This Spring Quarter, I am taking a Hebrew Reading course on the book of Psalms. Each week, we are required to translate one, pre-selected Psalm. This post contains a small snippet from my observations, notes, and translation of Psalm 100.
- 1a: A Song for Thanksgiving
- 1b: Raise a shout to Yahweh, all the land!
- 2a: Serve Yahweh in joy
- 2b: Come before him in exultation.
- 3a: Know that he is Yahweh // he is God
- 3b: He created us.
- 3c: And, indeed, we are his people // the sheep of his pasturage
- 4a: Come to its gates in thanksgiving, its courts in praise
- 4b: Laud praise to him
- 4c: Bless his name.
- 5: For
- 5a(1): Yahweh is good
- 5b(1): From Prehistory is his devotion
- 5a(2): generation unto generation
- 5b(2): and his steadfastness.
In following paragraphs, I will briefly attempt to make one point about the Psalm. Unlike what modern reading tend to draw from a Psalm such as this, ancient readings likely understood this Psalm within a temple context. Words in a Psalm like this were not mere spiritual ideals and feelings; rather, the words reflect a culture in which bloody sacrifice took place within a temple. People approached altars and offered incense. It is in this context that this Psalm was composed. By recognizing this, we can begin to appreciate the art of the Psalm at a new, deeper level.
The Title: A Song for Thanksgiving
The first thing in Psalm 100 is a title: A Song for Thanksgiving. The title merits some discussion. Often times, when we see words like ‘thanksgiving’, the imagery is simply that of offering a thanks through some sort of statement. In Psalm 100, this idea of ‘thanksigiving’ is true; however, the meaning of thanksgiving goes much deeper. In a West Semitic context, namely where this Psalm was likely composed, the idea of thanksgiving related to temple and cultic worship. So, giving thanks is not merely a vocal, interpersonal statement. Giving thanks involved liturgy and offerings. Offerings could include burning grain, incense, or something similar. Offerings could also include the bloody sacrifice of goat, ram, bird, or something similar.
For the original context and audience, then, the title A Song for Thanksgiving carries notions which involved all the senses. A sacrifice or offering of thanksgiving would involve physically approaching an altar, seeing the altar, smelling the offering, feeling the heat from the fire, and much more. In short, the language which this Psalm uses expresses a physical experience, not just an emotional, spiritual experience with the deity.
The Imperatives of the Psalm
With awareness of the aforementioned materiality represented through the Psalm, we can better appreciate the Psalm as a whole. So, in the following discussion, I will use some of the language within the Psalm in order to help draw out the world of the Psalm.
The Psalm consistently uses imperatives (italics=imperative). An imperative means that the form of the verb used is commanding a group of people: “You do this!” Within this Psalm, the first three commands are to raise a shout, serve Yahweh, and come before Yahweh. The first command carries a sense of exultation. Just as people raise a shout when President Obama speaks at events, the actors in Psalm 100 are to raise a shout of exultation for Yahweh.
The second imperative is to serve. Concepts of “serving” in a West Semitic context was not like modern notions. To serve, one was not an usher at a church, or a deacon. Rather, people served within a temple to the deity. And a temple was the house of the deity. Therefore, one served in the house of a deity, quite literally. With this understanding, we begin to see how grounded in reality Psalm 100 is. It isn’t commanding the audience to serve Yahweh by going to the nations and being a deacon; rather, it is commanding the audience to serve in a physical temple. The temple, of course, is the abode of Yahweh.
The third imperative is to come. In order to come, though, it must be to something physical. So, the text specifically commands one to come before Yahweh, before his face. Within a West Semitic context, this may mean coming before the altar of the deity. So, the Psalm is, again, very grounded in the reality of temple worship. Modern notions of coming before God are about gathering together and performing liturgy. Ancient notions of coming before a deity were about coming before some true, physical representation of the deity.
Unfortunately, due to the amount of time not available to me, I can’t write much more than this at the moment. Though, I hope that this brief, not-so-thorough discussion of the Psalm may help you to better appreciate the historical context of Psalm 100, and perhaps all of the Psalms.