Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Thanksgiving Song of One Who Has Escaped from Death
We have here another anonymous Psalm closing with Hallelujah. It is not a supplicatory song with a hopeful prospect before it like Ps 115, but a thanksgiving song with a fresh recollection of some deadly peril that has just been got the better of; and is not, like Ps 115, from the mouth of the church, but from the lips of an individual who distinguishes himself from the church. It is an individual that has been delivered who here praises the loving-kindness he has experienced in the language of the tenderest affection. The lxx has divided this deeply fervent song into two parts, Psa 116:1-9, Psa 116:10-19, and made two Hallelujah-Psalms out of it; whereas it unites Psa 114:1-8 and Ps 115 into one. The four sections or strophes, the beginnings of which correspond to one another (Psa 116:1 and Psa 116:10, Psa 116:5 and Psa 116:15), are distinctly separate. The words אקרא וּבשׁם ה are repeated three times. In the first instance they are retrospective, but then swell into an always more full-toned vow of thanksgiving. The late period of its composition makes itself known not only in the strong Aramaic colouring of the form of the language, which adopts all kinds of embellishments, but also in many passages borrowed from the pre-exilic Psalms. The very opening, and still more so the progress, of the first strophe reminds one of Ps 18, and becomes an important hint for the exposition of the Psalm.
Not only is כּי אהבתּי "I love (like, am well pleased) that," like ἀγαπῶ ὅτι, Thucydides vi. 36, contrary to the usage of the language, but the thought, "I love that Jahve answereth me," is also tame and flat, and inappropriate to the continuation in Psa 116:2. Since Psa 116:3-4 have come from Psa 18:5-17, אהבתּי is to be understood according to ארחמך in Psa 18:2, so that it has the following יהוה as its object, not it is true grammatically, but logically. The poet is fond of this pregnant use of the verb without an expressed object, cf. אקרא in Psa 116:2, and האמנתּי in Psa 116:10. The Pasek after ישׁמע is intended to guard against the blending of the final a‛ with the initial 'a of אדני (cf. Psa 56:1-13 :18; Psa 5:2, in Baer). In Psa 116:1 the accentuation prevents the rendering vocem orationis meae (Vulgate, lxx) by means of Mugrash. The ı̂ of קולי will therefore no more be the archaic connecting vowel (Ew. 211, b) than in Lev 26:42; the poet has varied the genitival construction of Psa 28:6 to the permutative. The second כי, following close upon the first, makes the continuation of the confirmation retrospective. "In my days" is, as in Isa 39:8, Bar. 4:20, cf. בחיּי in Psa 63:5, and frequently, equivalent to "so long as I live." We even here hear the tone of Ps 18 (Psa 18:2), which is continued in Psa 18:3-4 as a freely borrowed passage. Instead of the "bands" (of Hades) there, the expression here is מצרי, angustiae, plural of meetsar, after the form מסב in Psa 118:5; Lam 1:3 (Bttcher, De inferis, 423); the straitnesses of Hades are deadly perils which can scarcely be escaped. The futures אמצא and אקרא, by virtue of the connection, refer to the contemporaneous past. אנּה (viz., בלישׁן בקשׁה, i.e., in a suppliant sense) is written with He instead of Aleph here and in five other instances, as the Masora observes. It has its fixed Metheg in the first syllable, in accordance with which it is to be pronounced ānna (like בּתּים, bāttim), and has an accented ultima not merely on account of the following יהוה = אדני (vid., on Psa 3:8), but in every instance; for even where (the Metheg having been changed into a conjunctive) it is supplied with two different accents, as in Gen 50:17; Exo 32:31, the second indicates the tone-syllable.
(Note: Kimchi, mistaking the vocation of the Metheg, regards אנּה (אנּא) as Milel. But the Palestinian and the Babylonian systems of pointing coincide in this, that the beseeching אנא (אנה) is Milra, and the interrogatory אנה Milel (with only two exceptions in our text, which is fixed according to the Palestinian Masora, viz., Psa 139:7; Deu 1:28, where the following word begins with Aleph), and these modes of accenting accord with the origin of the two particles. Pinsker (Einleitung, S. xiii.) insinuates against the Palestinian system, that in the cases where אנא has two accents the pointing was not certain of the correct accentuation, only from a deficient knowledge of the bearings of the case.)
