The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.
The meaning of the Hebrew designation “lilies” is not known. In the Septuagint, the rendering for this term is a form of the verb alloióo, basically meaning “to change.” The Hebrew word ‘edúth means “testimony.” A number of translators have interpretively rendered the two Hebrew words for “lilies” and “testimony” as part of the title for a musical composition (“To the tune ‘Lilies of the Agreement’” [CEV]; “To the tune of ‘The Lilies of the Covenant’” [NIV]; “Tune: ‘The decrees are lilies’” [NJB]). Others have left the word for “lilies” and “testimony” or the term for “testimony” in transliterated form (shoshannim, eduth [Tanakh]; “according to ‘Lilies.’ Eduth” [NAB]). The Septuagint rendering can be understood to link the word martyrion (testimony) to Asaph (“a testimony for Asaph” [Brenton]), and this linkage is also found in a number of English translations of the Hebrew text (“a testimony of Asaph” [HCSB; NKJV; Young]).
The contents of the psalm indicate that Asaph, the prominent Levite musician during David’s reign, could not have been associated with the writing of this composition. (1 Chronicles 15:19; 25:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 35:15) Possibly “Asaph” is to be understood as meaning a later descendant or a member of his house.
Rahlfs’ printed text of the Septuagint includes the words “concerning the Assyrian,” but they are missing in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus. The reference to the “Assyrian” would provide a basis for concluding that it reflects developments in the time of King Hezekiah. During the sixth year of his reign, the Assyrians conquered Samaria, bringing an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. (2 Kings 18:9-11) Later, in the 14th year of Hezekiah’s rule, the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib invaded the kingdom of Judah, and his forces caused widespread devastation. (2 Kings 18:13) According to an Assyrian inscription known as the “Sennacherib Prism,” he “laid siege to 46 of [Hezekiah’s] strong cities.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard).
The effects of Assyrian aggression and Hezekiah’s efforts to eradicate idolatry from his realm would fit the psalmist’s words. The psalm provides a picture of devastation and includes the confident assurance that the people would call upon God’s name upon experiencing deliverance (verse 18).
As the “Shepherd of Israel,” YHWH is the one to whom his people looked for guidance, care, and protection. The psalmist prayed that the Most High would “give ear” to them or heed the cry for help in their then-existing distress. YHWH, the great Shepherd, led “Joseph” like a flock, caring for the nation of Israel. It appears that, in this case, Joseph represents the entire nation, and this may be because of his role in preserving the family in Egypt during the time of famine and also afterward. (Genesis 47:12; 50:20)
The ark of the testimony or the covenant, with its two cherubs, represented God’s presence. According to the word of YHWH to Moses, “I will speak with you from above the propitiatory, from between the two cherubs that are upon the ark of the testimony.” (Exodus 25:22) Therefore, in relation to the ark, the psalmist could refer to YHWH as sitting upon the cherubs. The Most High is also above the heavenly cherubs, for they are loyally submissive to him as they serve under his direction.
YHWH would “shine forth” by revealing his might and glory. The Septuagint rendering for “shine forth” (emphaíno) indicates that he would manifest himself or reveal his presence.
During Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin constituted one of the four three-tribe divisions. (Numbers 2:18-22) This particular division included the two major tribes that later came to make up the northern kingdom and the one tribe that remained loyal to the house of David in the southern kingdom, suggesting that Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh represented Israel as a whole. For YHWH to rouse his strength before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh and come to save them would denote his preparing himself to take action, revealing his might by rescuing his people from their perilous situation.
For God to bring his people back probably signifies to restore them to their former approved standing. The manner in which his face would shine would be by directing his favorable attention to them, resulting in their deliverance from danger.
It appeared to the psalmist that YHWH, the God of hosts (the mighty angelic forces), refused to answer the supplication of his people. This prompted him to raise the question about how long the Most High would continue to be angry with the prayer of his people (“your servant,” LXX).
Without divine help, the people found themselves in a condition comparable to being without essential food and water to sustain them. Their many tears of sorrow proved to be like the bread and drink God had given them.
