Psalm 78:1-7

Psalm 78:1-7
Second Sunday of Advent – A Women’s Lectionary


A MaskilI of Asaph.II

Give ear,III O my people,IV to my teaching;V

Notes on superscript - verse 1a

I “Maskil” = Maskiyl. 13x in OT. From sakal (to consider or be prudent; to instruct, be an expert; dealing prudently, which implies success and prospering; can mean laying cross-wise). This is maskil or maschil. It is a poem used for instruction.
II “Asaph” = Asaph. From asaph (to gather, assemble, bring, take away, destroy, or remove). This is Asaph, meaning “gatherer” or “collector.” It is a personal name.
III “give ear” = azan. Perhaps from ozen (ear, hearing, audience, show; properly, broadness – applied to its ear in reference to its shape). Properly, this is to expand or broaden one’s ear i.e. listen intently, pay attention, heed.
IV “people” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.
V “teaching” = torah. From yarah (to throw, shoot, be stunned; to flow as water so figuratively to instruct or teach). This is law, instruction, teaching, or statute. It can also refer to the first five books of the Bible – the Torah.

    inclineVI your earsVII to the wordsVIII of my mouth.IX

Notes on verse 1b

VI “incline” = natah. This is to stretch or spread out, to extend, or bend. In can also imply moral deflection.
VII “ears” = ozen. Related to “give ear” in v1. See note III above.
VIII “words” = emer. From amar (to say, answer, challenge). This is something that is said – a word, saying, speech.
IX “mouth” = peh. This is mouth in a literal or figurative sense. So, more literally, it can be beak or jaws. More figuratively, it refers to speech, commands, or promises.

2 I will openX my mouth in a parable;XI
    I will utterXII dark sayingsXIII from of old,XIV

Notes on verse 2

X “open” = pathach. This is to open wide in a literal or figurative sense. So, it is open, draw out, let something go free, break forth. It can also mean to plow, engrave, or carve.
XI “parable” = mashal. From mashal (to compare, speak in a proverb or riddle – to speak in allegory or liken). This is proverb, parable, taunt, discourse, maxim, adage, poem.
XII “utter” = naba. 11x in OT. This is to spring up, flow, gush, or spout. It can also mean to belch as in emitting a bad smell. Figuratively, it can mean to speak, whether positively or negatively.
XIII “dark sayings” = chidah. 17x in OT– including the riddle of Samson’s marriage in Judges 14 and “hard questions” posed by the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10. Perhaps from chud (to tie a knot, offer a riddle). This is a riddle, proverb, question, puzzle, intrigue, dark saying.
XIV “old” = qedem. Perhaps from qadam (to come in front or be in front; to meet, anticipate, confront, receive, or rise; sometimes to meet for help). This is front, formerly, before, east, eternal, everlasting, antiquity.

3 things that we have heardXV and known,XVI
    that our ancestorsXVII have toldXVIII us.

Notes on verse 3

XV “heard” = shama. This is to hear, call, consent, or consider. It implies listening intelligently, giving attention, and, because of these two factors, obedience and action are often implied.
XVI “known” = yada. This is to know, acknowledge, advise, answer, be aware, be acquainted with. Properly, this is to figure something out by seeing. It includes ideas of observation, recognition, and care about something. It can be used causatively for instruction, designation, and punishment.
XVII “ancestors” = ab. This is father, chief, or ancestor. It is father in a literal or figurative sense.
XVIII “told” = saphar. From sepher (writing, document, book, evidence). This is properly to tally or record something. It can be enumerate, recount, number, celebrate, or declare.

We will not hideXIX them from their children;XX
    we will tell to the comingXXI generationXXII

Notes on verse 4a

XIX “hide” = kachad. This is to hide or conceal or destroy. It can also refer to doing secret actions or secret speech.
XX “children” = ben. From banah (to build or obtain children). This is son, age, child. It is son in a literal or figurative sense.
XXI “coming” = acharon. From achar (to be behind, delay, be late, procrastinate, continue). This is end, last, coming behind, to loiter, later. It can also refer to the west.
XXII “generation” = dor. From dur (to move in a circle, which implies living somewhere or remaining there; it can also be the sense of piling or heaping up). This is a revolution of time, which is to say, an age or generation. It can also be a dwelling or one’s posterity.

