In Psalm 105 (ESV), the Psalmist asks Israel to "remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered" (v5), where he reviewed how the LORD delivered them from Egypt and brought them to the promised land. The Psalmist therefore exhorted Israel

  • to give thanks and sing praises to the LORD (1a,2a)
  • to make known his deeds and wondrous works among the peoples (1b,2b)
  • to rejoice and seek the LORD and his strength and presence (3-4), as well as
  • to trust that the LORD remembers his covenant forever, the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (8-11).

In the first stanza (Ps 105:1-6) the "judgments he uttered" is past tense, to evoke the factual basis for the exhortation: past works of God showing his faithfulness to the covenant so far, the reason for Israel to give thanks and to trust Him for the future.

In the second stanza (Ps 105:7-11) "his judgments are in all the earth" is present tense, to evoke actions issued from God's character to bring justice to all peoples, implicating that when other peoples persecute Israel unjustly, their God will avenge on their behalf to make things right. But the Psalmist also warns Israel to "keep his statues and observe his laws" (v. 45) because their God can also bring judgment against Israel if they break the covenant, which they later learned the hard way.

I think the general meaning of "judgment" in both verses (5 and 7) is quite clear from the context. My question is the specific meanings that the Psalmist had in mind for mishpat (the Hebrew root word used in both verses). It's clear that justice in OT is more than punishment for crime, as Tim Keller explained What is Biblical Justice (book excerpt from Generous Justice) and C.S. Lewis contrasted OT vs. modern justice in a book excerpt (from Reflections on the Psalms). There is a concern for the vulnerable, relational (righteousness), generosity aspects not usually tied with "justice" / "judgment" by the modern minds. It is very clear in later prophetic writings that God demanded Israel to act justly toward the vulnerable because their God is just. If Israel petitioned God to avenge them from inhumane treatment by their oppressors then it is fair for God to demand the same to Israel.

My question has to do with specific, present acts of judgments that God is doing (present tense) implied in verse 7. Both Christians and Jews agree that not all injustice has been avenged; this is waiting for the coming Day of Judgment. But in Psalm 105 what is prominent seems to me not the future (although not excluded either), but the present anticipation of God's acting in response to Israel's faithful execution of the Abrahamic covenant:

NLT translation:

7 He is the LORD our God. 
  His justice is seen throughout the land. 
8 He always stands by his covenant— 
  the commitment he made to a thousand generations

ESV translation:

7 He is the LORD our God; 
  his judgments are in all the earth. 
8 He remembers his covenant forever, 
  the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations

So my question is the range of possibilities of specific meanings of "judgment" in verse 7 that the Psalmist has in mind when the final version of the poem was composed (which should be earlier than when the final collection was made and committed to manuscript). The earliest date (1051 BC) is based on the chart from the Blue Letter Bible assigning the occassion to 1 Chr 16:43. A very late date is 6th century BC, based on stylistic and rhetorical analysis of Ps 105 especially comparing it to Second Isaiah (see 1979 Journal Article Style and Purpose in Psalm 105) by Richard J. Clifford, S.J..

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.