A Comparison of the Communal Lament Psalms and the Treaty-Covenant Formula
If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. (Psalm 44:20–21 KJV)
the corpus of psalms in the Hebrew Bible can be found a unique grouping known
collectively as the communal lament psalms. They are generally characterized by
their use of the first common plural pronoun, some type of calamity experienced
by the community, and a petition to God asking for deliverance from the
calamity. These psalms are also connected to each other through similar
metaphors, images, vocabulary, and structure. While the total number of psalms
in this category is debatable, a core of seven psalms are universally
considered communal laments.1
scholars argue that these laments derive from older, Mesopotamian laments,2
yet their poetic and thematic structure more closely resembles a Hittite
treaty-covenant formula, which is a literary structure widely attested in the
The Hebrew Bible and
the Treaty-Covenant Formula
Bickerman in 1951 first noted the similarities between Deuteronomy and the
Hittite treaty texts,4
but George E. Mendenhall’s study, published in 1955, described in much greater
detail the similarities in structure between the biblical law texts and the
He concluded that elements of the Hittite treaty-covenant formula were also
used to describe the covenantal relationship between God and Israel.6
In 1964, Klaus Baltzer followed up Mendenhall’s seminal work in a study that
examined the themes of covenant formula and covenant terminology within the
Dennis McCarthy added to the discussion in 1981 with his comprehensive study of
covenant texts in the Hebrew Bible and other ancient Near Eastern
treaty-covenant texts. Since then, others have provided insights primarily
concerned with the legal and cultic nature of certain terminology.
formula of the Hittite treaty-covenant exhibits the following structure:
II. Historical prologue
IV. Document clause
V. List of divine witnesses
VI. Curses and blessing(s)8
preamble, or introduction, identifies both parties and specifically announces
the suzerain’s power and right to create the treaty-covenant. It establishes a
relationship between the two parties. In many of the treaties the introduction
comes after a historical narrative, or prologue, that gives the prior
relationship—if there had been one between the suzerain and the
vassal—in order to establish the new relationship enacted under the
stipulations present the obligations of the two parties. While these were
primarily obligations the vassal was to keep, some of the treaties contain
mutual obligations suggesting that the senior member of the relationship had
obligations to the junior, weaker member, particularly to protect and guarantee
fourth element, the document clause, records, preserves, and prescribes the
periodic rereading of the treaty. The fifth general element of these treaties
lists the deities from the suzerain’s and the vassal’s culture who invoked the
witness and sanction of the treaty. Finally, the last element details the
curses and blessing(s) that would fall on the vassal if the stipulations were
either not met or broken. Though curses dominate this section, a few of the
treaties include a general set of blessings if the treaty is adhered to.
the Hebrew Bible, the treaty-covenant formula can be found most prominently in
the book of Deuteronomy because of the covenant relationship Israel entered
into with God at Sinai. According to McCarthy, the Deuteronomic treaty-covenant
formula should be outlined as follows:
I. Historical prologue (chapters
IV. Blessing and curses
certain elements of the Hittite formula are missing in the above outline, but
others have been expanded and new elements given precedence.11
Though no explicit explanation is found in the biblical text itself (indeed the
author does not explicitly indicate that he uses any template at all),12
the changes appear to reflect the unique theological nature of the relationship
between the Israelites and their God. Unlike the Hittite treaties, which
establish a mortal-mortal relationship, the biblical texts describe the
establishment of a mortal-divine relationship with God as the suzerain and
Israel as the vassal. As opposed to the Hittite treaties, the biblical
counterpart stresses the history of the two parties over the titulary, or list
of titles establishing the identities of the two parties.13 The biblical
law code that Israel was to keep, according to the covenant, represents the
stipulations, while the invocation-adjuration section, like the Hittite
documents clause, records Israel’s commitment to keep the covenantal
obligations, with God’s promise of future protection and greatness (through the
mediation of Moses).14
does not mention the biblical equivalent of the document clause, but it can be
found in Deuteronomy 31:9: “And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it to
the priests . . . which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”
Moreover, in 31:10–13, Moses declares that the law should be read before
Israel every seven years to renew the obligations Israel had made at Sinai.
Thus the full biblical formula in Deuteronomy should be as follows:
I. Historical prologue (chapters
IV. Blessing and curses
V. Document clause
formula in Deuteronomy recounts a covenant-making experience and is also
attested in other biblical texts. For example, similar passages using the
biblical covenant formula also appear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The
communal laments may not describe covenant-making events, but they do focus on
the covenantal relationship that should exist between God and Israel. As such
they provide a unique perspective on the biblical formula. Unlike both Hittite
treaty-covenants and the earlier biblical texts found in the Pentateuch, which
are both presented from the suzerain’s perspective, the communal laments are
primarily from the vassal’s perspective. Ostensibly the lament psalms operate
as covenant-continuing, or covenant-reminding, texts.15 In other
words, the communal lament psalms remind Israel of the covenant relationship
that should already exist with God.
The covenant reminder in the psalms exhibits an
important distinction that affects the presentation of the covenant formula.
Like the biblical treaty-covenant formula, one section focuses on the history
of the two parties, but unlike the biblical formula, the cursing-and-blessing
unit describes the actual curses that have befallen Israel instead of listing potential
curses, and then is followed by a refutation of the reasoning behind the
curses. In addition, the biblical formula invokes the performance of oaths that
should be accepted by both parties, but the laments refer to obligations
related to oaths that had already been made. This was then followed by a
recommitment to their relationship with God. Finally, the psalms possess the
equivalent of a document clause with the inclusion of a section in which the
author promises to give praise to God in the future, which also fulfills a
prior covenant obligation of Israel. With this in mind, the following
represents the communal lament formula as based on the biblical
for deliverance based on
a. Declaration of relationship
are our King”)
History of Relationship
One part of the history section highlights
the past relationship between the partners of the covenant, and, in particular,
underscores how both parties had met their obligations. The description of God
in Deuteronomy 28:7 emphasizes that his role as historical protector of Israel
is one of his primary divine obligations. Thus the lament psalms frequently contain
the imagery of a divine warrior and describe God as a warrior who fights on
behalf of Israel.16
For example, Psalm 44 begins with a historical reference to God’s protective
interaction with the Israelites after they enter the land of Canaan:
have heard, O God,
fathers have told us
deeds that you did in their days,
days of old.
your hand dispossessed the nations
you planted them [the fathers].
caused injury to the peoples/nations
you sent them [the fathers].
not with their sword did they take the earth,
their arm did not bring deliverance/victory to them,
your right hand and your arm
the light of your face,
you favored them.17
can immediately see the warrior terminology and imagery in the above example as
well as the representation of God’s hand as a warrior and as a planter. The
latter image will be discussed in greater depth below. The martial imagery
continues in verses 5–7, emphasizing the unity that should exist between
Israel and God:
5. With you we will gore
your name we will trample those who rise against us.
in my bow I will not trust
my sword will not deliver me.
give deliverance to us from our enemies
you thwart our enemies.
