Ps. 92: Entering the Text

Andrew Davis stands in front of water

Psalm 92 features a unique superscription; it is the only psalm explicitly designated for the Sabbath. Our earliest evidence for this designation comes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible produced by rabbis in the third century BCE) and also from rabbinic sources. Valuable as these references are, they do not shed light on how Psalm 92 came to be associated with the Sabbath in the first place. In a way, the association is puzzling. If I didn’t know the superscription, and someone read me Psalm 92 and two other random psalms, then asked me, “Which one is the song for the Sabbath?,” I doubt I would guess correctly.  After all, there is no mention of “rest” in the psalm, which is the meaning of Hebrew šābat, and the only possible reference to creation is oblique and uncertain. Nonetheless, a close reading of Psalm 92 reveals several ways in which it is well suited for the celebration of the Sabbath.

The strongest link between Psalm 92 and the Sabbath is the psalmist’s exaltation of YHWH.  The psalm does not talk about the Sabbath but rather provides words of divine praise for us to sing on our day of rest and worship. This praise is expressed most clearly and simply in verse 9: YHWH is exalted forever. Unlike the surrounding verses, which consist of couplets or triads, verse 9 is a one-liner, standing alone at the center of Psalm 92. This structural feature captures well the meaning of the Sabbath, when we take a break from the busy-ness of daily life in order to remember God as the center of our lives.

Secondly, although there is no explicit mention of creation, the references in verse 5 to YHWH’s “deeds” (Hebrew, p‘l) and “handiwork” (Hebrew, m‘śh) may allude to this divine achievement.  Elsewhere in the Psalms these nouns denote key moments in the salvation of God’s people (44:1-2; 77:13; 95:9; 111:2-3, 6-7; 143:5), including creation (74:12). Thus, there is a possible link between Psalm 92 and creation, but the psalm also challenges us to think more broadly than God’s work at creation. Although we most often think of Sabbath as the seventh day of creation, the day of rest is a time to praise all the ways that God rescues us from disaster.

A last feature of Psalm 92 that connects it to the Sabbath is its depiction of worship. It begins with references to harps and lyres (verse 4) and concludes with a snapshot of the sacred orchards at Jerusalem Temple (verses 13-14). Like the psalm’s language of praise, these features bring us into an experience of worship and thus teach us how to give thanks to YHWH on the Sabbath and every day.

 

Key Terms:

  • “subtle” in v 6 translates Hebrew ‘mq, whose basic meaning is “deep” (cf. Heb. ‘ēmeq “valley”).  Sometimes the word also connotes something “hidden” (Isaiah 29:15; Jeremiah 49:8, 30). This connotation may be at play in Psalm 92 as the psalmist publicizes (“praise…sing…proclaim…shout” in verses 2-5) the great deeds of YHWH, which may be hidden to some like the fool mentioned in the following verse 7.

 

  • “brutish man” (Heb. ’îš-ba‘ar) and “fool” (Heb. kĕsîl) in verse 7 are synonyms and well-known figures from wisdom literature where they represent the antithesis of wise men and women.  Hebrew kĕsîl occurs 40x in Proverbs 1-29; for ba‘ar, see Prov 12:1; 30:2.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Which words, phrases, or images in Psalm 92 are most striking to you?

  • Which practices in your tradition help you cultivate gratitude for the gifts of creation?

  • What role (if any) does the Sabbath play in your life?

  • How has your understanding of Sabbath and/or of work and rest changed during the pandemic?

