<To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.>
1 In Judah God is known, his name is great in Israel.
2 His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.
3 There he broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah
4 Glorious are you, more majestic than the everlasting mountains.
5 The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; none of the troops was able to lift a hand.
6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned.
7 But you indeed are awesome! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?
8 From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still
9 when God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth. Selah
10 Human wrath serves only to praise you, when you bind the last bit of your wrath around you.
11 Make vows to the LORD your God, and perform them; let all who are around him bring gifts to the one who is awesome,
12 who cuts off the spirit of princes, who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.
The image of God as an incredibly powerful Divine Warrior occurs frequently throughout the scriptures. The world of the ancient Middle East was a conflicted one with war being a frequent feature as rival kings or empires competed for power, land, and wealth. The spoils of war were for most of history a significant source of income for the powerful and an incredibly dangerous upheaval for those who victims of the warriors who pillaged. Psalm seventy-six’s essence is, “our God is more fearful than the instruments and warriors of war.” In a world that is unsafe, an awesome (fearful) deity who defends the people would be a source of confidence.
The psalm centers on Jerusalem as the place where God is known. Like Isaiah 2: 2-4 and Micah 4: 1-4 there is a focus on Zion being a place where war ends, and the nations come to learn the ways of the God of Jacob. The initial verse begins with a parallel between Judah and Israel, in Judah God is known and in Israel God’s name is great. Being known in Hebrew reflects intimacy, while the honoring of God’s name as great indicates the power of God. In characteristic fashion the psalm brings together the desire of God to dwell among and be known by the people with the awesome power of God where God’s name is to be held in honor. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, pp. 609-610) The parallelism continues with the dual naming of Jerusalem (Salem and Zion) as the dwelling place of God. Salem is from the Hebrew shalom (peace, harmony with God). Zion refers to the hill on which the city is built (there are various theories on what its origin of the term, but the term has become synonymous with Jerusalem or the dwelling place of the people of God). The term for dwelling place has been used elsewhere for a lion’s den or lair and it is possible that the metaphor of God as a lion is introduced into the poetry here. (NIB IV:980) In language similar to Psalm 46, God shatters the instruments of war and perhaps war itself. The ‘flashing arrows’ are likely flaming arrows (the meaning of the first word is uncertain) and most translations indicate that the final thing shattered are the weapons of war, but the Hebrew simply states war. It is possible that the presence of the Divine Warrior shatters the personification of war itself. God stands glorious (literally shining forth) and more majestic than the mountains. Now the strongest warriors have had the spoils of war taken from them and the troops are unable to stand as they sink into the sleep of death. Horse and rider lay stunned at the voice of God. The Divine Warrior who resides in Zion is a fearful foe.
The key word in verses seven through twelve is “feared” (NIB IV: 979). When the Hebrew Bible speaks of the ‘awesomeness’ of God it reflects the fearful strength of this Divine Warrior who defends the people of God but also is never to be taken for granted by the people. This is why Proverbs states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). The God who dwells in Zion, who desires to dwell among the people of God is a God who the earth fears when that God utters judgment in anger. Yet, God’s judgment and anger is to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed of the earth. Kings and princes who attempt to seize power learn to fear God’s judgment, while for the weak this fearful one who brings an end to war is a source of powerful hope.
The chosen people were not to strive to become a military superpower that relied upon armed men and war horses to conquer the nations around them. The story of Israel is complex and their reliance upon the God of Israel does not prevent acts of seeking military conquest or attempting to build armies to defend themselves, conquer their neighbors, or to maintain control internally. The law and the prophets envision (in general) a people of peace defended and sheltered by a Divine Warrior whose dwells among the covenant people. This reliance was tested in a conflicted world. There would be kings in Judah and Israel who would raise up sizeable armies, yet in comparison the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Persia they would always be vulnerable militarily. Yet, I believe this psalm shares a hope with Isaiah for a time when nations learn the ways of the God of Jacob, no longer train for war, and return the implements of warfare to the tilling and harvesting of the land.
 For example, Genesis begins with two creation narratives, one where God creates by speaking (awesome power) and one where God dwells among creation in the Garden of Eden and talks with Adam (intimacy), these twin themes are frequently present in the Exodus narrative, the prophets, and psalms.
 Another challenging line for translators. The Hebrew tarep is often assumed to be a copying error since it means prey. If prey is intended here, God stands forth on the mountain of prey like a lion (see above) (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 609). Hebrew poetry often has individual words or phrases that are difficult to translate because they are rarely used words or ideas.
 Hebrew yare– this is rendered as both awesome and fear in the NRSV.
Pingback: The Book of Psalms 1-80 | Sign of the Rose