60 and 83 also use similar martial imagery. Psalm 60:6–8 lists
territories adjacent to Jerusalem that the Lord had promised to Israel
following his victorious conquest over the enemy:
spoke in his sanctuary:
will exultingly divide Shechem
I will measure the valley of Sukkoth.
is for me and Manasseh is for me.
Ephraim is the place of my strength,
is my scepter.
is my washbasin,
Edom I throw my shoe.
I will have victory over you.
provides a specific history that shows God as a warrior on behalf of Israel:
to them as Midian,
against Jabin at the stream Kishon.
10. They were destroyed at En-dor,
were dung in the land.
11. Treat their great men like Oreb and
their leaders like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12. who said: “Let us take the
fields of God.”
texts address localized conflicts such as the conflict with Hazor recounted in
Judges 4–5 and the repeated aggression from Midian found in Judges
7–8. The former is described in the song of Deborah and employs the
imagery of a divine warrior.
However, Psalm 80 does not use martial
imagery but displays the imagery of God as a planter in order to recount
brought a vine out of Egypt,
drove out the heathen, then you planted it.
made room for it
caused that it took deep root
it filled the land.
10. The hills were shadowed by it
limbs like healthy cedars.
11. Her branches reached the sea;
boughs to the river.
15. the vineyard which your hand
branch which you made powerful for yourself.
image of God as planter and as warrior relates to another of his covenantal
obligations: to provide a land of inheritance. In the Song of Moses, which
follows the Red Sea miracle, Exodus 15:17 promises that the Lord “shal[l]
bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance.”
Later, following the Sinai covenantal experience, the camp of Israel is
compared to an orchard of trees planted by God (Numbers 24:6). Finally,
according to 2 Samuel 7:10, God provides the justification for the
building of the temple, informing David that “I will appoint a place for
my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their
own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them
anymore, as beforetime.”
74 contains a history unit composed of two sections: a true historical section
and a mythical section, but both are woven together to make one complete unit.
The historical section begins in verse 2 with the Psalmist commanding Yahweh to
Remember your congregation
which you bought in olden times,
the tribe of your inheritance you redeemed
towards whom you acted as a kinsman.
the injunction to remember the original covenant-making event,18
the Psalmist takes the narrative further back in time and describes the
creation in martial terms, tying that great event to the deliverance of Israel
from Egypt and their subsequent travels in the wilderness as shown in verses
12. God is king (my king) from olden
works salvation in the midst of the earth.
13. You did divide the sea with your
shattered the heads of the monsters on the waters.
14. You crushed the heads of Leviathan,
gave them as food to the people in the desert.
15. You cleaved the spring and the
dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16. The day is yours, also the night;
established the moon and the sun.
17. You fixed the borders of the earth;
and Autumn, you fashioned them.
Verses 14 and 15 bring together the mythical
and historical elements in a chiastic structure:
14 a. You crushed the heads of Leviathan
mythical reference to the destruction
the chaotic sea monster]
b. You gave them as food
to the people in the desert
historical reference to God’s interaction with
in the desert]
15 b’. You cleaved the spring
and the torrent
historical reference to provision
water in the desert for Israel]
a’. You dried up the
mythical reference to God’s control
14 describes God’s victory over the primeval chaos monster that guarantees the
survival of Israel in the desert wilderness. Then verse 15 reiterates God’s
power over the waters, reminding Israel of both his power over the primal sea
and his power to miraculously provide water in the wilderness. This chiastic
pattern suggests that the Psalmist wanted the reader or listener to connect the
two time periods in order to emphasize God as protector. Moreover, the imagery
of providing a meal also suggests a common ritual meal associated with covenant
making: the communal meal with the suzerain, God, providing the meal for his
vassals. Exodus 24:11 relates such a meal wherein the leaders of the camp share
a meal in the presence of Yahweh.19
A communal meal is also attested in the giving of the manna to the Israelites
in the wilderness.20
The mythical provision of the meal reflects the actual, historical events and
reiterates the covenantal relationship between Israel and God.
Psalm 89, like Psalm 74, combines the
mythical with the historical, thus showing God’s sovereignty over the chaotic
element. This becomes a foreshadowing event to the rise of the Davidic dynasty:
5. And the heavens recount/praise your
wonder, O Yahweh,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
6. For who in the clouds (heaven) is
is like Yahweh among the sons of God (gods?)
7. God (is) awe-inspiring among the council
the great holy ones
reverenced by all surrounding him.
8. Yahweh, God of the hosts,
like you, is mighty, O Yah?
your faithfulness surrounds you.
9. You rule over (in?) the swelling of
the surging of the waves you still them.
crushed Rahab like the slain,
the arm of your strength you
you are the heavens,
to you is the earth,
world and everything in it.
and Hermon exult in your name.
you is an arm with might;
hand is b,
right hand is lifted up.
and justice are the base of your throne;
hesed and truth stand before your face.
you spoke in a vision to those of yours
are practicing hesed
you said, “I set power on a b one;
exalted a chosen one from the people.”
found David my servant;
my holy oil I anointed him.
hand will always be with him,
my arm will strengthen him.
enemy will go out against him
no son of injustice will afflict him.
will crush before him his enemies
those who hate him I will strike down.
faithfulness and hesed are with him
in my name his horn will be exalted.
will place among the sea his hand
among the rivers his right hand.
will call to me,
are my father, My God and
rock of my deliverance.”
will also appoint him firstborn,
of the kings of the earth.
eternity I will maintain my hesed to him
my faithful covenant to him.
I will establish his seed forever
his throne as the days of heaven.
his sons forsake my law
do not walk in my judgments;
they breach my statutes
do not maintain my rules,
will punish with a rod their transgression
with plagues their sin.
my hesed I will not take from him;
will not deal falsely in my faithfulness.
will not violate my covenant
the going out of my lips I will not change.
I have sworn by my holiness
will not lie to David.
seed will be forever
his throne, like the sun, before me,
the moon, set up for eternity
a witness in the sky, enduring.
