Updated: Jan 27
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1 elohim, you are eli, eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
4 So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6 When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7 For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.
This is the Psalm selection to be read aloud in unison or sung by a cantor on the third Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow a reading from Exodus, which tells of Moses coming upon a burning bush. There we read, “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of elohim. There the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush.” That pair will precede a selection from Paul’s first letter to the Christians of Corinth, where he wrote: “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” Adding, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.” All readings will accompany that from Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus told the parable that begins: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”
The introduction to this psalm, written into verse one (but not translated above) is this: “a psalm of David , when he was in the wilderness of Judah .” That speaks volumes why this psalm is selected to be sung during Lent. In that, the Hebrew roots – “midbar yehudah” – are read mundanely as “the wilderness of Judah,” but on a deeper level – the level that examines those roots more thoroughly – finds the same words can equally say “in mouth let him be praised.” As an accompaniment to the Exodus reading where Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flock in “the wilderness,” which can also mean “uninhabited land,” by seeing the true root of “midbar” we can see that Moses was “following of the mouth , and came to the mountain.” That says Moses was led by the bleating of sheep or goats in the distance, which led him to find “the mountain of elohim.” Therefore, from this realization, the test of Moses was to become the “mouth” of Yahweh; and, that demands one’s own voice become “desolate.”
In this song of praise by David, it is somewhat unique in that it not once names Yahweh. Instead, David wrote a form of “elohim” twice (one not sung today, in verse eleven), which is the plural number word that means “gods.” In addition, David wrote “eli,” which is a construct of the singular number of “el" [adding "my" to that], which proves there is a difference between the many “elohim” and the individual “el.” Verse one in this song (following the introductory verbiage) says, “elohim ׀ eli attah,” which says “elohim ׀ my el you”. In this, a vertical bar separates the word “elohim” from the word “eli”. Keeping in mind that the introduction has announced that David wrote this while “in the wilderness of Judah” (or as “in mouth let him be praised”), this should be seen as a test of David’s commitment to Yahweh, as David was one of His “elohim.” Following the vertical bar’s pause of separation, one then sees the many of “gods” is narrowed, specifically to the one that was in David, as “my el,” which made David an extension of Yahweh – “you.” This has to be seen as the truth presented, as David was in a solitary place, where his lone link to Yahweh was within his soul – the divine Son of Yahweh that was his “el.”
The rest of verse one then literally translates into English saying: “I will seek diligently for you it thirsts for you my soul , it faints for you my flesh ; in earth dryness and weary without waters .” This says that David had entered a place that isolated him from outward signs of Yahweh’s presence. While he could draw on personal experience from being in the wilderness of Judah where there were no sources of water, with little shade under a hot sun, this is a secondary view to take. Because David first said he “diligently sought Yahweh” and “his soul thirsted” for Yahweh, David was singing as all lost souls that have found their bodies of “flesh” (their “land” or “earth”) “faint” from a lack of spiritual nourishment. The spiritual “thirst” finds only “dryness” in return; and, that “dryness” makes one’s soul “weary without [spiritual] waters.” As such, David sang that the “test in the wilderness” is to find Yahweh offering the living “waters” that are within the “earth” of one’s “flesh,” within one’s “soul,” where Yahweh resides when one is an “el” of His.
This needs to be fully grasped and strongly held, especially when one recognizes the word “eli” is that said by Jesus as he was about to die on a Roman crucifix. The translation as “my God,” where “el” is given equal status as Yahweh [when Hebrew or Aramaic is spoken] is wrong. Jesus was not reciting Psalm 22:1 because he blamed Yahweh for his death on a cross. He sang the psalm verse because Jesus understood his “el” as “my el” was referencing how lost David felt, when his soul’s marriage to Yahweh was not able to satiate his hunger for inner spiritual food or quench his spiritual thirst. Neither David nor Jesus saw “eli” as their possessing Yahweh [“my” is the possessive case], because they both understood that Yahweh possessed their souls, through divine union that made them “elohim,” each an "el.”
The literal English translation of verse two says this: “thus in the sacredness I have sought you ; to behold your strength , and your abundance .” This then continues the search for the living “water” that David knew was deep within his soul. That is where “sacredness” lies [from “baq·qō·ḏeš” a transliteration of “qodesh”]. This says David could have gone to a private place in prayer (like sitting quietly in a lotus position), looking within his being, not using his eyes to search for Yahweh outside his being. The “strength” of one’s “el” is within one’s soul; and, to “behold” [from “ḥă·zî·ṯî·ḵā” transliterated from “chazah”] that presence of “abundant strength” is what one needs during states of “dryness.”
