Monday, January 05, 2009

Rarely used words in the Psalter - 5

OK - when is a word rare? What is a word anyway? One sequence of arbitrarily spaced letters? Or a useful phrase? Or something understood? A way into the relationship that is of everlasting significance no matter how short your life is or seems to be.

Well here's a unique letter trio מטה, the thing you take up and walk - your bed. It derives from a not so rare word - to stretch out נטה - the sort of thing you do on a bed. But in the Psalms it is most commonly applied to ears - when we implore God to stretch out an ear to listen.

I have a child - now 38 - who could never say milk - always said nilk. Even when prompted by a long mmmmmmm - he would say mmmmmm nilk. He's in good company. m's and n's don't go together that often and it seems m's occasionally trump n's.

So where's this unique word and what does it mean? It is in Psalm 6, the first penitential psalm - the place where we need to pay attention, because it is not a laughing matter to be rebuked by God is his wrath. But consider - would God bother if you were not really important to him?

I am weary with my groaning
I swim every night in my bed מטה
with my tears my couch ערש I water
consumed from grief my eye ages in all my straits

While we're here, we better follow up on the couch too - maybe the Most High has something to tell us when we are reclined and his ear is inclined usward. ערש is not too common either - occurring only 3 times in the psalms. No reclining till the work is done - so promises David
I will not enter the tent of my house
nor will I go up to my bed chamber עַל־עֶרֶשׂ יְצוּעָֽי
nor will I let my eyes sleep
my eyelids slumber
until I secure a place for יְהוָה
a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob

I think this is hyperbole from David - and two words for bed in a row - the second one rendered chamber and the pair perhaps meaning bedroom! The words for bed are multiplying like rabbits. When we follow this word, it occurs twice, once above in Psalm 132 and again in psalm 63

when I remember you on my bed עַל־יְצוּעָי
in the night-watches I groan in you
for you have been my help
and in the shadow of your wings I rejoice
my being clings to you
your right hand holds me

The third usage of ערש in the Psalms reveals yet another word for bed in the parallel colon

and he will be considered happy in the earth
and you will not give him into the will of his enemies
יְהוָה will confirm him on a bed ערש of sorrow
all his couch משכב you change in his illness

I think this is a blessing but the English needs work... any suggestions?

משכב is more frequent than the other word for bed, occurring 4 times, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 36:4, and Psalm 149:5 - part of the final instruction and closing bracket of the Psalter. The word it is related to is to lie down, itself used 6 times. I'll leave that one for another day. First Psalm 4

Tremble and do not be missing the goal
speak with your heart
on your bed and be still

Then in Psalm 36, the writer does not necessarily speak of a different person on a bed. I, with some risk, think that the enemy is more within than objectified in someone else.

trouble he devises on his bed
he presents himself on a way that is not good
evil he does not reject

And finally - let us be joyful on our beds in every sense

Joy for the many under protection in glory
singing on their beds עַל־מִשְׁכְּבֹותָֽם
exaltations of God in their voice
a sword of many mouths in their hand

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