As recounted in 2 Samuel 7, the Davidic dynasty was
established through a personal covenantal experience that took place between
God and David. Yet, as the Psalmist makes clear above, that experience
benefited God’s righteous, who were promised “a b one” to act in
their interests on God’s behalf. Thus the Lord’s promises to David concerning
dynastic continuity and protection reinforce his earlier promise to protect
the covenantal history in Psalm 79 differs from the other communal lament
psalms in both size and tenor: “Do not remember the iniquities of the
former ones against us!” (v. 8). Unlike the other examples above,
this brief line alludes to Israel’s sinful past and specifically asks that God
not remember that part of its history.22 Yet, the
above also seems to stress that the covenantal relationship still exists
between the people of Israel and God with their implicit plea that God forgive
their sinful state and protect them according to the covenant.
it can be seen that all seven communal laments provide some type of covenantal
history. Also, most contain specific imagery that alludes to covenant-making
language used in earlier biblical history and that emphasizes the obligations
God himself was to keep, specifically to provide a land of promise and to
protect them from their adversaries. Even the negative history of Psalm 79
highlights the relationship between God and Israel that existed in years past.
Yet these histories contrast with the Psalmist’s depiction of his contemporary
Israel, which, as we shall see, suffers from some of the covenantal curses
established at Sinai.
Curses/Refutation of Curses
Owing to the unique nature that the communal
lament psalms share as covenant-reminding texts, as opposed to covenant-establishing
texts, the psalms include historical descriptions detailing perceived curses
that had fallen on the community in the past. This departs from the list of
potential curses provided in the traditional treaty-covenant texts of Exodus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy.23
With that in mind, there seems to be a clear relationship between the potential
curses described in Deuteronomy (and elsewhere) and the description of events
found in the communal lament psalms. For the most part, the curses describe the
social disruption and disintegration of Israel that result from foreign
invasion. Yet the communal laments also include a refutation of these curses.
In other words, these psalms express that the community’s curse is not
justified, because they have kept their covenantal obligations. These
refutations contain a plea for deliverance based on the covenantal obligations
both parties had already entered into.
Among the seven communal lament psalms
studied here, the primary curse takes place when God abandons Israel on the
field of battle and Israel’s enemies prevail. Deuteronomy 28:25 refers to this
curse as Moses warns Israel about the consequences of covenantal infidelity:
will cause you to be smitten by your enemies.
one way you will go out against him
in seven ways you will flee before him
you will be an object of trembling
all the nations of the earth.
Psalm 44 describes this precise situation in
its curse unit (vv. 9–10):
9. Yet you have repudiated us and you
have humiliated us.
do not go out with our armies.
cause us to retreat backwards from our foe;
who hate us plunder us.
Psalm 60:10 uses similar language in
stating: “But you, O God, have rejected us and you do not march among our
armies, O God.” In Psalm 80:6, the Psalmist declares: “You set us at
strife with our neighbors.” Psalm 89 presents a similar scenario, but adds
that God abandons the king, who represents all of Israel:
breached all his defenses,
all his fortresses.
have raised up the right hand of his adversaries,
caused all his enemies to rejoice.
you turned back his sword,
did not keep him up in battle.
the above references suggest that Israel viewed its relationship with God as an
antagonistic, adversarial one, other communal laments make explicit that what
befalls them, befalls God. In other words, because of the covenantal
relationship that exists between the two, action against one should be
understood as hostility against the other as well.
Psalm 74:4–8 recounts how the enemy
has overtaken the land and in particular defiled the temple, a symbol of Israel’s
relationship with God:
4. Your adversaries roar in the midst
of the sanctuary,
set up their banners as standards.
5. One was known who brought up
axe against the thicket of trees.
6. And now the engraven works, all
axes and hatchets strike them down.
7. They cast fire into your sanctuary.
the earth they defiled (brought low)
dwelling place of your name.
8. They said in their hearts,
will oppress them together.”
put to flame every sacred site in the land.
Psalm 79:1–3 relates a similar
scenario in which God has again abandoned the community, leaving Israel and the
temple to the ravages of the enemy:
1. O God, the nations have entered
into your possession,
polluted the temple of your holiness,
have put Jerusalem to ruins.
2. They gave the corpses of your
food to the fowl of the air,
flesh of your covenant keepers to the wild beasts.
3. They poured out their blood like
is no burying.
examples stress that the enemy who is ravaging Israel is God’s enemy as well.
Psalm 74:4 declares that the enemy is “your” enemy, meaning God’s
adversary. Similarly Psalm 79 notes that the land is “your possession,”
the temple is “your holiness,” and Israel is designated as “your
servants” and “your covenant keepers.” This designation is most
explicit in Psalm 83 where the author sees no distinction between God and
2. Your enemies make a tumult,
that hate you have lifted up the head.
3. Against your people they plot
consulted against your treasured ones.
have said: “Come, let us cut them off as a nation,
the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”
5. Unanimous in their counsel,
are allied against you.
number of the curses described in the communal lament deal with the effects of
military defeat such as being scattered or sold into slavery. Deuteronomy
28:63–64 details these consequences if Israel does not keep the
be plucked from off the land which you will go to possess. And he will scatter
you among all peoples from one end of the earth unto the other end of the
earth, and there you will serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers
have known, even of wood and stone.
At least two more communal lament psalms
mention this as part of their curse unit—44:11–12:
scatter us among the nations.
sell your people for no price
you do not set high their price.
60:1, where the lament begins:
1. O God, thou hast cast us off,
hast scattered us,
hast been displeased.
graphic curses were pronounced when dealing with the lack of a proper burial or
disrespect for the dead. The Lord warns in Leviticus 26:22 and Deuteronomy
28:25–26 that if Israel does not adhere to the covenant, he would cause
Israel to be smitten before its enemies seven ways and that its “carcass
will be food for the fowl of the air and for the beasts of the earth.”24
This communal lament and curse reflect the imagery of Israel as a beast
designated for slaughter, as a wild enemy, as a ferocious beast, and, in the
description of the community’s dead, as an actual feast for wild animals. This
idea of slaughter first appears in Psalm 44:11, which reads: “You give us
out as a sheep carcass.” The Psalmist uses this same imagery later in a
poem that describes Israel as “sheep raised for slaughter” (v. 22).
Psalm 74:19 describes the enemy as a wild beast: “Don’t give your turtledove25
to the multitude/wild beast!” and implicitly in verses 4 and 23 in their
references to the enemy’s roaring.26
Finally, Psalm 79:2 explicitly states a curse that is also found almost word
for word in Deuteronomy 28:26:
gave the corpses of your servants as food to the fowl of the air, the flesh of
your covenant keepers to the wild beasts. (Psalm 79:2)
carcass shall be meat unto all the fowl of the air, and unto the beasts of the
earth, and no man shall chase them away. (Deuteronomy 28:26)27
The final two references above suggest that the
image of a feast, while normally positive, could also connote a curse. Similarly,
Psalm 60:3 states that God caused Israel to “drink the wine of
astonishment,” and Psalm 80:5 informs us that Israel eats “the bread
of tears” and drinks “tears . . . in great measure.”
