Before the Ark

Before the Ark November 10, 2016

After David installs the ark of the covenant in the tent he prepares for it, he sets up Levites to carry on continuous praise before the Lord’s throne. 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 is a long sample of praise. As commentators point out, the Psalm consists of three Psalms from the fourth book of the Psalter (which begins at Psalm 90). 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 matches Psalm 105:1-15; verses 23-33 are taken from Psalm 96:1-13; and the last few verses of the Chronicler’s Psalm are from the first and final verses of Psalm 106, closes the fourth book of the Psalter.

It’s no accident that the Psalm draws from Book 4 of the Psalter. Book 3 (Psalms 73-89) ends with a lament over the fallen house of David: “Where are Thy former lovingkindnesses, O Lord, which Thou didst swear to David in Thy faithfulness?” (89:49). Psalm 90 turns attention away from the specifics of the Davidic covenant; it’s the only Psalm of Moses in the Psalter, and it speaks of God as eternal Creator. A number of the Psalms in the 90s, including Psalm 96, celebrate Yahweh’s kingship, which persists even when David’s kingdom has faltered. The composite Psalm of 1 Chronicles 16 is appropriate to the Chronicler’s time period, a period of restoration after the collapse of the house ofDavid, a period of restoration without a Davidic king, a period when Israel will have to depend on the eternal King. When the Levites first sing the song at the ark-shrine, they don’t know the depth of its truth

1 Chronicles 16 is an act of praise. It is also, perhaps more, an exhortation to praise. The opening section, drawn from Psalm 105, contains an all-Israel 12 imperatives to worship. It begins with a dense cluster of imperatives, 6 in the first two verses, a thesaurus of praise:

1. Praise (yadah) Yahweh, 8a.

2. Call (qara’) on His name, 8b.

3. Make known (yada’) His deeds, 8c.

4. Sing (shiyr) to him, 9a.

5. Sing praise (zamar), 9b.

6. Speak (siyach) of His wonders, 9c.

Over the next two verses, we get four more imperatives:

7. Glory (halal) in His name, 10a.

8. Be glad (samach) in heart, 10b.

9. Seek (darash) Yahweh, 11a.

10. Seek (baqash) His face, 11b.

Ten commandments of praise in four verses. The remainder of the excerpt from Psalm 105 is divided into two exhortations to “remember”:

11. Remember (zakar) His deeds, 12-14.

12. Remember (zakar) His covenant, 15-22.

These last two sections contain a brief review of Israel’s history. Yahweh’s wonderful works are the works of exodus, and the covenant is explicitly the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the covenant pledge of the land of Canaan.The exhortation means: “Remember and praise”; it also means “Memorialize in praise,” that is, “Remind Yahweh of His deeds and covenant, so He will do it all again.”

If verses 8-22 focus on Yahweh’s dealings with Israel and Israel’s response of praise, verses 23-33 expand to encompass Gentiles. They are already in view in the opening section; by giving thanks and calling on God’s name, Israel makes Yahweh’s works known among the peoples (v. 8b). But the opening section doesn’t exhort the Gentiles to praise, as the following section does. Again, the Psalm is both an act of praise and an exhortation to praise, now to the nations:

1. Sing (shiyr) to Yahweh, 23a.

2. Proclaim good news (basar) of salvation (yeshu’ah), 23b.

3. Record (saphar) His glory, 24a.

Yahweh does “wonderful deeds” (niphel’otim) among the Gentiles (v. 24b) as for Israel (v. 12a), and so is a great God, greater than the idols in His splendor, majesty, strength and joy (v. 27). The call to praise is thus simultaneously a call to abandon idols (v. 26a). Verse 28 returns to imperatives:

4. Ascribe (yahav) to Yahweh, 28a.

5. Ascribe (yahav) glory and stength, 28b.

6. Ascribe (yahav) glory due His name, 29a.

7. Bring (nasa’) tribute (minchah), 29b.

8. Come (bo’) before His face, 29c.

9. Prostrate (shachah) to Yahweh, 29d.

10. Tremble (chul) before Him, 30a.

Twelve liturgical commandments for the twelve tribes, ten for the nations, a total of 22 commands, matching the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. An Aleph-to-Tav of praise. The variation of terms is doubtless significant. Israel is called to yadah, the root of the name Judah; Israel’s peculiar role is to make the Lord known among the nations, and to seek Him; Israel is the people of remembrance, keeping alive the memory of God’s deeds and covenant, so that the nations can praise Him and ascribe glory. Yet the nations aren’t left out at a distance. They draw near with their tribute offerings, and are called to prostrate to Yahweh “in holy (!) array” (v. 29b).

At verse 31, the scope of the exhortation widens further: Israel, the Gentiles, now the entire creation gets into the act, praising the coming of the judge. Again, the Psalm is an exhortation to praise:

1. Be glad (samach), heavens, 31a.

2. Rejoice (giyl), earth, 31b.

3. Say (amar), Yahweh reigns, 31c. (The “them” in “let them say” is “heaven and earth.”)

4. Roar (ra’am), sea, 32a.

5. Exult (‘alatz), field, 32b.

The snatch from Psalm 106 begins with another exhortation to worship, returning to the terminology of the initial exhortation in verse 8: Give thanks (yadah) to Yahweh (v. 34a). We are back to Israel/Judah, the people who above all can declare that Yahweh’s hesed, His covenant loyalty and family love. It’s the twenty-eighth (7 x 4) exhortation to praise; praise is multiplied through seven days and to the four corners; sabbatical praise stretches to the ends of the earth, turning the entire world into a four-horned altar.

The final verses, taken from the end of Psalm 106, turn the imperatives around. Instead of calling Israel, the nations, and the creation to praise, the Psalm ends with a triple plea to Yahweh:

1. Save (yasha’), God of our salvation (yish’enu), 35a.

2. Gather (qavatz) us, 35b.

3. Deliver (natzal), 35c.

Salvation is not an end in itself, and the Psalm gives the reason for asking for Israel to be saved, delivered, and gathered: “To give thanks (yadah) to Your holy name and glory (shavach) in Your praises (tahillah).” Israel wants another exodus so they can come to the Lord’s mountain to serve Him. Israel wants to be saved so she can become Judah, so she can fulfill her vocation of praise/yadah.

The Psalm traces a great circle of praise: Israel praises Yahweh so that He is praised among the nations; Israel praises Yahweh so that He will remember His covenant and gather Israel from the nations, gather them as a choral host, gather them for praise. Israel praises so she can keep praising.

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