Instead now of repeating "and Jahve answered me," the poet indulges in a laudatory confession of general truths which have been brought vividly to his mind by the answering of his prayer that he has experienced.
With "gracious" and "compassionate" is here associated, as in Psa 112:4, the term "righteous," which comprehends within itself everything that Jahve asserts concerning Himself in Exo 34:6. from the words "and abundant in goodness and truth" onwards. His love is turned especially toward the simple (lxx τὰ νήπια, cf. Mat 11:25), who stand in need of His protection and give themselves over to it. פּתאים, as in Pro 9:6, is a mode of writing blended out of פּתאים and פּתיים. The poet also has experienced this love in a time of impotent need. דּלּותי is accented on the ultima here, and not as in Psa 142:7 on the penult. The accentuation is regulated by some phonetic or rhythmical law that has not yet been made clear (vid., on Job 19:17).
(Note: The national grammarians, so far as we are acquainted with them, furnish no explanation. De Balmis believes that these Milra forms דּלּותי, בּלּותי, and the like, must be regarded as infinitives, but at the same time confirms the difference of views existing on this point.)
יהושׁיע is a resolved Hiphil form, the use of which became common in the later period of the language, but is not alien to the earlier period, especially in poetry (Ps 45:18, cf. Psa 81:6; Sa1 17:47; Isa 52:5). In Psa 116:7 we hear the form of soliloquy which has become familiar to us from Psa 42:1; Ps 103. שׁוּבי is Milra here, as also in two other instances. The plural מנוּחים signifies full, complete rest, as it is found only in God; and the suffix in the address to the soul is ajchi for ajich, as in Psa 103:3-5. The perfect גּמל states that which is a matter of actual experience, and is corroborated in Psa 116:8 in retrospective perfects. In Psa 116:8-9 we hear Ps 56:14 again amplified; and if we add Psa 27:13, then we see as it were to the bottom of the origin of the poet's thoughts. מן־דּמעה belongs still more decidedly than יהושׁיע to the resolved forms which multiply in the later period of the language. In Psa 116:9 the poet declares the result of the divine deliverance. The Hithpa. אתהלּך denotes a free and contented going to and fro; and instead of "the land of the living," Psa 27:13, the expression here is "the lands (ארצות), i.e., the broad land, of the living." There he walks forth, with nothing to hinder his feet or limit his view, in the presence of Jahve, i.e., having his Deliverer from death ever before his eyes.
Since כּי אדבּר does not introduce anything that could become an object of belief, האמין is absolute here: to have faith, just as in Job 24:22; Job 29:24, with לא it signifies "to be without faith, i.e., to despair." But how does it now proceed? The lxx renders ἐπίστευσα, διὸ ἐλάλησα, which the apostle makes use of in Co2 4:13, without our being therefore obliged with Luther to render: I believe, therefore I speak; כי does not signify διὸ. Nevertheless כי might according to the sense be used for לכן, if it had to be rendered with Hengstenberg: "I believed, therefore I spake,hy but I was very much plagued." But this assertion does not suit this connection, and has, moreover, no support in the syntax. It might more readily be rendered: "I have believed that I should yet speak, i.e., that I should once more have a deliverance of God to celebrate;" but the connection of the parallel members, which is then only lax, is opposed to this. Hitzig's attempted interpretation, "I trust, when (כּי as in Jer 12:1) I should speak: I am greatly afflicted," i.e., "I have henceforth confidence, so that I shall not suffer myself to be drawn away into the expression of despondency," does not commend itself, since Psa 116:10 is a complaining, but not therefore as yet a desponding assertion of the reality. Assuming that האמנתּי and אמרתּי in Psa 116:11 stand on the same line in point of time, it seems that it must be interpreted I had faith, for I spake (was obliged to speak); but אדבר, separated from האמנתי by כי, is opposed to the colouring relating to the contemporaneous past. Thus Psa 116:10 will consequently contain the issue of that which has been hitherto experienced: I have gathered up faith and believe henceforth, when I speak (have to speak, must speak): I am deeply afflicted (ענה as in Psa 119:67, cf. Arab. ‛nâ, to be bowed down, more particularly in captivity, whence Arab. 