These psalms may reflect the image of feasting as a way to symbolize the
establishing of covenantal relationships. As noted above, Exodus 24 shows the
feast as a covenant-establishing ritual, and Psalm 74 describes God’s
covenantal history. In addition, Deuteronomy 32:13–14 depicts God’s
relationship with the people of Israel as one in which he miraculously provided
for them food and drink while they were in the wilderness. The feast was meant
to be a positive, communal experience, and the use of the imagery of a negative
feast in the communal laments suggests that the communal, joyful covenant
relationship between God and Israel was broken.
In the final curse Israel is mocked,
scorned, and derided.28
Again, Deuteronomy 28:37 anticipates this curse in warning the Israelites that
if they do not keep their covenant obligations they “will be an appalling
waste, a proverb and an object of taunting among all the nations where God will
place you.” In the modern view, this curse may seem the least destructive,
but its prominence in the communal laments suggests just the opposite. One
scholar suggests that a b honor/shame continuum governed much of ancient
Israel’s cultural and social behavior, which became fundamental in defining its
The prominence of this curse, as opposed to curses attached to the lack of
proper burial or military loss, likely defined the destructive nature of curses
since it stripped Israel of its self-identity. This appears to be a good reason
for its prominence in the communal lament psalms.30 Psalm 44
illustrates this curse in great detail:
make us an object of taunting to our neighbors,
and derision to those who surround us.
make us a proverb to the nations,
object of head-shaking among the peoples.
day, I am aware of my humiliation,
I am clothed with the shame of my face,
the sound of the taunter and the blasphemer
the enemy, the avenging ones.
Psalm 74 contains the curse in verses
O God, contend your dispute!
your taunting from the godless all/every day!
not forget the cry of your adversaries,
roar of your adversaries ascending continually.
79 includes the curse in verse 4:
have become an object of taunting to our neighbors
object of derision and mocking to those who surround us.
80:6 relates that Israel’s enemies “mock” them and 89:41 says that
the king, who represented all of Israel, “has become an object of taunting
to his neighbors” (v. 39) because God had “made void the
covenant” with the Davidic dynasty.
Refutation of Curses
shown above, the communal laments are associated with the treaty-covenant
formula in Deuteronomy. Uniquely, these laments not only include a description
of the curses, but they also contain a refutation of the reasoning as to why
they would have experienced the curses in the first place. In other words, the
laments explain that these curses were unjust since the community had, in fact,
been faithful in keeping its covenantal obligations. Only one psalm explicitly
states Israel’s innocence, but all the laments imply that the community was
faithful to its covenants.
Psalm 44:17–18, 20–21 contains
the only explicit declaration of Israel’s innocence:
this came on us and we did not forget you
we did not deal falsely with your covenant.
hearts did not retreat backwards
our steps did not turn away from your path.
. . .
we forgot the name of our God
spread our hands to a strange god,31
not God search this?
he knows the secrets of the heart.
17 begins with the protestation that Israel did not deal falsely with God’s
covenant, which sets up the rest of the refutation in the verses that follow.
This was a litmus or loyalty test of sorts, in which God is challenged to
expose any duplicity or insincerity that may lie behind the community’s words.
Moreover, the people of Israel demonstrated their fidelity by remaining true to
the covenant and remembering their responsibilities, even as “all this
came upon us.”32
Like the community of Psalm 44, the community of
Psalm 80 also proclaims its innocence by stressing its righteous habits. Verse
4 expresses the following plea: “How long wilt thou be angry against the
prayer of thy people?” Though not as explicit as in Psalm 44, this passage
suggests the community is keeping the covenant and is continuing to seek God through
prayer in spite of his anger against them. These concepts are reinforced
through imagery found later in Psalm 80, which characterizes Israel as a tree
planted by God. According to the text, the tree has grown and flourished,
becoming a mighty tree, suggesting that the tree has done exactly what it
should be doing, which again leads to the question: “Why hast thou [God]
broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her?”
74 takes the theme of remembering and forgetting and applies it to God in order
to demonstrate the community’s innocence. Verse 2 reminds God that they are his
people, his inheritance, and his tribe that he had bought or redeemed in the
Conversely, 79:8 asks God to forget their past behavior and remember them
instead as his “servants” and “saints” (v. 2). This
last example demonstrates that one way the communal laments refute the
consequences is through emphasizing the community’s relationship to God by
designation terminology. Thus, Psalm 79:2 designates Israel as “[God’s]
servants” or “[God’s] saints.” Similarly, Psalm 74:19, 21 refers
to the community as the “poor” and the “needy,” and 60:5
designates the community as God’s “beloved.” These kinds of
designations appear in some treaty-covenant texts that describe the vassal
explicitly and in others that refer to those who have rights to the suzerain’s
However, one particular designation is found in some of the communal laments
and has particularly b covenantal connotations.
Hebrew term for saints in 79:2 is hasidim
which is the plural, adjectival form of hesed
This term is not found in any other Semitic language but is repeated
approximately 250 times in the Hebrew Bible and has been the subject of intense
interest because it is used to describe the unique relationship between Israel
and God. The termhesed,
and variations of it, is found in three communal laments (44:26; 79:2; 89:2, 3,
14, 24, 28, 33, 49) and is the primary element of refutation in Psalm 89. It
can be used outside of covenantal contexts, but when it is used within the
framework of a covenant it likely refers to the obligations of the suzerain to
Katherine D. Sakenfeld points out that when God’s hesed
is claimed or sought for in the communal laments, it often prefaced or followed
up with “a statement indicating that the suppliant’s relationship to God
is in good repair.”36
Thus, the term hasid
refers to one who “practices hesed”
or “one who deserves hesed,”
which demonstrates that Israel has not avoided its covenantal obligations.37
Appeal for Deliverance
Based on Covenantal Obligations
are often accompanied by the query of “how long” the calamities are
to continue. To some extent, this is a rhetorical question because the
refutation itself answers that it should be “no longer.” The
questioning plea is usually followed by a series of imperatives and jussives
exhorting God to act and defend the community according to his covenant
obligations, which were conditioned upon Israel’s covenantal integrity. Of
course, Israel, as the junior partner of the covenant, cannot enforce its
request upon God, but Israel’s expectation for aid is not in vain, for God has
covenanted with Israel.
The first example of this type of appeal is
found in Psalm 44:23–24, 26:
yourself! why do you sleep, O Lord?
yourself! Do not reject (us) forever!
do you hide your face
forget our affliction and our oppression?
Deliver us and redeem us
the sake of your hesed!
Here the Psalmist clearly states the concern
that God may deliberately be unaware of Israel’s predicament, thus
necessitating his “waking up” and “remembering” Israel.38
If God remembered Israel it would demonstrate that he had not rejected Israel.