Psalm 92 and 93 Texts and Translations

 

Psalm 92

מִזְמ֥וֹר שִׁ֗יר לְי֣וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת׃ 

ט֗וֹב לְהֹד֥וֹת לַיהוָ֑ה וּלְזַמֵּ֖ר לְשִׁמְךָ֣ עֶלְיֽוֹן׃ 

לְהַגִּ֣יד בַּבֹּ֣קֶר חַסְֽדֶּ֑ךָ וֶ֝אֱמֽוּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת׃ 

עֲ‍ֽלֵי־עָ֭שׂוֹר וַעֲלֵי־נָ֑בֶל עֲלֵ֖י הִגָּי֣וֹן בְּכִנּֽוֹר׃ 

כִּ֤י שִׂמַּחְתַּ֣נִי יְהוָ֣ה בְּפָעֳלֶ֑ךָ בְּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֖י יָדֶ֣יךָ אֲרַנֵּֽן׃ 

מַה־גָּדְל֣וּ מַעֲשֶׂ֣יךָ יְהוָ֑ה מְ֝אֹ֗ד עָמְק֥וּ מַחְשְׁבֹתֶֽיךָ׃ 

אִֽישׁ־בַּ֭עַר לֹ֣א יֵדָ֑ע וּ֝כְסִ֗יל לֹא־יָבִ֥ין אֶת־זֹֽאת׃ 

בִּפְרֹ֤חַ רְשָׁעִ֨ים ׀ כְּמ֥וֹ עֵ֗שֶׂב וַ֭יָּצִיצוּ כָּל־פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן לְהִשָּֽׁמְדָ֥ם עֲדֵי־עַֽד׃ 

וְאַתָּ֥ה מָר֗וֹם לְעֹלָ֥ם יְהוָֽה׃ 

כִּ֤י הִנֵּ֪ה אֹיְבֶ֡יךָ ׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה כִּֽי־הִנֵּ֣ה אֹיְבֶ֣יךָ יֹאבֵ֑דוּ יִ֝תְפָּרְד֗וּ כָּל־פֹּ֥עֲלֵי אָֽוֶן׃ 

וַתָּ֣רֶם כִּרְאֵ֣ים קַרְנִ֑י בַּ֝לֹּתִ֗י בְּשֶׁ֣מֶן רַעֲנָֽן׃ 

וַתַּבֵּ֥ט עֵינִ֗י בְּשׁ֫וּרָ֥י בַּקָּמִ֖ים עָלַ֥י מְרֵעִ֗ים תִּשְׁמַ֥עְנָה אָזְנָֽי׃ 

צַ֭דִּיק כַּתָּמָ֣ר יִפְרָ֑ח כְּאֶ֖רֶז בַּלְּבָנ֣וֹן יִשְׂגֶּֽה׃ 

שְׁ֭תוּלִים בְּבֵ֣ית יְהוָ֑ה בְּחַצְר֖וֹת אֱלֹהֵ֣ינוּ יַפְרִֽיחוּ׃ 

ע֭וֹד יְנוּב֣וּן בְּשֵׂיבָ֑ה דְּשֵׁנִ֖ים וְרַֽעֲנַנִּ֣ים יִהְיֽוּ׃ 

לְ֭הַגִּיד כִּֽי־יָשָׁ֣ר יְהוָ֑ה צ֝וּרִ֗י וְֽלֹא־עלתה [עַוְלָ֥תָה] בּֽוֹ׃ 

 

Psalm 93

יְהוָ֣ה מָלָךְ֮ גֵּא֪וּת לָ֫בֵ֥שׁ לָבֵ֣שׁ יְ֭הוָה עֹ֣ז הִתְאַזָּ֑ר אַף־תִּכּ֥וֹן תֵּ֝בֵ֗ל בַּל־תִּמּֽוֹט׃ 

נָכ֣וֹן כִּסְאֲךָ֣ מֵאָ֑ז מֵֽעוֹלָ֣ם אָֽתָּה׃ 

נָשְׂא֤וּ נְהָר֨וֹת ׀ יְֽהוָ֗ה נָשְׂא֣וּ נְהָר֣וֹת קוֹלָ֑ם יִשְׂא֖וּ נְהָר֣וֹת דָּכְיָֽם׃ 

מִקֹּל֨וֹת ׀ מַ֤יִם רַבִּ֗ים אַדִּירִ֣ים מִשְׁבְּרֵי־יָ֑ם אַדִּ֖יר בַּמָּר֣וֹם יְהוָֽה׃ 