Verse three then literally states, “when agreeable your goodness that renews , my speech shall praise you .” Here, the use of the Hebrew “twob” should be read as “agreeable” (it usually says “good”), with this being a statement of the agreement to Yahweh’s Covenant (marriage vows). This is what unites Yahweh’s Spirit with a soul-flesh entity, making it become one of His “elohim.” With that known presence affirmed, David knew the inner “goodness” of Yahweh’s Spirit [from “ḥas·də·ḵā” transliterated from “checed”] will bring forth the living waters for “renewal” of “life,” making one’s soul come “alive” with Spirit. When the Hebrew transliteration “śə·p̄ā·ṯay” is read as “my lips” or “my speech,” this returns focus to verse one’s introduction, where “midbar yehudah” says “in mouth let him be praised.”
This then leads to verse four saying literally in English: “thus I will kneel to you as I have life ; in your name I will raise my hands .” Here, the combination of “I will kneel” and “in your name” state submission before in marriage, where David’s soul is committed in service to Yahweh. Through that divine union, David takes on “the name” of Yahweh. This is the same “name” given to the soul of Jacob, which is “Israel.” This holy matrimony has granted David’s soul eternal “life;” and, his service commitment is to “lift up” or “raise” all of those under the influence of David (as the King of Israel), so all the Israelites live up to that “name,” becoming David’s “hands” serving Yahweh.
Verse five then literally says, “like fat portions and abundance they are satisfied my appetite ; and with speech joyful , shall praise you my mouth .” In this, the ability within David to not only be uplifted himself, here he sings of the ability to raise up others as “hands” led to Yahweh by David as the “abundance of fat” that is sacrificed on the altar in the Tabernacle, with the cooked fat shared with the people afterwards. This then sings of the “souls” that have been fed spiritual food will also have had their spiritual “appetites” met. That satisfaction or satiation will bring forth songs of “praise” that are “joyful.” Here, again, the “mouth” is singing “praise.”
Verse six then literally translates into English as singing, “if I remember you above my bed ; in the watches I meditate on you .” This sings of David’s inspiration to write psalms in the middle of the night, when his soul would join with Yahweh while David’s body slept. The conditional Hebrew word “im” says this is what always happens during sleep, with a soul allowing a body to rest and allow physical maintenance to take place in the body. However, because David’s soul was married to Yahweh, his soul would be taught spiritual lessons, which would come to David in song and music. When he would be awakened by these melodies and the spiritual food coming to him in the lyrics of psalms, he would rise and play his harp, while writing down his words and notes. The “watches” are those four segments of the night, when sleep comes after the sun is down. His “meditation” was his dreams in song that would awaken him, bringing him spiritual vitality.
Verse seven then sings literally in English: “for you have been help mine ; therefore in the shadow of your wings I will rejoice .” This is David singing that Yahweh’s Spirit is his “assistance” in his writing psalms. It is David who gets the credit for writing the songs that come to him from Yahweh; but this verse begins by stating David is Yahweh’s “assistant” and “helper.” This is because Yahweh’s Spirit is unseen, therefore “a shadow” that is cast outwardly by the light of day, while being a statement of that hidden within. The body blocks the light of the sun from shining, so the shadow projects the true value of the flesh – it has no light of life. The “wings” are then metaphor for the angel that lies within David’s soul – that which is his “el” of Yahweh. It is that presence within that leads David to “rejoice” in his songs of praise.
The final verse of this selection for the third Sunday in Lent then literally translates to sing in English: “it keeps close my soul following you ; my soul attains your right hand .” Following a verse about the “shadow of your wings,” this is now stated as how a “shadow” follows closely the movements of the body, in the casting of light that creates a “shadow.” This sings of Yahweh being the light and David’s “soul following you” as His “shadow.” It is then from this willingness to do as commanded that David becomes an extension of Yahweh on the worldly plane, as His “right hand” doing as the light shines him to do.
As a Psalm chosen to be sung on the third Sunday in Lent, it clearly sings a theme of self-sacrifice and the testing that comes from a divine commitment to serve Yahweh. David had the Spirit of Yahweh poured out upon his soul when just a shepherd boy. He immediately was sent into the “mouth” that “lets him sing praise,” when David was sent by Jesse to meet his brothers, as they prepared to do battle with the Philistines, led by Goliath. The test of the period called Lent is finding out if one’s soul is a “wilderness” or a “mouth” of Yahweh. In the story from Luke 4, when Jesus was tested in the wilderness, the period of forty days passed by the time the second verse told that timeframe. It was the subsequent verses that had Jesus sing the praises of Yahweh within, as he countered the wiles of the devil. This song sings praises to that inner strength that comes abundantly, as the fat of self-sacrifice.