Other communal lament pleas reveal similar sentiments. Psalm 74:1 asks the
question “Why, O God, have you rejected us forever,” and verse 10
when? How long, O God?
the enemy taunt,
the adversary spurn your name forever?
The plea above is followed by the injunction
to “remember” in the next verse, which is also repeated later in
verse 18: “Remember that the enemy has reproached and that the fools have
blasphemed your name!” Verse 18 begins a structural sequence for the last
five verses with each verse alternating between a positive imperative and a
negative exhortation, stressing the desire for remembrance:
19. Do not give your turtledove to the
not forget your poor ever!
to the covenant! . . .
not the oppressed return in shame!
the poor and needy praise thy name!
O God, plead your cause!
how the fool reproaches you daily!
not the voice of your enemies!
The tumult of those that rise up against you grows
89 also expresses the desire that God “remember” the covenant in
Lord, how long?
you hide yourself forever?
your anger burn like fire?
how short my time is;
you make man in vain?
where are your acts of á¸¥esed
as of old,
you swore to your servant David in your truth?
O Lord, the reproach of your servants!
bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people.
the communal lament appeals are concerned with remembrance is not surprising in
light of the role it plays in the covenantal texts of the Pentateuch.
Throughout the stipulations recorded in Deuteronomy, Israel is instructed to
remember “these things” and obey the law. Deuteronomy 8:1–2
characterizes remembering as a part of the covenantal obligations of
commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may
live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto
your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led
Deuteronomy 4:23 declares: “Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the
covenant of the Lord, thy God.”
the covenant text in Leviticus 26 also records God’s obligation to remember
Israel, particularly after the community has experienced hardship:
will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and
also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land;
. . . when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them
away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant
with them: for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the
covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in
the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God. (Leviticus 26:42,
light of this passage, the appeals of the communal laments fit within the
covenantal context, which means that the Israelites have become worthy of God’s
intervening power in two ways: (1) they are innocent of any wrongdoing
(demonstrated through their refutation), and (2) they rely on and trust in
God’s covenantal integrity to fulfill his obligations. This last point also
employs the term hesed in its appeals.39 Psalm 44
ends with the request that God deliver the community by virtue of his hesed,
and in 89:50, one plea queries where God’s “hesed
of old” has gone. In the refutations hesed defined Israel’s innocence, but here it shows
the performance of God’s obligations as promised in the covenant.40
Other appeals ask God to curse the unnamed
adversaries, which is also one of his covenantal obligations. Deuteronomy
30:1–7 contains the Lord’s promise that if Israel repents and performs
again its covenantal obligations he would “put all these curses upon thine
enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee” (v. 7).
This promise appears to be at the heart of the appeal in Psalm 79, which begins
in verse 5 with the following plea:
5. Until when, O Yahweh?
you be angry forever?
your jealousy burn like fire?
A series of exhortations that follow
6. Pour out your anger on the nations
who know not You
on the nations that do not call on your name!”
8. O remember not our former
thy tender mercies come quickly to us!
9. Help us, O God of our salvation,
the glory of thy name!
us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake!
should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”
it be known among the nations in our sight,
vengeance for your servants’ blood
was poured out.
the moaning of the prisoner come before thee;
to your mighty power
those who are to die.
on our neighbors seven times the mocking
which they mocked you!
appeal is interesting because of its reciprocal nature. Verse 6 exhorts God to
pour out his anger, suggesting a response in kind to Israel’s blood being
poured out like water as described in verse 3. Verse 6 also uses covenantal
terminology asking that the Lord punish those who do not “know” him.
The term know,
as used here, has covenantal significance in treaty-covenants.41
Moreover, the exhortation recorded in verse 12, citing the multiplication of
the curse by seven, is found throughout the curse unit in Leviticus 26, which records
warnings to the Israelites that God would punish them seven times more if they
did not keep their covenant obligations.42 In contrast,
Deuteronomy 28:7 records God’s promise that if Israel keeps its covenantal
obligations, “the Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee
to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and
flee before thee seven ways.” Thus, the Psalmist’s request that God smite
the enemy seven times includes a reciprocal curse for the community and, at the
same time, a reliance on the covenantal promise made by God himself.
Like Psalm 79, the appeal in Psalm 83
provides a series of curses that God can use against his enemy:
1. Keep not your silence, O God!
not your peace and be not still, O God!
9. Do unto them as you did to the
to Sisera, to Jabin, at the Kidron stream.
their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb
their princes as Zebah and as Zalmunna.
my God, make them as thistledown,
stubble before the wind.
the fire burns the woods,
the flame lights the mountains afire,
them with your whirlwind
terrify them with your storm.
their faces with shame . . .
them be confused and troubled forever
let them be put to shame and die.
final curse, to shame and to confuse the enemy, is a prominent curse Israel
experienced, and therefore it is not surprising that the community, after
proclaiming its innocence, requests that the enemy experience the same. Like
the other communal laments, those that request the curses rely on the
covenantal relationship for their fulfillment. This demonstrates an inherent
trust in one’s ability to have a personal relationship with Deity, which is one
of the unique features of Israelite theology.
Vow of Praise
promise or declaration represents the final element of the communal lament
psalms. In this sense Israel vows to continue to praise God in the future. This
may seem unrelated to the treaty-covenant formula, but it reflects the document
clause with its declaration of future praise and serves the same purpose, which
is to continue to remember the covenant. Often this declaration includes a
proclamation of God’s kingship that recognizes him as suzerain and emphasizes
both the community’s historical acceptance and their current acceptance of the
the vow is found near the end of a psalm and at other times it may open a psalm
or act as a divider between the various sections of a psalm. For example, Psalm
44:8 contains a promise that the community will “sing praises to God every
day and . . . praise your name forever.” This vow of praise separates the
historical unit from the curse/refutation unit. As such, it functions as a
bridge between the two units and also highlights that Israel will continue to
recognize the covenant.43
Earlier, the Psalmist declared in verse 4: “You are my king, O God, (thus)
command the deliverance of Jacob.” As with the vow of praise, this
declaration follows a historical section and emphasizes the continuity between
the covenantal history and the current, Israelite community. Hence, the
covenantal integrity of Israel is acknowledged and confirmed through both the
proclamation and the declaration.
to Psalm 44, Psalm 74 possesses both a reference to future praise and a
declaration of God’s kingship. The kingly declaration in verse 12 says, “God
is my king from olden times, working salvation in the midst of the earth.”
