Psalm 144

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2008-01-08 11:55.

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This psalm is attributed to David. Unlike many of the other psalms ascribed to him, the contents of the composition do not reflect the situation when he lived as an outlaw during Saul’s reign nor the period of Absalom’s revolt. The Septuagint superscription relates this psalm to an early period in David’s life, adding, “concerning Goliath.”

David blessed or praised YHWH as his “Rock,” his God on whom he could depend (like a crag in mountainous terrain that provided a secure place). Considering all of his abilities as having been divinely given, he spoke of YHWH as having taught or trained his hands for war and his fingers for battle. David had become skilled in handling the sword, spear, and other weapons and effectively using his fingers when shooting arrows. (For additional comments on verse 1, see the Notes section.)

When referring to YHWH as his “abiding love,” “compassionate care,” or “mercy” (LXX), the psalmist identified him as the source of compassionate concern or steadfast love. He likened YHWH to a safe place, “stronghold,” or “refuge” (LXX) and a “high point” or an elevated and not easily accessible location, where one would be secure and able to watch the movement of the enemy below. According to the Septuagint, the Most High was his “helper” or “supporter.” David regarded his God as the one who would deliver him from danger and who would be like a protective shield to him, or, according to the Septuagint, like the one holding the shield or a protector. With the utmost confidence, he took refuge in YHWH, relying fully on his aid.

David acknowledged God as having subdued people under him. While both the Masoretic Text and the extant Septuagint text read, “my people,” the Great Psalms Scroll (one of the Dead Sea scrolls) says “peoples.” Based on the context, “my people” or “peoples” refers to those who were subjugated during David’s reign. According to the biblical record, the peoples would include the Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites. (2 Samuel 8:1, 2, 13, 14; 12:26-31)

When thinking about YHWH’s greatness, David could not help but wonder why he would even take notice of man, a lowly earthling or mere mortal. “O YHWH, what [is] man that you consider [literally, know] him, or the son of man that you take account of him?” (Compare Psalm 8:4.)

Man, as a mere earthling, appears to be but a puff of air or an exhaled breath (“vanity” or “emptiness,” LXX). His “days” (his life) are brief, comparable to a passing shadow.

The expression about the bending down of the heavens poetically portrays how the sky seems to bend down with dark, low-lying clouds. When making his appeal for YHWH to bend down the heavens and to descend, David prayed for divine intervention as if by a fierce storm. God’s touching the mountains to cause them to smoke referred to his using lightning to start forest fires in the mountains.

David wanted God to lighten the sky with lightning, causing the enemies to flee and scatter. He also referred to the lightning as God’s “arrows,” by means of which the foe would be confounded or routed.

David asked God, from on high, to stretch out his hands to rescue him from his enemies. Likening the foes or the “foreigners” to “many waters” or a raging flood, he pleaded to be delivered from their “hand” or power.

The psalmist described these enemies as speaking vanity or emptiness, words that were worthless and injurious. Their “right hand” proved to be a hand of “falsehood” or, according to the Septuagint, the “right hand of injustice.” This could mean that, for evil ends, they used the hand that should have offered protection and supported right or justice. Another possibility is that they raised their right hand when swearing false oaths.

In appreciation for divine deliverance, David would sing a “new song” to God, praising him for his saving acts to the accompaniment of a ten-stringed instrument. He acknowledged YHWH as granting deliverance to kings and rescuing him from the “harmful sword,” not letting him (“David his servant”) perish in battle.

The psalmist then repeated the plea for God to rescue him from the “hand” or power of foreigners who spoke vanity, emptiness, or worthlessness and whose right hand was one of falsehood (“injustice,” LXX).

If the section from verse 12 through the first part of verse 15 is to be regarded as applying to the enemies, the words would express pride in their seeming successes and prosperity. In that case, the concluding part of verse 15 (“fortunate [is] the people whose God is YHWH”) would contrast the enemies’ vaunted basis for security with the far superior source of Israel’s well-being—their God.

Modern translations, however, often represent verses 12 through 14 as constituting a prayerful expression for YHWH to grant prosperity to his people. The New Revised Standard Version, for example, reads, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars, cut for the building of a palace. May our barns be filled, with produce of every kind; may our sheep increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields, and may our cattle be heavy with young. May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, and no cry of distress in our streets.” (The words “in the walls” do not appear in the Hebrew text but have some support in the rendering of the Septuagint.)

According to the common rendering of modern translations, Israel’s sons (not those of the enemies) would be like plants flourishing in a well-watered garden, and their daughters would be like attractive architectural features suitable for a palace or a “temple” (LXX). Crops from abundant harvests would be filling their storehouses. Their flocks and herds would be increasing. The Israelites would be secure, with no cry of alarm being heard. They would be regarded as enjoying an enviable state. The ultimate reason for their well-being would be their relationship with YHWH their God. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verses 12 to 15.)


In verse 1, the extant Septuagint text does not use the term “rock.” It reads, “Blessed [be] the Lord, my God.”

In verses 3 and 5, the Great Psalms Scroll reads “God” (not YHWH, as in the Masoretic Text). Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

In the Masoretic Text, the opening word of verse 12 is ’ásher, a term indicating relation and, depending on the context, may denote “of which,” “by which,” “whose,” “when,” “so that,” and other like expressions. The same word appears in verse 11 with a clear relationship to the “foreigners” (“foreigners, whose [’ásher] mouth”). Both the Vulgate (the “Gallican” Psalter) and the Septuagint support the rendering “whose” for verse 12 and do not include the word “our” (which is represented by a suffix in the Hebrew text). Based on the Septuagint and the Vulgate, the words of verses 12 through 14 would apply to the “foreigners” or the enemies for whom everything appeared to be going well.

In verse 12, the ancient Latin translation based on the Hebrew Psalter renders ’ásher as “so that” and includes the “our” (ut sint filii nostri [so that our sons are]), but translates the same word, in the preceding verse (11), as “whose” (quorum os locutum est vanitatem [whose mouth has spoken vanity]). According to this Latin reading of the Hebrew Psalter, the psalm, from verse 12 on, focuses on Israel (not on the enemies).

Among the blessings to be enjoyed by the Israelites, provided they observed God’s law, are the very ones that are mentioned in Psalm 144. They would be blessed with children, their livestock would increase, they would have bountiful harvests, and they would enjoy security, not having to fear their enemies. (Leviticus 26:3-10; Deuteronomy 7:12-16; 28:1-14) Therefore, if the word ’ásher is not to be understood as linking the description that follows to the “foreigners” in verse 11 but as having the meaning of “so that,” verses 12 through 15 would refer exclusively to God’s people (as numerous modern translations indicate in their renderings).

In verse 12, the Hebrew word mezuzáh, meaning “doorpost,” is the architectural feature that describes the daughters. According to the Septuagint, though, the daughters are beautified, adorned round about like the temple.

Regarding the cattle, verse 14 uses the Hebrew word savál, meaning “bear” (in the sense of carrying a load). This is understood to mean that the cattle are drawing heavy loads or that the cows are pregnant or carrying young. The Septuagint represents the cattle as being fat or well-nourished. The reference to no “breach” could mean that the cows did not experience any mishap. In the Septuagint, this aspect is not linked to the cattle. It reads, “There is no falling down of a fence.” This rendering would suggest that the Hebrew could be understood to designate a breach or break being made in a wall (as when warring against a city).

In verse 14, the Hebrew word yatsá’, like the corresponding Greek term in the Septuagint (diéxodos) can have the sense of “going out.” When understood as applying to cattle “no going out” could signify no failure to bear. In relation to people, the term has been rendered to mean not being taken into exile.