'l-‛nât, those who are bowed down). On the other hand, Psa 116:11 is manifestly a retrospect. He believes now, for he is thoroughly weaned from putting trust in men: I said in my despair (taken from Psa 31:23), the result of my deeply bowed down condition: All men are liars (πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ψεύστης, Rom 3:4). Forsaken by all the men from whom he expected succour and help, he experienced the truth and faithfulness of God. Striding away over this thought, he asks in Psa 116:12 how he is to give thanks to God for all His benefits. מה is an adverbial accusative for בּמּה, as in Gen 44:16, and the substantive תּגּמוּל, in itself a later formation, has besides the Chaldaic plural suffix ôhi, which is without example elsewhere in Hebrew. The poet says in Psa 116:13 how alone he can and will give thanks to his Deliverer, by using a figure taken from the Passover (Mat 26:27), the memorial repast in celebration of the redemption out of Egypt. The cup of salvation is that which is raised aloft and drunk amidst thanksgiving for the manifold and abundant salvation (ישׁוּעות) experienced. קרא בשׁם ה is the usual expression for a solemn and public calling upon and proclamation of the Name of God. In Psa 116:14 this thanksgiving is more minutely designated as שׁלמי נדר, which the poet now discharges. A common and joyous eating and drinking in the presence of God was associated with the shelamim. נא (vid., Psa 115:2) in the freest application gives a more animated tone to the word with which it stands. Because he is impelled frankly and freely to give thanks before the whole congregation, נא stands beside נגד, and נגד, moreover, has the intentional ah.
From what he has experienced the poet infers that the saints of Jahve are under His most especial providence. Instead of המּות the poet, who is fond of such embellishments, chooses the pathetic form המּותה, and consequently, instead of the genitival construct state (מות), the construction with the Lamed of "belonging to." It ought properly to be "soul" or "blood," as in the primary passage Psa 72:14. But the observation of Grotius: quae pretiosa sunt, non facile largimur, applies also to the expression "death." The death of His saints is no trifling matter with God; He does not lightly suffer it to come about; He does not suffer His own to be torn away from Him by death.
(Note: The Apostolic Constitutions (vi. 30) commend the singing of these and other words of the Psalms at the funerals of those who have departed in the faith (cf. Augusti, Denkwrdigkeiten, ix. 563). In the reign of the Emperor Decius, Babylas Bishop of Antioch, full of blessed hope, met death singing these words.)
After this the poet goes on beseechingly: ānnáh Adonaj. The prayer itself is not contained in פּתּחתּ למוסרי - for he is already rescued, and the perfect as a precative is limited to such utterances spoken in the tone of an exclamation as we find in Job 21:16 - but remains unexpressed; it lies wrapped up as it were in this heartfelt ānnáh: Oh remain still so gracious to me as Thou hast already proved Thyself to me. The poet rejoices in and is proud of the fact that he may call himself the servant of God. With אמתך he is mindful of his pious mother (cf. Psa 86:16). The Hebrew does not form a feminine, עבדּה; Arab. amata signifies a maid, who is not, as such, also Arab. ‛abdat, a slave. The dative of the object, למוסרי (from מוסרים for the more usual מוסרות), is used with פתחת instead of the accusative after the Aramaic manner, but it does also occur in the older Hebrew (e.g., Job 19:3; Isa 53:11). The purpose of publicly giving thanks to the Gracious One is now more full-toned here at the close. Since such emphasis is laid on the Temple and the congregation, what is meant is literal thank-offerings in payment of vows. In בּתוככי (as in Psa 135:9) we have in the suffix the ancient and Aramaic i (cf. Psa 116:7) for the third time. With אנּה the poet clings to Jahve, with נגדּה־נּא to the congregation, and with בּתוככי to the holy city. The one thought that fills his whole soul, and in which the song which breathes forth his soul dies away, is Hallelujah.