Unlike some of the lament psalms, this declaration precedes the historical
passage, instead of following it. But the purpose is the same as that of Psalm
44 in stressing that the kingship of God has been established “from olden
times.” This refutation acts as a warning that Israel will always remember
its covenantal relationship with God and that God will always perform acts
commensurate with his covenantal obligations. The promise of future praise is
implied in verse 21:
not the oppressed return in shame!
the poor and the needy praise your name!
the Psalmist suggests that because of a calamity, Israel cannot perform praise
unless God fulfills his obligations. In other words, this verse emphasizes a
conditional vow of the Israelites to praise God and to recount their history
only after their deliverance from the enemy.44
79:13 contains an appeal for God to enact curses against the enemy:
we—your people and sheep of your pasture—
give you thanks forever.
all time we shall tell Your praises.
the vow in Psalm 74, this one is conditioned upon the placement of the curses.
in the Hebrew) that begins the bicolon connects the imperatives of verses 11
and 12 to the vow, creating an if/then clause: if God responds to the cries of
the prisoners avenging them seven times more than the mocking of their enemies,
then the covenant people will praise God and recount their history. Psalm 80:18
contains a similar conditional promise:
will not turn away from You.
our life that we may invoke Your name.
Unlike 79, the promise of praise in 89
appears in the first two verses but is performed at the end of the psalm:
1. I will sing of the Lord’s hesed
all generations I will proclaim
faithfulness with my mouth.
2. For I declare, “Your hesed
is confirmed forever;
in the heavens You establish Your faithfulness.”
. . .
is the Lord forever, amen and amen.
both the beginning and the end of this psalm, the vow of praise encompasses its
main purpose, which is to show that the covenantal obligations of Israel have
been and will be kept, even when God does not seem to meet his obligations.
This is reinforced with the declaration of kingship in Psalm 89:18: “For
indeed, Yahweh is our shield, the Holy One of Israel is indeed, our king.”
Like the other declarations of kingship found elsewhere, this declaration also
separates historical units. Psalm 89:6–15 describes the mythical imagery
of God as the warrior of creation who is praised by the divine assembly and
whose kingship over all is made clear. Another section follows and describes
the blessed state of those on earth who recognize the “joyful shout,”
or the outward proclamation of God’s sovereign power. This declaration of
praise precedes the historical unit that describes the covenant given to David.
Here the declaration makes the description of the past community in
89:16–18 apply to contemporary Israel. Thus, just as in the other lament
psalms, the vow of praise demonstrates the valid covenantal relationship that
should exist in the community.
There can be no doubt that elements of Israelite
culture, society, and even poetry were affected by outside influences, but it
is also true that the Bible depicts a people who held a unique relationship
with their Deity. So while the treaty-covenant formula can be found elsewhere,
only in the Bible does it describe the affiliation between a community and the
divine. The communal laments represent a unique window into the minds of those
who valued their covenant relationship with God as they sought to engage with
and comprehend him.45
Israel may have experienced tribulation, but the laments portray a community
bound to God with a covenant, which ultimately provided security and peace.
the Latter-day Saint, this unique perspective is actually a familiar one since
the ancient Israelite hope that God would keep his word is reflected in the
Doctrine and Covenants principle, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed;
. . . when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to
that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21), and then
actually practiced as demonstrated in Doctrine and Covenants 121.46
We, like Israel of old, also find security in our covenant relationship
with God, finding answers to the trials placed upon us, and therefore find our
place in the world. Moreover, thanks to the covenant, we understand that anyone
can have the same understanding and the same relationship, a concept not lost
on the Psalmist, for in Psalm 83:18 the vow, while similar in form, differs in
context: “May they [the enemy] know that your name, Yours alone, is the
Yahweh, supreme over all the earth” (v. 19). Thus, the relationship
between God and Israel expressed in the communal laments is now understood to
be one that all, even the enemy, can experience. In this verse, then, is
encapsulated the message and meaning of the covenant, a message that resonates
in us today.
Belnap is an assistant professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at
Brigham Young University.
1. Psalms 44, 60, 74, 79, 80,
83, and 89. Often Lamentations is included, but this poem exhibits different
characteristics than those of the communal laments in the psalter and should
therefore be studied separately.
2. Paul W. Ferris Jr., The Genre of
Communal Lament in the Bible and the Ancient Near East (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1992); and Walter C. Bouzard Jr., We Have Heard with Our Ears, O
God: Sources of the Communal Laments in the Psalms (Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 1997), are the most extensive studies dedicated to this
3. The literature on this
pattern as found in the Old Testament is voluminous. Though this article will
refer to a number of these sources, two in particular are useful for those
interested in studying the pattern. See Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and
Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old
Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978); and Klaus Baltzer,
Covenant Formulary: In Old Testament, Jewish, and Early Christian Writings,
trans. David E. Green (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971); also Noel Weeks, Admonition and Curse: The Ancient Near Eastern Treaty/Covenant Form as
a Problem in Inter-cultural Relationships (New York: Clark
International, 2004); also Paul Kalluveettil, Declaration and Covenant: A Comprehensive
Review of Covenant Formulae from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East
(Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1982). This literary structure can also be
found in the Book of Mormon. See Stephen D. Ricks’s article “The
Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin’s Address (Mosiah 1–6),” BYU Studies 24/2
(1984): 151–62, for the most comprehensive use of the treaty-covenant
formula in the Book of Mormon. For a more recent article, see RoseAnn Benson
and Stephen D. Ricks, “Treaties and Covenants: Ancient Near Eastern Legal
Terminology in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
14/1 (2005): 48–61.
4. Elias Bickerman, “Couper
une alliance,” Archives d’histoire du droit oriental 5
5. George E. Mendenhall, “Law
and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East,” Biblical
Archaeologist 17 (1955): 26–46, 49–76.
6. McCarthy summarizes
Mendenhall’s conclusions in Treaty and Covenant, 4: “An
important element in this discussion is a presentation of the structure of the
ancient treaty as revealed in the Hittite texts, and of the evidence for the
possibility of Israelite-Hittite contacts. In the light of this structure and
these possible contacts, Mendenhall argues to certain conclusions, among
others, that the original form of the Israelite covenant as made on Sinai
was that of the Hittite treaties and that this coincidence is an argument for
the substantial historicity of the narrative in Exodus.”
7. Klaus Baltzer, Das
Bundesformular (Neukirchen: Neukirchener, 1964).
8. John H. Walton summarizes
McCarthy’s formula and presents it in a more readable form in Ancient
Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels between
Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1989), 101–7.
9. For detail on these specific
obligations, see McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, 42–43, 58.
10. McCarthy, Treaty and
Covenant, 186. Deuteronomy 1–4 generally follows this same
pattern but describes the covenantal history of God and the patriarchs.
11. Two characteristics present
in the extrabiblical formula are gone in McCarthy’s analysis of the biblical
form: the document clause and the list of divine witnesses; Although it is
interesting that in Deuteronomy 32:1, the heavens and earth are commanded to
listen, perhaps acting as legal witnesses to the speech by Yahweh that follows.
