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Psalms 18:4-6

Context

18:4 The waves 1  of death engulfed me,

the currents 2  of chaos 3  overwhelmed me. 4 

18:5 The ropes of Sheol tightened around me, 5 

the snares of death trapped me. 6 

18:6 In my distress I called to the Lord;

I cried out to my God. 7 

From his heavenly temple 8  he heard my voice;

he listened to my cry for help. 9 

1 tc Ps 18:4 reads “ropes,” while 2 Sam 22:5 reads “waves.” The reading of the psalm has been influenced by the next verse (note “ropes of Sheol”) and perhaps also by Ps 116:3 (where “ropes of death” appears, as here, with the verb אָפַף, ’afaf). However, the parallelism of v. 4 (note “currents” in the next line) favors the reading “waves.” While the verb אָפַף is used with “ropes” as subject in Ps 116:3, it can also be used with engulfing “waters” as subject (see Jonah 2:5). Death is compared to surging waters in v. 4 and to a hunter in v. 5.

2 tn The Hebrew noun נַחַל (nakhal) usually refers to a river or stream, but in this context the plural form likely refers to the currents of the sea (see vv. 15-16).

3 tn The noun בְלִיַּעַל (vÿliyyaal) is used here as an epithet for death. Elsewhere it is a common noun meaning “wickedness, uselessness.” It is often associated with rebellion against authority and other crimes that result in societal disorder and anarchy. The phrase “man/son of wickedness” refers to one who opposes God and the order he has established. The term becomes an appropriate title for death, which, through human forces, launches an attack against God’s chosen servant.

4 tn In this poetic narrative context the prefixed verbal form is best understood as a preterite indicating past tense, not an imperfect. (Note the perfect verbal form in the parallel/preceding line.) The verb בָּעַת (baat) sometimes by metonymy carries the nuance “frighten,” but the parallelism (see “engulfed”) favors the meaning “overwhelm” here.

5 tn Heb “surrounded me.”

6 tn Heb “confronted me.”

7 tn In this poetic narrative context the four prefixed verbal forms in v. 6 are best understood as preterites indicating past tense, not imperfects.

8 tn Heb “from his temple.” Verse 10, which pictures God descending from the sky, indicates that the heavenly temple is in view, not the earthly one.

9 tc Heb “and my cry for help before him came into his ears.” 2 Sam 22:7 has a shorter reading, “my cry for help, in his ears.” It is likely that Ps 18:6 MT as it now stands represents a conflation of two readings: (1) “my cry for help came before him,” (2) “my cry for help came into his ears.” See F. M. Cross and D. N. Freedman, Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (SBLDS), 144, n. 13.



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