Shiur #04:Psalm 130 (Part 3)
Shiur #04: Psalm 130 (Part 3)
By Rav Elchanan Samet
H. Third stanza
Why does the psalmist now suddenly start speaking about God, in the third person? And how does stanza c. continue the ideas expressed previously?
In order to answer these questions, we need to clarify what it is that the worshipper is waiting and hoping for. Kiviti hashem means I wait for God," as further on in this stanza, my soul (waits) for God (la-donay). However, the absence of the lammed indicates that the waiting is for God Himself, i.e., for His revelation.
In the second line, the worshipper declares, for His word I hope." What is this word? Considering what has already been said in the previous stanzas, the answer seems clear: the word that the psalmist longs to hear is Gods declaration, salachti (I have forgiven). However, he is not content for Gods word to reach him in some indirect manner; what he wants is for God Himself to appear on the horizon of his life, with His direct, redeeming word salachti."
Now we can understand why the psalmist is speaking of God in the third person. It is appropriate by virtue of the content of this stanza: if a person is anxiously awaiting Gods appearance, waiting to hear His word, then until this happens God is hidden from him. Continuing to address God in the second person, as in the previous stanzas, would contradict the very message that this stanza is trying to convey!
Nafshi la-Adoshem means My soul hopes and waits for God." This interpretation is supported by the preceding two lines, and especially the first line, where the psalmist declares, my soul waits."
Now we arrive at the puzzling repetition, mi-shomrim la-boker, shomrim la-boker." Of all the interpretations that have been proposed, the one that seems most appropriate is that of Prof. Y. Blau, cited by Amos Chakham in his Daat Mikra commentary on our verse (p. 480, n. 7):
To Y. Blaus view, the first shomrim is meant as a noun, and the second as a verb. What the verse means is, My hope in God is stronger than the hope of the (night) watchmen (shomrim) for the morning, as they await (shomrim) the coming of the morning.
The first occurrence, then, refers to the night-watchmen who are guarding the city until dawn. The verb sh-m-r is interpreted to mean anticipation or waiting by Rashi in his commentary on Bereishit 37:11:
But his father waited with (shamar et) the matter meaning, he waited in anticipation to see when it would happen. Likewise (Yishayahu 26:2), anticipates faith (shomer emunim), and (Iyov 14:16), Do you not await (tishmor) my sin.
Why does the psalmist specifically choose night watchmen a fairly uncommon profession to illustrate the anticipation of the end of their work, with the dawn?
A model of a person working regular hours is presented in Tehillim 104:23, Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening i.e., he works all day. Hence, he anticipates the coming of evening; it is then that he will rest, and if he is day-laborer, he will also receive his wages (Devarim 24:15). Indeed, Iyov describes the laborers anticipation of the evening:
Has a man not hard service upon the earth,
And are his days not like the days of a hired laborer?
As the servant awaits the shadow, and as a hired laborer waits for (the wages of) his work . (Iyov 7:1-2)
Why, then, does the psalmist choose to depict night watchmen?
A laborers anticipation, throughout the day, for the arrival of evening is a normal, common matter. It is quite unlike the night-watchmans anticipation of the dawn. The night-watchman carries out his job while he is surrounded by darkness and uncertainty, with a great responsibility resting on his shoulders. Guard duty at night is a job performed during hours when a person is tired, and it is accompanied by anxiety and a tense anticipation of the dawn, which brings daylight and confidence, and delivers the watchman from his stressful job.
The comparison that is drawn here between the psalmists hope for Gods appearance and the anticipation of the night-watchmen for the dawn, teaches us several things:
- While waiting and hoping for God he is as emotionally stressed and insecure as the night watchmen.
- God is hidden from him, leaving him in the dark."
- His hoping for Gods appearance is accompanied by great stress, and he counts the minutes until it is over.
- Gods appearance and His word are like the dawn that comes after a dark night.
- The worshipper would like to believe that Gods appearance is as assured and certain as is the dawn.
All of this rich evocation of his hope in God and his anticipation of His word is expressed in four words, which are actually two words that are repeated: mi-shomrim la-boker shomrim la-boker." All that the night-watchmen experience and feel is brought to life and made even more vivid and powerful simply by means of the prefixed letter mem (mi-shomrim) more than those who watch ."
In the space of twelve Hebrew words, of which four are really two that are repeated, this third stanza expresses the anticipation of Gods appearance in perhaps the most powerful form in all of the Tanakh.