Psalm 89 describes the sun and moon as witnessing the eternal nature of the
Davidic covenant. For a good discussion of this, see G. Ernest Wright, “The
Lawsuit of God: A Form-Critical Study of Deuteronomy 32,” in Israel’s
Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg, ed.
Bernhard W. Anderson and Walter J. Harrelson (New York: Harper and Brothers,
12. In fact, this is one of the
primary criticisms of this approach. Still, most biblical scholarship agrees
with the general premise.
13. McCarthy, Treaty and
Covenant, 169–70: “Now, just how does all this material
[Deut 5–11], so largely admonition and exhortation, fit into the covenant
pattern? Clearly it serves the same purpose as the historical prologue of the
Hittite treaty, that is, it gives a ground and motive for obedience to the
precepts which follow and to which end it is directed.”
14. McCarthy, Treaty and
Covenant, 184: “The reciprocity of the actions in Dt 26 is not
entirely alien to the treaty context. . . . None of this, the
statement of covenant-making or mutuality is out of place in the treaty and
covenant traditions. However expressed, or even left unexpressed, even in the
more subordinating treaties the parties were tied together to mutual advantage.
They had mutual obligations.”
15. Though this appears to be unique
in the corpus of ancient Near Eastern literature, there may be a similar point
of view in the Amarna letters; see Ellen F. Morris, “Bowing and Scraping
in the Ancient Near East: An Investigation into Obsequiousness in the Amarna
Letters,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65/3 (2006):
179–85, as well as in the Hittite royal prayers; see Moshe Greenberg, “Hittite
Royal Prayers and Biblical Petitionary Psalms,” in Neue Wege
der Psalmenforschung für Walter Beyerlin, ed. Klaus Seybold and
Erich Zenger (Freiberg: Herder, 1995), 15–27; and Ph. H. J. Houwink Ten
Cate, “Hittite Royal Prayers,” Numen 16/1 (1969): 81–98.
See also Emanuel Pfoh, “Some Remarks on Patronage in Syria-Palestine
during the Later Bronze Age,” Journal of the Economic and Social History
of the Orient 52 (2009): 363–81.
16. See Richard J. Clifford, “Psalm
89: A Lament over the Davidic Ruler’s Continued Failure,” Harvard
Theological Review 73 1/2 (1980): 35–47.
17. Unless otherwise noted, the
translations throughout are by the author.
18. H. Eising, ” … zakhar,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament,
ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1980), 4:70: “By calling the people Ã¢ the … cedhah,
‘congregation,’ and Ã¢ … nachalah,
‘heritage,’ of God, Ps. 74:2 alludes clearly enough to the covenant that God is
called on to remember.”
19. McCarthy, Treaty and
Covenant, 253–56. See also E. W. Nicholson, “The Covenant
Ritual in Exodus XXIV,” Vetus Testamentum 32/1 (1982):
20. The presence of the manna may
have some covenantal significance. In Exodus 16:32–33, Moses tells Aaron
to put an omer of manna in a pot, which will then be put in the ark of the
covenant as a reminder for later generations. Its placement in the ark, along
with Aaron’s rod and the stone tablets, both items associated with the covenant,
suggests that the manna too was symbolic of the covenant, perhaps
representative of a covenant meal God provided during the entire wilderness
21. Interestingly, many of the
characteristics present in the covenant formula are also present within this
history, further strengthening the overall covenantal history unit in the
22. See Isaiah 5:2, 7; Jeremiah
2:21; and Ezekiel 19:10, 13 for negative planting imagery. Interestingly, the
historical allusions to God as warrior and God as planter found in these texts
include God’s explanations as to why he is not going to defend Israel.
23. For a general discussion
concerning the curse unit found in the Hebrew Bible, see Delbert R. Hillers, Treaty-Curses
and the Old Testament Prophets (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute,
24. This appears to be a common
type of curse found in the Assyrian treaty-covenant texts. See the Aramaic
Sefire Inscription I A, lines 30–32 and Inscription II A, 9. Discussed in
Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (Rome: Pontifical
Biblical Institute, 1995), 162–66. See also Hillers, Treaty-Curses,
25. The use of the word for
turtledove is problematic, though it may have covenantal allusions. See
Christopher T. Begg, “The Covenantal Dove in Psalm LXXIV 19–20,”
Testamentum 37/1 (1987): 78–80.
26. Though not exactly the same
thing, Psalm 44:19 records an interesting curse description: “Thus, you
crushed us in the place of the sea monsters and clothed us over with the
deepest darkness (shadow of death?).” Though this curse finds no parallel
in Deuteronomy, extrabiblical treaties record curses of overwhelming floods,
which will cover the treaty breaker. In the Esarhaddon treaty this curse is
mentioned twice. The first is in lines 488–89, “May a flood, an
irresistible deluge, come up from the earth and devastate you!” The second
is line 442, “[May] the gods [ . . . ] your land with a mighty
flood!” For the translation of the Esarhaddon treaty, see D. J. Wiseman, “The
Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon,” Iraq 20 (1958): 1–99,
quotations on pp. 66 and 62.
27. This curse also contains
imagery and language suggesting lack of a proper burial for the dead. Similar
curses are found in the extrabiblical material. Three times in the Esarhaddon
treaty (lines 426–27) it is mentioned that the body of the treaty breaker
will not receive a burial, instead providing a meal for wild animals, which was
discussed earlier. For a discussion of this curse, see Hillers, Treaty-Curses,
68–69. In another text, the curse is explicit, “May his corpse drop
and have no one to bury it!” L. W. King, Babylonian Boundary-Stones and
Memorial-Tablets in the British Museum (London: British Museum,
1912), 47, iv 19–20.
28. It is also mentioned in 80:6,
“You set us at strife with our neighbors / our enemies mock us at will.”
29. See Saul M. Olyan, “Honor,
Shame, and Covenant Relations in Ancient Israel and Its Environment,” Journal of
Biblical Literature 115/2 (1996): 201–18.
30. Lyn M. Bechtel, “The
Perception of Shame within the Divine-Human Relationship in Biblical Israel,”
Ancient Stones: Essays in Memory of H. Neil Richardson, ed. Lewis M.
Hopfe (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 84: “YHWH’s obligation to
protect the people from shaming is never stated directly in any of the covenants
but it is assumed, particularly in deuteronomic theology.”
31. In Jeremiah 19:4–8 it
is the worshipping of other gods that is expressed as a breach of the covenant.
Interestingly, the consequences are that Israel will be made food for animals
and that they will become a “hissing” (…) to the nations.
