919uBbI

41 Irv Davies assigns this psalm for use in January. See http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/jmjoncas/LiturgicalStudiesInternetLinks/JewishWorship/JewishWorshipMusic/OTPsalms/Psalm091.html

42 For English metrical versions of this psalms, see http://www.hymnary.org/browse/scripture/Psalms/91 and also http://www.cgmusic.org/workshop/smpsalter/psalm-91.htm.

43 For A You Tube version of this psalm, by the Century Singers, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40oxnhk8Sts

44 See http://www.frankfurt-evangelisch.de/der-komplette-beitrag/items/das-tehillim-psalmen-chorprojekt.html.

45 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_and_the_Cobra.

46 Enya can be heard at http://www.last.fm/music/Sin%C3%A9ad+O%27Connor/_/Never+Get+Old ?autostart.

47 O’Connor’s lyrics also reflect on the magical qualities of the psalm: Whomsoever dwells/In the shelter/Of the most high/Lives under the protection of the Shaddai/I say of my lord/That he is my fortress/That he is my own love/In whom I trust/That he will save you/From the fowler’s trap/And he will save you/From any Babylonian crap/And he will lift you/All up in his wings/And you’ll find refuge/Oh underneath those things/And his truth will be your/Shield and rampart/So you need not fear/What comes looking for you in the dark/And you need not fear/What comes looking for you in the day/And you need not fear/What takes everybody else away/Ten thousand may fall at your side/Ten thousand at your right/But it can’t come near you/‘Cause you’re dealing with the most high/And he will send his angels to mind you/And they will lift you all up so that you/Won’t strike your foot against no stone. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalm_91.

48 Perhaps it is aptly summed up in the Haiku “Song for Travellers”: Fear no night’s terror/pestilence, arrows by day/destruction at noon. Angels have charge over thee./Dash not thy foot against stones.

49 It is interesting to see the way that the verb nāgad, in the hiphil infinitive construct, “declare, proclaim”, occurs in both v. 3 and v. 16, suggesting that this psalm is a public declaration of faith; hence the testimony in v. 9 ‘But you, O Lord, are exalted for ever’ is the summary of this declaration at the heart of the psalm.

50 See N. H. Sarna, “Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Ps 92)”, JBL 81 (1962), p. 155‑68. The more unusual treatment of the ‘socio-moral motif’ of the Sabbath is on p. 165‑67. Sarna also notes how the number seven is an important feature in Sabbath liturgy – for example in the seven benedictions in the Amidah prayer, and the use of Psalm 29 with the sevenfold cry of the ‘voice of God’ (p. 168).

51 On the use of this psalm as preparation for Sabbath prayer along with the Great Hallel and Daily Hallel and six other psalms, see the commentary on Psalm 91. As with Psalms 90 and 91, this psalm is also used for funerals as mourners enter the synagogue.

52 See Braude, The Midrash on Psalms, p. 108‑114. The Exodus/Egypt and Exile/Babylon typology are particularly clear in this psalm.

53 This is based on Talmud bRH 31a: “Psalm. Song for the Day of Shabbat: that they [the Levites] sang on shabbatot. And it deals with the subject of the World to Come which is wholly Shabbat”.

54 A Genizah manuscript fragment, probably dating from the Crusader period, testifies to the use of Psalms 92 and 93 together on the Sabbath. That this was a a common practice by Gaonic times is fairly clear: see S. C. Reif, “Psalm 93: An Historical and Comparative Survey of its Jewish Interpretations”, K. J. Dell, G. Davies and Y. Von Koh (eds.), Genesis, Isaiah, and Psalms. A Festschrift to Honour Professor John Emerton for His Eightieth Birthday, Leiden: Brill, 2010, p. 193‑214, especially p. 204‑07. We must therefore guard against seeing Psalms 90-92 as a separate, isolated collection: liturgically, linguistically and theologically they have many connections with other psalms in the rest of Book Four.

55 Ps. 92:10 (Homily 21) is cited by D. L. Balás and D. J. Bingham in “Patristic Exegesis of the Books of the Bible”, W. R. Farmer (ed.), International Catholic Bible Commentary, Collegeville, Liturgical Press, p. 77.

56 See http://objects.library.uu.nl/reader/index.php ?obj=1874‑284427&lan=en#page//13/52/52/135252164039874813413122458726792017890.jpg/mode/1up

57 See http://www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/english/commentary/page258.shtml

58 See http://www.biblical-art.com/artwork.asp?id_artwork=3631&showmode=Full

59 This is again depicted by Moshe Levi, at the Museum of Psalms, Jerusalem.

60 Taken from Wieder, The Poets’ Book of Psalms, p. 139‑140.

61 See Salamone de’ Rossi, “Mizmor Shir (A Psalm, a Song)” (eight voices, double choir) from The Songs of Solomon, Psalms, Songs and Hymns, Pro Cantione Antiqua, directed by Sidney Fixman, Carlton Classics 30366 00452. To hear a sample of this psalm see http://www.allmusic.com/performance/mizmor-shir-psalm-92‑8-voices-double-choir-mq0001993076.

62 For the background to this psalm and to hear a sample of Schubert’s composition, see http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp ?dc=W1835_GBAJY3303110&vw=dc and also https://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=GTlAlNF1k2Y. See too Hunziker-Rodewald, “Image et parole avec Dieu”, p. 88‑92 on the significance of the use of the name “Adonai” at strategic places in this psalm.

63 See http://www.allmusic.com/album/franz-waxman-the-song-of-terezin-eric-zeisl-requiem-ebraico-mw0001401746.see Other Jewish versions of this psalm include Sulzer’s own version, ‘Tov l’hodos’, and L. Lewandoswki (1821‑94) with a version entitled “Tov Lehadoss l’Adonoj” for SATB and G. Gretchaninoff (1864‑1956) with “Tov l’hodos” for a baritone solo, choir and organ : see M. Gorali, The Old Testament in Music, Jerusalem, Maron Publishers, 1993, p. 254, 256‑7 and 266, who offers the score for each composition.

64 See http://genevanpsalter.redeemer.ca/psalm_texts.html#psalm92.

65 See Daniel Richardson and Angel Napieralski, “Though the Wicked Spring up Like Grass” Jazz Psalms, Calvin College, 2004 at www.jazzvespers.org and www.calvin. edu/admin/worship/jazz.

66 Although too much can be made of these psalms as “wisdom psalms”, there are clear wisdom concerns within them, which in turn contribute to their universal appeal. See for example D. M. Howard, The Structure of Psalms 93-100: Their Place in Israelite History, Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 1993, p. 167‑168, citing J. Reindl, G. H. Wilson and E. Zenger.

67 See Hunziker-Rodewald, “Image et parole avec Dieu”, p. 91.

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Susan Gillingham, « Psalms 90-92 : Text, Images and Music », Revue des sciences religieuses, 89/3 | 2015, 255-276.

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Susan Gillingham, « Psalms 90-92 : Text, Images and Music », Revue des sciences religieuses [En ligne], 89/3 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2017, consulté le 20 août 2017. URL : http://rsr.revues.org/2686 ; DOI : 10.4000/rsr.2686

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Susan Gillingham

Worcester College, Université d’Oxford

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