I. The fourth stanza
If in the preceding stanza the psalmist compared his waiting for Gods word to the anticipation of the dawn on the part of the night watchmen, thereby alluding to the distress and suffering involved in this hope, in the fourth stanza any allusion to darkness and suffering is banished. Here, the waiting for God is accompanied by an awareness that with God is kindness, and great redemption is with Him." This being the case, His positive response to mans appeal is assured and certain.
are the kindness and redemption that are with God? The kindness, obviously,
refers to the kindness of forgiveness (for with You is forgiveness), and
redemption refers to His redeeming man from his sins, as we read in the
conclusion of the psalm: And He will redeem
What has brought about this change of atmosphere? The answer to this question will become clear after we discuss another important matter pertaining to the fourth stanza.
We detected a somewhat similar phenomenon earlier on in the first half of the psalm, in the transition between the first and the second stanzas: the first stanza is characterized by personal, intimate experience, while in the second stanza the I of the speaker retreats, making no further reference to himself in the first person. This is the result of the worshipper having brought to mind a general truth which applies not only to him personally, but to Gods relationship with all of mankind, including himself. This general truth eases the distress that was voiced in the first stanza.
In the third stanza, the worshipper is deeply and intensively hoping for Gods appearance and awaiting His word. Is Gods appearance a certainty? Will the worshipper hear Gods word, salachti? He would like to believe so, but it would seem that it is not so certain; hence the hints of distress and suffering in this stanza.
this point the worshipper reminds himself that what applies to him personally is
not the same as what applies to
the appeal to
this point forward, the individual worshipper is included amongst all of
difference between individual and communal confession is tremendous. When the
individual confesses he does so from a state of insecurity, depression and
despair in the wake of sin. For
what assurance has he that he will be acquitted of his sins? ... In contrast,
J. Conclusion of the psalm
It is very important to note that the intense hope for Gods appearance and for His redemptive word is not fulfilled within the body of the psalm; it remains open. This in no way implies that Gods response is not assured. After the fourth stanza it is certain, but nevertheless it is not described within the body of the psalm. This is not a deficiency, but rather integral to the psalmists intention.
were periods of Jewish history when the hope for Gods word, uttering
salachti," was answered with an explicit prophecy declaring, I have
forgiven as you have spoken." There were other periods, when prophecy had
already ceased and a crimson thread served the purpose of expressing Gods
direct response to
conclusion of the psalm, at verse 8, is meant to alleviate somewhat the sense of
deficiency that arises from the body of the psalm with regard to Gods response.
It is difficult, as it were, to come to terms with the psalmists call to
the psalm included another stanza, providing a description of Gods
response, as something happening in the present as the psalm is being uttered
then the special purpose of our psalm, as described above, would be damaged.
The conclusion is a sort of compromise: there is no description of Gods actual
response, but it is promised for the future: He will redeem
This distancing of the conclusion from the body of the psalm, in terms of the redemption that God will bring to Israel, is also a distancing from the body of the speaker, the psalmist: it is no longer the speaker whose words have been issuing throughout the psalm, since that speaker had addressed Israel in the second person: Israel, have hope ! In the conclusion, the psalmist is a sort of narrator, who speaks about Israel in the third person, and whose task is to finish off what the worshipper did not say what could not have been said: that the certainty expressed by the worshipper in the fourth stanza, as to Gods positive response to Israel, is indeed going to happen.
(to be continued)
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 Night watchmen are
mentioned in a few places in Tanakh. In Yishayahu 21:11 we find,
Watchman what of the night?; in 62:6 I have set watchmen upon your
walls. There are two appearances in Shir Ha-shirim: we find The
watchmen who walk about the city found me (3:3) - and this comes just after the
woman has arisen from her bed in the night (ibid., verse 1). Similarly, also
5:7. The same image is borrowed to describe God in Tehillim 121:4
Behold, the guardian of
 Anyone who has actually performed guard duty at night, at a time and place of increased security tension, in the dark and with fog greatly limiting ones vision, will have no trouble understanding the image of the anticipation of the night-watchmen for the morning.
 On Repentance, pp. 107-137 (67-98 in the Hebrew).
 In the section just
prior to this (starting on p. 127 [p. 87 in the Hebrew]),
 The excerpt is from
p. 131 (91 Heb.).
 Yoma 39a teaches
that up until the time of Shimon ha-Tzaddik, the crimson thread would always
turn white, whereas from his time onwards it would sometimes turn white and at
other times remain unchanged. For forty years before the destruction of the
 Obviously, this is not meant as any sort of dating of the psalm. The psalms were all written not only for their own time, but also for future generations. In any event, the question of dating the psalms is not an important issue and we shall generally not be addressing it.