32. See Gert Kwakkel, “According
to My Righteousness”: Upright Behaviour as Grounds for Deliverance in
Psalms 7, 17, 18, 26, and 44 (Leiden: Brill, 2002). Also, Adele
Berlin’s treatment on this theme in Psalm 44, “Psalms and the Literature
of Exile: Psalms 137, 44, 69, 78,” in The Book of Psalms: Composition and
Reception, ed. Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller Jr. (Leiden:
Brill, 2005), 65–84, specifically pages 71–74. See also Mark S.
Smith, “Remembering God: Collective Memory in Israelite Religion,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly 64 (2002): 631–51.
33. Psalm 83:3 also makes
explicit that the community is God’s people: “They [the enemies] make
shrewd counsel against your people / they take counsel against your treasures.”
Psalm 60:3 also uses “your people” to describe the community. Psalm
80:17 describes the community as “the man of your right hand” and “the
one you have taken as your own.”
34. For the treaty-covenant usage
of the designation “servant,” see Kalluveettil, Declaration
and Covenant, 92–99, 117–19; for the usage of “poor”
and “needy” see Steven J. L. Croft, The Identity of the Individual in the Psalms
(Sheffield: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1987), 50: ” … [poor]
thus emerges as a group term for the faithful in Israel, parallel to … [righteous]
and … [faithful]”; see also W. Dennis Tucker Jr., “A Polysemiotic
Approach to the Poor in the Psalms,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 31
(2004): 425–39. For the usage of the term beloved and
see William L Moran, “The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of
God in Deuteronomy,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963): 77–87.
For the obligation of the suzerain over lesser members of society, see F.
Charles Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in Ancient Near Eastern
Legal and Wisdom Literature,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies
21/2 (1962): 129–39; see also W. Dennis Tucker Jr., “Is Shame a
Matter of Patronage in the Communal Laments?” Journal for the Study of the
Old Testament 31/4 (2007): 465–80.
35. Katherine D. Sakenfeld, The Meaning
of Hesed in the
Hebrew Bible (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), 132: “Within
the theological covenant analogy, hesed
provided a concise way of expressing the action of Yahweh as suzerain on behalf
of his vassal Israel.” In light of this, it is not surprising to find
usage of the word in Deuteronomy 7:9: “Know that Yahweh is your God, He is
the God, the faithful God who keeps the covenant and the hesed to those loving him.”
36. Sakenfeld, The Meaning
228. She goes on to say, “It may even be suggested that these statements
of the ‘deserving’ behavior of the suppliant form the backdrop for the
. . . assurance of deliverance which often conclude[s] the lament
37. Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, trans. Alfred
Gottschalk (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967), 68–69: “The
relationship between God and people was one of mutual rights and duties with hesed as the norm of conduct. It
was a covenant alliance based on hesed
and existing because of hesed.
. . . The Hasidim
fulfill their covenantal obligations in that they practice hesed. . . . They can
be, and remain, Hasidim
only as long as they comport themselves according to the sacred covenant
concluded at Sinai and as long as they practice hesed.”
38. Eising, ”
… zakhar,” 70: “The fundamental bond of
mutual remembrance that unites God and man leads further to the observation
that the covenant idea is obviously also important in this context.” See
also Dalit Rom-Shiloni, “Psalm 44: The Powers of Protest,” Catholic
Bible Quarterly 70/4 (2008): 683–98.
39. Tucker, “Is Shame a
Matter of Patronage?” 475: “In the communal laments, especially
Psalms 44, 74, and 79, the Psalmists recount the failure of Yahweh as patron to
act in a manner that reflects the reciprocal nature of the relationship, and
further, in a manner that engenders solidarity.”
40. See Sung-Hun Lee, “Lament
and the Joy of Salvation in the Lament Psalms,” in Book of
Psalms, 224–47, who explores the role of hesed in the individual laments
and recognizes both that the Psalmist is concerned with an apparent lack of
acts of divine hesed as
well as an assurance that God will perform them in the future: “The
petitioner’s confidence in God’s … is ultimately based on the
unconditional aspect of his … in the covenant relationship”
(p. 246). See also Loren D. Crow, “The Rhetoric of Psalm 44,” Zeitschrift
für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 104 (1992): 400. “The
supplicant appeals to the actions resulting from God’s steadfast love
. . . , that is, those things which the Divine does because of the
relationship that exists between God and Israel.”
41. Herbert B. Huffmon, “The
Treaty Background of Hebrew YADAc,” Bulletin of
the American Schools of Oriental Research 181 (February 1966): 31,
33: “The most obvious technical usage of ‘know’ is that with reference to
mutual legal recognition on the part of the suzerain and vassal.
. . . ‘Know’ is also used as a technical term for recognition of the
treaty stipulations as binding.” In Exodus 2:24–25, God is found “remembering
the covenant” he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then “knowing”
42. “And if ye will not yet
for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your
sins” (Leviticus 26:18 KJV); “And if ye walk contrary unto me, and
will not hearken unto me, I will bring seven times more plagues upon you
according to your sins” (Leviticus 26:21 KJV); “Then will I also walk
contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins”
(Leviticus 26:24 KJV). One reference in particular, Leviticus 26:28, appears to
be reflected in many of the pleas: “Then I will walk contrary unto you
also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.”
Psalms 74:1; 79:6; 80:4; and 89:46 all are pleas asking how long God will be
angry with his people. See also Deuteronomy 29:19–28, where the
explanation of God’s wrath is given.
43. Crow, “Rhetoric of Psalm
44,” 396: “As the poet reminds God, the community both finds its
worth in God and gives God perpetual praise (v. 9). Not only is the community
faithful in its trust in God, it also faithfully represents the traditions of
its ancestors. . . . In this way the poet artfully alludes to the
earlier section in order to fortify the assertion that the present community is
behaving faithfully. . . . Furthermore, it argues that, since the
present community’s action is equivalent to that of the ancestors, God’s
behavior ought to be (and, so far as we know yet, is) like that
narrated in vv. 2–4.”
44. Tony W. Cartledge, “Conditional
Vows in the Psalms of Lament: A New Approach to an Old Problem,” in The
Listening Heart: Essays in Wisdom and the Psalms in Honor of Roland E. Murphy,
ed. Kenneth G. Hoglund, Elizabeth F. Huwiler, Jonathan T. Glass, and Roger W.
Lee (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987), 77–94. Though
the psalms presented in the paper are not the communal lament psalms of this
study, the conclusions are the same.
45. William M. Soll, “The
Israelite Lament: Faith Seeking Understanding,” Quarterly Review 8/3
(1988): 79: “The lament is not merely an articulation of unhappiness; it
seeks, in the midst of unhappiness, to recover communion with God.”
46. It is interesting to find
many, if not all, of the communal lament characteristics in the first six
verses of D&C 121, Joseph Smith’s plea to the Lord while in Liberty Jail.