The bad plight of the Israelites made them an object of strife to neighboring nations, as all of them wanted to take advantage of the weakened position of the people to seize whatever they could from them. (Compare Obadiah 13.) Seeing the distress of the Israelites, their enemies mocked them.
The psalmist repeated the appeal for the “God of hosts” to restore his people, granting them his favorable attention so that they would be delivered from their then-existing peril.
Out of Egypt, God brought a “vine,” Israel, drove out the Canaanite nations, and planted it in their place. With the power of the Canaanites broken and their ability to impede the prosperity of Israel, the way before the nation was cleared to take root and fill the land. Indicative of the luxuriant condition the “vine” attained, the psalmist portrayed it as covering the mountains with its shade and its branches as covering the “cedars of God” (probably meaning the mighty cedars for which Lebanon was known). It sent out its branches to the sea, the Mediterranean, and its shoots to the river, the Euphrates, eventually extending the nation’s dominion to its God-ordained limits. (Compare Exodus 23:31; 1 Kings 4:24.)
Contrasting the existing condition with the former prosperous state, the psalmist depicted the exposed condition of the vine. He raised the question about why YHWH had broken down the protective walls, making it possible for all passersby (the enemies) to pluck the fruit or seize whatever they wanted from the vulnerable nation.
A “wild boar from the forest,” representative of an aggressive nation, tore away at the “vine,” devastating the nation. Like a wild animal (literally, a moving thing) of the field, the enemy would feed on the “vine,” depriving the people of the little they may have had.
Therefore, the psalmist pleaded for the God of hosts to return and look down from heaven, turning his favorable attention to the “vine” and taking care of it. With his “right hand,” or by using his power, he had planted the “stock.” The implication would therefore be that he would have had a personal interest in again seeing the “vine” in a flourishing state. Centuries earlier, God identified Israel as his “firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22) Therefore, Israel evidently is the “son” (“son of man,” LXX) whom YHWH had made strong, enabling the nation to attain a prosperous state. In the time of the psalmist, however, the “vine” no longer flourished but had been cut down and “burned with fire.”
The “rebuke of [God’s] face” denotes the expression of his disfavor. It signifies that those against whom the rebuke is directed would perish. Translators vary in representing either God’s people or the enemy as being the recipient of the rebuke. “Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” (NIV) “Now it is cut down and burned with fire; you destroyed us by your angry looks.” (NCV) “Enemies chopped the vine down and set it on fire. Now show your anger and destroy them.” (CEV) “Our enemies have set it on fire and cut it down; look at them in anger and destroy them!” (GNT, Second Edition)
The “man of [God’s] right hand” could either designate the nation or the ruler, possibly Hezekiah. Being at the right hand would indicate a position of favor. This son of God’s right hand is also called the “son of man” whom the Almighty had made strong. If the reference is to Hezekiah, this would agree with the fact that, before the Assyrian invasion, he had enjoyed success in all his undertakings. (2 Kings 18:5-8) For God’s hand to be on the man of his right hand would mean his being in possession of divine favor and protection.
The psalmist expressed the confidence that the people would not turn away from YHWH if they were again to have his favorable attention. If preserved alive, not falling into the hands of the enemy, the people would be able to call on God’s name, bringing praise to him.
For the third time, the psalmist repeats the plea for YHWH God of hosts to bring his people back, letting his face shine or turning his favorable attention to them, and thus bringing about their deliverance from the then-existing threatening situation.
The petition about restoration in verse 3(4) is directed to “God,” in verse 7(8) to “God of hosts,” and in the concluding verse to “YHWH, God of hosts.” Otherwise, the wording of the Masoretic Text is the same (“bring us back, let your face shine, and we shall be saved”). In the Septuagint, verse 7(8) reads, “Lord, God of hosts,” as does the concluding verse. The wording of the appeal is identical in all three verses and conveys the same meaning as the Masoretic Text.
In verse 7(8), the Septuagint ends with diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.” This is the usual rendering for the Hebrew “selah,” which term the Masoretic Text does not include in this verse.
For comments regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.