the glorious deedsXXIII of the Lord,XXIV and his might,XXV
    and the wondersXXVI that he has done.XXVII

Notes on verse 4b

XXIII “glorious deeds” = tehillah. From halal (to praise, be boastful). This is praise or a song of praise. It is to offer God a hymn, to boast in God. This shares a root with “hallelujah.”
XXIV “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.
XXV “might” = ezuz. 3x in OT. From azaz (to be strong, become fixed, be bold, prevail, be impudent; it means to be stout literally or figuratively. A Late Hebrew word). This is strength, power, forcibleness.
XXVI “wonders” = pala. From pele (wonder, miracle, wonderful, marvelous thing). This is to be extraordinary, to arise, to be great or accomplish.
XXVII “done” = asah. This is to make, do, act, appoint, become in many senses.

5 He establishedXXVIII a decreeXXIX in Jacob,XXX

Notes on verse 5a

XXVIII “established” = qum. To arise, stand, accomplish, establish, abide. This is rising as in rising against, getting up after being sick or asleep, arising from one state to another, becoming powerful, or rising for action. It can also be standing in a figurative sense.
XXIX “decree” = eduth. From ed (witness, testimony, recorder); from ud (to admonish, repeat, duplicate, testify, restore, record, relieve). This is testimony, ordinance, decree, warning, or witness.
XXX “Jacob” = Yaaqob. From the same as aqeb (heel, hind part, hoof, rear guard of an army, one who lies in wait, usurper). This is Isaac’s son and his descendants. The name means heel-catcher or supplanter.

    and appointedXXXI a lawXXXII in Israel,XXXIII
which he commandedXXXIV our ancestors
    to teachXXXV to their children;

Notes on verse 5b

XXXI “appointed” = sum. This is to put or place in a literal or figurative sense. It can be appoint, care, change, make, and may other things.
XXXII “law” = torah. Same as “teaching” in v1. See note V above.
XXXIII “Israel” = Yisrael. From sarah (to persist, exert oneself, contend, persevere, wrestle, prevail) + el (God or god). This is Israel, meaning God strives or one who strives with God; new name for Jacob and for his offspring. This refers to the people and to the land.
XXXIV “commanded” = tsavah. This is to charge, command, order, appoint, or enjoin. This is the root that the Hebrew word for “commandment” comes from (mitsvah).
XXXV “teach” = yada. Same as “known” in v3. See note XVI above.

6 that the nextXXXVI generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,XXXVII
and rise upXXXVIII and tell them to their children,
    so that they should setXXXIX their hopeXL in God,XLI

Notes on verses 6-7a

XXXVI “next” = acharon. Same as “coming” in v4. See note XXI above.
XXXVII “yet unborn” = yalad. Literally, “to be born.” This is to bear or bring forth. It can mean to act as midwife or to show one’s lineage. This is often used for birth or begetting.
XXXVIII “rise up” = qum. Same as “established” in v5. See note XXVIII above.
XXXIX “set” = sum. Same as “appointed” in v5. See note XXXI above.
XL “hope” = kesel. 13x in OT. From kasal (being or becoming stupid or foolish; properly, being fat and so figuratively silly or foolish). This is loins, thigh, flank, fatness. It can also be folly, silliness, confidence, or hope.
XLI “God” = Elohim. Related to “Israel” in v5. See note XXXIII above.

and not forgetXLII the worksXLIII of God,XLIV
    but keepXLV his commandments;XLVI

Notes on verse 7b

XLII “forget” = shakach. This is to forget because of not remembering something or not paying attention to it. It can also mean to mislay.
XLIII “works” = maalal. From alal (to affect, do, practice, mock, overdo, glean, abuse, pain). This is some kind of deed, action, invention or practice whether good or bad.
XLIV “God” = El. Related to “Israel” in v5 & “God” in v7. See note XXXIII above.
XLV “keep” = natsar. This is to watch, guard, protect. It can be positive – preserve or obey. It can be negative as conceal.
XLVI “commandments” = mitsvah. Related to “commanded” in v5. From tsavah (see note XXXIV above). This is a commandment, law, ordinance obligation, or tradition. It is something commanded whether by God or by a human authority. This term is sometimes used collectively to refer to the Law.

Image credit: “Moses Aharon Sea” – “Still from the 2018 animated feature film Seder-Masochism by Nina Paley”.

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