עֵֽדֹתֶ֨יךָ ׀ נֶאֶמְנ֬וּ מְאֹ֗ד לְבֵיתְךָ֥ נַאֲוָה־קֹ֑דֶשׁ יְ֝הוָ֗ה לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃ 

 

Psalm 92 New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS)

1 A psalm. A song; for the sabbath day. 

2 It is good to praise the LORD, to sing hymns to Your name, O Most High, 

3 To proclaim Your steadfast love at daybreak, Your faithfulness each night 

4 With a ten-stringed harp, with voice and lyre together. 

5 You have gladdened me by Your deeds, O LORD; I shout for joy at Your handiwork. 

6 How great are Your works, O LORD, how very subtle Your designs! 

7 A brutish man cannot know, a fool cannot understand this: 

8 though the wicked sprout like grass, though all evildoers blossom, it is only that they may be destroyed forever. 

9 But You are exalted, O LORD, for all time. 

10 Surely, Your enemies, O LORD, surely, Your enemies perish; all evildoers are scattered. 

11 You raise my horn high like that of a wild ox; I am soaked in freshening oil. 

12 I shall see the defeat of my watchful foes, hear of the downfall of the wicked who beset me. 

13 The righteous bloom like a date-palm; they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon; 

14 planted in the house of the LORD, they flourish in the courts of our God. 

15 In old age they still produce fruit; they are full of sap and freshness, 

16 attesting that the LORD is upright, my rock, in whom there is no wrong.

 

Psalm 93 New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS)

1 The LORD is king, He is robed in grandeur; the LORD is robed, He is girded with strength. The world stands firm; it cannot be shaken. 

2 Your throne stands firm from of old; from eternity You have existed. 

3 The ocean sounds, O LORD, the ocean sounds its thunder, the ocean sounds its pounding. 

4 Above the thunder of the mighty waters, more majestic than the breakers of the sea is the LORD, majestic on high. 

5 Your decrees are indeed enduring; holiness befits Your house, O LORD, for all times.

 

Psalm 92 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

A psalm. A song for the Sabbath day.

1 Lord, it is good to praise you.

    Most High God, it is good to make music to honor you.

2 It is good to sing every morning about your love.

    It is good to sing every night about how faithful you are.

3 I sing about it to the music of the lyre that has ten strings.

    I sing about it to the music of the harp.

4 Lord, you make me glad by your deeds.

    I sing for joy about what you have done.

5 Lord, how great are the things you do!

    How wise your thoughts are!

6 Here is something that people without sense don’t know.

    Here is what foolish people don’t understand.

7 Those who are evil spring up like grass.

    Those who do wrong succeed.

    But they will be destroyed forever.

8 But Lord, you are honored forever.

9 Lord, your enemies will certainly die.

    All those who do evil will be scattered.

10 You have made me as strong as a wild ox.

    You have poured the finest olive oil on me.

11 I’ve seen my evil enemies destroyed.

    I’ve heard that they have lost the battle.

12 Those who do what is right will grow like a palm tree.

    They will grow strong like a cedar tree in Lebanon.

13 Their roots will be firm in the house of the Lord.

    They will grow strong and healthy in the courtyards of our God.

14 When they get old, they will still bear fruit.

    Like young trees they will stay fresh and strong.

15 They will say to everyone, “The Lord is honest.

    He is my Rock, and there is no evil in him.”

 

Psalm 93 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

1 The Lord rules.

    He puts on majesty as if it were clothes.

    The Lord puts on majesty and strength.

Indeed, the world has been set in place.

    It is firm and secure.

2 Lord, you began to rule a long time ago.

    You have always existed.

3 Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice.

    They have lifted up their pounding waves.

4 But Lord, you are more powerful than the roar of the ocean.

    You are stronger than the waves of the sea.

    Lord, you are powerful in heaven.

5 Your laws do not change, Lord.

    Your temple will be holy

    for all time to come.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.